Jon Reed Goes Off On...bad ads, musical sell outs, corrupt sports, and corporate whores
Wednesday, April, 23 2008
McDonald's: The Economy is Going to Hell, Grab a Cheeseburger
McDonald’s is running a “dollar menu” commercial that on one level is a very well-executed illustration of the value proposition (if not the nutritional value) of so-called fast food. But on another psychotic level, the commercial is downright apocalyptic, disturbing all the moreso because so few people are disturbed by it. Let’s put it this way: if the American Empire falls in the next fifty years, and I expect it will unless an American company discovers a cheap petroleum substitute and gains control of it, this thirty second McDonalds spot could be preserved and referred back to as a sort of time capsule of our own unapologetic self-destruction.
Let’s rundown the scenario: a group of spiffy stockbrokers is hanging about the cubicle, engaging in airhead banter about how bad the dollar is doing (“the dollar is terrible, the dollar is pathetic,” etc), but making sure to keep a joking tone, as if to make light of how much America is leveraged by countries such as China, and how utterly irreversible this situation is - though the fictional employees in our commercial make light of the abysmal value of the dollar like you would a rainy day, with the implied idiotic possibility that sunny economic skies will somehow magically appear tomorrow - nevermind that a McDonald’s hamburger just doesn’t taste as good after your house gets foreclosed because your company had to let you go since they had to “wrongsize” because a gallon of gas now costs four cheeseburgers.
The most ominous thing about this cube conversation? Since no one to my knowledge has been enraged by this commercial besides myself, you wonder if the typical American has any idea that the water is going to boil soon and we are the lobster, and by “typical” I mean any educated American with an Internet connection who can easily step back from American Idol and edumacate themselves about basic economic trends. On the other hand, most of us know what it means to pay five times what we used to for health care, so maybe there are others out there who are as worked up about this commercial as I am.
At any rate, the punchline of this commercial, if you haven’t guessed, is that the dollar is still worth something because, you guessed, it, you can still buy a McDonald’s double cheeseburger for a buck off the “Dollar Menu.” This leads to a turnabout amongst our financial analysts, who, when confronted with a colleague chomping on a McDonald’s burger, decide that “the dollar is strong...the dollar is good!” Now, I will concede it’s a corporate culinary miracle that you can get that kind of meal, mystery meat or not, for so cheap. And maybe it’s ok that eating a steady diet of double cheeseburgers will take a good chunk off our collective lifespans. After all, who wants to be alive when gas costs $20 a gallon and people shoot you on sight to siphon your tank?
Listen, it’s a swell commercial, well scripted and well executed. I’m sure it will sell some burgers and maybe even make some people crack a smile. But the question is, if you are on a bus and it is headed off a cliff, should you be smiling and adjusting your high definition television, or should you be trying to bust your way to the front and get your foot on the brakes? According to McDonald’s, you should just fill up on cheeseburgers and settle in for the ride. The only problem is that dollars aren’t worth pennies when your dreams of a better future go up in a pile of inflation-fueled wreckage. You can stack a thousand double cheeseburgers and it isn’t going to ease that fall. Well, I gotta go, I’m super hungry and the only place that’s open is...McDonald’s. I just hope I can steer around my own hypocrisy.
Tuesday, March, 25 2008
Verizon Mobile Sports: Disrupting a Dinner Date Near You
Verizon is running a clever series of commercials right now for its ESPN-driven sports update service, where you can get all kinds of sports scores and highlights right on your cell phone. On the surface, it seems cool for the so-called sports “nut” - if you want to get your sports updates wherever you are, why not give it a try? It’s the backstory that I find both amusing and a little repugnant. The amusing part? ESPN first tried to launch this service on its own, with its own phones and service, and suffered a rare, humiliating commercial failure. There’s definitely something funny about seeing ESPN’s marketing turd all shiny and new with Verizon’s name and logo trying to cover up the warmed-over smell.
The second aspect, the repugnant part, comes into play with the idea that it’s somehow cool or appropriate to sneak peeks at your scores and highlights in the midst of all kind of formal occasions - in the case of the two commercials I’ve seen, company meetings and baby showers. It may seem harmless to promote such behavior, but anyone who has ever tried to give a presentation while some attention-deficit-disorder douchebag pounds text messages to vague social prospects knows that this kind of technology is nibbling away at the last remaining social conventions. I know this: if I see some glory days fraternity brother cheering when Alex Rodriguez manages to luck into a clutch hit in the middle of a talk I am giving, I’m gonna step away from my PowerPoint and pound his phone into shrapnel.
It’s great to have the convenience of updates, but is it too old-fashioned to wonder whether this makes us better human beings? If you can’t wait till you get home to find out whether the Sox left a runner stranded on third in the sixth, then you probably have a personality defect. The constant barrage of incoming information makes us terrible listeners, lacking focus for the people and projects that deserve our time and attention.
I watch and listen to a lot of sports, and if I don’t see a need for such a service in my life, it makes me wonder about the headspace of the people Verizon is marketing to. Of course, this problem is hardly limited to sports. I’ve been out on social occasions where someone got involved with a text message in the middle of a one-on-one conversation with me, without even bothering to excuse themselves or apologize. I guess it’s possible that I am such a terrible conversationalist that people are doing this out of social desperation, but I’m going to hold onto the illusion that it’s worth it to listen to me.
At any rate, whether I am worthy of focused conversation is irrelevant. What is relevant is that I’m not going to put up with it. The first person who checks their Verizon score update in the middle of a dinner date with me gets to contend with the bill all by themselves. They can watch the highlights all they want while I drive off in search of someone who still prefers human contact to constant childish stimulation.
Thursday, March, 06 2008
Congress Strikes Out on Clemens Hearing
A few readers have asked for my take on Roger Clemens. I have held off because my rule is that I try not to weigh in unless I have something to contribute that has not been added before. It’s a pretty stern test - after all, how many things in this world are truly original - but at least I try to avoid just adding to the noise.
With Clemens, it was hard not to pile on. Obviously Brian McNamee is not someone to go on a workout regimen with, and I think he’s coated with something that wouldn’t wash off easily in the shower, but that aside, Roger Clemens is clearly a cheater and a liar, and more objectionably, a bullying serial-lying cover up artist brandishing his power to talk down to us and attempt to shape his media message with impunity, and anyone who doesn’t realize this is either an apologist, a disinterested non-sports fan, or in serious denial.
But that’s not the point. Clemens is becoming like OJ: a polarizing topic that everyone has made up their minds up on. Further evidence is not likely to sway anyone; the only way to win this kind of argument is to put your fist in someone’s face, and then of course you have invalidated the intellectual integrity of your own position.
But I was disgusted by a different aspect of this matter. I am hardly the first person to comment on this, probably I am more like the last. But what I found disheartening was how the entire Congressional hearing devoted broke down along party lines. All the Republicans fell in line as McNamee-bashers, and all the Democrats were Clemens skeptics.
Of course, one of the things that the Republicans cited to justify their view of McNamee-as-liar was the much-contested Canseco party, an aspect of McNamee’s testimony that looks to be well on its way towards total vindication. But nevermind that, as long as they were able to give McNamee a huge on-camera beat down. One Republican, Mark Souder, gave somewhat of a balanced view, but that was it for independent thinking.
The hearing made more fascinating television, but it was devastating as well. After all, if our leaders can’t demonstrate an ability to think for themselves and take their own stands, even when it goes against party lines, then how can we possibly solve the more pressing matters of the day? Is anyone in Washington addressing real problems, or are we just marching in lockstep party lines, out of deference to party leaders and their agendas? And if it’s the latter, is the name of that political system “democracy,” or should we be calling it something else?
If the job of such a hearing is to get to the truth, then there was somewhat of a positive late breaking development recently, when the chair of the committee, Henry Waxman (Democrat) and the ranking Republican, Tom Davis, sent a letter to the Department of Justice recommending that Roger Clemens be further investigated for the possibility of perjury. All the Republican blowhards who implied the committee was deadlocked because Clemens and McNamee had both bastardized the truth are now lined up in unity behind McNamee’s obviously greater credibility.
McNamee’s lawyers said that the committee owed him an apology. I’m not sure if they owe McNamee much of anything, but they do owe the American people an apology.
To be fair, some of the information cited in the letter to the DOJ (such as additional documentation that Clemens was indeed at Jose Canseco’s party that day) came out after the fact, but even the willingness to assign such significance to the party on the day of the hearing was a result of the Republican members of the committee willingly swallowing the agenda of Clemens’ lawyers, who wanted to poke holes in the credibility of McNamee’s testimony by nibbling on the edges of a very solid center.
It was disgusting how the Republicans on the committee ignored decency, not to mention evidence, to rip into McNamee. Blustering Dan Burton (a spousal cheater who had no problem going after Clinton for the same during his impeachment hearing) had no qualms raking McNamee over some very hot and hypothetical coals, in the process overlooking all the legal history of how drug dealers and those caught in similar schemes almost always lie at first before the full truth comes out and they realize they can’t save themselves unless they offer up their friends on a platter.
Dan Burton, walk down the street to the DEA and spend a few hours there. You’ll learn that the lying thug who eventually comes clean to save his own skin is a very common occurrence. But Burton wasn’t the only offender, just the loudest one. Tom Davis, Republican co-chair himself, pitched nice, slow softballs over the plate to Clemens, including casting doubt on the nanny who said that Clemens was at Jose Canseco’s house that day, by asking Clemens, basically, “she doesn’t have very good English, now, I hear,” to which Clemens basically said, “no sir, she doesn’t.”
We find out later that the nanny’s English is fluent, albeit with an accent. But since her testimony puts big cracks in Clemens’ account, we might as well throw her under the bus with Clemens’ mother, wife, and anyone who ever had the misfortune of being around Roger when he was trying to shovel dirt on the truth. Bottom line?
I think these guys lined up against McNamee not just because Clemens had done a lot of pre-hearing palm-pressing that surely implied future Republican party donorship, but because they clearly don’t like the idea that some McNamee clone could come crawling out of a gutter from their own lives and bring them down with a bunch of old needles (or their equivalent) and testimony that bends but somehow doesn’t break.
And don’t think that because the Republicans gave in once the cameras were off and went along with the evidence instead of their agendas that I give the Democrats a pass either. It was just as disappointing to see the Democrats lining up on one side of the ideological aisle as seeing the Republicans lining up on the other. You couldn’t help but get the impression that none of our nation’s leaders had the ability to perceive the issues without utter submission to their own party’s roadmap.
Clemens has made his own bed, and the bold nature of his denials have put him in water that should become hotter than anything Barry Bonds has felt. His insistence on appearing in such a hearing and thus exposing himself to perjury charges is something that his ill-conceived lawyers should have steered him away from. But no amount of spin can save them now. I just hope that the biggest story of that ill-conceived hearing - the intractable divisions that gridlock our country’s elected officials - does not go unnoticed by the voters who head to the polls in the elections to come.
Monday, February, 04 2008
The Imperfection of the Patriots
I wanted to write about something else tonight, and now I have to write about the Patriots. It’s probably not worth it; nothing I write will change the way the Giants not only ripped the Pats’ hearts out, but mine as well. To deny it because sports should never mean that much would be dishonest; to deny it because we don’t want to afford Giants fans the satisfaction would be cowardly.
Yes, that one hurt. To borrow from the Bill Simmons approach to classifying these matters, in the pantheon of Boston sports losses, only the 2003 ALCS loss hurt more. That’s because we knew we had the better team that night; Grady Little had three chances to yank Pedro and change his head-scratching legacy, and yet he sat on his hands instead. Then Tim Wakefield, of all the loyal soldiers, gets saddled with a brutal loss he never deserved.
Here’s the current predicament: the Sox more than made up for that sting the very next year, topping the Yanks after going down 0-3 and improbably winning it all. But this Pats loss is going to ache forever. I’m not sure it will hurt less when I’m 80. No amount of future championships will ever take away from the glorious precipice of that perfect 19-0 season, peering into football immortality, and then being smacked backwards by Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan.
I won’t read the papers for a while now; the only sports journalist I can read in this state is Bill Simmons; he’s the only one who can possibly put something in this hollowed out center that will stick. The continued Spygate revelations are only going to twist the knife further, casting doubts, if not to the legitimacy of previous Super Bowl wins, than at least to the question of how the Patriots define sportsmanship. The wins can’t be taken away, but Spygate teaches us that they can certainly be reframed in our emotional landscape.
So is it better to have made it 18-0 and then lost? Is the agony of the Pats fan worse than say, the Seahawks fan, or the Bears fan, or even the Colts fan? Perhaps only die hard Buffalo Bills fans, veterans of endurance with four Super Bowl losses in a row behind them, can answer that. I’m not sure I have the answer right now. The emotional parallel is not unlike making it to your wedding but finding yourself alone at the alter. Would it have been better to have never envisioned such a grand stage? That’s a question better answered when the humiliation of having a ring and no finger to put it on fades a little bit.
But make no mistake: the Giants were the better team today on both sides of the ball. I’m not sure if the Giants wanted it more, though the way they seemed to come up with all the fumbles implied as much. Had the Pats managed to come back and win this game, it would have been their biggest theft of all. They have won some miraculous games in the Brady era - games that any other team would have lost, but this time, it was not to be. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that Eli Manning outplayed Tom Brady, but it’s certainly fair to say that today was more about the legend of Eli Manning than the legend of Tom Brady.
Brady is already amongst the top twelve quarterbacks of all time, give or take, and nothing his suddenly porous offensive line allowed by them today changes that. But the fact is that Tom Brady had a chance to crop the team picture of the best quarterbacks of all time to include him and four others max, and he didn’t. The legend of Tom Brady is not done, but the next chapter will have to wait.
The loss to the Colts last year was a bitter pill as well, especially given that the Colts got to play the Bears and the outmatched Rex Grossman to get their rings. The Pats had a comparatively tougher hill to climb. They did not get there, and the loss to the Colts last year - yes, the one that took me weeks to get over - seems like a mere bee sting compared to this wallop.
The worst thing about sports is that the more you allow sports into the center of your life, the more losing hurts. Those who have insulated themselves by building a family life and a rewarding career are in much better shape than those who find their moments of redemption on Sunday afternoons. Without minimizing all I still hope to accomplish, I fall more into the latter category.
I am reeling in my mind, looking for some place untouched by this ridiculousness, and I find nothing. No, I want to withdraw, avoiding the pundits and their “I told you sos” and most of all, righteous New York fans whose unexpected day of vindication gives them more barstool ammunition than any Boston fan wants them to have.
Sports has meaning on many levels. On sunnier days, I like to think that I use sports as a way to learn about life, about how to rise to the occasion when the stakes are highest, about how to lead in the face of adversity, about how to embrace my role as part of a team.
But tonight I’m thinking about sports as a failed means of escape. The Patriots’ impossible pursuit of perfection was a reminder that all things are possible. But their Super Bowl loss had an air of inevitability to it also, as if to remind us that sustained perfection is more than this life has to offer.
To see my team make it so far, only to get their hearts broken on the edge of the biggest prize, well, that hits a little too close to home. Yes, that is my reality, and sports is my escape. But tonight, there was no escape, and tomorrow morning, as usual, I will wake with a heavy heart.
Tom Brady’s heart will be a little more like mine tomorrow. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I liked him more as the light-hearted conductor of improbable victories, preserved from the most devastating consequences of pursuing your dreams to the fullest. But sports are not about granting fantasies; you have to earn them.
The football gods are the cruelest in all of sports. When they smile in your favor, nothing feels so sweet. But that is not always the case, and on the day after, we have to get up just the same. I need another reason to wake up tomorrow. I sure hope I can find it.
Thursday, December, 06 2007
ESPN Turns up the Volume in the Company Store
Deep in the twisted bowels of the history of capitalism lies the phenomenon of “the company store.” The company store was pretty nice business for the owners. You put people up in a nice little shanty town, made sure they were pretty far away from cheap supplies, and you charged them out the nose for basic household items.
ESPN has become a sort of company store when it comes to sports news and highlights. At one point, CNNSI was trying to give it a go on television, but at this point, the biggest competition to ESPN’s SportsCenter is ESPN’s own ESPN News. At one point, ESPN used to make sure that ESPN News was a real SportsCenter alternative, free of SportsCenter gimmicks like the Budweiser Hot Seat. If you wanted to get Stuart-Scott-and-Kenny-Mayne free highlights, you had the option. And if you wanted to listen to highlights without a junk music soundtrack behind you, you had that choice.
But no longer. Now, if you watch highlights on ESPN News, or for that matter, any of ESPN’s “sister channels,” you also get to listen to abysmal sub-classic rock jingles that ESPN purchased in 1995 and has been playing over and over ever since. I don’t have the statistics handy, but I’m certain you reach a point where if you’ve heard the same musical jingle often enough, it becomes a permanent part of your brain. The frightening implication? ESPN not only owns cable sports, it also owns a growing percentage of my cranium.
After a half hour of ESPN News, you turn off the TV with a hundred junkyard Joe Satriani wannabe riffs ringing through your head. It really bothers me that I have to listen to this tuneless craprock whenever I get my sports highlights because ESPN isn’t willing to let the highlights speak for themselves or provide a noise-pollution-free alternative.
Of course, ESPN is not the only network that cannot seem to put sports on TV without running some kind of musical equivalent of puke behind it. Just check out an Orlando Magic basketball game, and listen to all the lowest common denominator sounds they feel they have to pipe through the loudspeakers during the game itself in order to keep a captive audience who has already paid way too much for tickets interested.
The latest trend is to actually play these “rock is dead” songs of the damned while commentators are pontificating. That’s a really nice compliment: we’re glad to have you on our show, but we’re worried that our listeners will channel surf unless we play this soulless bombast in the background while you are talking.
Scratching underneath this trend of musical abuse, what we conclude is that ESPN and other networks are too insecure about their product to let the action on the field, or in the highlights package, speak for itself.
But wait, I know what you’re thinking: paying for real quality songs would be too expensive, so what’s the alternative to these mud rock jingles from hell? Well here’s one for you: what if ESPN had their own house band? They could do the highlights while a jazz band played in the background. Talk about a good cause: musicians struggling to make ends meet would have the option to go to work for the Worldwide Leader and play cool jams to a live audience. Everyone wins - ESPN gets the music it evidently requires to cater to an attention deficit disorder generation, and musicians get to quit their day jobs in restaurant dishrooms and prevent brains like mine from filling up with corporate sewage.
I don’t expect any royalties from this brilliant idea, nor do I expect it to ever happen. But a guy can dream. In the meantime, there’s one thing ESPN can’t take away from me: the mute button on my remote control.
Saturday, November, 24 2007
Gregg Easterbrook Hates the Pats and I Hate Gregg Easterbrook
The goal of sports journalism is no different than any other form of journalism: be as entertaining as possible while retaining a commitment to an exacting standard of fairness. It’s not always easy to entertain and be fair to your subjects at the same time. Most of the worst sports commentary occurs when writers give into their desire to empty all their arrows by entertaining instead of striving for journalistic objectivity. Gregg Easterbrook, columnist of ESPN.com’s Page 2, has been doing quite a lot of entertaining at the expense of fairness lately, and we’ll get to him momentarily.
But first, I want to hit on a broader point about journalism and objectivity. Historically, there has been a faulty notion in journalism that you can be totally objective in your presentation of the news. We now know that this is impossible, but unfortunately, when objectivity was discredited, the end result was sometimes the reverse: an abandonment of the very idea of fairness - sloppy, opinionated, and poorly-informed work that was a disservice to readers.
As a writer, I continue to aspire to the high bar of fairness. It’s a standard I know I can never consistently achieve, but I aspire to it nevertheless. One way to do that is by acknowledging your own subjectivity. By striving to understand and disclose your own biases, you have the best chance of overcoming them while alerting the reader to where your allegiances stand. I believe that the best journalists achieve something close to objectivity by fessing up to their own subjectivity and then, in the process of defining the parameters of that subjectivity, they hopefully overcome it.
Interestingly enough, in some quarters, there is still an infatuation with the notion that an old-fashioned “objectivity” is possible. Usually, those who believe this are incredibly intelligent people who wrongfully assume that their vast intellect allows them to see all sides of an issue and relay it better than those with lesser intellects. I believe that this is the affliction the aforementioned Gregg Easterbrook is suffering from.
Gregg is a gifted and wide-ranging intellectual. He knows more about football, and for that matter, many other subjects, than I do. He is, in short, brilliant. But in his brilliance, he can also run circles around himself, and fall victim to the notion that he has no base instincts and no petty hatreds of his own to overcome.
But Gregg certainly does. Gregg, you see, is a closet Patriots hater and self-appointed accomplishment diminisher, and as a huge Patriots fan, I am in a position to have an especially strong reaction to his idiocy. It doesn’t bother me that Gregg has demonized the Patriots. What does bother me is that he has never had the guts to admit that he has an agenda to undermine the team and its accomplishments. In fairness, Gregg has raised some important points about the extent of the so-called Spygate controversy and some of the related issues the NFL has swept under the rug.
Unfortunately, agendas that are not acknowledged lead to many falsehoods and an unclear picture. Gregg worships at the altar of the Indianapolis Colts, so as a result, he is unable to see that every team has good and bad individuals on it, and in fact, that most individuals struggle with moral complexities within themselves. He thinks Peyton Manning is a prince sent to this earth to play all-American football, whereas I tend to see Peyton in a more nuanced way, as a great leader who can get a little bitchy when things don’t go his way, as a great comedic actor (if Saturday Night Live was any indication) who doesn’t mind making fun of himself, but who also doesn’t mind being a corporate whore for any oversized check with his name on it either.
But the nut that is really stuck in my gum right now has to do with Gregg’s last column, where he diminished Tom Brady’s exceptional season by asserting that Joey “why can’t I get it together?” Harrington would be a star also if he was playing behind New England’s offensive line. Nevermind that a football lifer like John Madden says that Tom Brady is playing the quarterback position as well as it’s every been played. It goes without saying that Gregg knows a lot less about football than John Madden. That said, Gregg still has a right to his opinion, but putting Tom Brady and Joey Harrington in the same sentence is not about forming a flawed opinion, it’s about being a hater with a big old ax to grind. Keep on hating, Gregg. I hope that the team you root for most winds up with Joey Harrington shortly.
I’m not the first to criticize Easterbrook’s pretentious and irresponsible columns. He has received a huge amount of negative feedback, to the point that ESPN ombudsman had to take the unprecedented step of rebuking him two months in a row for his borderline irresponsible journalism. I do give Gregg a slight amount of credit for apologizing for his most extreme representation of the Colts as Angels and the Pats as Satan, but his Harrington broadside occurred after that, so he has not learned his own self-taught lessons.
I don’t care that Gregg feels an intense need to demonize, dismiss or diminish the Patriots. But it bothers me greatly that the tries to do it in the guise of journalistic objectivity, as if he is the only one who sees that the Patriots have a great offensive line and therefore Joey Harrington and Tom Brady can be mentioned in the same sentence. Actually, Gregg, the thought had occurred to me too, but it was such an overwhelmingly stupid thought that I quickly dismissed it instead of featuring it in my column and patting myself on the back for being a contrarian.
Gregg is not alone in his absurdity. On all kinds of subjects, in all kinds of forums, so-called “journalists” are aggressively pursuing their agendas without openly acknowledging the roots of their frustrations and the passion of their subjectivity. Two examples from the opposite side of the political spectrum: the grandstanding Michael Moore and the insufferable George Will. This is not a Republican or Democratic thing - it’s an arrogance thing, and it’s insulting to those of us who want to form our own conclusions based on well-thought insights and open disclosure.
So, I’ll conclude this blog entry by acknowledging the obvious: yes, I am envious of Easterbrook’s platform and the likely reality that he is financially well off enough that he doesn’t have to do his writing when his eyes are burning up after an all-nighter of hard work to pay for the privilege to self-publish. I’ll leave it to readers to decide if my subjectivity invalidates my opinions. But I’d like to think that the fact that I am willing to completely own the ugly side of what makes me tick lends more credibility, not less, to the rest of my perspective. Presenting your subjectivity has a way of disarming it. I wish Gregg Easterbrook would do the same, but I doubt he will be able to save his soul in this manner. He’s too attached to his masturbatory intellectual virtuosity.
Gregg, I hope the Pats go 19-0. I hope the next time you are dreaming, you are running long for a pass with the Super Bowl on the line, and Joey Harrington overthrows you. Then we cut to a commercial, and Peyton Manning tries to sell you a range of products and services until the horror of your own hypocrisy wakes you like a screaming baby.
Monday, October, 22 2007
Manny Doesn’t Care if He Wins or Loses? Maybe We Shouldn’t Either
Manny Ramirez has been taking a lot of flack for some comments he made before Game 5 of the ALCS, potentially an elimination game for the Red Sox. Basically, Ramirez had the audacity to say, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t care if we lose - there’s always next year.” Many so-called “fans” were deeply offended, thinking this reflected a lack of appropriate passion for winning with a relaxing season of miniature golf, dreadlock styling and island vacations waiting right around Manny’s corner.
I had the opposite reaction: I was kind of amazed that fans could be so absurdly righteous. Let’s start with just the baseball part of it: first, at the time Manny said it, he was enjoying a heck of a postseason, and had recently broken the all-time record for postseason home runs. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you cut some slack to someone who runs his mouth while he’s delivering on the field. But beyond that, here’s the kicker: what indignant fans don’t realize is that the same loosey-goosey attitude that came across in Manny’s “always next year” quip is the reason he bats so well at the plate.We’ve seen what can happen to a wound-too-tight hitter (Renteria, Drew, Lugo, etc) in the pressurized Fenway environment. None of that gets to Manny. The same loose detachment that fans despise is the same mentality that got his team a ring and got Bill Buckner out of harm’s way.
But beyond the baseball common sense, this points to a larger issue: is it possible to care about sports, to love sports, to support our teams, without deriving most of our self-esteem from their achievements? Manny’s fundamentally right - there is next year. The same fans who are bitter about Manny’s comments are the ones yelling in my ear right now at the bar, crying about every double play Julio Lugo grounds into as if it has some kind of impact on the future of the free world or their ability to make their next mortgage payment. Manny talks loose because he plays loose, and we should follow his example, caring about what we do, but not to the point where it leads to a bitter obsession. I know that my life is far from perfect, in fact it is like a chaotic and half-finished construction site. But the one thing I can say in my defense is that I don’t channel my existential frustrations into a bout of rage against the greatest right handed hitter of his generation besides Alex Rodriguez. Yep, that’s Manny. Manny being Manny can be a pain, but as it turns out, he’s not such a bad player.
To be fair, Manny probably shouldn’t be celebrating a home run that closes the gap to 7 to 3 in a tough loss. I don’t have an issue with the criticism that has come his way over that kind of antic. But to give Manny a hard time for saying that he’s not going to lie down in the Ted Williams tunnel if the Sox lose, well, more than a few fans could learn from his example.
Wednesday, September, 19 2007
Modern English Melts Your Memories
It’s been a long, strange journey for Modern English, from the epitome of new wave cool to....Cheesy Beefy Melts. From the black light glow of prom night heartbreak to the golden sunshine of sloppy melted cheese, Modern English has reinvented itself as fast food bottom feeders.
You gotta hand it to the Taco Bell marketing team. If I was only going to pick one song about melting stuff in order to sell some Cheesy Beefy Melts, I would have gone after Modern English too.
As for those of us who would prefer to remember “I’ll Melt With You” as the drive-off scene of the underrated teen classic “Valley Girl,” a movie whose soundtrack, a definitive sampling of early 80s New Wave, is still in print, we’re out of luck. Thanks to Taco Bell, “I’ll Melt With You” now evokes new memories, those of a multi-racial, demographically-correct serenade of cloying, pre-fabricated idiot couples held together with dripping cheese. With cynical apologies to the dumb-headed Coors Light “bogus press conference” series, “I’ll Melt With Beefy Cheese” is the worst commercial of the year.
I bought a modern English record once - I guess I owe the guys an apology for not buying more product. Guys, if you’d only passed the hat my way, I’m pretty sure could have raised enough money to spare you the indignity of warmed-over cheese. While I was at it, I could passed the hat for whoever owns the songwriting rights for Free too, before they sold the soulful “All Right Now” to the most soulless company in the world, AT& T.
I hope we don’t have Free lead singer Paul Rodgers to blame for this poor song stewardship. He should have a fat enough wallet from his generic years with Bad Company to avoid such a desperate crossroads. Anyhow, despite millions of dollars in wasted advertising and a few six packs for Paul Rodgers and pals, I can’t think of one thing about “the new AT&T” that has been of benefit to consumers. Shareholders, yes, consumers no - and if that’s what AT and T means by “All Right Now,” then I’m happy as heck to be wrong.
Come to think of it, it’s probably wrong to judge Modern English too. Typically, this blog has a “one hit wonder exemption,” figuring if you only hit the charts once, you probably don’t have much to show for it financially, so you should be able to pay the rent however you want. But I just can’t get that cheese whiz out of my head. Surely there was something else that needed melting that could have saved Modern English from themselves. Please excuse me while I sign off my computer, I have to go melt my memories.
Tuesday, August, 28 2007
The Word From Alpine - Our Brand is More Important Than Your Music
We know that corporations are obsessed with branding. Whenever they can send someone in an empty suit with an oversized check to get in front of a camera and shake the hand of someone who has just done something that has nothing to do with corporate business, they will. We know that the networks are slicing up every possible buying opportunity within sporting events, thereby making the event itself a constant stream of name brands.
And of course corporations seize every opportunity to do this kind of branding, sponsoring “calls to the bullpen” anytime a pitcher coughs up some runs, “safe at home” any time a runner scores, and every possible sponsorable event within an event - and this despite the fact that large companies have nothing whatsoever to do with the skills required for feats of individual athletic accomplishment. But that’s another rant already written. We now take the association for granted, but that doesn't mean it's not absurd. Wouldn't it make nice sociology to force athletes to compete living solely on the products that sponsor them? It would be great fun to watch fat athletes who live on McDonalds, Snickers and Vitamin Water compete. Call it the Red Bull Olympics.
Raising objections to this type of branding is probably futile given how few people are bothered enough to vote with their wallets and eyeballs. But I recently saw this branding project taken to a whole new level by Alpine.
I decided to cash in my penny jars and finally replace my broken down car stereo with a new Alpine iPod deck. It was a pretty stupid purchase financially, but I just couldn’t resist the ridiculous fun of being able to scroll through my iPod and rock out to my playlists while driving.
The deck has lived up to every expectation. But there’s one “hello from your corporate friends” glitch. On the deck’s large face plate, Alpine has ample room to show the artist, song, and album title for the track that is playing. However, for just about every song/album/artist, even those with short names, the titles are cut off halfway through. Why is that? Because Alpine only used half the screen to show the titles. And why is that? Because Alpine decided to use the entire other half of the screen to show me the fucking Alpine logo!
In this history of corporate branding, this may be the first time I can recall a product actually sacrificing important functionality to blow their own redundant horn. Ummm, guys - I already bought your product. Do I really need to be constantly reminded about Alpine’s massive presence in my life? In fact, there is room on the top of the face plate to run an Alpine logo, and I would have had no objection. Being able to read the song titles would have put me in a fine, tolerable mood.
Maybe my car passenger would enjoy staring at the Alpine logo or would enjoy it subliminally, though the last passenger in my car had to ask me the name of the song that was playing because they aren’t used to reading half-finished song titles. To take an awesome feature - showing me song titles, artists, and albums, and render it almost useless for the sake of a corporate logo - that’s downright apocalyptic. Whichever marketing “suit” gleeked on an otherwise beautiful product should have to wear a tie every day with my picture on it.
Now, full disclosure: there may be a possible way to get rid of the logo. I haven’t found it, but it’s possible deep in the guts of the system I can change that part of the display, maybe with the help of that teenage hacker that busted his iPhone loose from AT & T. I doubt it, but if I can remove the logo, I will update this entry.
Alpine seems to think it solved this space problem through a scrolling function that sometimes shows you the full song title by scrolling back and forth at some random, whimsical interval. But while you’re driving, you’re generally more concerned with the cell phone chatting driver swerving in front of you than you are with waiting for a song title to decide to scroll by. Scrolling is a fancy feature that would be completely irrelevant if not for the technical gymnastics needed to display a logo half as large as the entire display.
The logical conclusions of this type of branding intrusion are a fun-filled mix of corporate noise and public safety hazards. How about a Toyota logo across the front windshield of a car? Or an informative “your Internet connection is brought to you by Verizon, your broadband and entertainment company” banner across the computer screen of an air traffic controller?
Right now, the only line in the sand seems to be about that far. But as long as safety is off the table, anything is brandable. Still, I look forward to playing my car stereo for you. Did I tell you it was made by Alpine?
Thursday, July, 26 2007
Emmitt Smith - Hall of Fame Football Player, In-Over-His-Head "Analyst"
One of the headaches of the Internet Age: the blogosphere has reinforced the faulty notion that everyone has the right to an opinion. It’s a charming notion, but it’s not a belief I happen to share. I believe that everyone has the right to an informed, well-thought opinion. I don’t care if the self-appointed pundit in question agrees with me or not, but I do care that they have given thought to all sides of an issue, and I really care that they have bothered to inform themselves of the basic facts.
Nowhere is this problem more evident than in the case of the celebrity sports analyst. ESPN in particular has the habit of carelessly hiring “analysts” whose only credential is their previous on-field accomplishments. The most recent offender is Emmitt Smith, NFL Hall of Famer and new ESPN football “analyst.”
Now, I have a lot of respect for Emmitt and in the end, he may turn out to be an outstanding analyst. But early returns are not promising. The problem with the lifestyle of the professional athlete is that if they’re not careful, their years with their team and their “posse” will leave them with a pretty myopic outlook. This could be the case with Emmitt.
His problems may be compounded if he assumes that because he is one of the greatest football players of all time, that he might have some of the greatest opinions of all time. Judging from what Emmitt had to contribute to the Michael Vick dogfighting story, Emmitt has a long haul ahead of him, not just in terms of learning how to inform himself before he opens his mouth, but in terms of distancing himself from his impulsive desire to stand up for his fellow athletes when the “squeeze” is on.
Emmitt’s toe-stubbing “debut” as an analyst came when he appeared on the ESPN networks to offer up his misguided take on the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal. Emmitt evidently decided it would be interesting to be the first person to speak on the topic who had not only not read the indictment, but who had not read an article about the indictment either. It’s not clear that Emmitt knew an indictment had actually happened. The result gave the distinct impression of “Emmitt as Fool,” something we are not used to seeing.
“He's the biggest fish in the whole doggone pond right now so they're putting the squeeze on him to get to everyone else,” Smith said. “Now, granted he might have been to a dogfight a time or two, maybe five times, maybe twenty times, may have bet some money, but he's not the one you're after. He's not the one you're after, he's just the one whose going to take the fall — publicly.”
Uhhh, but Emmitt, Michael is actually accused of helping to run dogfights and killing dogs afterwards. At the least, Vick owned a property where dogfighting took place. So, Emmitt, you don’t have to worry about betting on the fights when your people actually run them. Oh and Emmitt, Vick *is* who the feds are after. There are not squeezing him to get to somebody else. The reverse: they are now squeezing Vick’s co-defendants to get to him.
Perhaps that is unfair and that is the story. But for Emmitt, not only did he get his facts wildly wrong, but his whole theme, that Vick is being squeezed to get to the real target, is completely the opposite of what is actually happening. Perhaps Emmitt was under the impression that this Vick saga is actually a made-for-TV series on ESPN and that there is still time to rework the plot and the arc of the character to suit his Harry Potter fantasies of how mob stings ensnare athletes.
Now, I doubt Emmitt did much damage by these remarks. This story has gotten enough publicity, and Emmitt’s take is so wildly inaccurate, that only the terminally misguided could have been further misled. But Emmitt could potentially do more damage to less reported stories in the future if he continues to believe that running his mouth is the same thing as giving informed commentary.
I suspect Emmitt got a call from a man in a suit after this dopey segment, and the next time around he will probably sound like he didn’t just wake up from a long nap in front of his bust in Canton. I hope for Emmitt’s sake he prepares himself better next time. Otherwise, he will remain lumped in with all those who have deluded themselves into thinking their life experience automatically gives them a worthwhile opinion. Opinions are something you have to earn and maintain through self-education. If we all understood that and committed to it, the world would be a better place with better conversations.
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