Jon Reed Goes Off On... February 2006
Friday, February, 10 2006
Nascar is tight with the Fortune 500: why is that so great?
I get that Nascar is a cultural phenomenon. I get that it has done a great job of connecting with fans while making tons of money. I might be willing to award it the status of "fourth major sport" in America. I still don't see the entertainment value in watching things go around in a circle on TV, but I understand that families are having fun at the local racetrack and I tip my hat to a "sport" that has grown far beyond what I would have predicted. Having said that, why is it so great that Nascar is so beholden to corporate interests? I just watched this special on ESPN that talked about how much money Nascar makes from the Fortune 500, and how the drivers must remember to thank all the sponsors on their uniforms when they win, and how they attend their sponsors' corporate picnics and functions. Nascar drivers are essentially massive, unapologetic shills for the largest companies in the world. So, let me get this right: middle America (red state America) is in love with a sport that is deeply connected to companies that regularly take jobs from America and move them to wherever labor is pennies on the dollar. Middle America disappoints me. They vote for politicians based on a "values match," but don't have a problem supporting the same corporate interests that are indifferent to their local economies. So Nascar fans think it's good old fashioned apple pie living to pack a lunch, head down to the track, and cheer for guys wearing the decals of companies who are in the process of moving jobs wherever in the world they see fit. At one point do people get the economic shaft enough to start feeling like the companies they support as a consumer owe them something as an employer? I respect Nascar as an example of brilliant marketing, and I see that the drivers have a natural and easy interaction with their fan base that must breed loyalty. But behind this warm and fuzzy is a growing sports empire that gloats about how its drivers bend over for corporations that are not necessarily moral or American at all. Nascar is a phenomenon, but spare me from any talk about how it's all about traditional American values. American values without American jobs is bullshit.
Monday, February, 06 2006
Bad Pepsi and bad hip-hop
The commercials of Super Bowl XL didn't make much of an impression on me - except for the Diet Pepsi commercial featuring Diet Pepsi making its own hit song about itself. I think Diddy was involved in this diabolical project, and Jay Mohr plays the agent brokering a deal for a can of pop. The commercial was very well produced, but what gets me is the creeping suspicion, the dread, that some people out there actually consider that Pepsi song to be real music. It sounds a lot like the lowest-common-denominator Destiny's Child/"Jenny on the Block" schlock that has tortured the Billboard charts in recent years. Now, you might think that because I write so much about metal that I have a thing against hip-hop, but that's not true. I like a lot of R&B, hip-hop, rap, and jazz. I continue to feel that that rap lost its edge when it turned its back on the Malcolm-X-inspired Public Enemy era, but I can appreciate a good groove. What I have a hard time embracing is the new hip-hop culture that sees no contradiction between being a "player" and taking shitloads of money from The Man, while recording some of the most abysmal "music" ever recorded. To cite one in an avalanche of examples, I can't take The Black Eyed Peas seriously since their embarrassing Best Buy commercials, but I suspect that the bulk of their fan base sees absolutely nothing troubling about the cozy ties between these supposedly "cool" musicians and the ever-present pockets of corporate America. Whatever. These folks are spineless, neutered tools of the system and their mindless manufacture of youth culture pudding will never impress me, no matter how many tattooed youngsters way cooler than me lick it up. So, for the record, anybody above the age of fifteen who thinks that the Diet Pepsi song is "cool" is a loser. And if you don't feel disgust at Pepsi's attempt to penetrate the heart of hip-hop culture, then you are an idiot. Does that cover it? Let's see if Pepsi ends up releasing the song. I'll make this vow to my detractors: if the Pepsi song is released and reaches the top of the charts, I'll admit total cultural defeat and shut this blog down. Till then, I'm gonna keep shouting into the foul wind.
Some random notes on the bad sports of Super Bowl XL
There were lots of bad sports to go around in Super Bowl XL. The refs did their job by making sure the game would be satisfying only to those with money on the Steelers; the Stones did their part by turning in a half-assed performance - the first bloated three song performance in history. "Rough Justice" was an apt choice for what happened during the game itself, but it was a lousy idea for the Stones to waste a third of their set on a song no one outside of the band will ever care about. Bad sports were everywhere: Mike Holmgren did his part by fuming over the refs and not over his Pop Warner clock management. But our coveted "bad sport/bite the hand that feeds you award" is reserved for Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Everyone said that the Super Bowl MVP lineup was one of the coolest aspects of the whole night. But did you wonder where Terry and Joe were? Turns out two of the greatest Super Bowl players of them all didn't show up because the NFL wouldn't pay their standard appearance fee. Now, we can blame the NFL for being too cheap to pony up for Joe and Terry, but we can also hang this on the guys for refusing to show up for the game that cemented the legacy they still draw cash from. Think Terry Bradshaw has paid for a meal in Pittsburgh since the 70s? The least he could do was to show up before the game for all the Terrible Towels in the stands. As for Joe, whenever he needs some cash, he can just pull some dirty sox from the hamper, sign them, and put them up for sale on eBay. The kicker? The guys were in town for the Super Bowl anyway. We complain about athletes not taking stands, but at least these guys found an issue to take a stand on: their appearance fees. Keep up the fight boys!
Friday, February, 03 2006
Welcome to the Kentucky Fried Derby
I don't have a problem with the corporate sponsorship of sports. I have a problem with corporate ownership of sports. It's a subtle but important distinction. Corporate sponsorships are an inevitable part of modern day capitalism. Corporate ownership, and implied ownership, is sponsorship taken to the extreme due to the lack of viable alternatives and a bit of good old-fashioned greed. Beyond sponsorship, we get into an area where companies are implying they are somehow integral to the performance on the field, and in fact, that without their corporate spirit the event would not be possible. Let's look at a couple of real-life examples: "Around the Horn" is a sports talk show on ESPN that is primarily sponsored by Nissan. Nissan is such a VIP sponsor that its logo is integrated into the promo that begins the show. And they always make a point of mentioning Nissan before heading to break at least once during the broadcast. "Around the Horn" gets the brand of Nissan across, but in a tasteful way that does not imply control over the show's content and format. TNT's popular "Inside the NBA" pre and post-game show also has one main sponsor, Hyundai. Up until this year, they did a clever job of working this sponsorship into the show, even including some bits where Kenny and Charles call out and/or make fun of the close financial ties between Hyundai and "Inside the NBA." They were able to identify their sponsor without implying that Hyundai exerted undue influence on the content of the show itself. But this year, "Inside the NBA" has added Hyundai's name prominently to the show's set itself. This has the effect of making clear that "Inside the NBA" is Hyundai's bitch. I've stopped watching the show. No one likes to watch people who are wet noodles. I don't respect people who bend over for sponsors and I can't take the rest of their opinions seriously. Negotiating with sponsors is one thing - giving them whatever they ask is total and unnecessary capitulation. Which brings us to the Kentucky Derby. The Derby has now accepted a corporate sponsor within the title of the event itself. It is now "the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands." We know that horse racing in is trouble, but isn't that what is troubling? More and more, we are going to see fiscally-troubled entities like towns, municipalities, and states accepting various forms of sponsorship. Corporations are "branding predators." They will take advantage of financially-struggling entities and further blur whatever lines in the sand are left. When aliens screen documentaries of American life, they are going to mark this era as the time when humans started to be controlled by Yum! instead of the other way around. Nevermind that branding "Yum!" is meaningless. Since Yum! owns KFC, the only acceptable name for this year's horse race is, of course, the Kentucky Fried Derby. Am I the only one who prefers the absurdity of the extreme over the casual whoring of business-as-usual?