Monday, February 28, 2011

New Bedlam

This book cover image was blatantly stolen from

Please be aware that this post is not designed to be the assignment for Blog Post 4. Instead, this is to encourage any of you all who stumble upon this blog that are interested in television production to read the novel, New Bedlam. I checked this book out of the local online library just a week after our Media and Society class spent a week discussing television. It was a timely read and a good satire about television and cable executives.
A satisfying novel that took just a couple of hours on the weekend to read, you could do worse things with your time.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Illumination Project

The Illumination Project was hosted by LBCC and put on by Portland Community College. There was a nice write up in the Commuter about the show.

My thoughts on the show: While racism is an issue is our country, I have never witnessed it locally in the way presented. Perhaps this is because I am white, or perhaps it is because I have a rather thick skin and tend to ignore stupid. Perhaps it is because I was fortunate to grow up in a family who believed that people are just people, regardless of color, age, gender, or whom they choose to sleep with.

I have witnessed segregation in my husband's home town, not the separation of bathrooms and water fountains, but the clear divisions of white neighborhood, black neighborhood, Cuban neighborhood. This show didn't go into larger race issues, but personal race issues.

In many ways I felt that the production was an excellent idea, but I am torn about its effectiveness because the show seemed to me to promote oversensitivity and unreality. Many people who got on the stage said things like, "Please don't say such a thing as it is discriminatory." The reality is that most people that I know who overheard a racially inappropriate comment between friends would say nothing like that. We would say, "shut up, you sound like an ass." (and that would solve the problem)

I also noticed that the person who was being "put down" was never encouraged to stand up for themselves. It was always left to a friend or other outsider to say something in defense of the "injured party." I have taught my children never to hit first, but if someone hits them they had better hit back. I feel the same way about racism, sexism, or any other similar situation. If someone is obnoxious to you, you have not only the right, but the duty to stand up for yourself and say something. If someone calls you a name you don't like (as in the play one friend calls the other, who is native American, Sacajawea) you say, "how rude, don't call me that" or you just don't hang out with them anymore. I have told my five year old many times that if one of his friends is mean to him, stop playing with them! If they want to play with you, they will figure out that being mean isn't the way to do it and will change their behavior. If they don't get it, you don't want to be friends with them anyway. There are lots of other kids to play with! My foster daughter is half south Korean. She was once called exotic looking, and she replied beautifully, "What do you mean, I am exotic? There are more Asian people than white people in the world..." The startled young man hemmed and hawed and even blushed. He told her that he had just meant she was very pretty. Still, she stood up for herself when she felt he was treating her looks as a stereotype instead of as personally.

One very positive thing that came of the play is that my friends and I did discuss race and racism after we saw the show. If nothing else, the play did indeed gets us talking and in the end I believe that is what the folks that presented it really wanted to get the viewers to do.

The perception of racial traits... an interesting watch.

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's Kind of a Funny Story

I had read the novel It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini last year and was really excited when I found out that there was a movie of it being made, so I chose to review the movie version. It's Kind of a Funny Story is about a boy named Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) who is contemplating suicide. In a moment of panic over his thoughts, Craig goes to the hospital emergency room and accidentally checks himself into the adult psychiatric ward. He tells them he mistakenly checked in, but they tell him that he cannot leave for at least 5 days. While he's there, he meets the other 2 main characters of the movie, Bobby (played by Zach Galifianakis) and Noelle (played by Emma Roberts), and forms friendships and bonds with each of them, and with the other patients in the ward.

Whenever you read a book and then watch the movie version, or vice versa, you are always going to compare them and decided which was better than the other. In this case, I definitely think the book was better than the movie, but I feel like that is going to be the conclusion in most book/movie comparison cases, so with that in mind, I would still say the movie was quite good. The book showed alot of the relationship between Craig and Noelle and I felt like the movie focused mostly on the relationship between Craig and Bobby. I think that Zach Galifianakis added alot to this movie, and it was a very different role than I'd ever seen him play. It was cool to see him play a bit more serious role than usual, but still put his quirky spin on Bobby. From reading the book, I think Zach fit the character of Bobby perfectly. I think that this movie is different from other movies in the, sort of, teen drama-comedy genre, because it takes a really serious subject (teen suicide) and puts a funny twist on it, and it makes it light hearted, while still have having serious moments where you sort of hold your breath because its a really intense, and you weren't really expecting it.

I think this movie is important and matters, because it discusses a really serious issue that most people don't talk that much about, but that needs to be talked about. The reason Craig got so deep into his depression and suicidal thoughts is because he didnt TALK to anyone about them. People tend to think that they are alone, that they are the only person who is feeling a certain way, and I think this movie did a great job of showing that, even though you feel alone, you are not, and there are other people who feel the way you do. I don't think, however, that the intended audience is only people who are depressed or suicidal or feeling alone, I think anyone could watch this movie and relate to it, or get something from it. For instance, in the movie, Craig seems to think he's figured out Bobby pretty well, that he knows what he's all about, but then he finds something out about Bobby that is completely unexpected, and it gives Craig insight as to why Bobby is the way he is. I think thats an important message that reoccurs in many movies: You never know what someone else is going through.

There were 2 weaknesses in this movie that bothered me a little. The first was this awkward pausing thing it did. It would pause on a frame and Craig would narrate a little, and then it'd unpause, but it happened on weird frames where like the actors face was blurred, or the whole thing was blurring... it just paused on awkward frames. I would have preferred if it froze on a really sharp image, when the character is making a face that really expresses their emotion or something. The second thing was that the time between him contemplating suicide and then being admitted was very short. He is on the Brooklyn bridge, about to jump, but then he says it was a dream, but then he is in the hospital all of a sudden.... it was just a very confusing beginning to the movie. I definitely don't think the movie went into how he ended up in the hospital enough. Other than those 2 small things, the rest of the movie was very strong in my opinion. I thought the cast was great. Its the best when you are watching a movie after having read the book version, and you go "That person is exactly how I imagined them!" and this movie definitely did that for me. The biggest strength I thought this movie had, was portraying it's overall message. I really took away from it the idea that no matter how alone or sad you feel, someone else out there feels just as alone and sad. And for every bad thing you are so focused on and upset over, there are 5 other good things to be happy about. The last line in the movie from Craig was a great one, so I wanted to share it:

"Okay, I know you're thinking, "What is this? Kid spends a few days in the hospital and all his problems are cured?" But I'm not. I know I'm not. I can tell this is just the beginning. I still need to face my homework, my school, my friends. My dad. But the difference between today and last Saturday is that for the first time in a while, I can look forward to the things I want to do in my life. Bike, eat, drink, talk. Ride the subway, read, read maps. Make maps, make art. Finish the Gates application. Tell my dad not to stress about it. Hug my mom. Kiss my little sister. Kiss my dad. Make out with Noelle. Make out with her more. Take her on a picnic. See a movie with her. See a movie with Aaron. Heck, see a movie with Nia. Have a party. Tell people my story. Volunteer at 3 North. Help people like Bobby. Like Muqtada. Like me. Draw more. Draw a person. Draw a naked person. Draw Noelle naked. Run, travel, swim, skip. Yeah, I know it's lame, but, whatever. Skip anyway. Breathe... Live."

After seeing this movie, I am thinking about reading the book again, just so I can fully compare the 2, since I read the book over a year ago. I will watch this movie again, I'm sure, and I definitely recommend that all of you watch it, too. It will not be a waste of your time :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An interesting music blogger:

Previously (in class) i had mentioned an interesting English blogger. I quoted his blog address incorrectly. For future reference his page is titled Lord of the Boot Sale (or forgotten vinyl), or just CLICK HERE!

A quick review of his site, in case you do not have time to visit right now:

I stumbled across this fantastic blog while researching an old song entitled "Margeret, our choir director" from Rollo and Bolliver. Know as the "Lord of the boot sale", this wonderful fellow rummages yard sales, boot sales, estate sales, flea markets, charity shops and other places one finds old vinyls that have been cast adrift (cheap!), takes the records home, and puts them up on blogger for your listening and downloading pleasure. The downloading took a bit of trial and error, but it is the right-click-save-game. He often has pictures of the records themselves, as well, which makes interesting viewing to go along with your listening pleasure. The songs seem to be exclusively from 45s, but as the collection is up to around 2000 hard to find/unique songs at this point, I have not trolled the entire collection. The songs I have seen/heard have been diverse and sometimes unique and are mostly very difficult to find elsewhere (sometimes for very good reason, other times just because popular music can fall into obscurity if enough time passes). I heartily recommend the Lord of the Boot Sale to anyone who has a passion for music and a little spare time on their hands.

Give him a click, it is well worth the time!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A comparison: Albany Democrat Herald and the DHonline

Greetings fellow students and random Internet surfers!

Today we are comparing old and new media in the form of the local newspaper (Albany Democrat Herald) with its online counter-part, the "DH-online" (which can be found by clicking here). This blog post is a class assignment from Rob Priewe, teacher of Media and Society at Linn Benton Community College.

One of the first things i did, in preparation for this blog entry was purchase a "Sunday Edition" of the Albany Democrat Herald. The family sat down to read the paper together, and we discussed which form we liked the best... even my five year old son had an opinion (shown in this video)!

Now that the introduction is out of the way and the fun family video has been shared, lets get down to the comparison:

Both the printed and online versions of the Albany Democrat Herald focus primarily on local interest areas. There are a few pages of print (and a few click-able links in the online version) dedicated to world and US news, but for the most part this newspaper is meant to inform locals of local matters. For persons interested in their community both of these versions are an excellent resource for news, information, and entertainment.

The printed version of the newspaper (the Sunday edition that i sampled) had a front page, sports, lifestyles and local/regional section. Each section includes specific types of news... Local headlines on the front page, with US and World news in the following four pages. The Sixth and final page of the front section contained a full page advertisement for a local car company. Section B is the ever popular Sports section! The front of the sports section covers high school and PAC-10 athletics with brightly colored pictures of local athletes. The five following pages contain mostly black and white photos and cover sports topics as diverse as national box scores, NASCAR, and the schedule for the local high schools basketball and golf teams. Section C (lifestyles) is aimed primarily at local women filled with advice columns and homey tips. My favorite part of the C section comes on the front page in the form of witty commentary from Mike Henneke (be sure to click on his name to visit Mike's face-book page... his status updates are usually charming). The final "real" section of the printed paper is Section D, local/region. This is my favorite section as it covers a few "human interest" type stories, local newsworthy events, the public safety log, global weather (with interesting commentary), and the opinion/editorial pages. I particularly enjoy reading the letters to the editor to see what is on the minds of my fellow mid valley residents. All four sections are just 6 pages long with front and back pages having color photos, the interior pages photos tend to be in black and white. There were two full page ads (the first mentioned previously, the second on the back page of section D). There were numerous other smaller ads for local businesses. As this was the Sunday Edition, there was inserted in the paper (by hard working ad-insert-ers out in the production room) about 50 pounds of ads. Seriously, it isn't that many ads, but tucked safely inside the classified section (which is also 6 pages) there were several glossy pages of ads for companies ranging from Safeway to Best Buy. It deserves mention that there are NO advertisements on the front page.

The online version of the Albany Democrat Herald is formatted slightly differently. The "front page" greets you with choices of three main stories (click 1, 2, or 3) several videos and colorful pictures and more links than you can shake a stick at. I did a quick count and found 119 places to click on the front page alone. There were many banner ads as well as numerous sidebar advertisements right on the front page with the news. On the positive side, most of the ads (although not all) are for local business or organizations, such as Santiam Christian School. Instead of the sections one finds in print, across the top of the web page you find links to sections including news, obits, sports, blogs, classified, community, cars, entertainment, photos, and many more. (DH-online logo lifted from face-book)

So, what sets the DH apart from other news publications? Both the online and print versions are designed for Albany area residents. The news and information it contains, even the advertising is targeted for those of us who live HERE. The paper (both print and online) focuses on things that interest locals. This is one of the Democrat Herald's greatest strengths, the people who write and edit our paper are citizens of our community; they live, work, and play here. They know us and what we want to see and hear, because it is usually what they themselves want to read about. Even other neighboring papers (incidentally owned by the same company, Lee Enterprises) do not target Albany the way the DH does, they target their towns. The Albany Democrat Herald targets ours. If the greatest strength of our paper is it's people, it's greatest weakness is the size of our town. With the advent of craigslist and similar Internet advertising sites, the classified advertising that used to be the mainstay money maker of our newspaper has dried up and the revenues have disappeared. Production costs have gone up and revenues have gone down, which mean prices have to go up to accommodate the loss. Our town may not be large enough or wealthy enough to support a daily paper for much longer unless the business model is altered to meet the challenges of the Internet age.
The main differences the come to mind between the print and online version all have to do with timeliness and reader contribution. The printed version is out of date the instant it comes off of the press, while the online version can be updated continually 24/7 to always have the most current local news. The online version of the paper has also enabled comments so that the community can talk about the story instantly online. Now, personally I read an article, then we discuss it in the family if it is interesting; but with comments i can discuss the articles at more length and with more people. Sure, the printed paper has an editorial section, but there is only so much space, where the online opinions and letters do not have that limitation. Another big difference is reader photos. The printed version of the newspaper contains a feature on page A2 the boasts one reader photo per day (Monday through Saturday). The website hosts and entire section dedicated to photographs taken by locals for sharing amongst the entire community, not just one at a time but hundreds!

To cover the last few points i may have missed:
I found nothing offensive or stereotypical in either version of the DH.
I prefer the printed paper, but i am old and more comfortable with what i know.
*note, if i could put the DH on my ebook reader as a daily, i would change my opinion of which version i prefer.
I believe that both the print and online versions are valuable because they each serve a different niche in our community.
I learned that there is more to the online version of the DH than i previously realized.
I also learned that my son can't say Albany Democrat Herald very well.

Lastly, i love the paper copy because, well, I like having a bit of newsprint at the end of the day to light the fireplace! I can't just throw my laptop in the firepit (although there have been times i was tempted to do just that).

(thanks to Cam, from Kent Washington for the great fireplace pic!)

Warning: I will return with more/less info as circumstances warrant, but i wanted to get this out and published so i could go to town and buy a pizza. I got a coupon out of the newspaper!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MTV's "Skins"

For this blog project, I decided to look at MTVs new series Skins. Its been raising quite a bit of controversy, so I wanted to analyze it and see if the controversy is for good reason, or if Skins actually does accurately mirror culture today. I watched the first two episodes. MTVs version of Skins was actually adapted from the UK version, which has been on Channel 4 BBC over there since 2007. I have watched all 4 seasons of the UK version, and I watched them before I even knew MTV had plans to adapt it. Along with other people who have seen the UK version, I did not have high expectations that the USA version would live up to the UK version. Even though the majority of people who will view the MTV version will have never seen the UK version or even know it exists, for those of us who have, the USA version will get harsh critique. But first, I will start with a description of the plot and characters.

MTVs Skins airs at 7:00 pm (On dish network, could be different on cable, I'm not sure) right after Jersey Shore. This was obviously a tactic MTV used to try to get the maximum amount of viewers, since Jersey Shore is their most popular show. The storyline of Skins is very basic. Skins is a drama that follows 8 high school teens, 4 girls (Tea, Michele, Cadie, and Daisy) and 4 boys (Tony, Sid, Chris, and Abbud). It is really just about each character getting through life and encountering issues. It focuses on school, relationships, partying, questioning your sexuality, family problems.... basically any problem you can think of a teen having, one of the characters encounters it eventually. Skins is different from many shows in the fact that there are 10 episodes in a season, and the first episode focuses on everyone, and then after that, each character gets an episode mainly focused on them, with the other characters making appearances. The last episode is also an "Everyone" episode. This method allows you to really see into the character and get a deeper sense of what they are going through, but it also doesn't really allow you to know what the character is really about until their episode. For example, the second episode was based on the character Tea, who is a closet lesbian. Her friends know, but her family does not. She goes through meeting a girl she likes, but not wanting a relationship with that girl. She feels like no one matches up to her. She has a short romance with Tony, but realizes its not right. She makes a few attempts to tell her family she's gay, but is overshadowed and ignored. In the end of the episode, she is speaking with her Grandmother, and her Grandmother confesses she was in love with woman before she married Tea's grandfather.This a very emotional scene and allows you to see deeper into Tea.

The advertising during commercial breaks was a pretty wide range of things. The majority was movie trailers, including 2 romantic comedies, 3 action dramas, and 1 thriller. I noticed that the movie trailer that played the most was for No Strings Attached, which appears like its going to be a movie about 2 friends who are "friends with benefits", so I found that to be interesting because one of the controversies surrounding Skins is that its "basically child pornography" and that it is based alot around sex. I guess its okay for movie trailers to be based around that, but not the show for which they are advertising during? I also read a few news articles and found out that Taco Bell, Subway, H&R Block, and GM pulled their advertisements from Skins after the first episode and after the child pornography accusations. PETA and LifeStyle condoms bought the available space. Other advertisements were for acne treatments, Redbull, typical stuff you'd expect. I think these advertisers chose a good spot to advertise, because its mostly teens aging from 14-20-something that will watch this and teens go to the movies and eat fast food and have acne, so thats the right target audience, right demographics.

The attitudes and styles used in this show are extreme, to state it simply. Its explicit. But this show was made to raise eyebrows and be blatant and out there. That is what makes it unlike other shows. If people are freaking out over USAs version, which bleeps out curse words, has revealing clothes but no nudity, and which so far has stuck to only alcohol and pot, then they would probably literally explode if they saw the original UK version, which goes waaaaay past all of the limits MTV has. I think that why people don't approve of this show is because instead of just portraying or hinting at drugs, alcohol, and sex, there are extreme or close to explicit scenes showing the characters doing all of those things. People who are against the show raise the point that the actors are underage, which is what makes it wildly inappropriate, but then what about shows like Gossip Girl or 90210, where the characters are in high school but the actual actors are not underage? Is that different? I think people don't like this because Skins doesn't sugarcoat anything, they show it how it is.

I think that parents or other people who disapprove of the show are going to think that the shows content is going to persuade teenagers to act the way the characters are acting, which is not true. If it wasn't Skins that was showing teens these things, it would be some other show. This stuff is everywhere, its unstoppable. Sex sells nearly everything in this country but as soon as its actually shown or talked about, people throw a fit. I will admit that this show probably does make it look like every teen is a closet partier that their parent has no idea about, and I think that is the stereotype within this show. It makes it seem as if all teenagers are having sex and smoking pot and partying and being wild, but thats so far from true, just like its so far from true that watching this show will influence teens who aren't doing those things to change their path. I don't do anything even close to what the characters in this show are doing, and after watching it, I don't still don't do them! I've been watching the UK version since last year and it hasn't influenced my behavior in the slightest. You can appreciate something for more than what is on it's surface.

As I said in my introduction, people who have viewed the UK version of this show will find the USA version to be watered down, plain and simple. I guess its because of cultural differences, but the UK is more open to the extremities that this show presents. They are more than open to it, in fact, it is a phenomenon in the UK, one of the most popular shows on television. If someone from the UK were to see the USA version, I'm sure they would only think we are trying to rip off their show, and are doing a poor job of it. Not only are the episode plots the same, many of the scenes are complete copycats of the UK ones. Much of the dialogue is copied too. I don't understand why MTV copied so many scenes and dialogue, and then saved only the original names of 3 of the characters (Tony, Michele, and Chris) and then changed the remaining 5 (Sid to Stanley, Cassie to Cadie, Jal to Daisy, Anwar to Abbad). The biggest change MTV made was creating Tea. In the UK, this character was Maxxie, a gay blonde boy who Tony (pretty much the main male character) played with Maxxie's heart and hit on him in one of the episodes. MTV ruffled this storyline up, making the gay character a girl, and having her and Tony have a short lived romance. I'm curious to see how else Tea changes the storyline in upcoming episodes.

My opinions are obviously different from the critics (at least the ones of whose opinions I've read). I think the reason for this difference is that the critics I've read from are older, and one was a parent, and these people probably cannot relate at all to this show. If you were to ask a teenage critic, I imagine they would speak of Skins similarly to the way I have been, and say that while, yes, it is extreme and blatant and out there, it's also true, and captivating, and interesting, and relatable (to a point). I think what makes this show interesting and captivating is that it's very up and down, and unpredictable. A character can be on top of the world one second, and then something huge happens and they are in a very different mood. Or maybe everything is going well, but then they accidentally drive the Escalade they stole into a river, while taking their friend to the hospital because they thought she overdosed on pills, but actually she was just asleep and now she woke up. See what I mean? Its unpredictable. I think this is what makes the show memorable and stand out.

Many sites and TV shows reported that MTV was going to be cancelling Skins, because of the controvesy and upset people, and because their second episode had less than half of the viewers the first episode had. MTV has said that they are not even considering cancelling Skins, and that they will air all 10 episodes of the first season. So if you want to see for yourself what all the hype/hate is about, tune in to MTV on Monday nights! I reccomend watching at least once to form your own opinion on the show. Maybe you will agree that is it wildly unappropriate, or maybe you will find a deeper message, or a way to relate to it.

Below are a few links to articles I read about the show, and also links to the pilot episodes of both the UK version of Skins and the USA version, in case anyone wants to compare the 2 for themselves!
Skins wikipedia page
Fox News Review
Skins cancellation false
USA Skins season 1 pilot
UK Skins series 1 pilot

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meow Mix

We decided to follow the theme and thus chose the following older commercial to analyze:

Original source found here!

Although many sharing this course with me are too young to recall his beginnings, the "Singing Cat" mascot from Ralston Purina has been around our television sets since the 1970s! (My generation grew up singing meow meow meow meow... it annoyed MY mother!) For a more detailed biography of the "Singing Cat" feel free to CLICK HERE .

Personally i feel like this ad uses the annoyance factor (irritating) but that is not universally felt. When discussing this commercial with others it was pointed out that there is a bandwagon concept going on here as well. The catch phrase is "So good cats ask for it by name." The assumption there would be, "all the other cats are eating it." The advertisers went in an interesting direction after this classic commercial. The commercial actually broke into it's own story line (using a modified version of the myth/narrative). Later in the series of the "Singing Cat" commercials the owner was introduced and they had a series of 30 second "mini adventures" where the cat always "sang for his supper". The dubbing of the music and meowing over the video of the cat was very clever for its time and the ad was actually fairly effective.

Due to the age of this advertisement, it is nothing new now. For it's time it was fairly innovative. According to research, the ad was initially aimed at cat owners, later as it grew into a story of its own it was aimed at people who had seen the previous commercials seeing a connection and developing loyalty, while still enticing new consumers by being "stand alone" enough (Thus you didn't have to see all of the commercials to get it). I didn't find any stereotypes or anything offensive in this commercial, unless of course you seriously do not like cats... then i suppose it would be a horrible commercial to you.

On a side note, although there weren't necessarily pop culture references per se, the commercial series themselves made it into popular culture (as the above image lifted from here illustrates) and became something greater than itself as kids all across the nation made their poor tormented kitties sing, "meow meow meow meow." I do recall driving our elementary school bus driver insane with this one as well... she added this commercial to the list of banned songs (songs we were not allowed to sing on the bus).

This is an effective and memorable ad. The "meow meow meow" is just horribly catchy and if you do not have brand loyalty somewhere else, as you push your cart through pet supplies you will be singing it in your head. I was young when this commercial originated, thus didn't have control of our pet food purchases. As an adult, I have a dog... i only feed him cats, not cat food. Err, i mean, i only feed him dog food, yeah, that's what i meant.

How do we engage with a singing cat? We can sing along. We can change the channel. We can adopt a cat from the shelter to feed Meow Mix to. Or we can simply enjoy this commercial for what it now is, an interesting bit of Americana.

As a last interesting thought... and to prove the claim that the Singing Cat has staying power...

Go to you tube, you can find the original copy of this remix and many many other remixes of the Meow Mix song... there are millions of hits for "singing cat" and The Meow Mix Singing Cat was the original! (Googling the phrase Meow Mix Cat received About 97,600 results (0.33 seconds) wow!)

Advertising comes in many forms. Some is entertaining, some annoying, some so subtle you don't realize it is advertising. We are bombarded from every angle, ever day with ads for everything. Someone somewhere wants us to spend our money with them. The ad market is highly competitive; they want our attention. We have a choice to give the ads our time and by extension the companies our money, or not. Educate yourself about advertising, the strategies they use to try to hook you, the consumer.

And of course, meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow... buy your cat meow mix! Kidding, only kidding!

As with any form of propaganda, just because it's advertising doesn't mean we don't like it.