Mommy Dearest

May 13, 2007 at 5:09 pm (celebrities, movies, politics, stuff)

It’s Mother’s Day, a time we put aside to buy greeting cards for the woman that gave us life. Mother’s Day in the United States became official in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution making the day an official holiday to celebrate the woman’s role in the family. The creation of Mother’s Day was primarily the work of Anne Jarvis, who sought to celebrate her own mother’s life by handing out white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. Unfortunately, the holiday was co-opted by the florist and greeting card industries, and became a day of commercialism and exploitation. Jarvis campaigned until her death trying to stop what she had created.

I’m not a mother, but I don’t think I’d like to celebrate Mother’s Day when I become one. Maybe it’s the Catholic in me, but the guilt is frankly overwhelming—one day isn’t enough to celebrate motherhood, but it’s just enough to make us reflect on the lack of time we put into celebrating mothers otherwise.

In the spirit of Mother’s Day, Turner Classic Movies is showing a variety of thoughtful and nostalgic films that commemorate the bittersweet sacrifice of mothers—including such films as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Stella Dallas (1937) (both of which I would hightly recommend). But today, in the hopes that we might have an anti-Mother’s Day celebration, here are some films to remind us that it’s not all flowers and puppies.


The Omen (1976)

To spare his wife the sorrow of having lost their child at birth, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) decides to go through with the not-so-legal adoption of a child whose mother died in childbirth. Win-win, right? Well, it just so happens that this child is the antichrist. At least his heart was in the right place. As dad investigates what could be wrong with his “son” the apple-cheeked little Damien (Harvey Stephens) enthusiastically rides his tricycle through the house, taking down everything in his path, including mommy; right over the balcony.


Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

This film brings new meaning to the phrase ‘a face only a mother could love’. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is happy to learn that she and her husband are expecting—and so are her quirky neighbors. But strange things start to happen—like the horrible pain she feels over the first few months of her pregnancy, or the craving for raw chicken livers—and then there’s that pesky nightmare about being raped by the devil. But still, Rosemary gets past all this—after all, isn’t pregnacy supposed to be an uncomfortable situation? When she finally sees her son for the first time, with his father’s golden serpentine eyes and hooved feet, her motherly instincts kick in—she rocks him slowly to sleep.


Aliens (1986)

Biologically speaking, there’s only one mother in this film, and she’s just a bit unconventional—her babies need to gestate in the available human population. After saving Newt (Carrie Henn), the last survivor of a colony purposefully settled on the alien-infested planet (isn’t science great?), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) looks for an escape route, and stumbles on the Queen Mother’s birthing chamber. Bargaining for Newt’s safety, mother to mother, Ripley threatens the Queen’s babies with a blowtorn, and, like any mother protecting her children, the Queen gives in. It’s almost touching.


Poltergeist (1982)

Just how far would you go for your children? Give them a kidney? Work three jobs? Transport yourself to an alternate dimension to rescue them from the forces of the evil dead? Little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) plays too close to an inter-dimensional portal (her bedroom closet) and ends up the kidnap victim of poltergeists. What is striking about this film is that her mother, Diane (JoBeth Williams) keeps her cool—in a situation where most people would crumble, she goes about her business—doing laundry, caring for her other children, and trying to bring Carol Anne home.


There you go–have some fun with non-conventional mothers, and remember: your relationship with your mother could be a lot more complicated—

Rosemary's maternal instincts.


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The Joys of Procrastination

April 26, 2007 at 11:37 pm (stuff, web 2.0)

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Jorge Cham, author of the grad student comic “Piled Higher and Deeper,” at the University of Arizona. Cham gave a great talk about procrastination, something I’ve been doing a lot lately. To procrastinate, he argues, is not necessarily a bad thing (separate from its close cousin, laziness)—you’re simply deferring a task, but still thinking about doing it; whereas laziness is simply a complete lack of desire to do anything. When we procrastinate, we let our minds wander from the tasks at hand, we can end up being even more creative, removing the mental blocks that occur when we concentrate too long on something. If you have the opportunity to see Cham speak, I highly recommend it—especially if you are or ever were a grad student–he really, really understands.

Procrastination is actually going to end up saving me a lot of time—the other day I was wandering around my bookmarks (I was supposed to be cleaning, but the computer was so enticing…) and I found one I had saved a while back: todoist. This seems to me like one of those fantastic applications developed by a software engineer while work was being avoided; procrastination brings us the most wonderful things.

Today at work when I needed to find a way to organize my (entire) life, todoist popped right back into my head again. You can create projects, add tasks, assign due dates, create color-coding and, best of all, there is a satisfying check box for when you complete something. It works like my brain, but with a bit more clarity—and you can access it from anywhere. With this tool, I can see myself becoming exponentially more productive than I am now…leaving me with oodles of valuable procrastination time. Life is good.

I was in humanities.  This is true.

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Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free

April 19, 2007 at 11:10 pm (places, stuff)

This is the inscription on the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, darkened in mourning.

The Clock Tower at Austin, darkened.

I haven’t blogged in a while, though goodness knows there was plenty to blog about—Imus was good for at least a couple of entries—but we’ll come back to that later. Today I’m blogging about something wholly disturbing, the Virginia Tech shootings. The event in itself is heartbreaking, and has no logic—it was a sad act by a sad person. But what is just as disturbing is the treatment of the event by the media. A sick person quickly becomes a monster as we rip his life apart, and that makes it easier for us to grasp. The event becomes mythology—good versus evil; an event to be learned from and made better by for having survived it.

Our fascination with tragedy is remarkable—the tragic occurrences are the ones that shape us; I couldn’t tell you a great deal about the history of the University of Texas at Austin, but I know who Charles Whitman was. I was there when they decided to re-open the clock tower to visitors, (for the second time—a string of suicides in the 1970s closed the observation deck for a second time in 1974) and I heard stories about how he’d hit people almost a mile away, how bore marks in the marble of buildings were actually ricochets, and how he had scratched marks in the limestone of the clock tower to keep count of his kills. He was a regular person, capable, in a twisted way, of something remarkable. We still remember that day, as we remember 9/11 or Columbine. We examine killers with the same fervor as the great minds of our time. They fascinate us—just as we perhaps can’t see ourselves achieving greatness, we can’t see ourselves causing such suffering.

But I would ask that in this situation, as in others, we try to remember that there are never only two sides. We should have pity and not hatred, and we should try to understand why—and understand that there is no simple answer.


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Juicy Joost

March 25, 2007 at 8:52 pm (stuff, web 2.0)

There’s been a lot of buzz about Joost lately, the new software from the creators of Kazaa and Skype, which allows users to watch television over the internet. My first thought was, “yeah…and?” It seems counterintuitive to take a technology as old as television and simply give it a new form. But it does seem to have a few added bells and whistles—rewind and pause (though with television’s instinctive paranoia against pirating, “record” is not a likely feature)—it also includes a ratings system and chat windows, so you can discuss programs as they happen. Joost will be presented in a channel format, rather than the click-to-play per program or clip like most of the video currently on the internet. And, spurned by YouTube, Viacom has signed up to broadcast its programs on Joost (any relation to the lawsuit, I wonder?).

Joost is P2P, so it will make its money through advertising, again, much like traditional television, and this may really be the advancement that Joost can provide. Current television ratings are a generally agreed-upon falsehood. Advertising dollars are based on Nielsen ratings, meaning that what 1% of the population watches determines how much television networks can charge for airtime. This is why there are such things as sweeps—the periods when viewers are creating diaries that detail one week of their personal viewing—so they often save the exciting plot twists and guest stars for February, May, July and November. If internet television becomes the norm, it will give programmers even more opportunity to track viewer patterns through fuzzy logic, much like does. Not only will the content providers know what you are watching, but they’ll know how long you are watching it, when you are watching it, how you choose to rate it, whether you chat during it, and then they can take that information to create personalized recommendations, for content and products. So, even though the ads will be select and shorter, they may be more effective.

I can’t imagine that Joost will be around for very long before the advertising starts to become imposing. Given that television is an established technology, and content will need to come from the traditional television networks, the technologies will likely share the space for a while to come.

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Please, stop.

March 19, 2007 at 8:56 pm (stuff)

I watch a lot of television, and I’ve seen a lot of commercials—and sometimes, you just see some really bad commercials…commercials so bad that I’ve made a vow never to use any of these products. So here, for your enjoyments, are the worst three—feel free to expand on the list—

1) Botox – Most pharmaceutical commercials are either remarkably vague or incredibly specific (from people cuddling and watching the sunset for erectile dysfunction, to people discussing in detail their abdominal issues) but this one just made me slap my forehead in disgust. Women, dancing and loving their Botox and/or plans for Botox, while the song “Express Yourself” plays in the background. The thing is, the entire point of Botox is to prevent you from making expressions. Gotta love to hate it.

2) Taco Bell – Dear Taco Bell advertising executives: get a new ad agency. Seriously…the Chihuahua was better than the deplorable crap you have been forcing on viewers lately. The bottom of the barrel involved a young lad espousing the virtues of the “4th Meal”—that’s right America, knowing full well that we are becoming so obese that our life span is actually getting shorter, Taco Bell wants in on the action. They’ve also taken to renaming our food groups for us—how thoughtful! Now I don’t have to worry about those pesky vegetables—but did I get my daily allowance of melty?

3) V-cast phones – Let me get this straight—I’m a stranger to you, just minding my own business, and you approach me, armed with what can politely be called poor taste in music, and you stick you disease-ridden earbuds in my ears. For what? Do you want me to validate your existence? Well, I can’t. I don’t know you, and I don’t want to. Keep your hands to yourself. Freak.

So, please, stop.

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March 9, 2007 at 11:18 am (stuff)

It’s been a long trip here, but I suppose it was inevitable. My husband says he’s a “Web 1.0 kind of guy” but I’ve been finding this next generation facinating. Being a former grad student, I decided to pause and research the heck out of blogging–wikipedia is a godsend–but after a while I decided just to go with the Brazen Careerist’s advice and just do it. The part that gets me the most is just how much our lives continue to be mediated—and now we’ve come to the point of self mediation—to be is to be blogging. To exist is to have a page on MySpace. To live is to become a part of someone else’s (virtual—to dust off an oldie) life.


I have a background in film, a love of television, and a fascination with Web 2.0. I somehow managed to stumble into a fantastic job that revolves around Web 2.0; (don’t ask me how—it’s not like companies are clamoring for people with advanced degrees in media theory—oh yeah, that was totally worth the glut of students loans I now owe…but that’s for another post) I like what I do, and it’s expanding my horizons of understanding the ways in which people communicate. So, this is what I’ll blog about—things I’ve seen and heard, probably focusing on film until I become comfortable with the blogosphere. So, stay tuned (or fed, in this case) and I hope to hear from you.

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