To Twitter or not to Twitter?

March 21, 2007 at 10:44 pm (places, politics, web 2.0)

I can’t decide whether Twitter is the next big thing or the next of the latest and greatest Web 2.0 technologies to bite the proverbial dust. It seems like the natural progression of blogging—a universal blog that everyone can contribute to. But, there’s not necessarily the same amount of thought put into contributing. It’s more like a non-synchronous chat. It reminds me of the game telephone (you start with “President Bush should rethink his foreign policy” and end up with “Messing with tusking shook peering fusion peas”). Is it a conversation? Not really—more like pining something on a bulleting board. But why pin something when you have nothing to say, necessarily?

Then again, it can be entertaining—much in the way reality television is—predictable, but still like watching a car wreck; everyone else is slowing down to look, why not me? It gives us concourse to the world, and, unlike a lot of mainstream media, gives us others we can directly identify with. After all, if we are looking at Twitter, we have been drawn in by the spectacle of it, and reading it, you can see people just like yourself, or who remind you of your own experiences. This comment reminded me of my time at UT Austin (if you’ve spent time in Texas, you’ll understand). Vicarious nostalgia. On the other hand, it can also confirm your schema of the world—someone from San Fran who likes Bikram yoga and chai lattes for example. Nothing wrong with it, just nice to reflect on. And let us not forget the advantage of the virtual-being-there; I couldn’t be at SXSW (more Austin nostalgia), but I knew what was happening there, moment to moment, because of Twitterers.

I suppose it could go either way at this point. Blogging takes a lot of dedication, but Twitter has random charm—I offer no predictions. Except that I don’t think John Edwards will be elected—just a hunch.

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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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Sinbad is not dead either.

March 16, 2007 at 10:11 pm (celebrities, theory, web 2.0)

The web allows for some remarkable meta-experiences—today, several people experienced a happy bout of ‘hey-remember-that-guy-now-he’s-dead!’ forwarding when they discovered that comedian Sinbad had died of a heart attack. Unfortunately, Sinbad was not dead—he, or rather, his biography, was the victim of a prank on wikipedia.

The wording used to describe this act (by wikipedia spokesperson Sandra Ordonez) was “vandalized”—which got me thinking—can you really vandalize that which is truly not there? In proper Web 2.0 fashion, wikipedia is one part of a constantly shifting database, growing, changing, inhabited by a variety of people; the web is a society, complete with criminals. And like it or not, we entered into a social contract with the web, giving it assumed power.

But is our Rousseau-like democratization of media helping or harming us? In this case, it spurred the spread of misinformation—after all, are we more likely to trust a news article from cnn.com or from wikipedia? As I’ve said before, this democratization can be helpful—you can communicate with people you would have never had the opportunity meet before, enabling an impossible-to-measure exchange of ideas. But this exchange requires trust, and faith that those who are doing as you do (contributing) will follow the Golden Rule.

Just a reflection on how those very old systems of power still remain—but somehow I don’t think that overthrowing the web is an option. Like most systems, it requires a certain amount of blind faith and skepticism.

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Disney’s Latest Princess

March 15, 2007 at 11:31 pm (movies, theory)

Today Disney announced that it is introducing its first black princess, Maddy. Maddy will star in The Frog Princess, based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale “The Frog Prince”—this story will be set in New Orleans. Maddy is already being touted as a “strong princess character,” by Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook. But I have to wonder how this character will play out in the film, loaded already as she is with gender-bias and racial implications.

As Peggy Orenstein discusses in her article “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” the Disney princess empire is booming. Disney Consumer Products has sales in the range of $3 billion. Most disturbing about this trend is the message these characters send to girls. I argued with my husband about this just the other day—being a student of the media, I started to insist that any children we have not watch Disney films. He claimed they are harmless, that we all watched them when we were kids…until I argued that these films would convince our fictitious future daughters that their goal in life was to be pretty and rescued (being an engineer, he of course desires that they should be the same—and engineers fix problems themselves!).

One has to wonder what kind of expectations the princess creates for women—they not only have to be smart, but also kind and beautiful. I still wonder how much I succumb to this in life—do I dress or act certain way because I choose to, or because it is expected of me? Do I find it difficult to openly show my anger because it is a part of my personality, or because as a girl I am supposed to be kind and courteous?

So, does Maddy provide a strong role model for young black girls where there was none before, or does she serve to assimilate an untapped demographic into the princess empire? I suppose we’ll find out in 2009…

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The Essentials, continued…

March 14, 2007 at 11:15 pm (celebrities, movies)

I’ve just watched Brokeback Mountain (2005) for the first time—I couldn’t stand to watch it the first time around; there was just too much hype around it. I myself almost started laughing when I heard the line “I wish I knew how to quit you.” But with some critical distance, I found it to be quite good. Ang Lee was the perfect director for this film—his combination of sweeping, still landscapes and almost unbearable restraint really fed into the frustration of the characters at their situation, while surrounded by such unwaivering beauty.

This inspires me to write about my next two “essentials” (see my post here explaining the thought process).

 

The Searchers (1956)

Without a doubt, John Ford’s finest film. This film revises the western genre as it begins to question what was previously taken for granted; representations of the ‘good’ settlers versus the ‘bad’ Indians. But throughout his career as a director, Ford always blends the two—no one is completely right or wrong, and in the end the complexity is powerful. John Wayne is an aging cowboy, Ethan, returning to his family after a life of wandering and a stint in the Confederate Army. His unrequited love for his brother’s wife leaves him obsessed when a band of raiding Comanches kills her and his brother, taking their two daughters. For the next four years he tirelessly wanders the desert searching for his youngest niece, Debbie—but as the search progresses we find more and more that Ethan is less interested in saving her than he is in making sure that her new life as an assimilated Comanche ends—one way or another. When he at last returns her to her remaining family, he can’t bear to enter the family space—like it or not, John Wayne isn’t the hero here—his racism overwhelms him, and he slowly backs away.

 

Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) (1954)

As a director, Akira Kurosawa looked for ways to translate the Japanese traditions of honor to film—and he found it in the American western. Sadly, over the years the film has succumbed to a horde of editors who balked at the original nearly three hour and 30 minute run time, but thankfully it has been restored almost to its original state. But to watch this film, you would never sense the length; the narrative is remarkably efficient, as farmers seek out rogue samurai to defend their village from impending marauders. They soon find Takashi Shimura, one of Kurosawa’s stock players, and the search progresses until enough samurai (including the spectacular Toshirô Mifune) are found to defend the village. The quiet honor of these men, once of a noble class (until there way of life was abolished by Emperor Meiji as an attempt to modernize the country) take payment in rice, and they earn it. There’s simply not enough room here to espouse the marvel that is this film—just watch it!

 

That’s all for now—stay tuned for future installments of the essentials.

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Viacom alienating its citizen marketers

March 13, 2007 at 10:23 pm (politics, theory)

So it looks like Viacom has decided to sue YouTube for showing clips of Comedy Central shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. What’s interesting, however, is that another Viacom property, CBS, has been using YouTube to show clips and drum up interest in its shows. CBS would seem to be ahead of the curve.

Honestly, there’s no stopping the influx of content onto the web now that the tools are in the hands of the people (not to sound Marxist or anything…it’s really a more democratic process). Bottom line, Viacom is waging a costly battle—should they win, they could be loosing out on millions of free advertising revenue—should they loose, they’ve lost close to a million marketers.

I’ve just gotten a hold of the book Citizen Marketers, by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, the minds behind creatingcustomerevangelists.com, the bible on citizen-created content and the 1% rule. Their theory, which I happen to adhere to, is that there’s no such thing as controlling the content that users will put out there—they will do it whether you want them to or not—and the content that they create will influence other potential users/customers.

It’s now become standard practice for me to see what other users are saying about a product before I buy it—and I find these reviews to be more trustworthy in most cases. If 100 people say that a product is worth buying, it influences me more than a possibly biased mainstream media review. With more and more media conglomeration, it’s becoming too difficult to tell where your information is coming from—and citizen marketers are bringing more certainty to the process.

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The Essentials

March 12, 2007 at 10:43 pm (celebrities, movies)

It looks like Carrie Fisher has joined “The Essentials” on Turner Classic Movies. I think she’s an excellent choice—she’s been in the biz from a young age (as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher) and entered our lives as cultural capital with cinnamon buns stuck to the side of her head.

As co-host (with Robert Osborne) Fisher gets to pick the films—and this got me thinking about a few films I’d like to declare “essential” to film study, and my own personal enjoyment. This is in no way a complete list, so feel free to add—someday soon I hope to also create a “non-essential” list…as Fisher jokes about many of her own films. Warning: there may be mild spoilers ahead…

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Infamously, John Huston directed his father to an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in this film, (as he would also do later for his daughter Angelica in Prizzi’s Honor) and it’s easy to see why—this film is an essential story of greed, madness, morality and fate. Three men (including a fantastic Humphrey Bogart) go up a mountain in search of gold…how many men come down the mountain is another story.

Vertigo (1958)

What I would consider to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best film—the ultimate combination of his themes of obsession, the perfect icy blond, and the MacGuffin. James Stewart’s Scottie follows Kim Novak’s Madeleine, a woman seemingly possessed by her past. When he is unable to save her because of his crippling vertigo, he breaks down…until he finds Judy, a perfect twin of Madeleine. Hitchcock draws us in to Scottie’s obsession with transforming Judy into Madeleine—making us irresistibly identify with his misogynistic desires.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

This is the musical for people who hate musicals. You can’t help but laugh at cleverness with which this film mocks the Hollywood star system at the shift from silent film to “talkies”—and if that still doesn’t convince you, the dancing will—Gene Kelly is mesmerizing, and for you fellas, there is Cyd Charisse…and her legs go all the way to the floor…

Double Indemnity (1944)

Evil is Barbara Stanwyck in this perfect film noir. As a bored and greedy housewife, she quickly entices Insurance salesman Fred MacMurray into a plot to take her husband out of the picture. Stanwick often gives perfectly nuanced performances, but none so garnered her the praise of this film. To simply watch her face as the ‘deed’ is done is a remarkable experience. Also worth mentioning is Edward G. Robinson as MacMurray’s fast-talking and sweetly sentimental boss.

That’s all I can muster today…stay tuned for my other essentials:

The Searchers

Raise the Red Lantern

Rear Window

Star Wars: TESB

The Godfather: I and II

The Third Man

Halloween

Jaws

 

 

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Spreading the Quicken gospel…

March 12, 2007 at 3:54 pm (finances)

Just found this on the Quicken Forums–free stuff, only a little work involved–just a little foray into my ‘oh-crap-I’ve-got-too-much-debt’ postings.  Caveat is, you have to have Quicken already–but if you do, and you want to upgrade, knock yourself out 😉

Free Quicken Premier 2007

I personally already have Premier 2007, and I really like it–I’m still figuring out the investing portion of the program, mostly because I’m still a bit shocked that I have investments, but so far, so good.  At the advice of other users (thank goodness for web communities) I’ve decided not to use the Express Web Connect feature for now–but otherwise, it lets me see just how impending the doom of my student loan debt is *shudder*

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Jean Baudrillard is not dead

March 10, 2007 at 10:27 pm (places, theory, web 2.0)

In my attempt to bring you the latest and greatest of this new technology, I bring you Sidestep–a search engine that allows you to search search engines (how Web 2.0 is that?). My husband and I are trying to go to Vegas in the summer (Fremont Street and $1 blackjack, here I come!) and Sidestep actually searches all of the other travel sites to find the best deal. Very cool.

We’re thinking of staying at the Luxor–what better example of Vegas opulence is there? Once of the seven wonders of the world, shrunk down and lit up. The ancient Egyptians would have done it if they’d had the electricity.

The Luxor--the hyperreal

Which brings me of course to Jean Baudrillard, who died just recently. Baudrillard was big on hyperreality, a concept that at its very basic core was about the overwhelming existence of communication channels–we have so much contact that we can no longer distinguish reality from fantasy. So, the pyramid to us may represent prosperity, the glory of man over nature, eternal life–but in reality it’s just a stack of bricks. It’s the meaning that we place with these symbols that becomes reality for us, despite the fact that the meaning is not real. The creators of the Luxor are trying to invoke these thoughts of grandeur, and draw us to its beacon.

The simulacrum of the pyramid would have pleased Baudrillard, I think, should he have believed that pleasure was pleasure. I don’t know if he ever went to Vegas, but he probably would have liked it.

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Coulter and Hilton–BFFs?

March 9, 2007 at 8:49 pm (celebrities, politics)

I’m late to the party here, but a friend just forwarded me an email from the Human Rights Campaign asking Lee Salem, Executive Vice President and Editor, Universal Press Syndicate, to remove Ann Coulter from syndication. For a give and take on this issue of papers choosing to keep and drop Coulter’s column, check out these point and counterpoint articles at Editor & Publisher.

Ann Coulter has always struck me as a strange individual, and not just because she appears to be as bigoted as some of her conservative counterparts (notice, I do say some—America is America because of vibrant, informed protest). It is because she is a woman who appears to be as bigoted as some of her conservative counterparts. Coulter is openly rejecting the typical gender politics that dictate how women should act. Usually, removing oneself from pre-constructed notions of gender would be empowering–unfortunately, Coulter doesn’t empower anyone–she’s courting reactionary attention, and to this point she’s managed to continue with this behavior.

This is the “look at me!” culture that has enabled Paris Hilton to become famous—perhaps Paris Hilton is a remarkably intelligent person (though she has publicly displayed herself otherwise) and perhaps Coulter is as well—but they don’t demonstrate this through any informed discourse—and I’d sure like to see it.

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