2009 - %3, May

The Best "Downfall" Parody Yet

| Fri May 29, 2009 11:23 AM EDT

If you are not aware of all internet traditions, you may not know about the "Downfall" parodies. You're missing out. The New York Times explained the phenomon back in October 2008:

On YouTube, we’re in a bunker, and the enemies are always, always closing in. The ceilings are low. The air is stifling. A disheveled leader is delusional.

This is the premise of more than 100 videos on the Web — the work of satirists who for years have been snatching video and audio from "Downfall," the 2004 German movie of Hitler’s demise, and doctoring it to tell a range of stories about personal travails and world politics. By adding new English-language subtitles, they transform the movie’s climactic scene, in which Hitler (played by Bruno Ganz) rails against his enemies and reluctantly faces his defeat, into the generic story of a rabid blowhard brought low.

The problem for "Downfall" artistes, however, is that not everyone likes being parodied, and the targets of such mocking (and the studio that owns the rights to "Downfall") sometimes send takedown notices to YouTube under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Parody, of course, is protected by the fair use doctrine in copyright law, but that usually doesn't stop YouTube from following through with the takedowns. It's cheaper and easier to just take down everything that the site receives a DMCA notice for than to review individual claims. Now the heroic Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced the ultimate meta-Downfall parody, in which Bruno Ganz' Hitler tries to send takedown notices for all the Downfall parodies. The result is amusing and informative:

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Love Your Snuggie? Consider the Scrunchie.

| Wed May 27, 2009 7:14 PM EDT

In a world where post-grunge bands sell Snuggies, people prance around the beach in Wearable Towels, and mop up battered faces with ShamWows, we have to ask: Where will all these products be when our fickle-consumer preferences take a turn? You don't have to be a Freegan to come up with the answer.

3.5 Floppy Disc

Then: 1998 was the heyday of the cheerfully colored floppy disk. More than 2 billion were sold worldwide.

Now: External drives and CDs have usurped the 3.5. In 2007, PC World stopped selling the disks, and now the only place you can find a 3.5 drive is on Mother Jones intern computers.

Neither Gone Nor Forgotten: Turn boxes of old disks into handbags, pen holders, coasters, or spacey, Cubist artwork.

Pagers

Then: Invented in 1949 for the New York City Jewish Hospital, beepers didn't achieve popularity until 1974 with the release of Motorola's Pageboy. Popularized by doctors, drug dealers, and pimps, 61 million pagers were beeping in the U.S. in 1994.

Now: The cellular telephone killed the pager. In 2008, four billion cell phones were in use worldwide, connecting more than 60% of the world population to American Idol ringtones and creating fodder for the Texts From Last Night.

Neither Gone Nor Forgotten: Beepers still buzz for emergency personnel and doctors . In Britian, pages are popular with "twitchers," who pay for up-to-the-minute tips on where to spot rare birds.

 

 

 

 

National Fist Bump Day, 2009

| Wed May 27, 2009 5:41 PM EDT

Nearly a year ago (June 3, 2008) in Minneapolis Denver, Illinois junior senator Barack Obama captured the Democratic nomination for president of the United States of America. Obama celebrated the event by bumping knuckles with his wife, a brief physical gesture whose public discussion would quickly become overwhelming. Well, it's time to celebrate that gesture again: next Wednesday, June 3, will be National Fist Bump Day. According to organizers of the event:

A group of like-minded people have gotten together to commemorate Obama's grand gesture, but also to take the fist bump to a higher level, one above partisan politics and social divides. For one day we are calling for Americans, and perhaps even all global citizens, to put aside their differences -- be they class, race, religion or values -- and show their respect with a little bump.

 

Tonight on PBS: Hollywood Chinese

| Wed May 27, 2009 3:08 PM EDT

Arthur Dong's documentary on depictions of Chinese people onscreen, “Hollywood Chinese,” will be on PBS tonight as part of the American Masters series. I saw this film last year when it made the festival circuit and enjoyed it, despite having little familiarity with Chinese culture. It had some hilariously outdated film moments, everything from Fu Manchu 'staches to John Wayne in yellowface, plus celebs like Amy Tan and Ang Lee talking about how their heritage has impacted them personally and professionally in Hollywood. Definitely worth a watch, or at least a DVR. You can read my interview with Dong here.

Spy Novels For Journalists

| Wed May 27, 2009 2:14 PM EDT

Alex Berenson is a New York Times reporter by day, bestselling spy novelist by night. Earlier this year, he published his third novel, The Silent Man, featuring his super spy John Wells. I came across the book at the library a couple of weeks ago and discovered that not only is it pretty good, but it's the rare spy novel for media junkies. At one point in the book, Wells assumes the cover of a Lebanese businessman/freedom fighter. To get into character, he tans at Solar Planet, dyes his hair and ODs on fried chicken. Fat and swarthy, Wells procures a fake passport to travel to Moscow to avenge an attack that nearly killed his girlfriend. His alias? Glenn Kramon, which also happens to be the name of Berenson's boss and managing editor of the Times.

I asked the real Kramon whether he knew Berenson had inserted him into the novel. Turns out he's a big fan of Berenson's novels and has read all three. When he first discovered his name in the most recent, Kramon says he "thanked Alex for not making me the villain." Kramon's is not the first name Berenson has appropriated from his Times colleagues. Kramon says his favorite is that of the book's hapless American ambassador to Russia, Walt Purdy, whose name he suspects is a hybrid of investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich and his editor, Matt Purdy. Naturally, the Times names had me wondering who else had popped up in Berenson's novels. Perhaps there's a Maureen Dowd cameo? Alas, Berenson says no. He only poaches names from people he knows, and he's never met Dowd. "I have a hunch that Wells wouldn't like her much, though," he says. "She's not his type."
 

Oprah's Kentucky Fried Throwdown

| Wed May 27, 2009 12:56 PM EDT

Oprah's free chicken coupon led to a Kentucky Fried throwdown this week. The Des Moines Register reported a "large, middle aged woman" hollered profanity and spat on the arm of the employee who turned down her free two-piece grilled chicken meal coupon on Tuesday. 

Oprah's threw her unweildy star power behind KFC's newest venture and the response overwhelmed both Oprah.com and Kentucky Fried Chicken, who couldn't meet the demands of the salivating hordes. New York magazine chronicled the agony and the estacy of customers. Some felt discriminated against because they used Linux and couldn't download the coupon (they're people too, O), or are Canadian (no freebies for O Canada). Others pleaded that they needed the nearly unattainable free chicken to feed their children.

Drop in at KFC.com and you'll understand the excitement. The website features happy chicken lovers two-fisting pieces of un-fried poultry while doing the "mix it in your bucket" dance. After redeeming millions of coupons, the company had to call a chicken hiatus and issued an apology and rain checks until chicken supply meets chicken demand.

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Walmart Uzez Lolcatz 2 Advertize

| Thu May 21, 2009 1:54 PM EDT

In a novel advertising move, Walmart has partnered with hit lolcat site I Can Haz Cheezburger? (ICHC). Walmart and ICHC have an addictive online game called NOM NOM NOM 4 FUD! in which players direct a rotund marmalade tabby around a house. Players get points for making the cat "nom" Iams brand cat food, cheezburgers, and balls of yarn. The more Iams kitty eats, the faster it runs around the house. This, as anyone who has a cat knows (cough! Kevin Drum!), is totally bogus. After eating, my cats promptly retreat to the nearest soft surface and fall blissfully unconscious.

Real-life cat behavior aside, Walmart's corporate sponsorship of ICHC looks like a canny move: the site has a 60% female demographic, and gets up to 50 million page views per month. Likely, many users are pet-owners. However, the partnership may not be as good for the lolcat site. Some commenters have asked ICHC to not associate themselves with a company that has a history of abusing employees (Walmart) or a corporation that tests on animals (Iams). I doubt there will be any concerted boycott of the site, but this may not be the last time you see Walmart blogvertising.

3-D Geezer Premieres at Cannes; Wall Street Is Nonplussed

| Tue May 19, 2009 4:25 PM EDT

I haven't yet seen the new Pixar film Up, which was the opening-night feature at the Cannes Film Festival and opens here this weekend. But since I write about the politics of aging, it seems worth mentioning, because it’s apparently one of a painfully small number of movies that is geezer-centric. According to a piece in Sunday’s New York Times:

Having tackled toys, monsters, fish, cars, superheroes, rats and robots, the creative team at the studio decided this time, for its first film in 3-D, to center a story around a grumpy septuagenarian balloon salesman named Carl Fredricksen.

“We started off with this list of things we’d always wanted to play with, and an older, grumpy guy was definitely on that list,” said the film’s director, Pete Docter. Inspired by the cartoons of George Booth in The New Yorker, Mr. Docter and his co-director and co-screenwriter, Bob Peterson, wanted to create a curmudgeon with audience appeal.

“A curmudgeon with audience appeal”–that sounds pretty good. But wait, there’s more:

Early in the film, the widowed Carl has isolated himself from the world. Facing a court edict that would put him in a nursing home, he resists by strapping balloons to his house and floating to Paradise Falls in South America, a place he has dreamed of since he was a boy yearning to be an explorer. On the way he meets offbeat characters (including a pudgy 8-year-old named Russell and a dopey dog named Dug) who shake him out of his stiff, cantankerous shell.

Okay, they kind of lost me there. Why is it that all cranky old geezers have to go through a heartwarming transformation in which they mend their codgerly ways and become loving grandfatherly types? I don’t know if this is what happens to Carl, but the description makes me suspicious. I don’t see why Carl should have to undergo an attitude-adjustment. It sounds like he has good reason to be pissed off, what with people trying to stick him in a nursing home. Maybe his home got foreclosed on, too, because he lost all his retirement savings in the stock market. And I’ll bet Medicare Part D wouldn’t pay for his happy pills.

In any case, while Up has done well so far with critics and audiences, not everyone, apparently, is pleased with the idea of a geezer-centered animated film. According to the New York Times, ”To the extreme irritation of the Walt Disney Company [which owns Pixar], two important business camps — Wall Street and toy retailers — are notably down on ‘Up.’”

NY Times Photobloggin' and Danny Wilcox-Frazier

| Tue May 19, 2009 3:03 PM EDT


 

The New York Times unveiled LENS last Friday, their brand-new photoblog. Taking advantage of the wealth of often awesome photography at their disposal, LENS showcases a range of work—from the traffic-driving staple "Photo of the Day" feature, to Stephen Crowley taking viewers inside a media/photo spray with President Obama, to Fred Conrad's large format photography.

Just a few days out of the gate and they're serving up an impressive batch of photos, presented in a smart, easy-to-navigate format. The images may not be as giant as on the Boston Globe's Big Picture photoblog, but the Times does a knockout job of pushing the range of work presented on a newspaper's photoblog. Or any photoblog for that matter.

And speaking of the Times photoblog, Mother Jones contributing photographer Danny Wilcox-Frazier gets the full treatment today. Sixteen images from his Driftless work, an intimate look at life in rural Iowa, are showcased on LENS. The work may look familiar. It first ran here in Mother Jones, in the March/April 2008 issue and won the 2007 Honickman/Duke First Book Prize in Photography.

Danny also just finished working with MediaStorm on a six-part, multimedia version of Driftless. The focus on the farm is nice, but Danny really excels at getting in with the locals. The spots on the Town Bar and the Jumping Rock really get under the skin of life in rural Iowa.

 

 

Rachel Alexandra, Meet Anna Wintour

| Sun May 17, 2009 11:31 PM EDT

So yesterday was awesome. Rachel Alexandra—a name you'd expect maybe out of Gossip Girl—turned out to be a kick-ass racehorse, a filly, who led practically gate to finish (from the outside post, the toughest starting spot) in yesterday's Preakness, becoming the first lady horse to win that Triple Crown race in 85 years. The press is going wild, mostly because fast girls don't come around all that often, and when they do tragedy is too often not far behind (two of the greatest, Ruffian and Go for Wand died on the track after breaking down during big races, and last year, filly Eight Belles had to be put down right after she came in second in the Kentucky Derby).

So are fillies too fragile to compete with the guys in the big races? They are treated that way. An ESPN article late last week warned that the decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes was risky and that the world would "be holding its breath until, win or lose, she finishes standing and returns safely.") But horses break down all the time, with horrific consequences, it's just that the male ones don't always make the headlines. Horseracing is a brutal sport, and, like boxing, people get really antsy when they see the ladies in the ring. Another thing about the sport and the mare's role: bloodlines. When you get fast horses you get them together and make babies. There will certainly be the pressure for little Rachel Alexandras prancing around the paddock. But to get there she'll need to make it out of her racing years alive and well. Luckily (for whom, I'm not sure) horses race competitively at such a young age that they can become broodmares at, say age 5, and still have decades of time to establish a lineage. Wherever you end up next, Rachel, you're already a hero for ladykind, showing the ladies can be just as competitive—and fast—as the gents.

Which brings me to another competitive female. On 60 Minutes tonight Morley Safer interviewed Vogue's editor, the legendary Anna Wintour. He starts out by wondering if she's indeed Darth Vader, Nuclear Wintour, or maybe, "just peaches and cream with a touch of arsenic." He then asks her, twice, whether it was fair for people to call her a bitch. Sure, she's the devil who wears Prada, she's hardnosed, ruthless, and the fashion diva extraordinaire, but she's also at the top of her industry. Would Safer dare ask Donald Trump or Richard Branson if they were bitchy because they of their no-smile, hard-nosed business attitudes?