2009 - %3, June

Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Lifetime-Insecurity

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 5:31 PM EDT

On a recent trip to Disneyland, I came across a pink brochure for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where little girls are transformed into princesses.

Now, I get the royal makeover thing—but must young girls be taught that specialness entails gobs of "shimmering makeup," fake hair pieces, body jewels, and nail polish?

And the taglines are pure insecurity-bait:

"Helllloooooo? If anyone isn't noticing, it's because you've blinded them with your looks!" (Side lesson: Valley Girl speak is totally awesome!)

And:

"With the colorful hair piece and Mickey shaped clips, you're bound to get noticed!"

Yes, girls, it's hard to feel loved. But with Disney's help, you too can get attention—and Prince Charming! Just don't forget the eyeliner.

 

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Onomatopoeia at Its Finest: BING!

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 2:06 PM EDT

Sure, for years Google has held a virtual monopoly over the search engine sector. But Bill Gates is always looking for a fight. And with Google facing scrutiny from the Feds over its potential anti-trust activities, there's no better time for Microsoft to make one last push for stardom with its new Bing search "decision" engine.

Bing only came to my attention after I saw approximately 50 advertisements, mostly from Gmail ads and Google searches. The name sank into my brain after I heard a catchy radio announcement. After hearing the radio ad, I thought Bing might actually be the product of an adventurous, independent, "two-guys-working-from-their-garage with angel investors" kind of startup. So I was somewhat saddened when, after being visually assaulted by an incredibly large banner ad on the New York Times homepage, I Googled Bing and found out that "the Man" was actually the driving force behind this onomatopoeia-aficionado's dream "decision engine."

We all know what happened when Microsoft tried to make Zune a comparable alternative to Apple's iPod, but we can never count Bill Gates & Co. out of the running for anything. So far, in my limited Bing usage, the engine has combined features of GoogleMaps, Kayak.com, and Hotels.com. For some searches, it was able to find somewhat better prices, though it didn't factor in things like taxes, location, or my preferences into the results. In the end, I ended up not booking through Bing. Since this newcomer is trying to be a one-stop-shop for all your decision needs, it may have uses for those who don't mind giving up the very best deal if it means they only have to go to one site instead of a dozen. For now, I may use Bing as a reference to make sure I'm getting the best deal on something, but I've decided it certainly won't become my go-to for decisions.

 

Ex-Con Consultant Refuses to Help Madoff With Prison Manners

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 1:21 PM EDT

As I was perusing CNN's headlines this morning, one grabbed my attention: Ex-con: Madoff will be terrified in prison.

We all know that Big Bad Bernie was rewarded with 150 years in the slammer yesterday, but did you know that an ex-con named Larry Levine runs a business dedicated to helping convicts "get out alive" from federal prison?

Larry Levine's "Wall Street Prison Consultants" is one consulting business that succeeds in inversely proportional rates to the economy. It's logical that a white-collar banker's trip to the "pen" isn't a cakewalk, but Levine has devoted his life to teaching people about the ins and outs of prison etiquette. Levine clearly loves the limelight (as evidenced by his site's links to his many media appearances), but his inmate testimonials can't help but make one think that this guy really is something.

Unfortunately for Bernie, Levine's sense of integrity will keep him from helping the swindler stay safe behind bars. Levine told CNN, "Some people I can help, some people I can’t. Now, I had Madoff’s reps get a hold of me before he went into custody and I turned them down. I wouldn’t help the guy out because I view him as an economic terrorist. If you rip off a bank and insurance company, an institution, that’s an acceptable crime. Bernie hurt people. He hurt people individually and I refuse to help people like that. Let him rot in hell."

John Roberts Is Not Michael Jackson's Lover

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 11:29 AM EDT

Chief Justice John Roberts did not like Michael Jackson. The New York Times' Caucus blog dug up some old memos Roberts wrote while he was working for the White House Counsel's office during the Reagan administration. In a memo criticizing a proposal to invite Michael and his brothers to the White House, Roberts wrote:

I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter.... In today’s Post there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr. Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name "Prince," and is apparently planning a Washington concert. Will he receive a Presidential letter? How will we decide which performers do and which do not?

There's some evidence that Justice Roberts may have been pulling for a different performer. Consider this, from another memo:

Why, for example, was no letter sent to Mr. Bruce Springsteen, whose patriotic tour recently visited the area?

Why, indeed? The music of the future governor of New Jersey was famously embraced by Reagan during the 1984 presidential election campaign. On a related note, President Obama regularly invites musicians to the White House: Stevie Wonder, for example, has already performed there.

King of Pop Dead, News Arc Shifts in His Wake

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 6:30 PM EDT

Clearly Michael Jackson will leave his mark. He might not on those young enough for whom their memories of Jackson are of a bizarre Neverland, of a baby hanging out a window, of a bed inappropriately crowded with children. But those of us who lugged our boom boxes to school to play "Thriller" and "Beat It" on cassette tape during recess, we are the ones who know the impact that the troubled but absolutely brilliant artist had on our lives. Still, since Jackson's brilliance changed music, he'll leave tracks on anyone who's every moonwalked, breakdanced, or rhymed in the cadence and pitch that made him, well, the King of Pop. Anyone who grooves to an iPod, you have Michael to thank somehow.

On a less eulogic note (and there will be oh-so-many retrospectives), this news is already rocking the headlines and leaving everything else (even Farrah) in its dust. As Andrew Sullivan points out, there goes cable coverage of Iran. And now Mark Sanford doesn't have to worry about gracing the cover of any of the weekly tabs. He and his too-much-information emails can fade to black now (and we don't even have to worry about whether it's okay that the governor of South Carolina doesn't know the difference between a whirlwind and a "world wind").

Favorite Michael song of all time? "We are the World" was iconic, the whole Thriller album had the dance beats ("PYT," "Human Nature," etc.) people still cling to, but my pick is "Man in the Mirror." Maybe because to me it feels most ironic, and most honest.

Yours?

Burger King, Carl's Jr. Remind Us: Burgers = Sex, Duh

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:50 PM EDT

Two sexy burger ad revelations today. First, the burger-as-blow-job Burger King ad burst onto the scene, second, The Hills' Audrina Partridge becomes the latest scantily clad lady to make love to, I mean, to lustily eat a Carl's Jr. burger. In the ad, that started airing today, Partridge pretends to eat a ginormous pineapple burger while lying on a beach in a bikini, alternately resting the burger on her toned tummy. The tagline: "More than just a piece of meat." The ad sends exactly the opposite message of course. Partridge, just like Paris Hilton and Padma Lakshmi before her, has every right to chow down on this burger, but to suggest they all do so on the regular is just silly. To make women envious, and men horny, well, that’s advertising for you.

The fine-print on this choice Burger King ad:

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Britney Spears in Holocaust Movie?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

From the Department of Oh Noes: Britney Spears, whose pre-shaved-head acting debut in Crossroads blew us away, is now allegedly “in talks” to star in a movie involving the Holocaust. And time-travel. And, sigh, L'amour. Here's the reported deal: the movie is called The Yellow Rose of Sophia and Eton, and the protagonist is a young woman named Sophia LaMont who creates a time-machine and goes back to the 1940s. She meets an undoubtedly hot if skinny young man named Eton. The hitch? He’s a concentration camp prisoner! Oh no! And he’s Jewish, but that’s not as much of an issue as the whole “imprisoned by Nazis” thing. What will Sophia and Eton do? Will their love survive Hitler’s evil scourge? Well, no. See, the star-crossed lovers zip out of WWII, but when they get to the future (and this is where it gets weird) they are THEN killed by Nazis.

Predictably, Jewish advocates and organizations are not happy about the casting, or the film itself. "In films that deal with the Holocaust, the script should be carefully chosen and the cast picked with care," Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in Der Spiegel. "It is reprehensible to combine the issue of the Holocaust with Britney Spears in an attempt to secure financing for the film…" Yes, it is reprehensible. It's also probably not a good idea to combine time-travel and the Holocaust in a film. Or if you do, at least get some appropriate talent (Natalie Portman?) and for goodness' sake, don't let the Nazis win.

Hulu to Steal 'Right' to Free Content

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

I love TV, but don't have cable. So the news recently that Hulu, the free television website hosted by NBC and Fox, could soon charge for content hit me pretty hard. Asked earlier this month whether Hulu would charge customers, NewsCorp’s chief digital officer Jonathan Miller responded, "the answer could be yes. I don't see why over time that shouldn't happen."

Hulu's final move on charging for content could decide the future of online media. As the viability of print sources becomes more and more unrealistic, and advertising revenue continues to fall, online television channels, magazines, and newspapers will be faced with a similar question: Charge for content and risk losing customers and advertisers, or keep content free and suffer inadequate advertising revenue to maintain traffic.

Either way, I just can't stop thinking about all the quality (and not-so-quality) television that I will miss out on if I don't subscribe (which might not be realistic on an intern's paycheck). Below are some of the shows that I will miss the most, covering what I believe to be the spectrum of essential Hulu genres.

  1. Battlestar Galactica. Get your nerd on watching the 70s version of the best modern space-related show on Hulu. The site also has the most recent 5 episodes of the new and improved series. Watchable? Yes for 2004 series, absolutely not for 1978 series. Also Enjoy: Star Gate SG-1, Lost in Space
  2. Arrested Development. Hulu is the only site I know of with all three seasons of one of the oddest sitcoms in history. Watch to prepare for the upcoming movie. Watchable: Only if you don't die laughing. Also enjoy: The Office, 30 Rock.
  3. Late Night Comedy. Catch full episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Watchable? Yes, but they aren't uploaded until the next day, which takes away from the late night charm. Best before work, at lunch, or around 4 pm, when quitting time is almost within reach. Also Enjoy: Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian.
  4. WWE Monday Night Raw. No full episodes, but Hulu delivers with nearly 300 clips of action, all performed by hilariously bad, massively built actors. Watchable? No! Ridiculous question! Also Enjoy: Friday Night Smackdown. But, really?
  5. Miami Vice. Police were weird in the 80s. If things still ran this way in Miami, we'd have way bigger problems than potentially paying for online TV. Watchable? Undecided. Also Enjoy: The A Team, Airwolf.

At the end of the day, it's unrealistic to feel entitled to free online television. Somewhere along the line, though, internet users began to think that all content available online should be free. First came Napster, and music listeners all of a sudden felt entitled to free music, regardless of the economic impact it had on artists. Then newspapers and magazines transitioned online and universally struggled to find a working online business model. Finally, television channels and media organizations began providing their content online. And before we knew it, free TV felt like a universal right. Unfortunately, it's not. And if Hulu decides to charge its viewers, then newspapers, magazines, and online radio stations will likely follow close behind.

"Torture": The Song

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 6:32 PM EDT

Nearly two decades ago, lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh and composer Jan Hammer wrote a ditty called "Torture" for a Star Wars musical that never came to light. The tune was supposed to be crooned by a robot controlled by Darth Vader. Instead, it's being released to lament the robotic torture policies controlled by Vader's doppelganger, Dick Cheney, for Friday's U.N. International Day in Support of Torture Victims and Survivors.

Today, the words ring eerily true. Sample lyric: "For you it's just a pain/For us it's justified/But you're too self-absorbed/To see it from our side."

Watch the song's YouTube treatment—set to creepy old cartoons—here:

New Tupac Album to Drop, Some Things Will Never Change

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:36 PM EDT

Well, Death Row Records has done it again. After declaring bankruptcy earlier this year the label is back in action, and another Tupac album is anticipated for 2010. How does this still work? That 13 years after his death people are still clamoring for his albums? For starters, Tupac, for better and worse, shaped today's hip-hop. And because Tupac—while he had lots of issues—was honest and prescient in his lyrics, so much so that his songs continue to tell the story of the day 13 years after his death. In fact, my one-year-old niece is a Tupac fan. She listens to Tupac ("Ooo ooo child, things are gonna get easier...") right alongside Free to Be You and Me, and I'm glad that when she understands the line in Changes, "We ain't ready to see a black President," she'll wonder what he meant. But unfortunately the rest of his classic ballad still holds true today, right down to the war on poverty and the war in the Middle East.

Maybe if Tupac were still alive he'd have gotten sucked into The Surreal Life or I'm a Celebrity... or some other awful reality show, which would mean he likely wouldn't be the Tupac people still admire, the rapper who made his life (and through creative Dr. Dre marketing, his death) about injustice and candor.

Got any favorite Tupac lines? "They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor"; "Do what you gotta do, but know you got to change/ Try to find a way to make it out of the game"; "Time to heal our women, be real to our women / And if we don't we'll have a race of babies / That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can't make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one."

Lyricize in the comments.