The Riff - July 2009

Race, Beer, and Product Placement At The Summit

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 5:45 PM EDT

The media has had an absolute field day with this whole Henry Louis Gates vs. Sgt. Crowley controversy, and El Presidente thought he could make everything rosy in the Rose Garden by insituting beer diplomacy. (From the chummy photos Gates looked like he could have been the father that Sgt. Crowley never had.)

But what do the beer choices of this summit mean for America? A whole lot of free product placement for starters.

I'd never heard of the wimpy Buckler brand of beer (0.5 percent alcohol and made by Heineken) until Teetotaler Biden decided to consume it yesterday. And I was glad to see Sgt. Crowley give Blue Moon, one of my personal favorites, some increased national visiblity. President Obama ostensibly has to drive around in GM Limos and drink American beer, but in this case he deviated from his blue-collar/trustafarian hipster PBR preference by selecting a Bud light. Sounds American right? Few of us recall that Anheuser-Busch is now owned by a Belgian conglomerate.

As a native New Yorker and staunch anti-Bostonite, Sam Adams isn't worthy of my attention, so I will not comment further on Professor Gates' choice.

What's in store for the new BFFs at their next meeting? One possibility: A corporate outing where the Sgt. and the PhD discuss how to capitalize on their spat.

 

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A Modest Proposal For Madoff Vics: Reality TV

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 4:56 PM EDT

If there's one way to close wounds in modern day America, it's through reality TV. Even the most heinous individuals can build a following with some support from a cable network. And sadly, they can turn a profit too. For the thousands of Madoff victims out there who never want to hear the name Bernie Madoff again, I have a modest proposal that could resupply their empty IRA coffers with a fresh infusion of cash. People, listen to this: Think Oz meets Survivor meets Arrested Development. It's the stuff of genius.

Let's follow Bernie as he paints signs at his new gig and talks about the days of old. Let's watch him bitch about eating frozen peas. Admittedly, this idea came to me when I disgustedly read that Bernie has become a prison celebrity, and that his fellow residents in the Big House constantly ask him for autographs. (Somehow, just as he "excelled" in business, it appears that he's doing pretty well in prison too...paying off the guards perhaps? Or just his fellow inmates?) Justice in the eyes of the law may involve paying restitution, but since $50 billion has just disappeared, why not use more creative means to help those victims who are otherwise SOL?

Fighting Copyright Infringement With A Smile

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 4:48 PM EDT

This week, the Associated Press announced that it was developing a system to "protect news content from unauthorized use online," i.e., set up some kind of DRM for its articles. To explain just how it plans to eliminate cutting and pasting, the Second Pillar of the Internet (you know what the first one is), it released this helpful clip-art laden graphic:

 

Got it? My takeaway is that authorized news "users" will be able to "mash up" AP stories in what looks like a barrel of radioactive waste. Unauthorized news users will be found via a "tracking beacon" and then subject to "enforcement." That makes it sound like the AP is going to go all RIAA on news aggregators and clip-happy bloggers, but tech types say it's hyping its proposed system's capabilities. 

Ironic Sans' David Friedman has a far simpler idea. Noting a recent study that "discovered that people are more honest when eyes are watching them, even if the eyes are fake," he suggests that the AP embed an emoticon-style face in each of its stories:

It’s the Smiley as copy protection. The AP could come up with their own set of ascii eyes, brand it, and include it in every dateline from now on. They could even pretend it has some other official function, like it symbolizes the AP keeping its eyes out for news. But people would see it and know what it means: “This is an AP article. Please don’t steal it unless you would do so even with your own mother watching.”

Brilliant. (Not that it would stop Shepard Fairey from swiping AP photos with eyes in them.) Now please don't copy this post without permission. ;)

The New Yorker Goes Soft on Michael Savage

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 10:00 AM EDT

Kelefa Sanneh's profile of right-wing radio talker Michael Savage in this week's New Yorker is insightful in many respects. Most notable is its appreciation that Savage is an extremely idiosyncratic guy, and that it's his personal hang-ups that fuel his daily program, The Savage Nation, as much or even more than his political leanings. The 67-year-old Savage is, Sanneh observes, "a marvellous storyteller, a quirky thinker, and an incorrigible free-associator. He sometimes sounds less like a political commentator than like the star of a riveting and unusually vivid one-man play." All true, and it's part of why his show draws in fans and foes alike.

Yet in Sanneh's account, Savage comes off as the crotchety old uncle of the conservative radio world, an amusingly apoplectic, ultimately harmless crank. That's too bad, because as one of the few mainstream journalists to get access to Savage's inner sanctum (i.e., his seaside home in tony Tiburon, California), Sanneh had a unique opportunity to reconcile Savage's showmanship and charisma with his toxic political rhetoric, which runs the gamut from raw homophobia to annihilationist fantasies about illegal immigrants and Muslims. Instead of taking Savage at his word, Sanneh went soft on him.

Gay Gamer Wins EA Promo, Says No Thanks

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 4:23 PM EDT

EA's "Sin to Win" promotion at Comic Con proved to be an epic fail. The sanctioned #lust Twitter tag is so swamped with critiques that its hard to find even one actual submission of an "act of lust." The original poster for the contest has been removed from Twitpic and replaced with an apology that refers to "booth babes" as "costumed reps."

In an effort to spin the promotion away from the assumption that all of their consumers are heterosexual men, EA "randomly" chose a gay gamer, who subversively submitted a photo of himself and a "booth bear."

The winner, PixelPoet, refused the runner up prize and posted the email he sent to EA about his decision on GayGamer.net, a site he invited EA to explore "as perhaps a first step in getting to know your many customers outside of the fratboy demographic this contest was seemingly designed to attract." He also gave EA several suggestions as to what should be done with the refused $240 gift card prize:

1)A new sexual-harassment training video/seminar

2) Another PR team to try to spin this whole debacle of a contest into a positive light

3) A direct phone line to EA's legal depart to use before you try anymore PR stunts

4) Six copies of your game when it releases, since I know you've lost at least that many fans with this stunt

5) Or the next time you go to Hooters (for the wings, of course), leave a $240 tip for your waitress in a karmic way of balancing out what has been done to the booth babes of SDCC due to this contest

Personally, I would love to see EA enact options 1, 4, and 5. PixelPoet at least deserves a free copy of the game, though perhaps instead of patronizing Hooters, the "costumed reps" would appreciate a $240 bonus for having to deal with the few attendees who thought the promotion was a good idea. And since, as PixelPoet points out, the promo happened on the heels of an EA event with GLAAD, it looks like they could use another sexual-harassment and safe space training.

Social Networking: The Next Frontier

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 2:29 PM EDT

Business cards are so old-school.

The new way to exhange information? The poken, an electronic portal for personal deets. Basically, it works like this:

1. Upload your profile—including twitter, facebook, and other social network accounts—to the poken.

2. Touch your poken to someone else's.

3. Upload that person's information to your computer, and they can do the same.

I got the gadget at a recent social media gathering, and it's pretty nifty—even if it must reach critical mass to prove useful.

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Hollaback: How to Confront Catcallers

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 7:56 PM EDT

Last week, Jen Phillips discussed five ways to respond to jokes about rape. She chose option #5, wherein you disarm the joke-teller by pointing out just how un-funny these jokes are by reversing the target of the joke. Below, a few options for dealing with that ubiquitous troll of the city sidewalk—the catcaller:

1. Ignore it and keep walking.

2. Use non-verbal cues (involving the middle finger) to indicate your disgust.

3. Attempt to educate harasser through dialogue or a handy business card.

4. Share this gem of human interaction with others online via photo or tweet.

5. Organize a city-wide summit to address gender-based harrassment and assault in public spaces, complete with a gallery exhibition of photographs of area cat-callers caught in the act.

I tend to go with #1, since I prefer not to let the catcaller get the satisfaction of a reaction, though sometimes option #2 happens as a knee-jerk response. Unfortunately, directly responding to, and even ignoring, catcallers is not always a safe option. In April, a woman was left partially blind, and her friend suffered a fractured jaw, after telling someone to leave them alone in a NYC pizzeria. In March, a 29-year-old pregnant woman was run over and killed when she ignored a catcaller.

To bring attention to the prevalence of public harassment, a number of websites have been created under the title Hollaback. These sites offer a space for people who are the target of gender-based harassment to share their experience in specific cities, regions, and countries with a sympathetic community, while publicly shaming the perpetrators. You can also tweet sidewalk utterances to @catcalled so long as it's under 140 characters. Which it probably is, since as any city-dweller knows, these are not eloquent treatises.

However, these sites are not just chronicles of the harassers that make your walk to work less than pleasant. HollabackDC seeks to make public not just catcallers, but all forms of street harrassment and misogyny:

"Gender based sexual harassment is any sexual harassment that occurs in a public space when one or more individuals (man or woman) accost another individual, based on their gender, as they go about their daily life. This can include vulgar remarks, heckling, insults, innuendo, stalking, leering, fondling, indecent exposure and other forms of  public humiliation. Gender based public sexual harassment occurs on a continuum starting with words, stalking, and unwanted touching which can lead to more violent crimes like rape, assault, and murder."

That is why they are moving beyond the web and joining other DC-based community activists to stage a summit that will address strategies for responding to—and ending—street harassment. The summit's opening reception will include a photography exhibit of street harassers in the act. If you live in DC and snap a catcaller in the act, you can submit your own photo.

Music Monday Review: Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest
Warp Records

Veckatimest is one of the most anticipated and best-reviewed indie rock records of the year—"a game changer" and rare 9.0 on the Pitchfork scale that is said by The New Yorker to capture "a band in full, collaborative density." On this, its fifth release, Grizzly Bear has expanded its psych-folk sound in multiple directions, making it sweeter and happier, or alternately jazzier and brusquer. The choirboy melodies brood and pine, the odd instruments meet seamlessly and neatly layer. The album took more than a year to make. Which is why, ever since its release in May, I've been wondering how it could be that I like it a lot but don't totally love it. Is the problem with me, or with Grizzly Bear?

If there's a literary analogue to Grizzly Bear, it's Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia. Chatwin was a gay Londoner who worked at Sotheby's before becoming a travel writer; he built vignettes with the same attention to detail as one might construct the leg of a Chippendale cabinet. Yet this tendency toward the baroque was leavened by the rough beauty of Chatwin's subject matter. The same dialectic animates Williamsburg-based Grizzly Bear: Acoustic plucking, flutes or strings, and nearly effete falsetto harmonies lift us effortlessly on the wings of electric feedback toward the harshly sublime.

Music Monday Review: Wilco (The Album)

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

Wilco
Wilco (The Album)
Nonesuch


Any Midwesterners worth their salt know Chicago alt-rockers Wilco. They can pick out the unmistakable voice—by turns gravelly and soothing or resigned and rollicking—of front man Jeff Tweedy (interviewed here), or air-drum the intro to Wilco hit "Heavy Metal Drummer." Tweedy and Co. are finally back with the ingeniously titled Wilco (The Album), their most, well, Midwestern release in a decade.

But in this case, Midwestern isn't necessarily a good thing—as it was with Wilco's early, country-infused A.M. and Summerteeth (reviewed here) releases. Once the final song ends, you're more or less left feeling like you just finished a road trip from Minneapolis to Chicago: It's a modestly enjoyable experience with few highlights, and you don't remember much of it a day or two later. (The Album) has a few standout tracks, but unlike Wilco's haunting 2002 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, there's not much memorable here.

EA Promotion at Comic Con: The Second Circle of Hell

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 7:41 PM EDT

To promote the new game "Dante’s Inferno" at Comic Con this year, EA launched the contest "Sin to Win." The contest consists of "committing an act of lust" with a "booth babe," and showing proof of that encounter on Twitter. The winner will receive "a sinful night with two hot girls, a limo service, paparazzi, and a chest full of booty." I'm guessing the paparazzi are so you can post pictures of this lovely evening to every one of your online profiles—I'll refrain from guessing what is in the "chest full of booty."

In one fell swoop, EA has managed to alienate any women who might have played the game, and any men who do not act like 14-year-olds on hormone overdrive. The majority of tweets tagged with the EA sanctioned #lust are also tagged #EAfail.

The promotional site for the game only goes as far as the second circle of hell. But, it looks like this little excercise might put EA a bit farther down. Lets see just how deep they might go:

Circle 1—Limbo: Poets and philosphers, not coders and gamers.

Circle 2—Lust: EA is very aware they (and their potential consumers) qualify for this.

Circle 3—Gluttony: I would say the "chest full of booty" counts.

Circle 4—Greed: A profit-based company automatically qualifies.

Circle 5—Anger: Game play might induce bouts of swearing, and they have certainly annoyed many Comic Con attendees, but for this excercise they are free and clear.

Circle 6—Heresy: Making a video game about hell and then asking people to commit mortal sins probably means you don't buy Dante's poem, so welcome to the lower levels.

Circle 7—Violence: The game includes a lot, but were only talking about the promotion here.

Circle 8—Fraud: There are lots of folks in this one, including flatterers and seducers. EA qualifies for both since they will be procuring the "hot girls" for the evening and making the poor guy (or gal) think this is really a date.

Circle 9—Treachery: Looks like they are safe from hanging out with Satan.