Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Big Ten

A few days ago, I was reading in the paper about some court battle over keeping the Ten Commandments outside a local courthouse. Setting aside the whole church and state issue (and that's a big thing to set aside), I was wondering why this has become such a hot-button issue. I mean, why are the Commandments put in front of courthouses in the first place? It's not like they're the foundation of our judicial system. In case you've gotten rusty on your Old Testament, here's a rundown:

The Ten Commandments

1. I am the Lord thy God
2. Thou shall not worship graven images
3. Thou shall not take God's name in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy
5. Honor thy mother and father
6. Thou show not kill
7. Thou shall not commit adultery
8. Thou shall not steal
9. Thou shall not bear false witness
10. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife or home

Even conceding that adultery is technically illegal in certain jurisdictions, that's less than half of the top ten that are actually a crime in the United States.

It's not even like our judicial system is based on any sort of Judeo-Christian principles. The Code of Hammurabi, the first written rule of law, was devised by a Babylonian priest-king in about 2342 BC, while the jury system dates back to ancient Greece. From my admittedly spotty remembrance of Hebrew school, the Old Testament laws mostly involved "eye for an eye." The idea was that if you killed your neighbor's goat, you had to buy him a new one. Same thing if you killed his slave. Nomadic people aren't too big on jail time. The death penalty, of course, was quite popular—for everything from murdering your neighbor to sassing your parents. Not exactly on par with the modern American judicial system—except maybe in Texas.

You have to wonder why people say we live in a Judeo-Christian society at all. Our governmental system comes from ancient Rome. Math and science from Egypt. Popular music? Africa. Even our language is a mish-mash of Latin and Teutonic tongues.

In fact, the way I see it, the only thing we inherited from Christianity is a bloated sense of entitlement and self-righteousness.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Truth in Advertising

I love that you can hear great songs on television commercials.

I know it's not a new phenomenon—advertisers have been picking up the slack from radio and MTV for almost a decade now. MTV doesn't even play songs on spin-off channel MTV2 anymore, though there are a few choice programs on the two-headed dog, like Team Sanchez and the seizure-inducing Wonder Showzen.

The tipping point for good commercial music came with Moby's Play in 1999—nearly every song on the album, from "Bodyrock" to "Porcelain," was licensed to some car manufacturer or liquor company (the latter was used for a Bailey's Irish Cream advert). The best part was that Moby didn't compromise his integrity with crap like "Like a Rock!" or "Simply the Best." The marketing people just accepted what he had to offer as it was.

[update:As was pointed out by Lisa Liu, it seems hypocritical for Moby to be an environmentalist and do commercials for carmakers. I actually asked him about that when I interviewed him in 1999, and he said that he took the money Ford or Toyota paid him and donated it to transportation alternative groups. Don't know if the ends justified the means, but he obviously gave the issue a lot of thought.]

After the success of "Play," Madison Avenue woke up and realized that if they used cutting edge music in their commercials, they'd attract that essential 18-34 demographic. (Not to mention people of all ages who just like a good beat). Not only are we exposed to music we won’t hear elsewhere, but good non-mainstream artists get a little money to boot.

The stigma associated with marrying music and marketing has pretty much faded. Occasionally things gone awry—like Club Med using the Stooge's "Lust for Life" to promote their family friendly vacation resorts—but by and large it's been a good trend.

I'm not ashamed to say I've been introduced to some of my favorite tracks and bands via TV spots: The Orbs' "Little Fluffy Clouds" (VW Bug) Broken Social Scene's "Lover's Spit" ("The L Word"), The Caesars' "Jerk It Out" (iPod Shuffle), the Von Bondies' "C'mon, C'mon" (FX's "Rescue Me"), the Walkmen's "We've Been Had (Saturn cars) and The Transplants' "Diamonds and Guns" (the woo-HOO!" song in those Garnier Fructis ads).

Adtunes.com is an invaluable resource—you can just search the forums and chances are someone else is dying to know where that song from the Victoria's Secret "Angels" commercials comes from. (FYI: It's Air's "Playground Love.")

At any rate, I was over a friend's house watching TV last night and a commercial for the new Adidas 1 sneaker came on. The visuals struck me first—a lone man wakes up and runs through a surreal landscape that emerges as he trots by. It was right out of a Bjork video, like a mash-up of "Human Behavior" and "Bachelorette." Then I noticed the tune playing over it, a haunting melody that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It's one of those songs you only have to hear a bar or two of before you think "I must own everything this person does!"

Fortunately we had a laptop handy and started scouring the Web for details. Well, the visuals looked so familiar because the spot was directed by Spike Jonze, who did a number of Bjork videos, as well as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. The song is an original composition sung by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Here are the lyrics:
Whenever do i wake up
I'm trying to take the shape of
turning to the whole wide world
I made up.

the lights are golden...

the lights were golden...

Whenever do i wake up
I'm trying to take the shape of
turning to the whole wide world
I made up.

You can watch the ad by going to the Adidas 1 site and clicking on the "Watch TV Ad" button on the top right.

update: Just found out the spot is called "Hello Tomorrow." You can see the whole clip with all the credits here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Johnny are you queer?

Suck it, bitches! This is ma house!

Figure skating is weird. Everybody knows, or at least assumes (let's be fair), that all the male ice skaters are gay—which, of course, they are. So, you'd think it'd be the one sport (to use the term loosely) a homo would feel safe being out in. But except for Miss Congeniality Rudy Galindo, they all stay safely inside their satin-and-ermine-lined closets.

Now there's a new boy in town and he's a real showstopper:

20-year-old American Johnny Weir has been raking in medals like Kirstie Alley inhaling White Castle burgers after a bad "Fat Actress" review. He's won back-to-back U.S. figure skating championships and nabbed the esteemed Trophée Eric Bompard Cachemire in 2004. (No, I don't know what that is either, but it sounds fancy in French).

He's also the U.S.'s last, best hope for the gold at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow this week. (Cue inspirational music from "Over the Top.")

Oh, and one last thing: our boy Johnny is quite the little Elton-in-training. In a recent interview with Salon.com, he gushes over Paris Hilton, preaches the serenity of Kaballah and explains how he got his nickname, "Tinkerbell." ("I kind of float around, like even when I'm on the ice and off the ice...I am very quick, and doing everything all at once.")

Johnny might ruffle some feathers, though, with his pro-fur stance, as illuminated in the following excerpt:

Salon: When is PETA just going to realize that fur is fabulous and drop this whole charade?

JW: You know, animals wear fur coats, so I don't see any reason why I can't. It's discrimination, I think.

Do you take furs with you on the road?

Yes, I have one that I take when I go to Russia or somewhere that's really cold.

What is it?

It's coyote fur. It's somehow like a coyote shearling of sorts, and it's really nice, and it's long, and it's beautiful ... I love beautiful things, and if it means having a fur coat or diamonds -- or even if I want to wear a tiara someday -- then that's just the way it's going to be.

So far, I'm loving this little minx. I mean, he's soooo gay. I'm surprised his flames don't melt the ice. He even disses Michelle Kwan for wearing Vera Wang. Vera Wang, people!

But somehow, in a big three-page article, they completely skated around (sorry, I had to) the issue of Weir's sexuality. WTF?

Honestly, I didn't expect some big coming out thing about growing up in rural Pennsylvania and getting called "sissy" or "fag." I think we're sort of beyond that point in the culture, y'know. But a little acknowledgement or something, like "I was at Rawhide and the towel boy totally recognized me!"

The piece was totally set up gay, too. There's this giant blow-up shot of Johnny in a lavender and black outfit, his right hand thrust upwards like Endora on "Bewitched." The kicker in the intro reads "...almost nothing was off the table in a wide-ranging talk with America's next great gold medal contender." Yeah, almost.

Look, if Weir was some scared kid who didn’t want to broadcast his sexuality to the 300 media elitists who read Salon, that’s fine. But he did avoided talking about relationships—he just played the pronoun game.

"Well, I'm seeing someone and it's been almost 13 months now, so that's the longest relationship I've had, and it's difficult at times because I don't get a lot of time away from skating when I can work on my relationship, and, um, it is tough. But I think if you really love somebody, it's not going to just fade away because you're gone for a little while. It's just something that will always be there, and always you can feel the love coming to you, and you can always give love back."

Movie stars, football players, rappers…I expect them to stay closeted. I even understand why some of them do it. But you’re a fucking FIGURE SKATER! If you can't just come out and acknowledge yer a big ol' homo, then who the hell can?! (Oh, and can all the 20-year-olds please shut up about what it takes to keep a relationship alive? It's really annoying.)

Anyway, I wish you luck at the world championships this week, Johnny—even if you are a screaming closet case. Just don't get caught servicing any burley Muscovites in the bathroom. I hear the nights in Siberia are cold, indeed.


side note:, I tried to track down the Salon interviewer, Dana Vachon—mainly to figure out if it was a "he" or a "she." There's a blog called D-Nasty written by a Dana Vachon, but I can't tell if it’s the same one, or even if D-Nasty is male or female. There's a posting about dressing like Tara Reid for Halloween, but in this city that means bupkis.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Night of the Hunter

Vintage Dr. Gonzo, Ralph Steadman (1995)

The Rake's Progress: Journalists on Hunter S. Thompson

"Journalism is not a profession or trade," wrote literary maverick Hunter S. Thompson in his seminal 1971 travelogue Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. "It's a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life." With Thompson dead at 65 from an apparent suicide, the media he so derided is mourning his loss and reflecting on his indelible legacy.

"He inspired a whole generation of writers," said Washington Post writer Helen Benedict, "and brought all kinds of people to non-fiction who might otherwise not have read it." Benedict credits Thompson's off-kilter, highly personal prose—"gonzo journalism," as he dubbed it—with rescuing the field from a "very literary but ponderous state" that appealed only to an in-the-know elite. "He went too far," she said, alluding to Thompson's reputation as a rampant drunkard and pill-popper, "but he's still inspiring. He's the Kurt Vonnegut of journalism."

Thompson's work—even when ostensibly on other subjects, like his recent sports column for ESPN.com—often ventured into the world of politics. "He was one of the most important political commentators we've had in the last 25 years," said Michael Phillips, a lecturer on humor in political rhetoric. Citing Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Thompson's groundbreaking coverage of the 1972 presidential election, Phillips said the Louisville, KY-born slugger helped change the course of political reporting. "By saying there was no such thing as objective journalism, he gave the American public a look at the political process that no one had before."

According to Phillips, Thompson's unorthodox methods actually helped, rather than hindered, his access to Washington bigwigs like Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton. "Nobody wants to be associated with a suspected scoundrel," Phillips explained, "but if you're a confirmed scoundrel, they'll embrace you."

Phillips also credits Thompson with being one of the first journalists to turn his gaze on his fellow reporters, which was once considered bad form but is now common practice on 24-hour news networks, talk radio shows and Internet blogs. "He was a pioneer in looking at the process" of reporting, Phillips said, "instead of just the results." In fact, journalist Timothy Crouse researched The Boys on the Bus, still the bible of campaign reporters everywhere, while working as Thompson's assistant covering the 1972 election.

Somewhat more tenuous, however, is Thompson's place in academia. Should a reporter who rarely stayed on topic, openly abused drugs and alcohol, and never met a deadline he couldn't ignore, be held up as an example for journalism school students to follow?

"Young writers should read Thompson just as they read all sorts of talented writers," said Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland journalism school and editor of the American Journalism Review. "Thompson was to modern journalism what Salvador Dali was to modern art—alarming, personal, hyperbolic, overly dramatic and unafraid to tackle big themes." But like Dali, Kunkel explained, Thompson learned the rules before breaking them. "It's easy to forget that in the beginning," Kunkel said, before the drinking and drugs threatened to turn Thompson into a beady-eyed lampoon, "there was this alarming talent."

Still, Kunkel warns his students against trying to mimic the godfather of gonzo journalism in their own writing. "Only Hunter S. Thompson could do it—and at time, even he couldn't pull it off."