Russell Brand Interview with Jeremy Paxman

I’m not a big fan of Russell Brand’s comedy, but lately, I’ve kept hearing about these meltdown interviews with Russell Brand. Finally got to see a few of them. Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman interview and the MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. What surprises me is how his interviewers constantly and summarily dismiss his intellect with a hostile ignorance and disdain born out of stereotyping him. They can’t see past what they think they see. A dim witted, long-haired drunken oaf that’s a comedian.

He may not be right, but from both interviews I saw, no doubt he is thoughtful and eloquent in stating his beliefs when he wants to. Interviewing but not listening make his questioners look dumb instead. In the Paxman interview, Paxman focuses on his statement that he doesn’t vote and being offended by it while and not listening or exploring the thoughtful reason he said he doesn’t vote. Instead is cross examination was essentially, “why should we listen to you?”

Reminds me of the way news people used to talk down to Frank Zappa in discussion about public policy. Consistently they’d let smart, insightful things he said pass by them only to obsess about his long hair or “weird” music or speculate that he did drugs (which he didn’t).

Interview with Mika Brzezinski

Frank Zappa on CNN Crossfire

The Stenographer who commandeered the microphone in the House of Representatives and began to rant about the Freemasons and the US Constitution not being “One Nation Under God” said that The Holy Spirit told her to do so. And more or less, people have essentially shrugged.

What if the Stenographer had said her Dog told her to?

We’d think she’s crazy. This, even though we can empirically and without doubt verify the dog exists.” Can’t do that for the Holy Spirit.

Sure the dog can’t “talk” talk, but maybe it has that cute sorry-looking stare that she would just know mean “Gives a rant speech on CSPAN in the well of Congress. Still makes more sense than the Holy Ghost spiritually typing up an incoherent message for someone to repeat.

I guess what I’m saying is, first, the Holy Ghost needs a better speechwriter. Or she like many Americans, was just frustrated at the whole debacle and framed her passion as a spiritual experience.

The irony of the current standoff in both approving a budget and an increase in the debt ceiling is the tacit admission about President Obama that lies beneath the premise the GOP is using for negotiating (extortion) leverage.

Their negotiation tactic relies on belief that the man they screamed about hates America and is looking for every way possible to destroy it would now suddenly find the idea of shutting down government and ruining America’s credit and economy abhorrent.

That has to be the calculus for the current stand off to pay off for the GOP. That he cares. Otherwise it doesn’t make a great extortion tool.

The other irony is that the party who claim of higher taxes, Obamacare, new regulations, etc. can’t implemented or forced on America because they hurt the fragile economy are threatening tactics that will clearly hurt the fragile economy.

 

Ever hear the Team America World Police “America, Fuck Yeah!” sad song mix? That’s feels a lot like America feeling over Syria now.

America is tired. War weary.

With widespread and bi-partisan public fatigue over a decade of war and current polls against taking action in Syria that show the same, that “bummer mix” version of the original, hyperactive, “let’s go kick ass” version of Team America World Police’s “America, Fuck Yeah!” song pretty much sums up America’s changed attitude now when it comes to committing to war and foreign intervention.

Maybe “These colors don’t run.” Maybe that’s because we’re too tired to move anywhere. It’s a shame. Not that I’m crazy about war. But it’s sad that the true failure of our country’s might is that over the last 12 years we didn’t use it wisely. Using up our Ammo and will on more questionable actions and now being low on both. This may be a true case to use American might, but like any fatigue, the body is weak and just becomes singled minded about rest. No matter if the goal it wants to reach is just.  The public is overtired on War and many Congressmen now represent that sentiment. He may succeed, but President Obama clearly has a huge task ahead of him getting Americans to stand up with him to punish Syria , when they just want to rest.

“America….fuck….yeah…”

Ben_Affleck_batmanBen Affleck already had his shot at being a movie superhero. He was Daredevil. Which, if you’ve read the comic or seen the movie, you know is essentially a blind version of Batman. And that movie was horrible. Would have been better if his movie character could see and, instead, made the whole audience blind and unable to watch the film.

Ben Affleck is talented. No doubt. Argo was great. The Town was great. Heck, I liked Changing Lanes featuring he and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, but he does have a range. The roles where Affleck shines and connects with the audience are handsome guys that look like bad guys but clearly have a heart of gold. That’s Affleck’s thing. That’s what makes him great in the movies I just mentioned. He could be a dick, but he’s not.

The character of Batman is a whole different animal. The modern day perception of Batman is the mind of grizzled old man trapped inside a handsome, hyper-athletic body. That ain’t Ben Affleck’s acting strike zone.

In Affleck, the emotional money shot is when audiences get a glimpse at the heart of gold in his characters. The bank robber from the Town that wants to leave his violent ways and love one of his victims. The CIA agent that risks all to help hostages in Argo.

With Batman or the actor that previously played him, Christian Bale, the glimpse of tortured, personal demons that haunt him and test his good side is money shot. The anger, pain and revenge inside the hero that is dedicated to doing good. In Bruce Wayne, Bale and Batman, you see that intensity and self torment in their face. It’s the personal conflict that makes Wayne and Batman mysterious.

Again, that ain’t Ben Affleck’s acting strike zone.

Just look at any picture of Ben Affleck. Guaranteed, in every picture, his eyes say ether, “Hey girl,” or “I feel you.” His eyes and mannerisms just don’t go to that dark place a Batman needs to be naturally.

Fast forward to the future Batman Superman movie where we see a Batman, played by Affleck, either trying to project Batman’s brooding out of him like straining to make a bowel movement or having the audience feel at anytime, Batman could say “what’s up?” in a matter that’s cute for a RomCom, but a groan-worthy moment for Batman fans.

obama-rodeo-clown-story-topThis wasn’t this Obama-mask wearing Rodeo clown’s first rodeo.

One of the reason we as a society never have a real discussion about race and racism is that we get easily fixated with the most superficial and easy-to-grab-onto parts around the issue. For Paul Deen, the shallow shore water the press and the public became fixated around and failed to venture much farther from the question of did she  say the “N” word. A loud fixation and shouting match that drowned out the court testimony transcripts that clearly and repeatedly showed a view of Deen of African-Americans as being beneath her in status and ability, if not pet like. A more solid indication of racism than all the futile energy wasted focusing on just one word which may or may not be used in a racist context.

This recent incident with the Rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair wearing a President Barack Obama mask against the context of a voice over loudspeaker asking the audience if they wanted to see the bull run him down is following the same line. Like the “N” word, the outrage over Rodeo clown himself is the superficial distraction.

Was it offensive for a man to dress up like President Obama and get threatened to be hurt by a bull? Yes. But what was more offensive? A whole state fair crowd cheering. It’s hard to pass this off as uncomfortable laughter or mindless herd mentality. I strongly doubt the same crowd would have laughed uncomfortably or cheered if the clown stood up and punched a kitten, threatened any other president in a mask. No, what I’d expect to hear is gasps and wide eyes filling with shock or indignation. At minimum, audible traces of “This is disrespectful.” Instead the crowd cheered the idea of harming the President of the United States. Cheering not happening at a Klan rally, TEA party event or Al Qaeda pep rally. This is a state fair.

Witness to such an sight should make everyone realize why the clown shouldn’t be at the focus on of the righteous finger pointing from those offended: The rodeo clown is an entertainer. Entertainers, entertain by playing to their audience. That clown knew and was marketing to his audience. He gave the people want they wanted. And what they wanted was an opportunity to vent disrespect and hate for a black president-and they jumped on it.

But as this ugly incident was caught on camera, it now involves the reputation of the Missouri State Fair, threat to tourism dollars and since no politician would ever blame their constituents, the Rodeo clown will have to do his job as scapegoat. “Bad rodeo clown! We’re sending you to sensitivity training.” Once he emerges from training, everyone will proclaim that the scourge of racism is cured, the rodeo clown is cleansed of his offensive demons and everyone can do back to coming to the fair and eating the blue ribbon pie.

That is if you don’t count the audience that agreed with him. And we won’t count them. You can’t take all of them to sensitivity training. And “scores of people” and “isolated incident” don’t work in the same sentence.

The rodeo clown did the real job of being a Rodeo clown, distract an angry rampage animal for going after it’s real target. Well done.

Elysium_sci-fi_movieAnyone that has watched the parade of presumed juggernaut summer blockbusters walk in to summer movie theaters, have also seen them (with the exception of Iron Man 3) met with a revenue-killing barrage of “meh” and even “no thank yous” from moviegoers. Indifference that have left Oblivion, Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger R.I.P.D. and now Elysium underwhelming in box office. Movies with heavyweight directors, 200-million-plus production bankrolls and audience-grabbing star power are getting their asses kicked by smaller movies. Some with indie-level budgets like 3-million-dollar The Purge. For the $225 million Lone Ranger, that’s like being beaten up by a baby.

Why?

It wasn’t just one thing. It’s a confluence of bad movie trends and changing moviegoer habits. Particularly the following five:

Fail Reason 1. A lot of really good ideas met really lazy story telling.

Oblivion, Pacific Rim and Lone Ranger have strong appealing story concepts. Tell me you’re going to make a movie with skyscraper tall robots fighting monsters and I’ll say, “Hell yea!” But it seems the writers and/or directors treated their movies as an idea force majeure. The concept is the story. Just show robots fighting, or Tom Cruise feeling doubtful or his reality and the audience will like it. A flaw that made many of these movies feel narcissistic and self involved. They tended to talk at you, not to you. Something I’m sure audience’s felt and made the feel the movies “didn’t speak to me.”

In most of these films, it seems like the director wanted to show you a new world, but if you didn’t get into it via the visual smorgasbord of photography and special effects, the directors seemed put upon to emotionally explain it to you. As a result, these movies use a lot of exposition to establish story lines. Often ignoring the power of good dialogue to help viewers feel the story and instead using it as a simply a line for viewers to follow to get from scene to scene or tack on a plot point the director doesn’t want to take the time to set up. Odd, as most of these movies had 2.5 to 3 hour run times to do so.

In Oblivion, exposition was Tom Cruise quoting Macaulay’s Horatius for his reason for sacrificing his life (because we weren’t viscerally convinced why he wanted to do it). In Pacific Rim, Charlie Day’s scientist character was left with the job to drop key plot points out of the sky at the right times to keep giving the movie plot traction, using his mind meld with an alien brain to deliver plot points to the audience like being freshly handed a note from the director. Something like, “Oh, the alien brain just told me, you can go through portal, you’ll die!”

With most of the films this summer, most of the characters connection and plot are established by explanation, not empathy or emotional intelligence. An approach that yields no deep visceral understanding for the audience–so no excitement. A little extra time and effort to tell a story would have transformed all these movies into something greater.

Fail Reason 2. The theater threshold. Can I wait 3 months and watch it at home? For Sci-fi movies, they said “yes.”

With the awareness that any movie out now will be available on iTunes, On Demand and Netflix by the end of summer, many movies no longer can pass the “worth the theater” threshold. Nowadays, movies are hard pressed to prove that they are worth the audience’s time and often hassle pay 12 dollars and sit in a theater with people texting and providing free movie commentary services. The movies that can draw audiences into seat with confidence are proven brands. Batman. The Avengers. Star Wars. The Hunger Games. Newer or riskier sci-fi idea simply may just feel like a safer risk as a 3-dollar rental. That probably hurt Pacific Rim especially.

Fail Reason 3. Big name movies are talking past American viewer towards the international market.

The American movie market is a shrinking share of the total movie industry revenues. As DVDs were once the revenue savior of movies that didn’t do gangbusters at the theaters, moviemakers now pin recouping their investment with the international markets. That requires them to play down stories, gender, ethnicity and country specific symbols and events that could alienate foreign viewers.

This lower common detonator approach to movie making may work. Pacific Rim is doing much better internationally and will likely claw back it’s cost, but doing so at the expense of American box office. And frankly, at the cost of being a better movie. However, if that formula for Pacific Rim works, expects other sci-fi movies to do the same.

Fail Reason 4. If raising a brand from the dead. Don’t take a zombie approach to promoting them.

The Lone Ranger and last year’s sci-fi big money bomb John Carter Warlord of Mars are exciting movie ideas – to anyone who remembers those characters. Not likely if you’re younger than 40. Yet, Hollywood tried to revive these movies in ads with either a blaze of explosions or the message ” you like Johnny Depp, right?” In both cases almost willfully not bothering to explain a version of the story that would pull new veers into the franchise.

Fail Reason 5. Special effects affect a movie. They don’t make a movie.

Iron Man 3, clearly a success had cool special effects. They make you like a scene. But it’s Robert Downey Jr.’s wisecracking personality that make you like the film. He made the technology-centered adventure human and relatable. That’s why it is the odd man out in the Sci-fi movie summer massacre. And why Hollywood should take note.

In the wake of the Publicis Omnicom merger announcement, industry press and surely employees are wondering how clients and staffing will play out when the two large holding companies merge. If you understood what’s really going on you’d see that mindset is focus is like people arranging desk chairs on the Titanic.

An excerpt from “Why the Publicis Omnicom merger signals the transformation (and possibly death) of advertising.

“…they’re really not merging for greater capability rather; they’re merging for greater infrastructure. A big enough infrastructure to have the capital and resources to buy time to evolve (and buy into) the next sustainable marketing model.”

A model that involves more technology purchases, capital expenses and less people. The advertising version of being replaced by robots. Read more at this link.

Thugs_Oreilly_RiveraWith props to “Thug Kitchen” let’s talk about the word “Thug.”

I remember this e-card from a couple of years ago. A picture of a mom talking to her son and saying, “No Honey, I don’t know what Socialist means, but I can’t say “Nigger.”

The card refers to the early years of President Obama’s term when many Republicans and conservatives constantly and casually referred to him as socialist. This even though, his policies and documented record of propping up private business like banks, car companies and approving monetary policies that make it easier for business to get cheap money all run counter to the definition of a socialist (policies that distribute money and resources to workers, not businesses).

The word “socialist” wasn’t an error. It was a code word.

Their use of the word “socialist” was never meant to be an accurate descriptor of the president’s policies. It was meant to carve out and establish a comfortable idea-safe zone for people who felt uncomfortable openly saying, “the race and my beliefs about the person’s race assuming the presidency disturb me.” “Socialist” was merely plausible deniability to express that fear.  Whether racist or not, many Americans do fear socialism – though most really don’t know what it is. It’s that cloud of fearful ambiguity that lets people who are expressing racist thoughts camouflage their hatred under a bigger tent of reasonable concern about a type of economic policy.

It’s human nature. When we know certain ideas or feelings are socially frowned upon or considered politically incorrect, we find concealed ways to communicate them. In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case, those who shared George Zimmerman’s belief when he said to the radio dispatcher “They (black people) always get away” need a word that doesn’t define Trayvon Martin as a “boy” or “black person.” Something that deflects focus on him as a respectable human being. Otherwise, reminding people the Martin/Zimmerman events happened in context of a 17-year-old unarmed boy comes off as insensitive and mean spirited at minimum. As a messaging expert, I can tell you, first hand, how you define something is half the battle to winning an argument. Enter conservative media. Masters of defining things.

As the distribution point of new policy and political language, conservative pundits and media responded by giving that belief about Travyon Martin and black people a comfortable language zone.

“Thug”

Yes, there are rap music “gangstas” that used the word. The 2Pac album “Thug Life” comes to mind.  It applied to describe a subculture in black music. But the new version of “Thug” expands coverage so broad it’s unfair.  One reason for the expansion is, like most lies, they work best when there is a germ of truth in it.  There are people who are or who have called themselves “thugs” in the black community. But that’s like saying because some Italians have called themselves mobsters, every Italian is likely in the mob. That’s what’s happening to “thug.”

Within that word hides the need of some to say, these people are below us, different than us. Which is what racism is essentially all about. The word thug has been co-opted into an idea suitcase that allows some to pack all the stereotypes of black people inside. A short form to say that black people like Trayvon Martin are:

Violent. Lazy. Angry. Animalistic. Criminal (And therefore deserved what he got).

Armed with new language, pundits like Bill O’Reilly use it in place of black or the N word.  Like O’Reilly calling Martin’s hoodie “thug wear.”  Or cable news sidekick Geraldo Rivera saying any one wearing a hoodies is a “wanna be thug.” Such a strong statement. What you wear makes you criminal. Statements that are blatantly hypocritical as pictures show O’Reilly wearing hoodies. Same with Geraldo.” But each would be offended if you called them thugs.

That’s when it’s time to call B.S. on an idea: ” Oh, when I said that I meant “them,” not me.”

Like the TEA party that “hates socialism” but wants to keep Medicare, by all definitions a clearly socialist program. In a normal world of true principles, that’s a level of cognitive dissonance that would drive them crazy. But it doesn’t, because there is no true idea conflict. They don’t really hate what they say they’re against. The phrase is merely valued as weaponized language for attacking others outside a group and making others afraid of them.

Speaking of openly, the raw thought behind “thug” is nicely expressed in a forum I found on Yahoo that asks, “Conservatives, do you think being black is one of the criteria of being a thug?”

One of the responders says,

“When 13% of the population commits 50% of the crime [blacks] it fairly likely that any black person you come across is a thug/criminal.”

Since African Americans are 13% of the population, for his statistic to be right, every black person would have to be committing crime. So either we put Denzel Washington, Bill Cosby an Urkel in jail (’cause they’re all guilty) or accept that that commenter is projecting their hatred or fear of black people under concern for crime.

“Thug” may be a new dog whistle word to say “blacks.” What’s always funny about dog whistle words is the people who they refer to in the stealth messaging clearly hear them the loudest. Whether it’s “Thug” for black people or “Illegals” for Hispanics, the meaning isn’t lost. Why people like O’Reilly and some conservative media are only making race relations worse is that, for targeted minorities, this approach is more like making fun of you, in front of you, without calling out your name specifically. And then watching other people in the room laugh as if they’re in on the joke about you. We know at some level, the new race hustlers are conscious of the hurtfulness of their ideas, yet they insult our intelligence by feigning ignorance, and sometimes flaunting a double standard on a supposed bedrock principle. It’s not principle.  It’s just a coward’s way to hate.

Jul
8th

Why I Stopped Watching Cable News.

Cable_news_deathToday, expecting actual news (the factual who, what when, where and why) from an American cable news channel is like expecting music videos from MTV Music Television, or hard history lessons from the History Channel or education from The Learning Channel. Like many cable outlets, cable news now requires a six degrees of Kevin Bacon effort to re-link the relationship between the channel’s name to the content they have that justifies that title.

Why the disconnect? For cable news channels, as I wrote in my book Does This News Make Me Look Fat, I talk about the death of the news gathers. News outlet that once produced a rich supply of news cut off that supply by eliminating foreign news bureaus, journalists and, even a few weeks ago, the Chicago Sun Times fired all its photographers. These are the people who used to do the legwork to go out and gather news that we as citizens may not have easy access to. And true news gathers worked to gather additional or insightful information without merely accepting press releases or official statements at face value. These department cuts happened as that model of finding news is now too expensive in an industry hemorrhaging money and profits. An industry ultimately worried about its very existence.

The solution they’ve turned to I’ve also mentioned in my book. Instead of having news gathers collect and produce real organic news, media companies and news organizations have learned to manufacture artificial or processed news. Outlets who get news from pooled source of news, each having the same news facts from that source and simply flavoring it with news opinion or hyperbolic statements along their news brand to look and feel different to the news consumer.  Very much like meat where most of the meat we consume under all the different brands still come from a handful a corporate meat producers.

MSNBC gets the feed about Humpty Dumping falling off a wall and Rachel Maddow uses it talk about how government is taking away our social safety net. Fox News uses the same feed to imply this is linked a scandal over a government overreach. Each will spend time giving an opinion or angle on the story. But sadly, few lift a finger to find evidence or new facts about the Humpty Dumpty incident that isn’t low hanging fruit (something that can’t be found in a Google search). As a result, they fail to deliver information at a level that responsible news consumers could use to make our own decisions without leaning on emotionally charged opinions or a bombastic host’s confidence as a crutch.

In cable news land, instead of a poll supporting a story, a poll is the story (Obama approval drops). In cable news, talking head debates get rewarded based on who can deliver a better zinger (known as the slam) or who gets angrier than who can explain and prove their argument. The fight becomes the news. Again the model is similar to Pawn Stars on the History Channel. There, the excitement becomes watching the store owner haggle over a historical item, not a true care or focus the antique or historical item itself. News and history are tangential to their respective cable channel homes.

Business wise, it all makes rational since. Cable channels that have brought reality shows into their line up have seen ratings rise and those shows break out and get noticed from the massive haystack of channels of cable. I understand that cable news is only trying to do the same.

In the new book “Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America” by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, they talk about how CNN, saw the writing on the wall about its fate to join Fox News and become a newsless news channel over a decade ago…

“Former CNN head Rick Kaplan told the story of how he was confronted by Time Warner executives in 1999 or 2000 who were dissatisfied with CNN’s profits despite what had been record revenues and a solid return. “But Fox News made just as much profit,” Kaplan was informed, “and did so with just half the revenues of CNN, because it does not carry so many reporters on its staff.” The message to Kaplan was clear: close bureaus and fire reporters, lots of them….”

 

Here’s the part that is the most telling of this quote…

“…In short, Fox News is the logical business product for an era where corporations deem journalism an unprofitable undertaking.”

 

And it’s happened. CNN’s mindless entertainment model is not partisan but more like the effort of a birthday clown trying to keep kids from being bored through gimmicks.  MSNBC programming is a continual sanctimonious smirk at the GOP. Lots of noise, drama and finger pointing. No news.  And Fox News, like Phil Donahue did with over the top talk shows, created this genre. And like Donahue, its offspring, like The Blaze and other competitors will over take it. Each generation turning up the notch of silliness, until one day, Fox News own silliness looks too conservative, boring and out of touch.

No matter which way or for what reason of the news networks choose this path, they have.

I’m not sure when the Cronkite moment calling the death of cable news happened for me with certainty. I do think the final death throes began with the media rush to pre-judgment in the death of Trayvon Martin, then the Supreme Court Obamacare ruling flub, then the mob like finger point at innocent citizens during the Boston bombings. Somewhere during those embarrassing moments, I realized this is a whole industry that is now being rewarded and optimizing itself for having mouths that move faster than their brains. Anchors and pundits are encouraged to be certain or controversial more than right.  If that were the philosophy of my financial planner, lawyer, doctor, I wouldn’t feel comfortable turning to those professional for advice to plan my life. So in the mindset why should I or we afford an exemption to cable news? That’s the main reason I left cable news.

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