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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why Is Television Making My Life So Hard? This Isn't Rocket Science, People! It's T.V.

Not so long ago, I admitted my sad, pathetic albeit somewhat passive Television Addiction and, although it has not waned, it has become a little bit more...discerning. I have broken up with a vast number of television shows that have cavalierly betrayed me, and I have dismissed innumerable Food Network chefs who have sullied their toques by stooping to the Meals In Minutes fad or worse, the shamefest of the PTA Cookbook/Internet recipe. (If I wanted to just slop together something from canned soup, Minute Rice, grocery store chicken, and frozen peas, what do I need to watch a chef for?)

But I digress.

With all the "choices"--and I use the term oh-so-very loosely here--that we have as Television Viewers, one would think that the various Purveyors Of Television would get their act together and be a little less flippant about how they present their offerings. I've already wailed and gnashed my teeth about the unreliability of the television schedule/Local TV Listings; this time I want to bitch about and lament the misleading names of the various cable networks themselves. For instance:

A&E: Initially, this network was termed "Arts and Entertainment." How far it has fallen! Now the A and E apparently stand for "Apprehension and Enforcement." Gone are the biographical films of famous authors and artists; their lineup now consists of shows like Dog the Bounty Hunter, Criminal Minds, and Steven Seagal: Lawman. When did this network change its mission? And if you go to their website, you can't even find the words "Arts & Entertainment" anywhere. They know, at least. They know. Hey, A&E! Relaunch! Put it out there and call it what it is. Maybe C&P--Crime and Punishment Network. But...what would they do with Hoarders?

Lifetime: Okay, here's my issue. Lifetime calls itself "Television for Women." Its website's mission statement contains a lot of posturing about how it is committed to celebrating, supporting, and entertaining women. But, holy crap, have you ever surfed around and hit on that station and glimpsed a Lifetime Movie? Invariably, that movie shows a woman in prison, a woman being beaten, a woman being raped, a woman crying, or a woman held hostage in a home invasion or something. Yikes. Now, I think I can safely say that, as a woman, I am part of Lifetime's target demographic. I don't think, however, that I feel supported, celebrated, or entertained by any of that. If it weren't for Project Runway, I'd be calling my cable provider about putting a block on old Lifetime. It sounds more like television for sickos.

Mtv: Allow me to show my advanced age here, and those of you with grey hairs are with me already. The "M" in Mtv stands for MUSIC. Why is it, then, that there is absolutely no music played on this network? When this station first aired, it was an all-music video venue. It was, quite simply, MUSIC + TELEVISION. As in, you could watch your music. What happened to my Mtv? Now it's a cesspool of stupid, inane, low-wattage reality shows with such illuminating titles as Sixteen and Pregnant, Sloppy Ho's, and Disaster Date. Time for the "M" to be changed to an "R"; it can stand for Rejects, Ridiculous, Remedial...oh, any number of far more descriptively accurate adjectives.

TLC: The Learning Channel has a real identity crisis. Like A&E, you're hard-pressed to find what TLC stands for on their website, which is as much a hodge-podge of...stuff as their network is. What, exactly, are we supposed to learn? Well, gosh! All kinds of junk! We can learn about hoarders on TLC, too, along with What Not To Wear, cake decorators, strange sex, cops, toddlers in beauty pageants, tattoo artists, and "little people"--whether they make chocolate or not. But, just so you don't think that TLC isn't truly about learning, they also include a small widget on their sidebar called "How Stuff Works"! Hey, thanks, TLC! Learning is fun! TLC needs to get real with itself. It's not about learning at all. It's all about rubbernecking. You know it and I know it. People tune in to watch Jon and Kate crash and burn, to watch the overly-tattooed people look freakish, to watch the obliviously scary mothers doll up their toddlers a la Jon Benet Ramsey and hawk them like prostitutes down the runway. It's the Voyeur Channel. The Trainwreck Network. (Help me here, Readers--I know there's a good one out there....)

Plenty of people tell me that they just don't watch television anymore. What with the endless commercials, availability of Hulu and other online outlets for their favorite shows, and the DVDs of entire series, they just don't bother. Still more tell me that they simply aren't interested; they do other things with their time. Not me. After a long day of Teen Wrangling at The Rock, I enjoy blobbing out in my big chair with my blankie, letting myself be entertained, even if it's somewhat mindlessly. I have to be able to shut it all down--all of it--and some TV time lets me do that. And if I get to look at Hugh Laurie or laugh at the same episode of The Office that I've seen a million times or appreciate the good writing of a new show that's funny and smart (for a change!) while forgetting a particularly tough day at school, then I'm good. Real good with that.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Spring Cleaning At The Dept., And Everything Must Go: Ninjas, Paula Deen, And Genes...Especially Those Genes



Here are some little Thought Nerfuls that have been nooking-and-crannying in my brain for awhile. Besides, it's time things got a bit Lighter here at the Dept.

]*[ Jared, shaking his head and chuckling at the memory, recently recounted this scene while reminiscing about his adventures with his buddy Isaac, currently serving in Iraq.
(scene opens at a neighborhood bar. young man in his twenties is at the bar; seated next to him is a young woman of the same age. they are obviously strangers.)
Young Woman: Yeah, so what do you do?
Isaac: Um, I go to school.
YW: Oh, really? What are you studying?
Isaac: (without missing a beat; completely cool, serious) Ninja Arts. At the community college.
YW: What? Wow. (takes a moment to study his face; is skeptical) Really? I never heard of that.
Isaac: Yeah, well, it's sorta like a phys. ed./psychology double major thing. It's pretty cool.
YW: Oh, wow. That is cool. Wow. Could you, like, show me something?
Isaac: Come on. Really? Here? (shakes head with totally disdainful look; walks away)
(end scene)

]*[ The Cleveland Plain Dealer has been doing a series about obesity in America. It recently published an article about celebrity chefs climbing on the bandwagon for healthier eating habits. I almost sprayed my coffee when I saw the name Paula Deen. Holy crap. This is the woman whose Holy Trinity is Butter, Mayonnaise, and Cream Cheese. Who invented a recipe called "Gooey Butter Cake." Who has a casserole called--and no, I am not making this up--"Piggy Pudding" which calls for a cup of maple syrup. I'm sorry, but unless her inclusion in this campaign is Court Ordered, I'm just not falling for it.

]*[ Had Easter buffet/groaning board/Embarrassment Of Food Overload with the Entire Extended Family on Sunday. Lovely...and Freudian in that we all blamed the patently ridiculous amount of food brought/provided on our upbringing by my mother. My sister bought a huge ham, hefted it at the store, and what was her first thought? "I will also make an Oceanic Vat of sloppy joes." I made enough Asian Slaw to bury that continent, and on and on and on and on it went with all of us relations making Titanic containers of food and transporting it all to Patti's house, then feeling waves of amusement, ridicule, and resignation. It is part of our Genetic Makeup. My mother did--and still does--the same thing. My brother Bob witnessed her, standing in front of the open freezer, doing unnecessarily complex mathematical calculations, just to decide how many chicken wings to cook and bring. When he quickly told her what he thought, she viciously challenged him:

Mom: How do you know that's how many?
Bob: Because I made one bag for my poker night for half as many people and it was more than enough.
Mom: But...
Bob: And shut the freezer. You're wasting energy.
Mom: Oh for heaven's sake. You don't even know how many wings are in here.
Bob: (reaches over and shuts freezer door while handing her a bag of wings) There are forty in here.
Mom: How do you know? It doesn't say on here.
Bob: I just know. Don't worry about it. I'll take care of the wings.
Mom: Boy oh boy. I wonder how I ever raised four kids if I never, ever do anything right.

(By the way, there were plenty of wings, but once this story was related to everyone by my brother--and my mom overheard--she made several of her grandchildren ask for more wings, pretending that they hadn't had enough. She can get ornery.)

]*[ Finally, one last story. My sons tease me endlessly about how long it takes me to "run into Walgreens" to get one or two items. They claim that I take hours, aimlessly wandering, lingering too long here and there, reading labels, calculating cost per ounce for the best deals, etc. They never want to take me or go with me. I claim that they are filthy liars. I might take a bit longer than they would like, but it is never hours. But this, too, might be genetic. My brother, who takes my mother shopping, says that she especially lingers overmuch at the greeting cards. "Dropping Mom off at the greeting card aisle is like dropping off a kid at the arcade," he said earnestly. "She can spend hours and hours in there. I can go do whatever shopping I have in whatever departments I need to, and when I'm done, no matter how long it took, that's where I'll find her. It's incredible."

I'm wrapping it up here. Dinnertime, and it's leftovers. For some reason, I always seem to have a lot of leftovers....

Saturday, April 03, 2010

In Which I Expose Albert Einstein's Big Lie, As Well As Other Fallacies Of Democracy (And No, I Haven't Started Drinking Tea)

Rick and I were in the car not so long ago when a minivan zipped past us at a pretty good clip. I was immediately on alert because I have a Major Minivan Theory, and I wanted to see if it held true yet again. (My Theory is that most minivans are under-utilized; I maintain that the vast majority of minivans are not transporting large families/groups of people and are, therefore, wasteful and unnecessary.)

But I digress.

The driver was alone in the van (ha!), and as she sped away from us, I caught a glimpse of her bumper sticker. The minute I read it, I became derisive and outraged. Here is what it said:

Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge

What in the hell kind of bullshit is that? How can anyone truly believe that, let alone unabashedly market it and advertise it? Just because it is part of a quote from Albert Einstein doesn't mean it is Scientific Fact. You know, this idiocy is another overly simplified Great American Lie, right up there with

1. You can be whatever you want to be.
2. Anyone can be President.
3. If you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.

Now, while it is true that Bush 43, aka The Angel of Death, would seem to buttress the assertion made in #2, all clear-headed people know that this statement simply isn't true. He may have been a buffoon and an ersatz cowboy, but he was a rich, well-connected doofus with a political pedigree and a republican family name equivalent to the Kennedys. That isn't just "anyone." And before someone flings the name Barack Obama around, please do a little research. He's much closer to "Anyone," but he's a lot closer to a "Somebody." Do poor, uneducated people ever run for government office? Let's just start with that.

With respect to Lie #1, which should really be nipped in the bud right after elementary school, if not sooner, I can offer my own experience. I have always had a natural affinity for animals. I had many pets as a child, and no animal is anathema to me except perhaps the snake. I decided in high school that I wanted to be a veterinarian. In college I began a pre-vet program of study and worked my ass off. Guess what? I couldn't cut it. Once it got into hardcore math and chemistry, I just washed out, pure and simple. All the love in the world for animals--or imagination!--can't stand in for basic subject material. That, and I discovered an abject abhorrence for the sight of blood.

But I really, really wanted to be a vet! Oh. Well.

You can just imagine the scene, though, right?

(Interior. Office of veterinarian exam room. Man rushes in with injured Irish Setter. Dog is limp, bleeding. An unidentified organ is protruding from stomach area; it glistens in overhead light.)
Man: Dr. Nance, our dog was hit by the ice cream truck! It just happened! We came as quick as we could!
Nance: (back is to Man; pulling on latex exam gloves) I'm glad you got here as soon as you did. Let's have a look. (turns around) Oh good heavens! I--I'm--The poor thing! How awful! What's his name?
Man: MacDuff.
Nance: Oh, I love that! But you know, MacDuff was Scottish, not Irish. That's from Macbeth, and---ugh! What is that? (points to organ thingy hanging out; begins to gag a little)
Man: I know. It's pretty bad. Will he make it?
Nance: That's--bloody--that's--his stomach. Excuse me. I have to go throw up.
(end scene)

Point is, I could NOT be a veterinarian. I wanted to, but I COULDN'T. Not only was I not smart enough in the subject areas required, but I just didn't have the temperament. I could imagine myself as one, but...not gonna happen.

Now, #3 seems to be the same as #2, but really, it's not quite. If you've ever watched the show American Idol on television, then it is a perfect example of how stupid this tenet sounds. How many times do these sobbing wannabe singers whimper, "But I really, really want this"? Well, sweetheart, I really, really want this blog to get me a book deal, but guess what? That isn't happening either! Ha! Desire alone is not enough. I had a student many years ago--a junior--who had to write a career narrative, a short essay in which he had to explain his plans for his future career. This student--I'll call him Jason--wrote about becoming a professional basketball player. I asked him if he currently played for the high school team. No, he didn't. I asked him if he ever had. No, he had not. I asked him if he played in junior high. No. Did he play for his church or for the city recreation league? No, none of those. I asked if he planned to try out next year or in college. No, he didn't see those things happening. "Jason," I said gently. "How do you think you'll make the NBA if you don't play anywhere that a professional basketball scout would see you? They don't normally just drive around small towns like ours and see kids out on playgrounds or in driveways." I suggested that he might want to have a backup career plan, just in case.

Well, that was not what he wanted to hear. He exploded. "Don't come up here with your essay!" he yelled, turning around to face the class. "She is killing our dreams!"

O-kay.

No.

The point that I wanted to make was, just because he wanted to be a professional basketball player didn't mean he was going to be. He was doing absolutely nothing to get him anywhere near that goal. He had just as much chance of being a pro basketball player as I did. NEWS FLASH: IT IS ALMOST 15 YEARS LATER. HE IS STILL NOT IN THE NBA.

(Did you see that coming?) I'm sure he imagined himself in the NBA. But that's not enough. It never is, is it?

Imagination is never MORE important than knowledge. That is just patently absurd. At some point we have to stop selling our children--who eventually become adults, you know--these glib, slick, meaninglessly dangerous axioms. Because they believe them. And many of them go on living their lives expecting things to just happen to them because they want them to.

We know better, and so should they.
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