Beukey on Pop Culture

This blog will focus on pop culture, with an emphasis on views outside, overlooked, or ignored by the mainstream. I may veer off-topic. We are all grown-ups, so don't act shocked at occasional bad language. This blog is not the place for those of you who stood in line to see "The Lake House".

Friday, December 11, 2009

MTV Get Off The Air

What the hell happened to MTV?

I am not going to be grumpy old new-waver who complains that they don't show videos all day long. But for a network that constantly wanted to define the cutting edge, they seem to want out of the game.

They stopped showing videos 20 years ago, but created some of the best shows on television to take their place. That may seem hard to believe, but a roster of their best (Beavis and Butt-head, Daria, True Life, Wonder Showzen) outperforms the shows created by most basic cable outlets, and their constantly creative bumpers, ads, etc, were far ahead of the sentimental dreck created by Lifetime.

Even when the started showing unwatchable reality TV like The Hills, they could still create a double-edged sword of a show like My Super Sweet Sixteen, a perfect show for an era where instantly indulging a child's every whim takes precedence helping a child become a fully functioing adult. Trust me, someday the subversive genius of My Super Sweet Sixteen will be fully appreciated.

But I flipped by MTV the other day, and they were showing South Park reruns. South Park is a great show, but when did MTV start re-running culturally relevant shows instead of creating them? And "culturally relevant" is a changing term, as the rerun was about 10 years old. What teenager is going to want to watch that?

While re-running South Park is somewhat defensible because of the quality of the show, the next show aired was Grounded For Life. Grounded for Life? A failed sitcom from a few years back is now in rotation on cutting-edge MTV? Even a crappy video made in the last three months would be a better choice than Grounded For Life.

And MTV is going to keep going down this road, as it announced plans to air reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer next year. Buffy is a classic show, but "classic" is not what they do best (and we have niche channel VH1 Classic should we feel the need to go that route).

The title for this post comes from a song by The Dead Kennedys that came out over 20 years ago. "20 years ago" is starting to look like the audience MTV is shooting for. I don't know why they would abandon their brand image they have worked so long to create. No one my age is watching MTV, even though they seem to want to program to that demographic.

I guess MTV grew up, wants to settle down, and think about the glory days of its past. Maybe they should just show the video of "Glory Days" 24-7. (Do the kids still say "24-7?")

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Childish Sexuality of American Movies

When flipping through the channels the other day, I passed by Auto Focus, which is the bio pic about Bob Crane's life. Or rather, it is about one specific part of his life, his sexual addiction that eventually cost him his life. Or rather, it is about how American movies approach sexual issues, which is to say that they reduce every sexual issue, no matter how mature or complex, into the nodding, winking, leering, overexcitement a teenage boy is supposed to feel when he sees his first naked female breast.

I don't know why American movies do this. I think I know why, but I am hoping I am wrong. I think they do it because they are afraid to take on sexual issues in a mature, adult (and I mean adult as in your are a grown person with a sex life, not "adult" as a synonym for "pornographic") manner because we still have a puritanical streak (God forbid we would offend someone) and it is easier to take on a mocking, adolescent tone rather than tackle the subject head-on.

Someone once made the observation that rock and roll music is full of songs about sexual immaturity. It is full of songs that basically take the viewpoint of a horny high school boy that might be having sex for the first time that night. Since the boy might have sex, the songs deal only in anticipation, not events. When disco came out, and dealt with songs with people who actually had sex (I Feel Love, for one) certain people were offended by the "frankness" (although the songs at that time weren't very frank). But since the mid-80's, and the gradual decline of rock and roll as the face of popular music, popular music dealt in a more head on manner with sex. Not rock and roll, however, where a song like Stacy's Mom can maintain a safe and snickering distance.

Movies haven't even made this much of an advance. Porky's, American Pie, The 40-Year Old Virgin, and the godawful Austin Powers movies all make millions of dollars. They all deal with people desiring sex, but instead of actual getting laid (unless getting laid involves embarrassing someone else (the Stiffler's Mom complex)), they are an exercise in tease and frustration. I have no idea why these movies would appeal to people. They deal in unoriginal material, they are not funny, and they all deal with the unnecessary thwarting of a natural desire. Would anyone go see a movie about a hungry person that was always this close to eating a meal, except that at the moment of truth the table collapsed, or a bird flying overhead pooped in the food, or some other unlikely contrivance prevented him from eating? I would think not, as that sounds like a repetitive, not entertaining movie. Yet Americans flock to the sexual equivalent of such a movie over and over again.

Which takes us back to Auto Focus. While it is not a comedy, it feels the need to fall back on comic and crowd-pleasing elements because it thinks we can't handle a straightforward movie about a man with a sexual addiction. So we get lots of shots of people playing Hogan, Newkirk, Klink, etc. The worst offense is a nightmare scene where Crane is dreaming he in costume on the set of Hogan's Heroes while dealing with sexual temptation. But, face it, that was the scene the American audience wanted to see in the movie.

Whenever an American movie does try to take on sexual issues in a straightforward manner, it is usually criticized in an exaggerated manner. I have recently come across writers going on and on about what a horrible movie Eyes Wide Shut is. This movie is not great, but it's not horrible either, especially when compared to an Austin Powers movie. Eyes Wide Shut is somewhat of a mess, but it does deal with the issues of sexual desire in contrast with what a rationale course of behavior would be. Of course, no critic wants to talk about that, they just want to pile on the "ridiculous" orgy scene.

The scene is unrealistic, but what I think bothers the puritanical American critics is that the scene deals with people having and actually enjoying sex, not anticipating sex and being somehow stopped at the last minute because Mom got home, or a pipe suddenly burst, or a cow kicked over a lamp and set the barn on fire.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'm Supposed To Be Sad That There Is One Less Pervert In The World?

Maybe this is a sign of maturity, or maybe it is a sign of the early advance of old age, but I find it very hard to find Michael Jackson a sympathetic figure, much less understand the hysteria over his death. I had expected that the baby boomers "end of a era" caterwauling over the inevitable death of Bob Dylan to be the most annoying music related spectacle I would have to endure, but this death is already taking on Elvis-like proportions. Already we have the "mysterious doctor", 10 years from now, we'll have stories that MJ didn't really die, and he was "sighted" preparing for a comeback tour.

People want to print any over the top statement they can, but they don't want to examine the facts of his life, and what likely lead to his death. The most unbelievable thing I read was that MJ, who is about as apolitical a figure in music that you will find, had a great (although previously publicly unstated) desire to see the reunification of Korea. Yes, you read that right.

Micheal Jackson lived in a self-constructed prison of gold bars. And he invited little boys in there to spend time with him. He even admitted to sharing his bed with minors. If your next-door neighbor made such an admission, you would punch him in the face. But with Michael, it's all supposed to be taken in stride and forgiven, because he provided entertainment to people, and he had a rough childhood. Awwwwwwww!

People may be temporarily shocked by his death, but they can hardly be surprised. Anyone who has abused painkillers in the way that MJ did stands a good chance of dying early. Anyone who underwent as much plastic surgery as he did is placing a unnecessary burden on their body. He also seemed to have a Bear Stearns attitude towards his finances, and may have been as much as $500 million in debt at the time he died.

It has been said that MJ regressed into some type of child-like stage many years ago. If that is true, it is hardly something to be envied or emulated. All I see is someone who indulged himself in painkillers, debt, and other "activities" without much concern to his overall well being. If he doesn't care enough to take care of himself, why should his death surprise us?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Will Ferrell Visits "Land Of The Flops"

Well, it finally happened, thank God. The great American love affair with unfunny Will Ferrell is over. Land Of The Lost (movie budget $100 million, advertising budget estimated to be $30 million) made less than $20 million in its first weekend of release. There is nowhere to go but down from there.

I saw a trailer for this movie, and it looked awful. Even worse than his usual dreck. Is telling Matt Lauler to "Eat it" supposed to be funny, and worth $10 to see?

I can only hope this is the start of a long series of flops. Soon he will need to make the career-reviving dog movie (think Jennifer Anniston and Owen Wilson's Marley and Me). I can only hope people stay away this time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Ha-Ha! You're Medium Is Dying!"

That bon mot was tossed by Nelson Muntz to some print journalist a few seasons back on The Simpsons. It was true then, it is true now. In the last few months, there have been several op-ed columns, and one ridiculous piece of legislation, decrying the death of the newspaper, and, paradoxically, what can be done to save them.

What these have in common is they are high-minded think pieces that want to place the blame on technology, generational changes, or other such intangible factors that make you sound smart if you mention them.

What's killing newspapers is easy enough to see if you actually buy a newspaper, not work for one or try to make a living explaining mega-trends. As a public service, I am going to explain in one simple to understand sentence, why newspapers are failing.

The newspaper's primary objective is not covering "news".

When I get a newspaper, there is one thing I want to get. News. However, today's newspapers don't want to publish news. They want to publish opinions, or ask poll questions, or publish a kid page, or a high school basketball score, or a picture of the band car wash, or anything that is meant to trigger a warm-and-fuzzy emotional reaction in the reader. This warm-and-fuzzy emotional reaction is supposed to act like heroin in the sense that it will keep the reader happy and unagitated, and will make the reader by the paper again the next day so they can see a picture of a clown entertaining sick children in the hospital, whereupon the reader can feel proud about his or her community, and the process can repeat itself.

If you think that is an exaggeration, here are some "headlines" from articles in today's Washington Post.

"How a Pothole Gets Patched" (includes three pictures)

"The Kindness of Neighbors" (not written by an employee for the paper, which makes this article the equivalent of a blog post)

"Anacostia Joins Cherry Jubilee With Festival, Tree Plantings"

"The First Puppy Makes a Big Splash" (Two photos, this article is on the front page, and it also has a poll question)

For those of you wondering, these stories all come from the "news" part of the newspaper, not the Sunday features section.

Considering how expensive newsprint is (a subject addressed in a recent Ombudsman column in the WP), why is this stuff in print? Answer (also found in recent Ombudsman column), the Post has targeted certain types of readers as "must-keeps". One "must-keep" demographic is women, so they must run stories to keep women buying the newspaper.

If you think I am exaggerating, click here. How to Create Future Readers -

If the WP has "must-keep" readers, then they have abandoned the purpose of being a newspaper. They are letting the consumers dictate the content instead of using their news judgment (that element that would define them as a "professional" as opposed to a blogger who usually writes about a subject in which he or she is interested) to determine what makes its way to print.

So the "newspaper" is not interested in serving the community. Instead, it is dedicated to serving a segment of the community, a segment that it believes will continue to buy papers and keep the paper in business. And it will refine its product to appeal to the segment of the community from which it can mine a profit.

This is why newspapers are failing. Not because of the Internet. Not because they have been slow to adapt. It is because they have abandoned their primary interest, and are only concerned with staying in business.

RIP, and know that you died of self-inflicted wounds.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chick Flick Q & A

Since this blog has a very small readership, something I take full blame for, I will have to provide both the "Q's" and the "A's." I am picking chick flicks because in that last two weeks, I have seen 3 different but linked chick flicks, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Nights in Rodanthe, and The Reader.

Q. Why these three flicks?

A. The first two I saw with my girlfriend, the third I pulled a Don-Draper type of move by leaving work and going to an art flick.

Q. Why are they chick flicks?

A. Because chick flicks seems to have lead characters that are divided into two extremes: quirky, kooky, effervescent girls who demand that the world accepts them on their own terms (COAS) or women who seem to exist and be defined by how much pain they can stoically digest (NIR, TR).

Q. Can't it be argued that the chick in The Reader, by virtue of being an SS guard and her actions while being a guard, caused much more pain for people than the pain she stoically digested?

A. Of course it can, but since her actions are never shown onscreen, only mentioned in dialogue, you'd be missing what the filmmakers have chosen to show you. You get plenty of shots of Kate Winslet giving pained looks and struggling to read and write, but you get no shots of her days of doing shitty things to prisoners.

Q. Why do chick flicks go to these extremes?

A. I have no idea. Is this how women want to see themselves portrayed on screen? You could probably make an argument that men go to action movies because they want to be James Bond or Rambo, and they would love to spend their days shooting off guns, screwing a different chick every night, and getting the best of every situation. Do women go to movies because they want to relate to the idea of being either the most superficial or most sensitive person in the world?

Q. Wasn't that last A more of a Q?

A. It was, I'll try to do better in the future.

Q. Why is there a double standard in chick flicks, or flicks in general, when it comes to having sex with minors? Why are people repulsed when Kevin Spacey, in American Beauty, has lusty thoughts but an unconsummated relationship with underage Mena Suvari, but no one makes a stink when Kate Winslet repeatedly fucks a 15-year old in The Reader?

A. Because movie world perceives men as predators and women as nurturers. Therefore, even though Kevin never goes through with it, he's a disgusting predator and a bad person. But since Kate is a nurturing woman, she couldn't have ever had any bad intentions and must have felt actual love for the boy, so it was OK for her to have sex with him repeatedly. Of course, this view actually ignores the reality of what is happening, but people never seem to want for facts to get in the way of anything.

Q. Speaking of facts, isn't that woman in Nights in Rodanthe completely nuts for wanting to see the wild horses on the beach in Rodanthe? Shouldn't someone tell her that the wild horses are near Corolla, which is about 45 miles north of Rodanthe, and that the horses are never going to travel 45 miles down beaches filled with people to go and see her? Shouldn't someone just tell her to get in her car and drive to Corolla?

A. Of course someone should, but see previous digression on facts. And in the end, the horses do come to see her.

Q. Isn't The Reader typical of the type of movie where years of pointless pain and suffering between the main characters could have been avoided if these characters just had frank discussions with each other years earlier?

A. Yes (long sigh).

Q. Are we really supposed to believe that Kate Winslet is more ashamed that she couldn't read or write that by the fact that she was in the SS?

A. You are if you are going to buy into the movie.

Q. Why do chick flicks feed into the idea that the purest type of love is the type that is unsustainable do to external forces? Specifically, why does the chick in NIR fall in love with someone she spends very little time with, only to have him die in a freak accident before they can spend a life together? And, despite their age differences, couldn't the couple in TR have had a nice little life together if that whole Nazis-coming-to-power-before-he-was-born thing never happened?

A. Yes, but only truncated love can be pure because nothing can ever happen to mess it up. Richard Gere didn't stick around in NIR long enough to do something really stupid to Diane Lane (and let's be honest, the guys that manage to make it all the way through a chick flick without falling of a mountain while trying to save the orphanage always do something stupid or hurtful to the female lead). But on the other hand, if men never did anything stupid to the female characters in these movies, the female characters would never be able to demonstrate how sensitive, forgiving, and caring that, deep down, they really are.

OK, last question.

Q. Wasn't that little boy in Nights in Rodanthe in danger of dying from estrogen poisoning? Couldn't he have benefited from have a positive male role model in his life?

A. Yes, but in that movie all the men were either jerks or dead.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Elitism and 30 Rock

30 Rock is the funniest show on television. After a bunch of episodes to begin the season that attempted to boost ratings by cramming pointless guest stars down our throat, it seems to have righted itself. I can't think of a comedian who is more the polar opposite of Tina Fey than Jennifer Anniston. Is there some type of fan overlap there that I am unaware of? Do people that like the sophisticated scripts of 30 Rock also go to see movies where dog farts are considered the height of hilarity, and big-nosed Owen Wilson plays a grade Z imitation of a Bill Murray character for the umpteenth time? America, you could have killed the movie careers of Wilson and Anniston if you stayed away from that steaming pile. Instead, the opening box office ensures they will open a lot of crappy movies of the next four years. Woof!

I liked the last episode, even though it had a time-wasting zombie montage. The episode picked up on a subtle theme on the show, and one that I hope they will explore in more detail. The theme is this: Why does the character that Tina Fey plays (Liz Lemon) seem ashamed of her successful career, and why does she seek to identify herself with workers who are in an economic strata that is beneath hers?

In the last episode, Liz was planning an expensive vacation. As a valued member of the show's staff, she was offered the opportunity to get a flu shot that was not available to all the workers on the show. She was aghast that health care was being rationed, and made a big, vocal deal in front of the lower-paid crew workers about not getting the shot, even though she later go it in secret and went around feeling guilty about it.

I get the point about health care not being rationed or given out based on your salary; such a system would be shameful. What I find far more interesting is why Liz (or people in real-life) feel the need to apologize for their success, even to the point that they pledge fealty to a lifestyle they left behind a long time ago. I'm not saying that people automatically change when they make more money, but it's pretty ridiculous when someone that makes $80,000 a year goes out of their way to act like they are in the same economic situation as someone who makes $20,000 a year.
Liz (who, in one of my favorite jokes on the show, comes from White Haven, Pennsylvania) has turned down a promotion, and other opportunities to move into higher social circles that have been extended by her boss. She seems rooted in some type of middle-class mindset where she feels she should not rise above her current station.
As a counterpoint to this, there is the character of Tracy. In early episodes, it was established that Tracy grew up in poverty. But now the character is successful, and has no compunction about living it up, even to the point of burning through lots of cash and needing to develop new revenue streams to support his lifestyle.
I certainly don't think people need to be obnoxious about their wealth, and there are no limits to the TV shows, movies, etc., that seek to deflate snooty rich characters (of course, these shows are written, acted, and directed by millionaires, so the public is making people rich by paying them to make fun of the rich). But I think it's worth exploring why people seek to tie their identity to a lower-economic lifestyle that they are not a part of, and why they think that doing so is "keeping them real". There's nothing "real" about it.
Oh yeah, about the picture, couldn't do a Tina Fey post without a little eye candy.