Friday, July 23, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shawt on Talent

More Smack Talk.

'Nuff said.

Smack: Check this out:


How To Ruin A Song

By Ian McCarty

Here's a quick guide on how to ruin a song. It's a fairly simple process, but following these steps is key to ensuring that the song is completely and thoroughly destroyed.

Step One: Pick a famous song.Picking a famous song does a few things. First, it provides a wide potential listening audience, as fans of the original will likely be curious to hear your update. Second, a famous song already has name recognition, so even those unfamiliar with the original's sound content will recognize the title as something once having had broad appeal.

Now, choosing too famous a song can be detrimental, as listener expectations will most likely be very low. However, if you are going for parody, the more popular the song, the better. If, however, you choose to earnestly cover a classic song, choose a "lost" or "seminal" classic, one that is truly appreciated by it's fans, who, while not as great in numbers as the fans of all time classics, may be more musically knowledgeable, and keen to pick up on subtler notes such as production and engineering quality.

Step Two: Throw away your drumset.

In order to appropriately dismantle the genuine emotion that comes with any song, particularly a classic song from the days of analog recording, you must use as few actual instruments as possible. The first to go should be the drum kit. Replacing lives drums with a drum machine removes the rock and the roll, the soul and the feel of any classic. To complete the percussive hijacking of your selection, add synthetic tympani rolls liberally across your arrangement.

Step Three: Don't try too hard to sound like a singer.As the American Idol phenomenon illustrates, Americans are less and concerned with the actual quality of a singer's voice, and will settle for a pitchy croon if true vocal talent is absent. The vocoder effect can be used to further alienate listeners with true musical taste, but do not be afraid to let your lack of ability shine through. Be mindful of points in the original performance where emotion or intensity were displayed by the vocalist, and be careful to remove these elements whenever possible.

Also, in a combination move of steps two and three, don't be afraid to compensate for your lack of instruments - and the ability to play them - by "singing" a familiar instrumental hook from the original selection. When going this route, be sure to use a flat falsetto wherever possible, using a vocoder to dehumanize the effort, but not to correct the pitch.

Step Four: Wheel out an aging member of the original group, or the original producer

Adding an original member of the group - or, if you are choosing to "hip hop - up" the song, the producer, lends credit to your song much in the same way as step one does. Adding an original member instantly gives the song a certain credibility in many listener's eyes, while more discriminating music fans may be excited to see a famous producer at the helm. However, it must be made clear to this individual that their contribution to this piece has already been made long ago, and they are here to bring this song to a new set of fans: yours.

Also, bonus points can be earned if the original member or producer is old enough where many listeners will think the effort is actually kind of "sad."

Step Five: Add your own lyrics.

There is no greater way to pay homage to a classic song than by changing the words. Update the lyrics with personal anecdotes, a rap, or even better, a reference to the specific year you are covering this classic.

To further the effect of lyrical confusion, re-arrange or completely omit various verses and choruses held over from the original, but be careful not to simply sample the original. That is a realm only P. Diddy can successfully enter.


If you've managed to follow all five steps completely, you have yourself a totally ruined song. Now, don't be shy about sharing this with the general public. Outlets like Facebook, MySpace and especially YouTube are great ways to get your music out there. I recommend releasing your song during the early summer months, when every American is looking for a crummy, yet slightly original noise to be occurring nearby as they binge drink or char mammal carcasses. You'll know you've truly succeeded when you hear your song blaring through the windows of vehicles that aren't worth as much as the stereo system playing the song.

Good luck, and if you run into trouble, just remember a little term I've devised to help me through my uncreative struggles: WWAD - "What Would Akon Do?"

S: Step 4a: Include at least 3 fist bumps with the original producer. It’s all about cred.

Step 6: Make a music video in an exposed-brick loft furnished only with a baby grand piano. It’s the perfect location for musicians to meet up for impromptu cover songs.

B: Why did you do that to me?

S: Well, the Shuggie Otis version was playing in Starbucks this morning but I couldn’t remember his name so I had to look it up. Then I was reading the Wikipedia article and it mentioned Quincy Jones & Akon making a cover. So I had to listen to it. Then you had to listen to it. Sorry.

B: The real kicker is, The Brothers Johnson version is an All Time Top Five cover. Now, for this to occur, well - I'm speechless. Actually I'm not. I will say this: Pop is dead. Pop music got into some horrible accident at some point in the ealry 1990s. Some brain activity remained present for about 10 years, but after no signs of improvement, it was taken off life support at some time in the '00s. This is the proof that it's gone to hell.

S: A statement like that requires a list:

All Along the Watchtower
Strawberry Letter 23
Little Wing
Last Kiss
Hard to Handle

B: Ok.

1) All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix covering Bob Dylan)
2) Tainted Love (Soft Cell covering Gloria Jones)
3) Little Wing (Derek & the Dominoes covering Jimi Hendrix)
4) With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker covering The Beatles)
5) Strawberry Letter 23 (The Brothers Johnson covering Shuggie Otis)
6) Turn, Turn, Turn (The Byrds covering Pete Seeger)
7) Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinead O'Connor covering The Family/Prince)
8) Hallejulah (Jeff Buckley covering Leonard Cohen)
9) Such Great Heghts (Iron and Wine covering The Postal Service)
10) Hurt (Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails)

Wonderwall (Ryan Adams covering Oasis), and Hard to Handle (Black Crowes covering Otis Redding) are both definitely on the Honorable Mention list, but Last Kiss' popularity doesn't make it an all time great cover - and you know I'm quite the Pearl Jam fan.

S: Hmm. I will have to listen to the “Such Great Heights” cover. Kinda shocked that you chose “Hurt” and cast aside “Last Kiss”. I know Johnny Cash spilled his guts on that song but he sounded like he was on his deathbed singing it. He did a cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” which I would put above “Hurt”. “Last Kiss” was not only wildly (and unexpectedly) popular, but I also feel that it was a great choice of a song to cover.

B: Johnny Cash covered a lot of songs well there at the end, but "Hurt" was the tops. The context - coupled with the delivery - were perfect. The fact that it was essentially his epitaph cement it as his finest, and one of the all time greats.

Last Kiss is a fine song. Pearl Jam took and obscure pop tune and recorded it, faithfully - albeit slowed down a bit - at a Chicago soundcheck. They turned the song over to a charity for a compilation release. It was intended to be, and at times sounds like, a throwaway track. It became popular, but that doesn't increase the quality of the song. If Stone Temple Pilots, Creed, or any other top act of the day had covered it in this fashion, I think you'd agree. If you look at the songs on my list, these are classics in their own right - having nothing to do with the performer or the original performance. Whether it be from the rearrangement, the delivery or the genre change (and in may cases two or all three of these qualities), most of these songs are all time great songs, not simply great covers. Last Kiss belongs nowhere on a list like that.

S: Ok. That’s a convincing argument for “Hurt”.This cover of “Such Great Heights” reminds me of Sonic Youth’s cover of “Superstar”.

B: Which is another Honorable Mention. Probably top 15. I think "Such Great Heights" gets the nod because of the greater distance between genres - but I really wouldn't fight a swap.
You ok with the list other than that?

S: Well I don’t know “Halleluiah” either… Or the original “Turn, Turn, Turn”… Or the original “Tainted Love”… And I’m fuzzy on “Nothing Compares 2 U”… But it looks right.

B: Done and done.

Next issue:

Is it illegal to just eat a bird? As in, if I heard a chick peeping in a tree, reached up and plucked it from its nest and ate it, am I breaking any law?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Take Me To Your Theater

When it rains, it pours here at Blogometrics. That means another dose of "Smack Talk" with our old friend Smack.

This time we try to hash out a movie idea that will use the theme of world domination, in the hopes that it gets us on our way to just that.

As always, feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.

Blogometrics: I have a movie idea.

Smack: Ok. Shoot.

B: it's called The Liberators, or something to that effect.In essence, it's a sci-fi movie about aliens coming to Earth. However, instead of clouding the premise of their arrival with "are they here to conquer? to explore? for peace, war, resources, etc?" it's made clear right away, via a message sent ahead of their arrival, that they're here to liberate us. Liberate us from the unnatural state of slavery that we live in. The aliens point out that our society's flaws are the flaws that truly cause the Earth's problem. They point to the fact that we live our lives to work for some one else - long story short, they use the cliches that 1) you spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your family, 2) most of us carry out this work for a cause or purpose that we do not enjoy, fully understand, and work towards a cause which has supposed benefits to our society that we cannot understand, 3) our children are herded to schools to spend more time with teachers and classmates than with their families to learn the skills required to take an a job as described again, 4) no other living creature acts this way.

Earthlings are obviously skeptical, as the exact nature of the liberation plan is not fully disclosed. Our political and military leaders are more than skeptical, they begin to pursue a strategy of conflict.

Now, where do you think it should go from there, and how could this film best hold the themes that A) we live, essentially, meaningless lives in a world we do not relate to within a universe we do not comprehend, B) there is no right and wrong, only your point of view, and C) keep the obvious 'America invading Iraq to liberate people who could vaguely understand the idea that things weren't great there, but maybe just help us fix it instead of destroying everything we know as a civilization' themed reference (like every movie has nowadays)?

I'm thinking it should end in conflict, develop a storyline around a cautiously optimistic A) reporter, B) scientist or C) politician who wants to believe the aliens, sees the inevitable conflict coming, survives the global war of near annihilation, and begins to rebuild his life.


S: I feel like it’s too thinly veiled and the whole political allegory thing is overdone. I would like more information about this liberation plan, regardless of whether it matters in the movie.

B: Two thoughts on your first point:

1) Do you have a suggestion on how to better "mask" the allegory?

2) I was kind of tending towards leaning towards it being thinly veiled - almost satirical of Avatar, District 9 - and even other non-sci-fi movies that use these kind of themes. Do you think that I could even crank that to 11 and make it better as satire? Does it work as satire where it is now?

On your second point:

1) Sticking with the whole satire/allegory theme above, what if the liberation plan was the gift of freedom from A) possessions, B) money, C) access to an untapped wealth of resources elsewhere in the solar system/galaxy/universe (and a means to procure it)?

Now, sticking especially with the third theme, could we go even further into the satire/allegory and have it turn out that the aliens, in fact, would benefit from our mining the resources of another world - and it turns out to be our reporter/scientist/politician "hero" that discovers this scheme, alerts our military leaders and sets off the war of the worlds scenario?

Actually, that could be it. The aliens come to liberate us by providing us with a Utopian level supply of every resource we could ever devise, or need, including, say, the ability to create and manipulate matter. This would not only remove any sort of power advantage one person could have over another, but would also make any person as powerful as they wished to be (somehow our world would need to rid itself of its violent tendencies, but let's not get bogged down with the existential stuff when we've only got 2 hours to work with). The aliens point us in a direction of a Utopian, benevolent lifestyle...but it turns out that we are serving their interests by starving another world of it's resources and crippling the enemies of our "liberators." When this is discovered by the main character, he informs his former adversaries - the typical Hollywood generals, politicians etc who were all war from the word go, and after ultimately convincing Earth's leaders of the threat, all out war occurs.

How do I wrap this up?

And how do I not make this too much of an Avatar (which I have not seen) knock-off?

S: What if you develop a character in one of the aliens? Kind of personify the alien and maybe the head aliens are convincing their species that what they’re doing is for the greater good, but then this one alien discovers that there’s actually a hidden agenda and revolts and joins forces with the humans and helps them combat the aliens and truly liberate the earth.

That’s basically Avatar.

What if you made this like a “Not Another Teen Movie” of political allegories? Except don’t make it slapstick.

B: Bingo.

We play it both ways. There's an alien sentinel sent ahead to scout us, or one of the visiting aliens develops a guilty conscience - either way, they're the ones who inform our reporter/scientist/liberal politician that he needs to put an end to this arrangement. The second scenario works better, because if all of the sudden "hey, I was a sentinel sent ahead of time and I've learned to love your people -that's TOO over the top in it's theft of literally every politically themed sci-fi movie ever. Or is that what we want?

Another tidbit I've thought of: The aliens claims to have no weapons, but when the conflict occurs, not only do they have traditional sci-fi movie lasers and typical blue energy bomb things - but they can also unleash the Earth's fury through earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc. This makes for a good excuse for some special effects wizardry, and also, if we are looking to incorporate as many sci-fi movies as we can (as our stated goal), you can add "2012" to the list.

Now we need to decide. Are we going to go the route of incorporating every sci-fi movie that draws on the current military/political hot topic of it's day (without going too overboard and, like you say, turn it into "Not Another Teen Movie"), or should we shy away from ideas that are already overtly taken?We also still need to wrap the film up. Our character finds himself in the post war/post every natural disaster ever world. Now...

- Is his alien informant there?

- What lesson does this movie want to ultimately teach?

- Does this movie even want to teach a lesson, or is this movie like Transformers (I dare you to find a lesson in those movies besides "be nice to your car, it may be an evil robot from space")?

- Do we borrow the lesson from another sci-fi movie?

Lastly, is there room for a love interest here? And don't even think of suggesting the informant and the reporter. Watching the attempted development of romantic chemistry between Mark Walberg as a human and Helena Bonham Carter as an "evolved" chimp in the latest remake of Planet of the Apes was one of the most singularly off-putting plot lines I have ever experienced.

S: An interspecies romance between the informant and the reporter would also be Avatar.

Add Independence Day to the list. I’m thinking we’ll need either Will Smith or Harrison Ford for this movie. Or both. I think the resolution would be this:With the help of the alien informant, Earth’s superpowers are able to temporarily put aside their differences and band together to fend off the aliens. The informant stays on Earth or is killed in battle. Maybe throw in a tear jerking scene where the alien slowly dies in the hands of the reporter. After all the natural disasters and war Earth enters a rebuilding phase. World leaders recognize that despite the alien’s ulterior motives, they were right about our self destructive way of life. The rebuilding and restructuring of Earth is undertaken with a new global philosophy which stresses autonomy, mastery and purpose in the workplace, while also valuing family and renewable resources. End with a potshot at Al Gore.

B: Hmm...

I think that crosses the line into "Not Another Sci Fi Movie" territory.

I think we could do it less tongue in cheek about the build up to war being a world wide united front all along, but as far as the rebuilding phase, I was thinking more wasteland-y than a scenario in which any world leaders - or much of a semblance of the world remains.

I'm thinking one of those simple lesson-teaching moments, like at the end of Planet of the Apes (gasp - it's Earth! - not sure the lesson there, but you follow me), here are a few examples (none of these should be used, most are for illustration AND humor):

- The lead character rises from the rubble, is the only human left for miles and miles of post-apocalyptic NYC, DC, Boston, Chicago, etc, takes out his wallet and burns his cash.

- It's years later. A small group of survivors, including the hero (in this case, played by Mark Walberg, who now has his silly Walberg beard to let viewers know "this is the wasteland, there are no razors!"), have banded together and are living a rural lifestyle in what appear to be the wooded mountains of the American West. As they sit around the fire one night, Marky Mark takes his trusty dog a few feet away from the circle, and into the woods. He bows down, looks him in the eye, pats him on the head, and lets him go.

- Jesus Christ shows up and takes the remaining humans with him to heaven.

Something like that. Simple, profound.


ed. note: Not surprisingly, Smack and I found it difficult to come up with an original ending to the most unoriginal sci-fi movie ever. So, if any readers have ideas, we're all ears.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just Because We Get Around

Hello readers, it's been a while. Thanks for hanging in there to those of you still checking in.

I'm sure you've heard of Generation Me. You've probably also heard that our generation is the most self centered and entitled generation in history. Well, since I'm always up for railing against the ills of our society, and getting into an argument over just about anything, I thought it might be time for a little "Smack Talk."

We try to get to the bottom of whether this generation is, in fact, the greediest and most self centered in our history, or whether we're just a misunderstood group facing an uphill climb not seen in this country for nearly a century.

To those of you who think we end up sounding like typical Generation Me-ers: Get your own damn blog.

Feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy

Blogometrics: I heard somewhere the other day that this generation - "Generation Me" - which was assigned to anyone from 24-36 (a bit large for a generation if you ask me), was the most entitled in American history - meaning, we expect the most return for the least amount invested. Do you agree with this?

Smack: I would say that is way large for a generation. That would almost put you and Jason (my 23 year old brother) together. At first glance I disagreed, but then I read a little about “Generation Me” and it seems to mean that we have been ingrained with a “self first” philosophy. Not in a selfish way, but just that we are taught to cultivate the self more so than thinking of society first. That might be true.

B: I would agree about the "self-first" attitude, but I look at it this way:

Prior generations HAVE received more return on their investments. Take my parents, for example. In 1975, they bought a house for $52,000. Their combined income, both on jobs gained with no college degree, was just over half that amount. Today, some one in their late 20s/early 30s is probably making around $40-50,000/yr without a degree. See any houses on the market for $90,000? The cars our parents drove were never over $10,000 - and these were new, reliable cars. Even as recently as the 1990s, you could get a Toyota Camry for under $15,000 new. Now you need to spend nearly a year's salary on a new car. You may say that "you don't need a new car" - but the point is that there is a marked decrease in the quality of goods available to people who fall into this age bracket against what has been available in the past.

So, when some one like me says "I want a home" or "I want a new car" - am I acting entitled, or am I simply recognizing that past generations have had access to these things without much more of a substantial personal investment?

S: Wherever you heard about this, were they talking about entitlement and return on investment in a financial sense?If so, then I disagree. Saying we want more for our money is basically calling us cheap. If there was ever a penny pinching generation, it’s the one that is currently in nursing homes – the generation that went through the Great Depression. This current financial depression is going to produce another similar generation.

If it means return on investment in the sense of expecting more for less effort, then maybe I can see that. We’re a lazier, ADD-ridden generation.

B: But really Smack, how are we lazier?

What was it that our parents were doing with the time we spend playing video games, IM'ing each other or watching TV?

We work, in general, more than our parents did (I would put it to a bet that the average number of hours worked for a 24-36 year old has increased over the last 40 years, not decreased), yet for the most part have an equal or greater amount of social time - as we get married and start families much later than they did (this gets us back to the $$ - it takes us longer to be in a financially suitable place to undertake this). With this time, we might utilize "self-centered" technologies like cell phones, facebook, or whatever - but young(er) people have always gravitated towards this sort of behavior - from chat lines to mixers to key parties. Technology simply makes this phenomenon more personal and portable (and contributes significantly to the ADD epidemic you point to).

Now, I can see where the "self centered" and "entitled" get crossed - but to use an analogy without overly spelling it out - who would you rather be next to in the checkout line: The 26 year old Paris Hilton clone who's loudly chatting away on her cell phone and acts as if the cashier is a distraction, the 74 year old woman who argues every price, argues every coupon and pays in a combination of nickels, dimes and crumpled one dollar bills, or the 54 year old man who impatiently sighs every 6 seconds, mutters "Jesus Christ Almighty" when a price check is called for, and barks "just give me the receipt" when asked if he'd like to donate $1 to find a cure for a disease that he's hopefully stricken with one day?

I say if you look at it that way, there's plenty of "self centering" across every generation.

S: Well just from going to and working at a summer camp from like 1990 to 2000, I witnessed a transition from kids that would play a ferocious game of head-hunting dodgeball without a tear being shed, to a rash of overweight kids that would bring their Gameboys and Pokemon cards to camp and just assume sit on their fat butts all day.

B: Is that the same issue, though?

I'm not going to argue that it's disgusting to see the number of overweight and obese children and high schoolers (those who you counseled at camp have probably blossomed into diabetic 20-somethings), and it probably elicits some sort of primal, negative reaction about the fate of our society - but I still don't think that's what's meant by "entitled."

I think I should clarify: I'm using the term "entitled" and I think the spirit of the initial question is"self-entitled."

Your little campers fall into the former category. Mommy and Daddy shut those kids up with Twinkies and Pokemon, and therefore entitled the kids to act like a full generation of Augustus Gloops. How do you think it would have gone over in our houses - or the majority of houses across the country - had an 11 year old you or I said "Naw Dad, I'm not going to baseball today. I'm just going to sit down here in my room and eat KFC and play Nintendo all day. In fact, since Mom bought me a TV and a sick sound system, I'm probably never going to play a sport again."

Now, there were those kids when we were younger, the ones who didn't play sports, didn't belong to the boy scouts, didn't really have any outside interests at all, and had all the toys and candy you could imagine. They were the kids who's houses you might stumble upon once or twice on a weekend, or during the summer. Your initial reaction might have been "AWESOME!!! YOU ARE THE LUCKIEST PERSON I KNOW!!!!" But soon, after the third time of asking "You wanna ride down to 'place x' and 'engage in some sort of physical activity' with me?" and being met with a "nuh-uh" (because nothing stimulates the vocabulary like junk food, video games and a sunlight free existence), you left, and never went back.

I think this sort of thing is a bigger problem now than it was even in your campground glory days of '99-00, but I still think this is a separate issue, because A) I think the majority of the children who have been crippled by this sort of lifestyle are still just that - children - and not yet 24, and B) These kids are "entitled" by their parents, not self entitled in the way that our generation is accused of being.

S (from an Internet definition):

Who is part of Generation Me?

Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s -- in 2006, this means people between the ages of 7 and 36. These are today's young people, those who take it for granted that the self comes first. I'm a member of this generation myself, born in 1971.

How is Generation Me different from previous generations, especially from the "Me generation" of the 1970s?

Baby Boomers were sometimes called the "Me generation" in the 1970s, but this was a premature and brief label: Boomers did not discover the self until young adulthood, and even then did everything in groups, from protests to seminars like est. Generation Me has never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish – it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: "Be yourself," "Believe in yourself," "You must love yourself before you can love someone else." These are some of our culture's most deeply entrenched beliefs, and Generation Me has grown up hearing them whispered in our ears like the subliminally conditioned children in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

We live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness. Today's young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Their expectations are very high just as the world is becoming more competitive, so there's a huge clash between their expectations and reality. More than any other generation in history, the children of Baby Boomers are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood. Generation Me will give Boomers new insight into their offspring, and help those in their teens, twenties, and thirties finally make sense of their generation.

B: We could open up a whole big can of worms with the "duty before self" and "organizing protests" piece.

I think Generation Me learned from it's parents that protests don't really work, but "community" does. I think Generation Me learned in 2000 and 2001 that there's really not a whole lot you can do about things, anyway. Would it be better if we tried? Maybe. But, could it also be argued that the famous protests of the 60s and 70s actually yielded nothing more than a sense of community that in many ways has yielded no greater benefit than have the "self centered" social networking and constant contact mentality that "our" generation has adopted? Maybe.

Here's my take: Generation Me has increased the wealth of the wealthiest Americans more so than any generation has done for their wealthy counterparts in the history of this country. Everything pointed to as "things that make us self centered" are things that make the rich richer. We don't protest? Well, look at it this way: even the last major protests of the last generation - the Women's Liberation Movement - was only successful when fat cats realized that they could turn every household into a two income generating machine - meaning the price of goods could be reasonably inflated, while wages could remain relatively stagnant as "average" people, with their added second incomes, only noticed how expensive things had become when costs soared out of their collective grasp. Of course, at this point, even the "old school" or relatively affluent were forced into this world of a two income house when they, too found that in order to get by, Daddy wasn't bringing home enough bacon. Unions became less important, as the unionized jobs were shipped overseas and service jobs were populated by women new to the workforce, also leading to diminished wages - not to mention a Republican campaign against Unions rivalled in our lifetimes only by the Wars on Drugs and Terror.

So now, we have 2 incomes (at some times three) being produced in every household, working harder for the wealthy to purchase the products average households can barely afford. Of course, that was all solved in the late 90s and first half of the 00s when it was "No Money? No Problem!" - and a criminal credit scheme was invented to first give us "entitled little brats" the artificially inflated goods and services that past generations afforded with more ease, and also insulate the institutions of the wealthiest Americans as the foundation of the economy itself - "too big to fail." Credit system collapses after the middle class and poor can no longer play ball? And the wealthy don't want to part with their favorite new tool? Hey! Bailout! No problem - keep making those profits. But I digress...

While I do agree that things like "No Score Tee-Ball" and daily affirmations for 1st graders are a troubling development, I still think the greater problem facing Generation Me is not the sense of self that's been instilled within them (by the same institution that profit from them, remember), but the reality that even the most humble, duty-first "role models" of this period are still struggling to advance in an America that has drastically shifted its values - not from "we" to "me", but from "how can I help you?" to "what can you give me?" And this shift started at the top of the economic ladder, not the bottom - and that's the beauty of it: All of these Tea Partiers and young "get the moderates out of here" Republicans want to move blame down the economic line, to the poor, the sick, the minorities, immigrants and other people who evidently didn't populate "their parent's America." Problem is, the most dangerous new inhabitant of this country is pure, unadulterated and lethal greed (maybe those pre-schoolers do need a little good news ahead of what awaits them...).

So if that has some of us a little blue, a little testy and a little more willing to partake in an online round of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, so be it. Just don't try to sell me some version 2.0 self help book on how to deal with the disappointment of finding out I can't "be anything I want to be" - because most of us don't want to be that much of anything at all. We don't want to be millionaires - we want an affordable mortgage. We don't want $120,000 cars - we want to stop worrying about whether we'll be able to afford it when our transmission finally goes. In other words, we don't want extravagant wealth, we want a stability that's less and less attainable. One thing we're all taught is that there is, in fact, a difference between dreams and reality. And while we all have dreams, most of us are still rooted in a reality that has turned very, very bleak.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Domo Arigato

Alright readers, time for another round of "Smack" talk. This time, our friend and I return to the sports world, and discuss the limits of fandom, robots in sports, and exploding helicopters.


Blogometrics: Do you think sports fans would root For robots?

Smack: No. Maybe cyborgs.

B: I really wonder about this.

Watching Roger Federer is almost like watching a tennis robot - he's just so solid. On top of that, he really doesn't have a personality outside of "I am the best, I am here to win tennis matches." Overall, very robotic.

I think in some sports the answer would be "yes" - others "no." NASCAR - "no." Horse racing - "no." Football, though? What if the human element was removed, and robots played out the strategies of their coaches...? Baseball...?

S: I might watch a few robot football games just because they’re robot football games, but I’m not going to become a huge Unit Number 8 fan and buy its game jersey. And once the novelty wears off I won’t watch anymore.

B: Exactly. But are you really a big "Tom Brady" fan, or are you a fan of the "QB for the New England Patriots?" Did you root against Matt Cassell last year, because he replaced your "malfunctioning unit"?

I think most fans root for the laundry - I'm not saying this robot thing would work, but I'm not sure it would be all "novelty."

S: Well I’m definitely a Welker fan just because of the way he plays the game. I like other players that don’t play for the Patriots, and I dislike players that are on the Patriots. You wouldn’t have diehard fans “bleeding red and blue” if it were a team of robots.

B: Do you think a new style of fandom could develop? One that fed on the desire of fans to see the game played to it's highest possible level? Look at it this way: leagues spend most of the season whittling down to the best teams, ones that are playing at a level above all others. This weekend, we'll watch the two best square off.

Look at Peyton Manning - robotic. Look at the Colts as a whole, actually. Look at the Saint's offense - robotic in it's execution.

I just wonder how much fans actually latch onto the "human" personalities of the team.

S: No, I don’t think so. You don’t have people lining up to watch computers play chess against each other.

You can describe Peyton’s play as robotic but he’s still a human being with flaws and emotions. He can still be affected by pressure or get injured. If you remove the human element you’d lose the fans.

Would you honestly root for robots?

B: I'm just putting it out there - and the answer is "probably not." I think I'd watch a little more keenly than you say you would.

I'm not sure your chess analogy works, because people don't really line up to watch humans play chess, either.

S: You and I don’t line up to watch chess but there are definitely pockets of chess fans, or at least people interested enough to watch a human vs human chess match. It’s really the only activity I can think of where a computer can pretty much do the activity flawlessly.

The only way I think it could work is if we were rooting for the robot builders to build the best robot. If all the robots were built the same with the same capabilities it wouldn’t work.

B: The strategic element is what I'm thinking of here - which is already present in the sports that I think this would work with (mostly baseball and football). You'd have coaches putting forth their strategies knowing that they'd be carried out to perfection - the only thing stopping them is the strategy of the other coach.

As far as your follow up with chess, I'd relate that to "Junk Wars" or "Robot Wars" or any of those other TV shows slash quasi - sporting events, where people invent and assemble robots to do battle. I think there's as much a following here in the U.S. for that sort of thing as there is for chess - because I can't remember the last time I saw chess on t.v.

S: If coaches were working with perfect “players” and it just came down to strategy vs strategy, you’re not going to see Bill Belichicks in the league. It’s going to be all geeks. One of the things that makes a great NFL coach is the ability to work with personnel and work with matchups, etc. Like what the Pats were able to do with Troy Brown, or what they’re currently trying to do with Edelman.

B: I totally agree with you - it would be very different. I just wonder whether it could generate a following.

S: Rather than wasting all the money on developing and creating physical robots, why not just make it an offshoot of Madden 2010 where they design a complete playbook and play with all players rated 100? Would there really be a difference?

B: Yes - you'd still see the action unfold before you on a real field.

Another example: The Romans used to flood their colosseums and hold competitive naval battles. This wouldn't be so different than a competitive tank battle. I think people might watch that.

S: A robot that can physically outperform Drew Brees or Randy Moss would be more expensive to develop and build than those guys make, however there’s no way you’re going to generate the revenue that the NFL does. If I’m a venture capitalist, “Great idea, thanks for stopping by. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

B: True, but you're getting away from the point. I'm not talking about the feasibility, the cost, the anything - other than whether people would root for robots.

You say no?

S: Not in any meaningful quantity. You might get the same fan base that Robot Wars got…

Maybe a temporary buzz if you hype it enough.

B: What if the robots were heavily armed, and very upset with each other? Well, programmed to be "upset."

S: So… a Plaxico robot?

B: Exactly. Coming around?

S: I think if you made robots with human elements, you’re at least giving potential fans something to latch onto. A “personality” if you will. If robots had certain strengths and weaknesses that could be discovered and exploited, then maybe you could have something there. But clone robots executing perfection wouldn’t be as entertaining, I think.

B: You're probably right, though I actually think that having robots with human emotions would actually be the factor that turned it into a geek-fest, not the coaches.

Can you imagine "Unit B6A1 doesn't like operating in the snow. Perhaps he is made from scraps of an abandoned Russian satellite. The Green Bay squad will surely exploit this weakness of the Tampa Bay squad."?

S: Well yeah, the Tampa squad would surely be equipped with shallow treads that would be much less effective on the Green Bay tundra. Battery insulation would be an issue as well.

What kind of artillery are we talking about when you say “heavily armed”? Shoulder spikes?

What about liquid metal, like T1000?

B: Okay, let's just get this out of the way: If you do not agree that a field full of T1000s would be mind blowing, then you and I are done speaking. However, that's not what I'm getting at.

I'm thinking more along the lines of rocket launchers - but that's really going off on a tangent. I wasn't serious, though it would be interesting to picture some rogue coach/robot design team secretly arming their robots. There would be no stopping them, theoretically. You'd actually probably have to call in the National Guard.

That would be interesting.

S: We’re changing the whole scenario, but yes I would watch 22 T1000’s duke it out. Or just plain heavily armed robots playing football. Would the point still be to get the football in the endzone? Would you bother with kickers?

B: No kickers. Instead, for the extra point, the scoring team would need to shoot down a helicopter.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Research and Arrested Development

I know you're all asking yourselves, "when are we going to get some more 'Smack' talk?" Well, the answer is "right now" for those of you reading this "right now."


Blogometrics: I have created something pretty funny - just a concept now - but it has potential. It's called the McCarty Celebrity Test (or Meter), and here's how it works:

Actually, a little back story first. A friend (Curtis) and I were discussing movies this past weekend, and I made a reference to Gran Torino, with Clint Eastwood. I was surprised he had not seen the film, but quickly pointed out that I had not seen many, many famous movies - as I'm not really a "movie person." We discussed how certain films elicit a strong response in this regard - an example of which is the Godfather, which I have never seen. We agreed that I would elicit many, many "YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THE GODFATHER??"s from any range of people to whom I disclosed this.

We tried to come up with other movies that would elicit such a response, and Curtis mentioned Star Trek movies. I disagreed (though we noted this brought an interested element of demographics to the table) by stating "I would need to be at a Star Trek convention in order to ever hear the exclamatory phrase 'YOU'VE NEVER SEEN 'WRATH OF KHAN??', yet there are countless rooms in America right now, full of people I've never met, into which I could walk, wearing nothing but a gorilla mask and a diaper and calmly say "I've never seen 'The Godfather' - and for every 'who the hell are you?', there'd be two "YOU'VE NEVER SEEN 'THE GODFATHER'??s.'"

And so it was born - The McCarty Celebrity Test. This can be used not only on movies, but to gauge celebrity as well. Want to see if the Jonas Brothers are truly famous? (In a controlled environment, of course - but with an unsuspecting target) Walk up to a bank teller, pull down a ski mask and hand the teller a note that says "This is a robbery. I have no idea who the Jonas Brothers are." If the teller replies "YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF THE JONAS BROTHERS??" they pass the test.

This could be used a thousand ways.


Smack: So you need to do something that would ordinarily get a response on its own, but then throw in the fact that you don’t know who some celebrity-in-question is, and see which the test subject is more concerned with?
What if you went to your PCP and then said “Doc, I think I have swine flu. I have no idea what swine flu is.”

B: Hmm. The physician example is a good one, but I'm thinking that there needs to be the element of surprise - almost like a hidden camera show / game show.

You could have contestants in a studio, wagering on the reaction of unsuspecting people who will be confronted by A) a surprise visitor/unexpected situation, and B) the proclamation of "I have no idea what/who, etc "X" is/are. The contestant would be asked to wager based on both the subject (who "X" is), and the targets. For instance, if Brittany Spears was the subject, the contestant would be more likely to wager positively if the target group was a Division 3 college cheerleading squad, hanging out in their quad's kitchen (and about to be interrupted by some one dressed as Bozo the Clown saying "I have no idea who Brittany Spears is). Conversely, the contestant would most likely wager in the negative if the subject was Paul Newman, and the target was the same. I don't think too many cheerleaders are going to challenge a psycho clown on that one.

Get it?

S: Like an Arab man standing up mid-flight and screaming “Everybody listen up! Who the heck is Brett Favre?”

B: Perfect. Totally perfect.

Is a game show the best use of this concept?

S: What if one contestant chooses the entity with which the actor will be unfamiliar and the other contestant gets to make the wager? That way contestant #1 will have to wisely choose an entity that could go either way. If he chooses Britney Spears when the subjects will be cheerleaders, the wager becomes too obvious.

B: Okay - I see where you're going. The thing that I don't want to get lost in all of this is that we're talking about moments of extreme surprise. Picture yourself dressing in a prom dress and a Luke Skywalker Halloween mask, and bursting into your neighbor's apartment to proclaim "I have never seen Apocalypse Now." We're not talking about any 'obvious' wagers. That's what makes this such a true test of celebrity - that through all the surprise, adrenaline and panic, the target still cannot believe you've never heard of/seen/etc "X."

I don't want to turn this into a case of "Jackass" with contestants, a la "Steve-O is going to put something in his mouth. If it's alive, will it A,B or C, and if it's on fire, will he swallow it? Your wagers, please!"

The two main elements here are the level of celebrity of the subject, and surprise.

S: I’m with you.

Break into a Kindergarten classroom with a Scream mask on and growl, “Dora the Explorer has a brother!?”

B: Exactly.

Why has no one thought of this before?

S: Do you think this inventor thought the same thing?

B: No, that inventor was too busy thinking, "Dude, where's my car?"

S: I’m just thinking: why not a full body bubble if you’re going to go that route? In every picture the person’s body is still getting soaked. Or a full bike bubble. Impact resistant.

B: That's called a car.

S: No, you’re not getting it. This would keep you totally dry. AND it keeps you warm.

B: And would be more dangerous to operate while impaired than an F-14 Tomcat. I get it.

I'm going to sit on the McCarty Celebrity Test a while, see if anything else occurs to me. Like how to keep it dry...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quick Hit

Sorry for another long absence, readers. To hold you over until this site gets back up and running at full steam, here's a very (very) quick check-in with our friend Randy about the NFL playoffs, and the bitterness inside this New England Sports fan.

Randy: Who do you want in the AFC title game? J - E - T -S, Jets, Jets, Jets!

Blogometrics: I agree. It's funny when your two least favorite teams match up in a title game.

I'm going with the Jets, because I don't mind Rex Ryan - at least he brings personality to the team - and I can't think of any instance within the realm of reality where I would be rooting for Peyton Manning. Even if he was fighting to save mankind, I'd still get a kick out of that little tantrum he throws when, ahem, his team lets him down.

This is really an awful scenario for the New England fan, though. We're so cynical that we've hate Brett "America's Hero" Favre since long before the national backlash set in, we can't be compelled to follow a "feel good" New Orleans team, because those things just don't fly around here - and the Jets and the Colts are 1 and 1A in the rival department. Even watching the Chargers lose last week - which I love to do every January - was less of a thrill when accompanied by "The Mark Sanchez Experience" - which consists of watching Sanchez play about 5% better than JaMarcus Russell, but acting like he's just won an intergalactic power lottery every time he throws a touchdown pass, then give a post game press conference that reminds me that I'll eventually need to find a baby-sitter for my 6 month old.

The New England fan, especially the jerks like me, are looking down the barrel of any one of four pretty grim "Sports Center breakfasts" the day after the Super Bowl. We're either going to get A) "Favre's Super Send off...or is it?" - and repeatedly watch Mr. Gunslinger engage in the phoniest celebration since Kobe Bryant jumped around the Staples Center court like a high school drama actor re-enacting a Black Eyed Peas concert; followed by Favre's teary, blubbering, teary, Vicodin induced, teary, maybe, teary, I don't know, teary post game presser; B) the moment of conception for Rick Reilly's next awful book - "Redemption", where he chronicles how a ravaged city circled the wagons around a QB no one wanted - gasp! - a QB with his own tumultuous past - double gasp!! - and now, miraculously, the bayou levees could hold back a flood of molten lava being spewed by an army of Godzillas, because, well, those New Orlean-ites have been through so much. Compelling, sure, but I don't think New Orleans fans will feel any better than we NE fans felt in 2002 - our local team won the Super Bowl for the first time. Whenever the sports media tries to convey the "this is more than sports" angle, they lose me - kind of like when an audience applauds a motivational speaker's tale of overcoming alcoholism, it's like "Congratulations, I guess. I mean, I'm not wasted, either - yay me." C) The aforementioned Sanchez Experience, and the knowledge that the "Over Exposed Mediocre QB" phenomenon that we most recently witnessed with Eli Manning, will be unleashed upon America like a drunken Rex Ryan being released into a Wendy's kitchen, or D) The sudden mathematical awakening of the Midwestern United States, wherein the more complex theory of the decade actually ending this coming December 31st will be resurrected...along with the traditional Midwestern math approach of '2 is more than 3' - and we'll get to hear about how the Colts are truly the team of the decade. All while watching clips of Peyton Manning grasping the Lombardi trophy like his alternate universe self grasping an 8 pound trout in the Southwestern Tennessee Regional B.A.S.S. Masters amateur tournament. All while just having sat through the latest Peyton Manning commercial, where he dresses up like an astronaut to tell you that if your Sony Bravia won't get reception on the moon, the Space Station gift shop takes Mastercard. He's a hoot.

In any event, any one of the subsequent Sports Illustrated "special subscription offers" should get me drinking again, so at least I'll be able to hit the motivational speaking circuit in a couple of years.