November 20, 2003

If We Ran The Media Circus…

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Protesters — If we ran the media circus, all people protesting a movie would have to watch the movie first. If you are going to spend large amounts of your time and energy denouncing a movie as unspeakable filth, writing letters (death threats optional) to the studio, director, and actors declaiming their general nastiness, and blocking the parking lot of your local multiplex, do you think that, perhaps, before you go to all this trouble, you should see the film in question? We love free speech, and god knows we’re not trying to curtail anyone’s right to free assembly or religion, but we hate it when groups (we’re looking at you, William Donohue’s Catholic League) decide, based only on what they’ve heard about a movie, to protest it. We’re not asking you to like the movie. We just want you to exercise your right to protest it based on what you think of the film itself, not on what you’ve heard, and not on what you’ve been told.

Coupling — Notice the total lack of chemistry between supposedly “hot” couples? How about creativity in sex scenes? If we ran the media circus, romances would be written like buddy flicks, and sex scenes would be like they were under the Hays Code. Buddy movies carefully build the relationship between the leads, giving them interesting backgrounds, common history, endearing quirks, and show intimacy through action (like knowing what someone else likes to eat) instead of tortured words (we belong together because we’re both … blond(e)s). Back before you could show any skin, directors had to make do with demonstrating how much their characters wanted to get naked. The result? The infamous ten minute kissing scene from Notorious.

Soundtrack — If we ran the media circus, compiling a soundtrack or composing a score would not be a replacement for writing a script. When soundtracks and scores work, they help cement the world of the film (see Lost In Translation). Then there’s what happens when soundtracks are used to cover up the fact that there is no movie. Have an incredibly saccharin, woodenly acted romance (we’re looking at you, Titanic)? Cue the strings. Have a tender, revelatory, vaguely spiritual moment that’s been sparking laughs and gags (we’re looking at you, City of Angels)? Cue the Sarah McLachlan. And finally, if we ran the media circus, team solidarity, true love, and turning points would no longer be accompanied by “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (we’re looking at you Remember the Titans, Stepmom, and Sister Act). Step away from the gospel infused Motown, people, you’ve abused the privilege.


Hero — If we ran the media circus, heroes wouldn’t be so damned heroic. A sin committed by everyone from Joss Whedon to Aaron Sorkin, TV heroes are never wrong, ever noble, the center of their universe, and always win at least a moral if not tactical victory. They’re deeply boring. For every hero (especially on genre shows) there’s the snarky sidekick, who’s always amoral, constantly declaims how selfish he is, and spends his free time saving the hero’s ass. Every Jed has his Leo, every Giles has his Ethan, every Eliot has her Cox. To really expose the depths of our geekery, we’ll even remind you that every Blake has his Avon. Needless to say, the sarcastic supporting character’s interaction with the hero is always a very strong part of the show. So just once, can the amoral bastards not be proved wrong by their goody-two shoe counterparts? Can the hero royally screw up? Please?

UST — If we ran the media circus, Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST) would never be resolved. Furthermore, it would never intentionally be written into a show. When UST arises on its own, through the actors’ chemistry, it’s a thing of beauty. UST has been a central component of every show from Moonlighting to X-Files (which is where the term originated). Remember what happened when the UST finally got resolved? That’s right. The shows sucked. Even worse, however, is when the creators of a show write in a will they/won’t they (which inevitably ends up being more a question of when than if) relationship from the beginning. Having established in their heads that, say, Clark Kent and Lana Lang belong together, they fail to give any evidence on the show to support their claim and instead just throw around the word “soulmate” a lot. On the other hand, we wouldn’t drag out the drama forever. There’s nothing wrong with resolving a relationship before it becomes ridiculous so long as the writer knows what to do with the characters after they finally get out of bed.


Tyranny — Pop will forever be the conundrum of the music world. It is an ever-expanding and shifting body of musical composition, teetering on the thin line between hackneyed imitation and unique innovation, between worthless sellouts and bold artists. By definition, popular music exerts a certain cultural hegemony, which derives its power from mass appeal and pushes other musicals forms to the fringe. Pop functions as a force of central tendency that falls within some industry plotted bell curve of musical taste. In this sense, attempts to reach an arbitrary norm of appeal (the dead center of unoriginality) compromises the integrity of the music. But then, there are those occasional outliers with enough gravity to effect a solar realignment, providing a new central locus for popular music to expand. This is the difference between pop genius and “the same old crap on the radio.” Right now on the Billboard Top 200 Albums, Mr. Toby “We’ll put a boot in your ass, It’s the American way” Keith, with the debut of his latest release, Shock’n Yall has usurped the number one spot. It’s a perfect example of the central tendency of rehashed pop, and the voice of middle America. Fortunately, last week a pair of innovative trendsetters took the number one spot. ATLiens Outkast and their groundbreaking split LP Speakerboxx/The Love Below reclaimed the charts. The album is visionary; it pushes the limits of hip-hop while still holding onto those irresistible melodies and beats that resonate with millions. We can only hope the spinning mess will continue to be directed by artistic visionaries instead of no talent ass-clowns.

Consolidation — Happily for conspiracy theorists, five not only happens to be the number of fingers in a clenched fist, it’s also the number of major record companies now controlling the pop music market. After years of buy-outs and consolidation of independent labels, subsidiaries, and distributors, there are five mega-corportations: EMI Records, Sony, Universal Music Group, Time Warner, and BMG. Sony and BMG are in talks over a music merger and EMI is negotiating to buy Time Warner’s music division. Within these super-sized organizations, we can find almost any print or label in the music world. Such monopoly can easily lead to suffocating homogenization of music. It’s stagnation at it’s worst, a potentially catastrophic dilemma for an industry dependent upon constant change and creativity. All the more reason for independent labels like Definitive Jux, Absolutely Kosher, and Arts & Crafts to push the envelope of recording. These lables have brought some of the most talented and unique artists together in bastions of a musical avant-garde, if such an entity exists. From now on, the major labels could learn a thing or two about “creative vision” from the little guys.

Our Ideal Media ….

L.A. Confidential

Easily one of the best films of the ’90s, Confidential lost Best Picture to Titanic in part because it was perceived as cynical, mean spirited, and complicated in contrast to its competition, which was “family oriented” and “uplifting.” What an unmitigated load of crap. Confidential portrayed an incredibly corrupt city and police force where even the protagonists would have played bad guys in any other movie, and it hints that, as bad as things were then, they haven’t changed all that much. Watchi
ng it provides an uplifting experience all the sentimental drivel in the world could never equal because, heart sick and bitchy as it is, it’s unarguably great, and there’s nothing as uplifting as seeing an amazing movie. The plot and dialogue, for once, give the audience credit for some intelligence, and the twists and turns of characters and events actually holds up on subsequent viewing. Curtis Hanson has enough sense to allow his really important points to remain implicit, and grow in importance by never being spoken. This is also one movie where you’re guaranteed to actually hear a character say what you were just thinking: “Don’t start trying to do the right thing boy-o. You haven’t had the practice.”

Homicide: Life on the Streets

“The problem with this job is, it ain’t got nothing to do with life.” A cop show about the failure of partnership, Homicide followed Baltimore’s detectives as they bitched about overtime (standing over the body), lost the keys to a series of white Chevy Cavaliers, and debated the meaning of life (and if there was any meaning). Sometimes they caught murderers. Sometimes they didn’t. One of the ones they never caught killed a little girl, Adena Watson, and left her in a rain slicked alley. The effects of that murder, not least on Tim Bayliss, whose responsibility it was to solve it, hung over the series like a shroud. The thing that made the show so extraordinary was that the inhabitants spoke and acted like real people, and not characters. There was Felton, a redneck who fiercely admired his female partner Howard, who had the squad’s only perfect clearance rate. There were Lewis and Kellerman, who had co-dependent, adorable bickering down to a science. Most of all, there were Pembleton and Bayliss. Who would have died for each other, and, in the end, couldn’t save one another. They also starred in the single best hour of TV, “Three Men and Adena,” in which they have 12 hours to get a confession from Adena’s killer, and fail.


Over the course of a decade, Radiohead has sprung from modest roots as a student band at Oxford to their days of international