WoB Talk

March 26, 2012

Reality Television Week (*Sigh*)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 3:17 am

Well, it’s here again:  the one week per year in which I must lecture on reality television.

Don’t get me wrong:  it’s a fun lecture to give.  It’s always easier to generate discussion with controversial subjects.  Some of my students hate reality television, while others watch almost nothing else.  The reasons behind the popularity of the genre are pretty fascinating, and I really like talking about the wish/shame complex the shows use to draw viewers in and keep them hooked.  These shows tend to be cleverly put together and structured in ways that do get people addicted; a given reality episode is structurally similar to a news broadcast or, interestingly, a soap.  The continually deferred fulfilment is, in part, what keeps people glued to these shows.

That’s not why I *sigh*ed in this entry’s title.  I *sigh*ed because in order to talk about reality TV, I have to watch it.

I Ranted about American Idol a bit over a year ago (February 28, 2011), so I won’t go deeply into my feelings regarding that particular show.  I am following it again this year, as well as The Amazing Race, and I’ve watched some episodes of Kitchen Nightmares in the past.  That’s about as far as I’m willing to go.  I feel as if reality TV is trying to devour my soul.  Even The Amazing Race, which is relatively harmless and at the very least introduces a bunch of Americans to the fact that they are not, in fact, living in the only country on the planet, is awfully fond of dwelling lingeringly on the contestants’ meltdowns and interpersonal abuse.  Emotionally abusive boyfriends, shrewish wives, brothers who can’t stop fighting, liars and cheaters and people who end up in hysterics because they can’t taste the difference between six distinct types of tea:  sometimes, I think the show’s main purpose is to demonstrate how awful all people everywhere are.  Leave the poor taxi drivers alone, guys, seriously.  You ran up out of nowhere, stuck a camera-person in the front seat, and are now screaming abuse at your driver because he doesn’t understand English and is unwilling to drive like a lunatic so you can win a million dollars.

These shows delight in showing us how horrible people are.  Even when they pretend to be “educational,” they are really just voyeuristic.  If someone starts a “documentary” reality series called simply Dirty Underwear, I won’t be at all surprised.

I was therefore delighted this week when the usual American Idol parade of soppy ballads sung by desperate teenagers who believe that they will fail at everything if they don’t get to move into the mansion was interrupted by the fantastic Idol contestant Heejun Han, who has so far utterly failed to take the process at all seriously.  Despite the fact that Heejun’s voice is just sort of okay, he is wildly popular because he is a very, very funny guy, and not in an extroverted LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME kind of way.  If someone sets him up, he will say something hilarious.  He does it every time.  In a group of earnest kids fixated on their images, he is extraordinarily refreshing.

Last week, which was Billy Joel themed, Heejun started with what seemed to be one of his usual ballads, then apparently lost his place.  He turned to the piano player and asked for something faster, then tore off his suit jacket and went running all over the stage, singing “My Life” in what was really an extended comedy routine.  His singing was all over the place, but it didn’t matter.  The judges were not as happy as I was; Stephen Tyler was clearly furious and felt Heejun had disrespected the song.

Well, why shouldn’t he?  Good lord…do we really need to treat American Idol like sacred ground?  It involves a bunch of kids crooning pop songs for months.  Apparently, music is not allowed to be fun; it’s a deadly serious business.

This is what damn reality TV does to me; it makes me care about stupid things.  I even know how it does it.  I just can’t stop it from happening.  For now, therefore, I’ll just quietly raise a glass to Heejun and his increasingly entertaining attempts to deconstruct the entire Idol process.  More power to you, Heejun.  There should be a Heejun in every episode of every reality TV show ever made.  At the very least, he thoroughly shatters the illusion that this stuff is as immensely important as it claims it is.

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March 19, 2012

March 19 – 31, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:12 am

By the time this fortnight is over, I’ll (probably) know the results of two literary contests I’m in (or the results of one and the second-round results of the other).  I’ll also need to have written several course modules and marked at least fifty essays.  What fun this fortnight is going to be.  Have some nice Sherlockian shenanigans.

The Computer Curse Continued

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:08 am

For once, there’s actually nothing wrong with my laptop.  However, the reason there’s nothing wrong with my laptop is that it’s brand new, and the reason it’s brand new is that it’s replacing another brand-new but defective laptop, and the reason I had the brand-new but defective laptop was that the laptop before that one, which was well under three years old, had finally died completely, a year and a half after its hard drive was replaced.

I really don’t know what it is about me and computers.  I’ve complained about my Acer before, and I would like to reiterate the complaint now.  I got off to a bad start with it because I wasn’t used to either Vista or the new style of keyboard (with extra “\” keys everywhere and a tendency for the keyboard to turn French without warning and without any way of making it go back to normal).   I took a couple of months to figure out how everything worked; then the computer started malfunctioning.  It crashed constantly.  The DVD drive stopped working.  One of the keys fell off, and I couldn’t get it back on because the key itself was broken.  Other keys jammed (this was near the beginning of the Really Flat Keys Phase, and the manufacturers hadn’t yet figured out that it was a bad idea to leave space under the keys so that bits of crud could lodge themselves in there).  Finally, about fourteen months after I had purchased the computer, it stopped working.  A friend helped me pull a few files off it, and I got the rest from Future Shop (though not without giving them about eighty bucks for the privilege).

As I had wisely bought an extended warranty,* I was able to get the computer repaired.  However, I was without it for nearly two months.  When I finally got it back, it was basically a new machine.  Again, it worked for a few months, then deteriorated.  In the winter of 2012, it once more ground to a halt.  I was able to rescue all my files myself in safe mode, though it took a while.  Then the real fun began.  My desktop computer, which is four years old, has dysfunctional USB drives (at one point, they fell inside the computer; now they’re just sort of hanging out of the tower, and they work when they feel like it).  I simply could not get the USB drives to recognise my external hard drive, and I was therefore unable to access any of my files, even though I had technically rescued them from the Acer.

I had to go to Future Shop the next day and find another computer.  I had listened to my brother-in-law’s advice but ultimately chosen another laptop, which did turn out to be a better deal.  However, almost as soon as I started using it, the power cord started to malfunction; the computer wasn’t getting any power half the time.  Every time I jiggled it, it would stop charging.  It took thirteen days for it to get so bad that I had to take it back.  Future Shop will replace your laptop if you return it within fourteen days.  As it turned out, the store had sold out of the Samsung model I had bought.  Hasan, the guy who had sold me the Samsung, remembered me and found me a Lenovo for the same price.  Hasan was very nice all the way through this process.  He was a good salesman, but I forgave him for that because, well, he was a good salesman.

I now have a Lenovo to replace my Samsung, which replaced my Acer, which replaced my Toshiba, which replaced my Compaq, which replaced my other Compaq.  I have had more laptops than most people have had dental procedures.  I honestly don’t do anything to these computers; they just don’t like me.  I really hope the Lenovo lasts for at least a little while.

*This would not count as wisdom for most people, but computers really hate me.

March 12, 2012

Weather Weirdness, Go Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 4:32 am

I used to do this thing where I would write open letters to either summer or winter, phrasing them as if they came from a committee of senior bureaucrats taking issue with the abuses the season in question was perpetrating on the system.  This little conceit has now pretty well played itself out, and I haven’t used it in a few years.  However, I do have to say:

What the hell has been up with the weather lately?  It’s been bouncing from 16C to -2C to 16C to -10C, back and forth and back and forth.  One day, everyone dresses for spring; the next, we’re back in the depths of winter.  My allergies have been coming and going.  On one of the cold days, a friend and I noticed some frozen crocuses that had half-emerged from the ground before being blindsided by a small blizzard.  I have been alternating between a heavy down jacket and a windbreaker.

Is some consistency too much to ask for?  Pick cold or warm; I don’t even care which.  Just pick one.  The constant zig-zagging is bewildering.  Do I need my tuque or not?  Should I be wearing boots?  Is it cycling weather?  Nobody knows.  It’s as if the weather is deliberately trying to bewilder and distress us.  With the addition of the daylight-savings-related spring forward, I have become tired, grumpy, and certain I’m wearing the wrong clothes all the time.

With luck, the weather will eventually settle down and figure out exactly what it is.  It’s just too bad that until then, everyone has to go around dressed in layers and wondering which spring is going to be the real one.

March 5, 2012

Potted Potter: A Plea for Actual Parody

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 6:19 am

I saw Potted Potter with a couple of friends this afternoon.  If you haven’t heard of it, you are in good company.  A lot of people in Toronto have heard of it, as there are banners advertising it all over the city right now.  Briefly:  it’s a 70-minute dramatic Harry Potter parody that purports to get through all seven Potter books.  All the parts are played by two guys, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who appear on stage as “Dan” and “Jeff.”  I believe the play was born at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; the two actor-creators have produced other “potted” (i.e., condensed) plays as well.

I had neither high nor low expectations going in.  I am quite fond of another Potter parody, A Very Potter Musical,  which successfully makes affectionate fun of the Potter series while simultaneously forming a coherent narrative and even offering actual character development (and not just of Harry).  I am thus aware that it is possible to parody Harry Potter well.  When I first saw the poster for Potted Potter, I was pretty dubious, but it seemed to be getting good reviews, so I decided to give it a chance.  I enjoy good parody and am always happy when I stumble across some.  Unfortunately, Potted Potter is not good parody.

Okay, admittedly, it’s definitely for kids.  The subject matter is taken from a series of children’s books, and the creators have decided to aim their play at the prime Book 1 crowd (8-11-year-olds) rather than the prime Book 7 crowd (15-18-year-olds).  I do not accept the whole “but it’s aimed at kids!” thing as an excuse.  Certain children’s entertainers, especially those who wander on over to Hollywood, seem convinced that children are incapable of paying attention to anything that doesn’t involve a lot of screaming and frenetic physical comedy.  Clarkson and Turner yell at each other, spray silly string everywhere, and at one point organise a theatre-wide Quidditch game that ends with them shooting half the audience with a huge water gun.  I would have no problem with any of these elements, which are potentially fun, if they were accompanied by some sort of narrative coherence.  Instead, we have a setup in which straight-man Jeff attempts to retell the seven stories while wild-card Dan constantly undermines him.  There’s nothing else here.  Jeff sometimes “plays” Harry for ten or fifteen seconds.  Dan “plays” all the other characters, though none of them get much time on stage; Voldemort and Ron are really the only two who appear more than once or twice and actually interact with Harry.  A scene involving Dumbledore goes on for far too long, encompassing a gag that becomes reminiscent of Family Guy, and not in a good way.

There are certainly funny bits; the oversized Golden Snitch is amusing, and the dissection of Book 3 on a series of PowerPoint slides works well.  The big problem is that this isn’t parody.  It’s a couple of guys yelling about Rowling’s books for an hour and a bit.  Parody comments intelligently on the original work, often pointing out its inherent flaws by exaggerating them.  It doesn’t have to be nasty.  Some of the best parody is written by people who love the original works on which the parodic adaptations are based.  Potted Potter points out the flaws in the books, but it doesn’t do so via exaggeration; it does so via the two actors explaining to the audience that the books have flaws.  A retelling involving the storytellers putting on deliberately inappropriate voices and mannerisms does not really have anything to say about the original.  Potted Potter should be billed not as a parody but as a comic recap.  When all your jokes come from you running around frenetically and being silly for reasons not connected to the actual story, you’re not writing a parody.

It’s also worth noting that children are not stupid.  Sure, it’s fun to watch someone get covered with silly string or be forced to dress up a a Golden Snitch.  However, if there’s nothing more to watch, all the zaniness gets kind of boring.  I’ve seen some great children’s shows that acknowledge the intelligence of all their viewers, child and adult both.  Entertainment that just goes BWAAAAAAAAAAAA will catch a child’s attention for a time but will prompt only cheap laughs.  Give kids a chance to become involved in the story, especially when it’s a story they already love.

I’m sure plenty of people have enjoyed this show.  I’m sad to say I’m not one of them.  However, if an actual Potter parody ever makes its way to Toronto, I’ll be the first in line.

March 5 – 17, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 6:12 am

Why is Casey refusing to come out from behind that tree?  ONLY TIME WILL TELL.  Or will it?

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