Artists Pay Back (The Blog)

November 8, 2015

Ways the Peanuts Move gets it right

Filed under: Uncategorized — artistspayback @ 11:15 pm

I cringed when I first heard that a digitally rendered Peanuts Movie was going to be a thing that soon existed. I saw some of the early promotional posters and the dread deepened. I figured no way would they get this right. With Charles Schulz no longer around to protect his beloved creation, there’s no telling what kind of crass cash-in this was going to be.

I saw a trailer a couple of weeks ago and felt a little better. Maybe they would be able to get this right, after all.

My 10-year-old daughter had interest as well (after some deliberation between this and the Goosebumps film), we checked it out his weekend and I can say that they did indeed get it right.

Here’s how:

  1. No Celebrity Voices – The Angry Birds Movie proudly touts it’s stars from just about the first frame. Jason Sudekis! Danny McBride! Josh Gad! Bill Hader! And I have to wonder, why? I don’t think the true target (kids) for this movie really cares (or, beyond maybe Gad) or even have any real name recognition for them. Yes, I realize this is designed to hopefully draw in the parents and stoke the egos of the stars (not necessarily in that order), but ultimately it seems a little desperate. I realize this is the standard for animated movies since Tom Hanks and Tim Allen squared off over a blinking light. But there’s a big difference between the way that some studios like Pixar (the Gold standard) and say Dreamworks (not that far behind, really) operate in this arena. Craig T. Nelson and Albert Brooks being the lead voices is a far cry from Mike Myers and Jack Black. I love Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda – but I remember being very aware of Mike and Jack’s involvement from the get-go, not so much with the other two. And then there’s Peanuts. Not only is there not a “known-name” to be found the voice actors they found are so true to the voices we’ve all grown to know that’s it’s absolutely uncanny. There’s not a misstep in the bunch and that is no small feat. I think what they understood is that with Peanuts, the characters ARE the celebrities and that’s all you need.
  2. True to the Characters – And this dedication to character goes beyond the voices to the heart of each of the gang. They are all very much who they’ve always been. Lucy the brash, narcissist with a hint of a soft-side (and an aversion to dog germs), Sally the materialistic and idealistic dreamer. Linus, the sage giver of advice. Frieda and her naturally curly hair. Pig Pen, a proud mess. And of course Charlie Brown. The sweet, dreamer who never gets a break, yet never gives up.
  3. Digital with a Pencil Drawn Feel – the oddness of the gang living in a more rounded world (so to speak) doesn’t really linger (okay, Linus’ hair is a little strangely rendered and I did often fixate on it) and there are some great touches that keep the 2D feel intact. The bodies may be digital, but the faces are still “drawn” on and there are many moments from Charlie’s memories animated in perfect, pencil-drawn thought boxes to Snoopy’s moments under attack with classic silhouette-against-multi-colored-backgrounds, that retain the feel of the old in the world of the new.
  4. No Pandering Humor – Whether by mandate or design, the Peanuts gang remains wonderfully free of modern influences. There were no lazy texting jokes. No tablets. No sad attempts to be “current.” And best of all, no lazy bodily humor. Not fart jokes. To appreciate this restraint, all you had to do was watch the trailers that preceded the movie (Angry Birds, Norm of the North, Chipmunks’ “Road Chip,” Ratchet & Clank) which all featured at least one such moment of what is a lame, hacky writer’s crutch.
  5. The Greatest Hits – I’ve seen this listed as a negative in some reviews, but I never felt that it was lazy. Whether it’s Charlie getting his clothes knocked off on the mound, Snoopy beginning his story with “It was a dark and stormy night…,” Lucy doling out psychiatric advice for a nickel, Sally crushing on Linus, the kids rocking their famous dance moves, Joe Cool and so on. Sure it’s easy, but it’s also perfectly executed. And it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s handle that way just from it being purposefully titled, The Peanuts Movie. It avoids the naming convention of so many other Peanuts specials with a Charlie-centric, “statement” title (like She’s Just Not That Into You, Charlie Brown.) because this is a true, self-titled reintroduction to the gang for new and old.
  6. Lots of Snoopy – I can possible conceded that this is more arguable than any other point since I have also seen some criticize the movie for having too much Snoopy. To that, I say, “can you have too much Snoopy?” The answer is “no” at least not when the character is some purely awesome and massively popular. Yes, the Red Baron sequence is pure padding but it’s all worth it if only for the part where he is traversing the “enemy territory” to make it back to base and you get his view and reality spliced together in escalating sight gags (him in the tub with Franklin and hand-walking the Christmas lights in front of Patty’s house the best among them). Plus, there’s Snoopy dancing, Snoop singing, Snoopy lurking in mailboxes and there’s something about Snoopy in his vulture mode that to me is never not funny.
  7. No Rerun – I was never a fan of the addition of Lucy and Linus’ little brother, Rerun Van Pelt and thankfully it appears he was deemed unnecessary. I will also praise the filmmakers for leaving out Snoopy’s brother Spike. Though there is a sight gag in reference to  him and then a mercifully brief appearance at the very end in a group setting, it’s mostly blink and you’ll miss it, so I’ll count that as a win.

Hopes (and fears) for Star Wars VII

Featured image

“Ugh, not another person blogging about the upcoming Star Wars movie. I suppose you have an opinion about it”

Well, of course I have an opinion on the new Star Wars movie. Like pretty much anyone else my age (let’s call it the Child of the 70s syndrome), Star Wars holds a special place in my life and that hasn’t really diminished with the passing years. I was six when I saw the first one. I still remember sitting in that California theater with my dad by my side as I constantly peppered him with questions (and him responding in curt, hushed tones always followed by a “now, shhh”). I may not have quite understood it all but I loved every minute of it. I stressed out for three years wondering what would become of Han Solo after seeing Empire. I attended a midnight screening for Return of the Jedi ON A SCHOOL NIGHT (unheard of). For years, I kept a newspaper article about how Lucas always envisioned Star Wars to be nine movie series (a plan which through the years he has alternately recanted, denied or revised) and waited for the dream to come to fruition. Which it did. Which, well, yeah…

Anyhow, now that Lucas has passed the reins to Disney (ugh) and more importantly given JJ Abrams the keys to drive episode VII (eh), I am cautiously optimistic that he will avoid the missteps of the second trilogy1 and return with a good movie.2 I’ve already got my tickets for opening night and I’m (mostly) excited about what I’ve seen in the trailers. I mean, if shots of the Falcon flying through the skeletal remains of a Star Destroyer don’t give you chills, then the issue is you my friend.

But, seeing as how massive an influence Star Wars had on my developmental years (even in the ways it slightly stunted them), I do have a certain “ownership” in the future iterations. Unlike other superfans, and this applies to fans of anything really, I don’t pretend to be the voice of all. I know what I think worked and what didn’t; and I know what I want to see and, more importantly, what I don’t.
  • DO NOT go back to Tatooine – At this point, I think I despise that planet more than Luke ever did. It was fine as an integral part of the original Star Wars movie (it was important to establishing Luke’s character), but they should have never gone back again. I get that Lucas’ thing was planets devised of entirely one ecosystem (with the exception of Naboo, every planet has pretty much stuck to this – ice planet, desert planet, swamp planet, forest moon, water planet, lava planet, so on). And it made for cool location shoots, and maybe having another desert planet would cause confusion, but it’s better than once again returning to a planet that was noted as being “the farthest thing from the center of the universe.” Yet, in was visited in five of the movies.3 No more.5
  • And on that note, DO NOT create single ecosystem planets. One, I think  they’ve all been covered, and, two it started getting a little silly.  Of course in addition to, “Tatooine, no.. this is Jakku. Totally different.” it appears we’ll also be getting a very Hoth, but totally-not-Hoth snow planet. And, what may or may not be a return to Yavin’s forest-y moon (which would be okay, because even though the Empire new of the base there, that would make some sense for them to reestablish that location.)
  • DO NOT create loads of new creatures – I think one of my big issue with the prequels was all of these alien races suddenly popping up. I know this also happened in the OT (original trilogy) but that was a view of a universe that was slowly expanding to the viewer. Why weren’t there any Gungans, Kaminoans, etc. in the OT? (Yeah, it’s rhetorical. I know the answer.) But the point really is that it was mostly unnecessary. You can thrown in a few new creatures, but don’t completely populate the movies with heretofore unseen races. Lucas set up a varied enough cast of creatures through the first three movies  – just Mos Eisley and Jabba’s palace alone had enough to choose from – that he could have just continued using those and expanding them. I know that part of this was Lucas’ infatuation with digital creature making which allowed him to go in more fantastical directions. But considering it led to characters like Dexter Jettster (um, a six-armed diner cook with a New York accent? Really? I would have preferred a return of Bea Arthur or creepy Uncle Itchy.) When it came to digital possibilities, Lucas clearly never heeded the classic advice – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  • DO NOT throw in jokey callbacks – As a culture, aren’t we at a saturation point with the whole wink-wink, “Easter Egg,” inside-reference/joke thing. (Maybe it’s just me.) It’s fun to a point but it has been severely overdone in movies and shows to the point where it needs to be let go at times. I particularly bring this up because of how much of a crutch Abrams has used it in the Star Trek movies. I fear he will continue to lean on it here. There’s hope that that was mostly due to the hacky influence of Orci and Kurtzman who will not be involved here, but I”m still really worried about this. I don’t want to see Jar Jar’s bones in the background, I don’t need yet another variation on “I love you.” “I know.” Humor is fine, lazy humor (especially the sort that violates the character and takes you out of the movie – see again, Star Trek) is not.
  • DO NOT make this about a Skywalker turning to the dark side and needing to be turned back/redeemed7 – I’m pretty sure this one is unavoidable at this point and the big reveal will probably be that Luke has turned (most likely as part of this Knights of Ren) to drive the narrative in “Part VIII – Attack of The Rehashed Plot Device.” I’m already not buying that the masked figure seen in the trailers and posters is necessarily Adam Driver, at least not always. That could easily be Luke (and would explain his conspicuous absence in posters and trailers) at least some of the time with Driver being his disciple. And everyone assumes that the “I will finish what you started” line is being spoken to Vader’s helmet (which to me seems an editing trick) but that could be Kylo (Driver) talking to Luke, or Luke speaking of Vader. Anyhow, for me the bottom line is it would be pretty lame for Luke to succumb to the dark side after originally struggling with it and ultimately rejecting that fate while also being the inspiring for his father’s redemption, only to give in later. To paraphrase Yoda, the writers “…would destroy all for which he had fought, and suffered.”
  • DO kill off some of the classic characters – I can actually see Chewie dying prior to or during one of the action set pieces late in the movie. It would set a deeper tone and to be honest, I’m not sure Peter Mayhew can physically hold up for more movies. So they either have to devise a way for Chewie to be hurt (sad) or set him up in a battle setting where he gets to pilot a ship or sacrifices himself getting killed heroically in action (as long as his ultimate fate is deserving of his prominence as a character.) Even better, kill off Han Solo. That’s exactly what needs to happen and I highly doubt that it will. This is coming from the greatest Han Solo fan in existence (verified) and someone who distinctly remembers feeling personally betrayed when hearing, back in 1983, that Harrison Ford lobbied to George Lucas to kill him off in the third act of Return of the Jedi to, as I remember the quote, “give this thing some weight.” Back then it would have been a terrible decision, but now it’s the exact right move. There’s likely no avoiding that this movie will focus on the rebuilding of the Jedi and the reemergence of the Sith8. And I’m sure there will be a young “Han Solo type” introduced rendering the original model expendable. Luke is needed for the teaching the ways of the force, Leia possibly too, leaving Han little to do (he’s not going to be running around too much playing action hero, at least I hope not). So his death will be a great way to, you know, give this thing some weight.
  • DO NOT feel the need to end each movie with a lightsaber battle – I love them, you love them. The film can (and, of course, will) feature a lightsaber duel or two, but it doesn’t have to end that way. Empire and Jedi used the final saber battles between Luke and Darth as a nice bit of symmetry and then, in the prequels, it started to feel like “okay, third act, that means lightsaber duel runs concurrently with a large scale battle where the characters are split up.” Only Star Wars9 and Revenge of the Sith avoided this (Star Wars had the battle but the saber duel was earlier, Sith only had a duel.) So, get it in early or use it to propel the third act if you must (a la Star Wars), but once it becomes formula, it’s time to abandon.

1 – No, I’m not going to directly nitpick the second trilogy. I realize that it comes off as old guy not liking the new stuff and that there are plenty of people who consider The Phantom Menace their favorite. I support their right to be completely wrong. And besides, the entire new trilogy was already deconstructed to perfection.

2 – With the understanding that this may not ever truly be possible. And that is completely due to the bias nature of rosy, childhood memories and the crushing weight of expectations, and not really a reflection of the movie itself.

3 – The Empire Strikes Back being the lone anomaly. And taken that this is the best4 of the movies, is that a coincidence? Yes, but still.

4 – Not up for debate.

5 – Oh, and the very Tatooine-ish desert planet, Jakku, that has been featured prominently in the trailers and figures to be more than just a temporary location, does not make it better (sigh). It’s a cheat for people like me who would complain about going back to Tatooine (basically JJ is having his desert, and eating it, too.) And I wouldn’t be totally surprised if before the credits roll on either this movie or the new trilogy as a whole, that we don’t see those dual suns shining at some point.

6 – I think this starship may have already sailed based on some of the trailers and behind the scenes stuff, but I guess it’s inevitable.

7 – Either new, or old – see Skywalker, Luke. And yes, I know this is a bog part of the expanded universe of the books with the next generation of Solo/Skywalker’s doing the family redemption arc but it was lame there too. Find a new story to tell.

8 – Even if they aren’t necessarily referred to by those names.

9 – By the way, Star Wars is the name of the movie that came out in 1977. The first movie. I’ve heard talk of something called “A New Hope,” but I’m not familiar with that term.

January 9, 2014

Epiphanies: 12 for $0.10

Filed under: Uncategorized — artistspayback @ 11:49 pm
Tags: ,

I had an epiphany this week.
Relaxing on the patio at our standard summer vacation spot (a wonderful place called mom’s beach condo) looking out over the vast expanse of the ocean. The sky dotted with boats, the beach crawling with tanned tourists, a thunderstorm creeping on the horizon, I started thinking about my place in this world and realized there are things I can do better. Pay more attention to details, procrastinate less, follow through more, focus at work and acheive beyond doing just what is needed or expected, take better care of myself not just for me but for the family that depends on me. All of these were areas where I not only should improve, but could improve if I so chose. That was the epiphany part. I think we all intrinsically realize we are not our best selves, but we indulge in self-deception and defeatist thinking to allow ourselves the luxury of accepting out place, even if it’s not the best we can do or the end result that we truly desire. I realized that my control extends much further than I allow and that change is not only needed, but necessary.
Don’t worry it won’t last. I know this because I’ve had this particular epiphany probably a half dozen times in the last year or two alone. That moment – maybe it’s in the late night silence, or a noisy, crowded place where you suddenly become hyper aware of your existence as a solitary creature among others or perhaps, like me, at some cliche moment where the sweeping vastness of beauty and enormity of the natural world absorbs and overwhelms you and you have no choice but to fight back against the smallness by puffing up and exerting your control and self-realization. The problem is the situation in which these moments occur is often fleeting, at least in it’s impact. It’s often something like an overpowering natural encounter as described above, or a moment of life-altering joy (the birth of a child, graduating college) or one of life-threatening fear (operation, near crash) and once your beyond that moment, life more or less resumes its course and your back in your same environment and the daily routine reasserts itself and strips away the desire, if not ability, to enact the change that seemed so clear and crucial. The memory becomes less powerful until the drumbeat day-to-day routine drowns it out entirely.
That’s why my epiphanies are multitude but the actual record of implementation is spotty to be generous (nearly non-existent to be accurate).
It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that it becomes harder as you realize the things needed to get battle through the thick brush to reach that path you so clearly and easily visualized in that moment of clarity is often more fraught with obstacles than it seemed in that moment of clarity. It seems so easy because you’re not truly thinking of the journey as much as the destination.
‘Yes, I will be healthier,” you say. Then realize that you already do try to get to the gym, but the 10-hour workdays and familial obligations take precedence.
Part of it is just giving up because, dammit, it’s hard and screw that, things are hard enough without adding internal pressure to live up to some idealized existence brought on by sand, salt air and seagulls. The ocean doesn’t care about me, so why should I let it influence my life in return? And really, I’m not doing so bad. Sure, I could be healthier, but I’m in pretty good shape. And dammit, I do work hard. So hard, that all it took to warp my mind into the realm of the impossible is a slight breeze and some sunny skies. My epiphany should be to do less. Eat worse, don’t worry about exercise, mabye the family shouldn’t be so dependent anyway, maybe this is a good as I am designed to be and rather than exerting energy to force change to some unrealistic ideal, I should find happiness in being where I am and letting that be enough. Maybe I’ve reached my destination and the sunset shouldn’t have the power to make me feel otherwise.
So in closing, screw epiphanies.
It was probably the alcohol talking anyway.
I think I’ll take a nap.

September 28, 2012

I Suck At Blogging

Filed under: Writing — artistspayback @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Defeat by Computer

Nothing like head trauma to fire up the creative juices.

Wow! Provocative title, right? Now, I know what you’re thinking. “This is going to be one of those falsely modest posts where you really go on to describe your awesomeness with loads of insincere deprecation.” Or maybe, “ah yes, the pity post designed to get people to build you up and say, ‘hey guy, you’re wonderful.'”

Nope. I really mean it. I truly suck at this. Now, this isn’t so much of critique of my actual writing. I’m pleased overall with what I have put out, as minimal as that output has been. And therein lies the crux of my suckitude. I’ve had this blog for years and have posted maybe a dozen entries. And really, when it comes to blogging the most egregious error one can make – greater than bad writing, worse than sloppy writing, far more not as good as repetitive, poor writing – is just not posting. There are a lot of bad blogs out there (I know, I’ve seen them on Freshly Pressed) but they’re better than mine because as subjectively bad, or maybe just insipid, as the content may be, at least they’re posting something. Anything. And it’s getting noticed. Good for them for not sucking.

So, as I lay in bed last night after a long day of not writing a blog post, I started trying to suss out just why I don’t do it more. One note: “time” will not be one of the reasons. Yes, I am ridiculously busy with the several jobs and family obligations that account for much of my time, but that’s not really a valid excuse for not devoting two or three hours over the course of one week to getting something posted. I may use it as an excuse, but I’ll tell you right now, it’s utter crap. I have the time, it’s other things that cause me problems, such as:

1. Trying to hard to be perfect

Though ‘perfect’ may not be the best word, it’s good enough to cover the concept. I want my stuff to be GOOD. If it’s supposed to be funny, I want it to be hilarious. If it’s intended to be clever, I want it to be mind-bending. If thought-provoking is my goal, I want your brain jostling in your cranium from my fresh revelations. So, I agonize over it and put way too much effort into something that really was just designed as a method to ultimately draw attention to my screenwriting. I worry that if my blog isn’t REALLY good then no one will bother to read my scripts (which, to be fair, isn’t entirely untrue). But really, I just need to relax and get my thoughts out. I have my moments of humor and profundity and insight and I need to trust it will come through in what I do without letting it paralyze me into not even trying. Of course, I do need to watch out for typos and the sort of mechanical errors that will ultimately reflect worse than anything else, but I need to let it go and just put stuff up there (and I definitely miss many, but that’s what editors and the comment section is for). Sure a bad post may leave someone with a negative feeling and not get them to read anything else, but not posting anything won’t even get me in the game.

2. Trying to hard to be funny

Everyone on the internet wants to be funny. Especially social media. And much like open mic night at the Chuckle Hut, most of them aren’t. But still we try. I’m one of those who try. The bloggers I admire are great humorists and I really want to write something as fresh and crackling with delightful prose as some of the posts that I imagine they toss off with ease, composing at traffic stops on their way home. People like Zombie Fights Shark (R.I.P.), Listful Thinking and The Typing Makes Me Sound Busy (also R.I.P. – I should probably find some new blogs to follow). So, I try to write stuff as funny as some of what they did. Great observational, situational humor that I know I’m capable of if I just push a little harder and keep revising and revising and revising and, ah screw it – I’ll just play SongPop instead. I have succeeded from time to time. Sure I’m no Shelby Fero, but I’ve had my moments where I’m quite proud of what has come out. But too often I just abandon an idea because it’s too dry or I’m trying too hard or it’ just not funny enough.

3. Not moving fast enough on a timely idea

This one is directly related to number one and two. It’s when something in the news cycle catches my attention and I think, “hey, I should blog about that because that’s what people who blog do!” So I’ll tap out some notes on my iPhone (ahem, that’s some free product placement Apple, pay attention and send me an iPad3) with every intention of using those for a full-fledged post later. And damned if I don’t. Well, no, actually I don’t. Damn. What I do is let it sit for a few days and then it becomes rotting fruit. For instance, I saw Prometheus on opening weekend and thought, “wow that really sucked for myriad reasons. I could elaborate on some of those reasons (hint: the name Lindelof was featured prominently) and it would make a wonderful timely blog post that would garner much attention.” And then I didn’t write it. And then a thousand blog posts came out covering pretty much the same bases I was going to – and some in much better fashion. Now, I’m not saying I shouldn’t write stuff just because others will cover the same ground and will do it better; redundancy and the internet are inextricably linked. But I do need to get it out in a timely manner so it doesn’t seem like so much of a retread. As for that Prometheus story, well there’s always the DVD release date to target.

4. Worried about getting read. And not getting read.

Here’s a little window into my psyche. As soon as I publish a blog post I think, “why did I bother. No one is going to read that.” And then I obsessively watch my stats. As as the number inevitably climb into the  (what’s the word for when things get past 4…”fives?”) mid-single digits I start to think, “why did I post that, it sucked.” And then the number stays there and I think, “why is no one else reading this, it’s great!” Basically, I’m not happy either way. I really would love to get thousands of visits, but it scares the piss out of me as well. In fact the one time I did get thousands of visitors, I was a mess for most of the day. “Did they like it? They must have liked it, right? Or maybe it was, one of those ‘jeez this sucks, you have to read it’ like making someone sniff bad milk or watch Twilight movies. They’re laughing with me. No, at me. No wait, it wasn’t supposed to be a funny post, why are they laughing at all? Why aren’t they commenting? What if the comment is negative, I hope they don’t comment.” So yeah, I’m an idiot. I truly love writing yet I have a problem with people reading my stuff. But what’s even worse than people reading it, is people not reading it. So, yeah…

5. Lazy

Sigh. Yes, guilty. I know I kind of covered this already but it needs to be called out as its own category. I would love to write more blog posts but not as much as I would love to lie motionless, or watch TV, or preferably both. While eating. Like I said, I work a lot, so I’m not exactly a lazy person but it’s also not like writing a post takes much energy. Especially since it’s pretty much the thing I like doing. But I still make excuses. Ah, my wife is using the computer, I’d write something if the laptop was working. (Then once we got the laptop fixed.) Ah, I’d write on the laptop but it’s way upstairs and I’m on the couch. I’d write something if I had an iPad. (Then we got an iPad.) Ah, I’d write something but first I need to figure out another excused while I play SongPop (seriously, that game is so awesome.) And so on.

And really, what all of these boil down to is excuses I tell myself to let myself off the hook for not writing. It’s all deflection. I’d write if I had time. If I had a great idea. If it was funnier. If it was smarter. If I had the perfect technological tool (like Dragon Dictation – ok, seriously, I would TOTALLY write more if I had that.) If this, if that. Whatever. I need to push all that out of mind and just write something. Like, you know, this post.

July 24, 2012

Mass Distractions

Filed under: Movies — artistspayback @ 9:28 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A tragedy unfolded on Friday in a movie theater in Colorado. By now everyone is well-versed in the details which are unnecessary to recount here and likely as familiar with the twisted perpetrator who will also get no more mention than is needed. His name is irrelevant and printing it here would only further validate his desire for notoriety that he earned in the most deplorable way possible.

But this isn’t being written to analyze what happened or even why. The frustrating truth is that in many cases the why is often unsatisfying and all too common – he was a disturbed individual who sought to externalize his pain by involving others in a desperate attempt to give his pathetic existence some meaning. You can’t make sense of the nonsensical. And any situation where young children* are coldly gunned down is the very definition of nonsensical.

My real issue is what happened after as the word of this tragedy drifted into cyberspace and the commenters took over. This is when a new level of disturbing behavior came into view. I’m not referring to the gallows humor that inevitably becomes a part of any tragedy. The internet is a breeding ground for mostly immature, mostly male, mostly teenage (some literally, the rest emotionally) idiots who come up with some tired retread of a joke followed by the oh-so-witty “too soon?” These don’t bother me so much.

The far more disturbing responses nestled among the well-wishes, support and prayers to those affected, were the numerous people who actually seemed to delight in this news. They weren’t outright celebrating, but it’s hard to miss the genuine excitement in their responses because it granted them the latest opportunity to finger-point and blast their opposition. They can vent, rant and spew their angry rhetoric. Pro-gun. Anti-gun. Tea party. Occupy movement. Democrat. Republican. Pop culture haters. They all found the proof for their cause (and more importantly, against their opposition) in this tragedy.

It’s not a stretch to imagine they lie in wait, hoping for a situation such as this to unfold so they can offer what basically amounts to “See! I told you so!” And this was a ripe one.

Some couldn’t even wait a few minutes before chiming in. Do you believe that the NRA has all the answers? Then this was proof that people need to carry arms at all times to protect their family. These are the ones who live in an imaginary world where if they were in this situation, they would calmly rise up, take aim amid the chaos and, with one shot, end the madman’s shooting spree. Their rallying cry is “If I was there with my gun, it would have ended differently.” (Let’s call this delusional mindset the “Mark Wahlberg Mentality” for his assertion that with his skills as a guy who play-pretends to be a hero in front of cameras, he could have single-handedly taken out the terrorists on 9/11 and landed those planes safely.) Of course, the reality is that these guys and their urine-soaked pants would have likely ended up frantically running for cover. And that would have been the most sensible action they could have done. Because the one thing that a smoke-filled room full of panicked people did not need was more people firing guns. Sure it seems simple now with the knowledge that there was only one gunman, but in the heat of the moment, if other armed idiots had decided to take shots, how would they have known who was trying to help and who was trying to harm. The odds that more guns would have equalled more deaths is much greater than some sort of resolution where the only fatality was the crazy guy with the machine gun thanks to some “hero.”

And that machine gun is an important detail, because that was what REALLY got the anti-gun crowd licking their lips with their quick responses. They were so eager to attack anyone who had ever even read the second amendment, that you could feel their glee exuding from their posts. This was another moment to decry gun ownership and the ease with which weapons can be obtained. “See! This is what happens. Take the guns away.”

Except that really this wasn’t about guns according to many, but politics. Happy posters saying it’s somehow Obama’s fault. Which isn’t possible when you consider all the ones blaming Bush. Or those who just blamed both saying it’s our divisive political culture that’s driving this sort of action. Or, no, it’s that group of  flag-waving, bible-thumping, corporate shills, that call themselves the Tea Party who are always inciting violence through their anti-government rage. But hold on, actually this is the fault of the Occupy movement. Those freeloading, socialist/communist, unwashed masses who are just anti-business, anti-American balls of rage looking to unfairly assault anyone making an honest 7-figure wage.

Or maybe you’re still singing that same tired tune from the 80s. (And 70s. And 60s…). The one that says it’s the violence in music/movies/video games/television shows that is to blame. This guy was obsessed with the Batman movies and whited to emulate his hero the Joker. They think that this mind-numbing nonsense does nothing but  corrupt minds and breed sociopaths. (Except, of course, that these same forms of violent entertainment can be found in many other countries that are not known to have these mass shootings.)

It was all of these and more, rearing their heads and espousing their tired “fill in the blank” rhetoric in every message board they infested. They all were so eager to paint this sub-human as the symbol of everything they hate, that  in some cases they even shouted down those who simply wanted to offer a note of condolence. To the shouters, these simpering, simpletons just don’t “get it.” They don’t realize this is more than an isolated incident and that by not acknowledging this they are probably part of the problem. They can’t believe you don’t understand  how this clearly validates their point of view, even when this one act somehow validates many points of view, even those that are diametrically opposed.

Maybe next time** things can be different. Maybe next time, these people can wait a few weeks before trying to adopt another tragedy as just another talking point in their pet cause. Maybe they can actually remember that in the moments after a tragedy, assigning blame beyond the culprit does nothing but give greater meaning to meaningless act. It puts a person who is, and should be, a lone example of insanity, a group to identify with. It says that this one unstable individual is just part of  larger cause, giving him greater relevance than he deserves. It may even allow some enterprising lawyer to convince his client that he was in fact influenced by whatever the internet says he was. That it’s not his fault. He’s a pawn in a larger battle. That in the end, he’s just another victim.

Or at the very least, maybe people can just wait before taking sides and pointing fingers, so they don’t come across as so excited for yet another opportunity to take sides and point fingers. Because if a tragedy like this should show us anything, it’s that we need to be less divisive. Less angry. Less prone to attack and blame. Less eager to prop up people looking to do something extreme to call attention to their own tiny deficiencies. Yes, it’s a sick world sometimes, but that shouldn’t be something you’re eager to exploit. Because that’s when you really are part of the problem.

*Another conversation could be had on the questionable parenting that had children younger than 8 attending a hyper-violent midnight movie in the first place, but alas that sort of common sense sadly falls on deaf (and defensive) ears.

**And unfortunately there will be a next time. Not because of video games. Or movies. Or Republicans. Or Occupiers. Or the NRA. But because there are other mentally unstable people out there and it’s not always easy to tell until it’s too late.

July 11, 2011

5 Ridiculous Things I Get Excited About These Days

Filed under: lists,pop culture — artistspayback @ 8:53 pm
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For proper use: Peel off and attach to forehead.

It’s a given that your tastes change as you go through the years. To wit, things I used to love twenty years ago (Ice beer, Drakkar Noir, dance clubs, getting home at 4AM) just don’t get me as excited anymore. Not that pleasures are gone from my life. They’re just stranger sadder different now. And by different, I mean “what the hell is wrong with me?”

Yet even as I marvel at some of the things that bring me pleasure circa 2011, I can’t help but acknowledge how awesome these things are (even as lame as it sounds). For instance:

1. The Swiffer – Back in the day, I wasn’t much for the whole cleaning thing. Not that I was a complete slob. I generally took care of the dishes within 48 hours. The bathroom got a nice sparkle every ten or twelve days. I’d run the vacuum and knock out the dusting once or twice a month (okay, once). Clothes would accumulate hither and yon until I scooped them up for a little laundering. But mopping? Screw that. For starters, it’s generally understood that in order to mop one must, you know, own a mop. If there was an egregious amount of stickiness on the floor of the kitchen/bath (for instance: when I passed over said stickiness wearing a sock – I would continue, but the sock would remain in the area as a hostage), this would be handled one of two ways: 1) douse it with Clorox spray and foot-wipe it with a paper towel, or 2) go barefoot.

But now I have THE SWIFFER. God I loves me some Swiffin’. Everything about it is satisfying. From the way the spray formula locks into the chamber, to the motorized spraying sound it emits, the ease of gliding the velcro scruffy pad over the infected areas. Now that I live in a house, the tile ratio in the living space is massive, but who cares. I’ve got a spot-mopping, smooth-gliding, dirt-fighting motorized menace at my fingertips. And I love it.

2. Naps – I remember the one nap I took between the age of 5 and 20. I feel asleep one Sunday in the early afternoon and awoke just after nightfall. Upon waking, I was disoriented and irritated. I felt like a chunk of my life had been taken from me. It wasn’t a nap, it was a goddamn hypersleep and felt as though years had been lost. When I was about 21, I had a wholly different experience. After a long day at the bar (as a tender, not a drinker on this particular occasion), I visited a friend of mine at her parents house. It was early afternoon and  her mom had a nice lunch spread out. I ate and layed on the sofa. My friend was playing around on the piano and I went out. I woke up about three hours later and damned if I wasn’t refreshed. This planted a seed that would grow into a mighty oak of daytime sleepiness a decade or so later. Now, I savor that feeling of drifting off in the middle of the day. The sounds of the day around you slowly recede and you feel the heaviness as you sink into sweet, sweet slumber.

When you’re young, a nap feels like a prime chunk of your life being taken. As you get older, it feels like you cheated your way past a little bit of the waking misery known as life. Naps are energizing. Instead of waking up upset at what was missed while I slept, I now just calculate how soon it will be until I get to fall back to sleep for the rest of the night (alas, it’s never soon enough.)

3. The Weather Channel – When I was a lad, I remember my dad loved having The Weather Channel on and good lord did I despise it. I could always hear that stale Muzak playing in the background each morning as I got myself ready for school. I can still see the sweeping hand of the Dopplertron 5000 Weatherator from Local News Station Whatever as it went around the pixelated map of Tampa and the surrounding area. It always looked the same, some blocky blue areas and blocky red areas around the crooked lines denoting where land met sea. I didn’t quite get it and just knew that I no longer wanted to hear that cycled soundtrack. That pain is now my kids pain.

I get it, man. The Weather Channel is fan-damn-tastic. To be fair, the crap my dad watched was like pong compared to the technological beauty of the modern weather stations. I get to see the marine forecast, the daily forecast, the heat index, the tropical update, the storm tracker and the mighty seven-day forecast. I still get the sweeping Dopplertron hand and the horrible Muzak, but now I understand it (and that tune is quite the jaunty little day-starter.) I get excited each morning to crank on the TV and get the update. What’s my day going to be like and whether a massive thunderstorm will sweep in and wipe out the power so I can nap.

4. Party food – In my late teens to early twenties there were certain things about attending parties that I got excited about – girls, beer, tequila, rum, girls, kegs, good music, vodka and girls – in that order. These days most of those don’t really matter to me because I don’t want to risk a DUI, suffer a hangover and I’m married (which means I bring my own girl – lova ya’honey!). I still like going to parties and I”ll enjoy a sensible amount of the alcohol, but I’m not all amped up like I used to be and elbow my way to the front of the keg line while slamming the beer in my hand. Now the enjoyment lies in the spread.

It’s something that happens after college. People start having actual food at parties. I don’t mean raiding the fridge for leftover takeout or the drunken 2 a.m. pizza order, I mean a table or counter filled with actual start-of-the-party food choices. With napkins! It’s the first thing I go for and it’s where I’ll set up camp for the night. Barring a little karaoke action, there’s really nothing that can tear me away. Chicken fingers, mini sandwiches, desserts, chips, dips, scachatta, – now THAT’s a party!

5. Cancellations – Of course, there is one thing even better than getting to a party loaded with awesome food. Never getting there at all. Making plans is part of life, both good and bad. Between work events and social outings, you have to make plans. I used to love plans. I mean, how can you not. It’s something to do, something to look forward to, a purpose beyond the drudgery of the work-a-day life. Things to see, people to meet, places to go.

Uh, I guess if I have to. Now when I see a blocked out portion of my schedule, I just wish for it to go away. Of course, I can’t be the canceler, but I’m fine being the cancelee. And this isn’t just about work meetings or seminars. This is also for birthday parties, special events, nights out with friends, movie plans – pretty much anything that takes me out of my home, especially at night or on the weekends. I just want to go bunker-mentality from Friday at 6PM until I have to drag my carcass out of bed again on Monday at 6:30AM. Weekend plans completely disrupt that. So when I get that glorious call, or when me and my wife look at each other and, with that unspoken bit of spousal mind-reading, nod in agreement that we just “don’t feel like going” a weight is lifted and the weekend has been reclaimed in the name of shut-ins everywhere. At this point, when it’s evident we’re not going to bother with the chore of ‘showering’ and ‘getting dressed’ it’s just a matter of deciding who’s “sick” and who gets to make the call.

(By the way, I can trace the genesis of this particular joy to modern phone calls. I remember the moment I went from calling people and hoping I would catch them instead of their voicemail to the moment where I hoped I would get their voicemail and not them – God bless call screeners. That was the acorn that became the oak of praying that in-person interactions would start falling apart.)

June 10, 2011

Adam Sandler doesn’t care about you

Pictured: Adam Sandler not caring

Hey Adam. How’s it going. Just wanted to drop a quick note to let you know I’m on to you. I get it, you don’t give a damn anymore. Not that you really should. Clearly it doesn’t matter.

AT&T couldn’t even phone it in as good as you have in your recent movies. Actually, you don’t so much make movies anymore as you do vacation plans. You call up some of your talented friends (and Rob Schneider), pick a cool location (Hawaii, backwoods retreat, etc.), grab a hack director (whoops, sorry, that should read hack director) and start rolling. Plot isn’t that important, so you just reheat a stale sitcom premise – pretending to be married, old dudes reliving past glories, a twin brother and sister (BOTH PLAYED BY YOU!!) and go through the motions. You just crank out the same man-boy, ne’er-do-well schtick (who, incidentally, is still the smartest guy in the room) and wait for the eight figure opening. Rinse. Repeat.

Of course, this formula is working for you. Clearly. So if it ain’t broke, then don’t ever break a sweat. And I know that when you’ve tried to branch out the results have been impressive as an actor but your core “fans” stay away in droves so the movies are deemed flops. It reminds me of John Cusack back in the early nineties. I was working in a video store when a woman came in to return Say Anything. “Did you like it?,” I asked. “No. It wasn’t funny. And I like when he draws the cartoons.” (Further proof that the influence of Savage Steve Holland CAN NOT be underestimated.) This is how many Sandler fans feel about movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. (For the sake of this argument, we’ll go ahead and ignore Spanglish and the colossal misfire Funny People and focus on the untraditional roles that are actually worth watching.) It’s too bad, because both of those largely ignored (and often derided by your fan base) movies hint at what you might be able to pull off. Punch-Drunk took the latent (or, sometimes outright) rage simmering in most of your characters and turned it into a tragic portrayal of repression while Reign Over Me amped up the sorrow and loneliness behind the rage.

Of course a case can be made that your movies have always been a high-concept, low-brains premise (rich man-child goes back to school, athletic man-child plays golf, backwoods man-child plays football, and so on) but at least there was some anarchic fun about them whereas, with your recent movies, I sense an underlying contempt for the audience. Perhaps there is a sense of annoyance that when you do something outside of your comfort zone it gets ignored or deemed a commercial failure. Maybe you’re annoyed that your fans won’t follow you anywhere (you’re in good company, Bill Murray and Jim Carrey both suffered through this – though Bill finally broke through to much aplomb while Carrey is promoting his newest cautionary-tale, Mr. Popper’s Penguins.) It feels like you’re saying, “You want me to do dumb comedies? Fine, then dumb comedies ye shall have!”

Maybe I’m reading in to it and you’re just trying to give your core fans what they want. I don’t doubt that you’re having fun and being successful at it – not a bad way to make a living. Still, I’d like to see something better. You’re a smart guy and you can be funny (though this is obviously not based on any recent evidence) so how about a little effort. How about stretching those dramatic muscles or putting some actual effort into a comedy script with a fresh idea.

Or not.

March 31, 2011

Tweet Reconciliation; Or How A Tweeter Got His Groove Back

Filed under: pop culture,Twitter,Writing — artistspayback @ 10:41 pm
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I recently reacquainted myself with a lost love.

We hadn’t been totally separated. I would check in now and then, you know, just to see how things were. But it was never enough to truly get me excited. And then it happened, as these things often do, with a change of heart and a moment of clarity. At that moment, I decided it was time to make a go of it again.

And this time I would do it so much better.

So, hi Twitter. I’m back.

Not that you really missed me. You’ve got your high-profile friends who clearly mean so much more to you. You say you don’t make special exceptions for them, but that means you either think I’m a fool or you’re just lying to yourself. Still, I’m not too proud to admit that I needed you more than you needed me. You can do so much for me and yet I had walked away. I was getting enough attention I suppose or it just seemed like too much work. That wasn’t your fault, those were my issues.

Not that I had forgotten the reasons I had parted before. You’re high maintenance, for one thing. You always throw so much at me that it quickly becomes noise. Badly misspelled and/or punctuated noise (which only makes it worse.) It’s not that you don’t have anything to say, it’s just that so much of it is about you, or just regurgitated nonsense, that it makes it hard sometimes to see that you do have a point of view. INteresting things are being said once you claw through the inanity.

I had forgotten about your arbitrary “following” rule. You know how 2000 is some magical cap number that you try to say has something to do with site performance or looking out for my best interests (which is it?). And how you couldn’t lift it if you wanted to (come on, babe, really?) If that were the case then why ever let any account go beyond this imaginary figure? You talk about these magical ratios, but won’t let us know what they are. Have you been hanging out with NFL owners? If there is a formula and it’s applied to everyone “without exception” that just make it public. You won’t, I know. Still a guy can hope. All I know is I’m stuck at 2001 even though I’ve gotten my followers up to over 550. That’s better than 4 – 1, yet still not good enough for your “ratio.” Please.

Still, I don’t want this to turn bad just as it’s starting to be good again. So I’ll play your games. I’ll work the angles and get in your good graces. I’ll try to focus on what’s good and what possibilities lie ahead and ignore the hypocrisy, the lies, the idiocy.

I’ll focus on the fun times. Hey, remember when I wrote this? Oh, that blog entry such a hit and we did it together. I’ll never forget that. Oh, and this one? See, we really were good together back in those days. Before I go jaded and frustrated.

Who knows how long we’ll last this time. I hope it sticks. Because even after all that, I think we can be good together.

(And I’m clearly so much better than that Kutcher clown you’re so infatuated with.)

Tweet dreams, mon ami…


Pop culture got you confused? Check out my handy conversion chart from Generation X to Generation LMFAO.

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January 29, 2011

So, Ya Wanna Be A Pirate?

Filed under: Local info,pop culture — artistspayback @ 12:14 am
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This year marks the 107th Gasparilla celebration. In case you’ve never heard of this signature festival, it’s like Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras (which is to say the organizers have been desperate to have people call it “Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras” ever since they began calling it that). The comparison’s are staggering. It’s a parade where people get drunk and throw beads. See, staggering.

Now, I love Gasparilla. I’ve grown up with it and have seen it evolve (okay, to be fair, devolve) over the last few decades. We even used to get a day off from school every year for Gasparilla and I was in sixth grade before I realized it wasn’t a National holiday. It was eighth grade before I realized that there were actually people in town who didn’t like the idea of celebrating someone who was known for subjecting the city to murder, destruction and rape (some people can be such a buzzkill.)

"Arrggh, mateys. Hoist ye beads."

To be fair though, it’s all bogus. Depending on where you do your research, Jose Gaspar (the titular pirate of the event) was never even know to patrol the waters in and around Tampa Bay and that’s if he ever even existed at all. Gasparilla was begun more a less as a publicity stunt designed to bring some attention (and money) to Tampa. Technically, Gasparilla doesn’t even belong to the city, it’s the domain of Ye Mystic Krewe. This is a collective of the city’s “finest” (you know politicians, lawyers, trust-fund babies, and other self-important entitled types). Each year these middle-aged men slather on the makeup (think ‘dirt’ and ‘scars’), tie do-rags around their receding hairlines, have their girth ensconced in silken puffy shirts, kiss their trophy wives goodbye and revel in the cheers of a city while trying to get drunk coeds to take off their tops.

All was well and good with the festival until it hit snag in 1991. The Super Bowl was being played in Tampa that year and Gasparilla was scheduled the day before the big game. With the national media descending on the town, the Krewe wanted the exposure and recognition it would bring. And boy did they get it. The Krewe was pilloried for not allowing minorities or women in their ranks (and I know what you’re thinking, that is really out of character for old wealthy, mostly Republican, white guys). But, rather than correct this embarrassing policy and attempt to enter into a post-Civil War mindset, they cancelled the festival in a pouty huff. In its place, Bamboleo was born (rather, still-born).The following year, the Krewe happily (no, those aren’t gritted teeth, those are smiles) accepted enough minorities to appease people and Gasparilla was back on. (Women were still banned, but come on, if they start allowing women next thing they’ll have to let their wives in and who wants that?) A lot of other Krewe’s began popping up throughout the 90’s and the parade expanded exponentially as the Krewe (sometimes reluctantly) allowed them into their little party.

The wacky antics of the Ye Old Creepy White Guy Krewe aside, Gasparilla truly is a fun day. If you’ve never been and you’re not easily offended by public drunkenness (and occasionally, urination) and enjoy mostly good-natured revelry, I suggest you attend. Here are some tips to remember as you blend with the 400,000 in attendance. Well, 400,001 actually, I forgot to count myself.

1. Leave the kids at home – A few years back the created a kids parade on a separate day specifically because this had become a lousy environment for children. Seriously, this is not for them. Nothing dampens a nice day of drunken debauchery like little ones running between our legs. Plus, they slow you down and make a bad bathroom situation that much worse.

2. Brush up on the liquor laws – YouTube nearly killed Gasparilla a couple of years ago. The parade route winds runs through a mostly residential area and some of the residents were fed up with finding their yard covered with things like beer bottles, trash, vomit and blacked-out frat boys. They whined about it for years (I’m not too sympathetic, it kind of comes with the territory – literally – so I say embrace it and enjoy yourself or move to Westchase) and it wasn’t until videos started to surface online that the city decided to clamp down. The last couple of years have seen a steady attempt to tame things a bit. More port-a-lets were added, rolling coolers were banned, open-container laws were tightened and the police presence was increased. So make sure you’re up on the latest rules. (For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought the cops on-hand at Gasparilla were very cool. They always seem to be enjoying the nonsense and are willing to give you a lot of leeway. I get the sense that they really don’t want to arrest you unless you give them no choice.)

3. Pace yourself – If you do it right, Gasparilla is a 8 – 12 hour day. You want to get out there by 10 or 11AM to park and get settled. The parade begins around 2PM and after it ends, around 6, you can head downtown for the concerts or, even better, end up at the Hub. (Best. Bar. Ever.) Which means you need to be able to hang that long and be mobile. Don’t be the guy or girl that everyone has to carry around as the day drags on (or drag around as the day carries on, depending on how much your friends like you).

4. I hope you like walking – It’s theoretically possible not to travel several miles during the course of the day, but unlikely. And not nearly as fun. First you have to park, often far from the action. Then you’ll want to travel the parade route to find “your spot.” If all goes well, you’ll meet up with other friends or make new ones and travel with them to exciting destinations (bars). You want to take it all in so hit Bayshore, then go downtown, shoot over to Harbor Island. Do it right.

5. Backpacks are your friend – The “man” may have banned coolers, but you’ll need to have your provisions. So get a nice hiking backpack and load it up with your liquid refreshments, some snack foods, and cups to work around the container laws (also, if you’re traveling with some ladies, you might want to pack a roll of toilet paper, trust me).

That’s all it really takes for a fun and exhausting Gasparilla experience. Have fun, stay out of trouble, grab some beads and I’ll see you at the Hub around midnight.

January 23, 2011

NEW Cautionary Tales! (Now With 100% Less Caution!)

"Don't do as I did...unless you like fame and fortune."

As 2010 came to a close and 2011 was dawning with all its shiny newness, there were three seemingly disparate stories that all had a similar thread running through them. Though each of these were potentially niche stories (in the areas of football, trash TV, media) they all made their way into the general flow of conversation in the public consciousness. Representing football, you had Michael Vick’s journey from NFL superstar to convicted felon back to NFL Superstar (V2.0, now with pocket passing!). As for trash TV (in every sense of the word), you had all the subjects of 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom in general and Amber Portwood specifically, the show’s de facto breakout star (for all the wrong reasons). Finally, there is media’s new “Golden Voice” Ted Williams, and his one-in-a-million (YouTube hits) journey from rags-to-Seacrest.

At first glance it wouldn’t seem like these stories had much in common aside from being discussed and debated in their own ways ad nauseam. Yet all three were incorrectly touted as being “cautionary tales” either by the subjects themselves or those responsible. Not only are none of them effective cautionary tales, they have the distinction of contradicting the very caution they purportedly offer.

There are a great many words you can use to describe Michael Vick depending on your point-of-view: amazing athlete, criminal, redeemed citizen, animal abuser, good teammate, etc. And all of these are fair and true in some way (again, depending on how you see his case overall), but the one thing he is not, is a cautionary tale. He has been hitting the talk circuit preaching to teens the dangers of falling in with the wrong crowd and professing a newfound respect for animals. But it’s really hard to listen to his message that “everything can be lost with bad decisions” now that he is on the verge of signing what should be a pretty lucrative contract after not only performing beyond anyone’s expectations, but better than he ever had pre-arrest (Prison! Better than training camp! Discuss!). Sure he’s still in a lot of debt, but it’s hard to imagine that in a few months from now, that last remaining concern will have faded. But cautionary? How so? He committed a crime and went to jail losing huge fortune, a (more or less) sterling reputation and a job that is the envy of millions. Then he got out of prison and struggled with a hostile public, crushing debt and a skeptical league. A cautionary tale ends there. You can find the moral where you want, depending on how much personal responsibility you want to take, it’s either “don’t torture and kill dogs for enjoyment because it’s highly illegal and makes you pretty disgusting human” or “don’t let peer pressure/the wrong crowd ruin your life” and the capper should be “just remember Michael Vick.” Except that he is on the verge of regaining everything he had before. Sure the prison time must have sucked, but that’s all in the past and now he is set up to be someone with a huge fortune, a (more or less) sterling reputation and a job that is the envy of millions. So really the lesson is, don’t commit the crime if you can’t back it up athletically after your prison sentence is over. Should he have gotten a second chance. Sure? The Eagles took a chance and it worked out for them. He served his time and the NFL decided to reinstate him. (Though it would have been perfectly fine and reasonable had they made the decision to not reinstate him. They didn’t “owe him another opportunity” as some had suggested upon his release. There was work for him elsewhere had they decided the PR hit wasn’t worth the potential upside.)

Then there is 16 and Pregnant. From the start, this show was touted for its gritty look at how hard life is for girls who become pregnant in high school. It was designed to show kids who have a hard time grasping the ramifications of such a colossal decision/mistake. The producers and network seemed so earnest in their hopes to open a dialogue and hopefully do their part to curtail probably the worst decision/mistake a teenager can make. And that was all well and good (and, for the most part, true). (By the way, yes, I do know that every now and then it works out and it doesn’t apply to everyone and I’m sure you were/had/knew a super-awesome teen mother. But, isolated incidents aside, it’s still far more likely to be a tremendous mistake for all involved than a good thing. And even when things turn out okay, it’s fair to say they would have been as good if not exponentially better had the parties involved waited. And yes, it is a worse decision than drug use. Drug use is bad and idiotic and so on, but at least it only has the potential to ruin one life. A pregnancy drags down two young people and, worst of all, the poor kid who had no choice in being raised by the knucklehead teens who aren’t smart enough to properly implement birth control.) The problem is the same producers/network then decided to cash in on the teens with the follow up series Teen Mom by bringing back the same girls and following their lives after the birth, not so much out of societal concern now but more out of ratings points. And, in the moment the girls went from “Documentary Subjects” to “Cast Members,” the caution went out the window with the bath water. These girls are now showing up on Access Hollywood, gracing the covers of People and living a life that most teens would kill for. Or at least, get pregnant on purpose for. Which brings us to Amber Portwood. She’s pretty much an awful person and horrible mother (shocking, I know), but none of that matters to some young girls because she is FAMOUS and has a six figure salary. (And, much like the Kate Gosselin’s and Octomom’s out there, she is more famous BECAUSE she is an awful person and horrible mother. Good job, society.) These girls are now just more of the MTV detritus that have more zeroes in their paychecks than brain cells in their heads. They are barely distinguishable from their channel mates at this point, really the only difference is that the Jersey Shore kids are payback for bad parenting, Amber Portwood is just a bad parent. The sad thing is that for many of these girls, the cautionary tale part is likely yet to come. Stay tuned.

And finally we have Ted Williams, who, until about a month ago, WAS a legitimate  cautionary tale. Here was a man who was gifted with a great radio voice and found some success in his field until his life was derailed by drugs and alcohol. He lost everything and wound up homeless for many years. Until one day, Ted met YouTube and, of course, went viral. Within days he was living the celebrity lifestyle. Agents! Morning shows! Ohio sports teams! Kraft! Oh and of course Rehab! The tricky (and oft overlooked) thing about Ted Williams isn’t that he was so much discovered, as he was rediscovered. He already had a career in radio and it derailed. He wasn’t fielding offers from the NFL and MTV fifteen years ago because, though his voice is really good, it’s not exactly rare. No, he is getting all of this attention because he was homeless. Homelessness actually became a good career move. So I’m not sure that’s a cautionary tale either (again, not yet anyway, if he has trouble adjusting to this skyrocketing fame trajectory – and he already has – the “cautionary” part could sadly kick in again.)

All of these stories share this common thread. The supposed “cautionary” part (getting pregnant, using drugs, killing dogs) arguably or explicitly benefitted the person in question. Though all of them aren’t guaranteed to be worse off had these events not occurred, they certainly wouldn’t be doing as well. Minus the fall from grace, Ted Williams would likely be just another voice talent living a modest life. Minus the babies, the Teen Mom girls would just be high school graduates in college or the workforce. And though Vick may not seem to fall into this, it could be debated that he fell upwards when he landed with the Eagles. Atlanta would most likely still be holding on to him without the arrest and he may not have received the coaching or teammates he needed to elevate his game. He certainly wouldn’t have been as big of a story and drawn as much attention if not for “the comeback.” In essence all of these so-called “cautionary tales” are really tales of bad situations where the subject ended up better off from having their fall, rather than learning (and, thereby, teaching others) from the terrible situation they all played a personal part in creating.

Are these tales intriguing?  Absolutely.

Are they enviable? Debatably.

But are they cautionary? No. Sorry.

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