Category Archives: Media Watch

Boycott FX

Img_0093 How do you spell desperation?

If you are FX, you take a very good movie and you paste "DIRT, SEASON FINALE, SUN 10P" in the corner of the screen.

And you keep it there for the duration of the movie.

The movie in question was Any Given Sunday, one of Oliver Stone’s finer moments as a filmmaker with miraculously good performances from Lawrence Taylor, Lauren Holly and Jamie Foxx, and the likes Cameron Diaz and Al Pacino playing well above par.

There are several places where a marketing message should never appear, and the corner of a TV screen is one of them.  Let’s put it this way.  It’s my TV.  So that space in the corner, it belong to me.  If you want to use it, you are going to have to rent it.  You may work out a deal with my cable provider who will work out a deal with me.  And even then, I will opt in.  Or I won’t.  Otherwise, it’s hand’s off. 

What FX did on the weekend was larceny.  Grand or petty, you decide.  We should hope that the consumer punishes FX by boycotting them.  I’m going to. 

There is a larger "product placement" issue here.  I am on record as saying product placement is a bad idea, especially when it interferes with the suspension of disbelief.  There are exceptions and one of them happens to occur in Any Given Sunday.  Coach (Al Pacino) and his new star (Willie "Steamin" Beamen, as played by Jamie Foxx), make an attempt at conversation on the plane home from a victory.  It goes badly.  Coach is patronizing.  Beamen is quietly scornful. 

They decide to try again, over dinner at Coach’s house on the water.    Beamen is out of his depth and manifestly uncomfortable.  But he knows one thing: that Coach is going to renew his efforts to play "father" to his "son," and he is going to use this leverage to push Beamen into sacrificing his interests for those of the team.  In this alien circumstance, Beamen needs a way to show his distance, to send Coach a message.  His choice of Budweiser does this perfectly.   It separates him from this house, this world, this coach.   

This Bud works so successfully on the screen that it is impossible to know whether it is product placement or another of Stone’s inspired directorial choices.  And that is what it should always be.  Anything more obvious is too obvious.  This is the standard of subtlety that must apply when commerce meets culture in this context.  And by this standard, any ad stuck in the corner of the screen is an abomination.  And it has to be punished.

The Wikipedia entry on boycott here

After The Wire: what to do about Dukie

Dukie_ii I watched the last episode of The Wire last night.  Like every one, I was, what, injured by the scene that shows Dukie taking to heroin.  (For those who have not watched the show, Dukie was a sweet, slightly bewildered kid (foreground in this photo) who we have watched wander out of an abusive home into the protection of a gangster brother, then into the life on the street, then into the embrace of dope.)

David Simon must have had several motives in making The Wire.  Some artistic, some political, some pragmatic.  I mean, in 6 years the guy has changed the face of what is possible on TV and in the process he has transformed our culture.  But you get the feeling he would trade this accomplishment to make more material and more enduring difference in the life of a Dukie.

So I don’t feel the series is over until I do something, until lot of viewers do something, to make a difference for Dukie.  I have sent out a couple of emails asking friends what they think.  I mean, if you’re going to give money, to whom should it go?  If you are going to give time, what would you do?  If anyone has suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

My idea, predictably, is to give a guy like Dukie an anthropology of contemporary culture.  One of the ways out of that Baltimore is to understand the trap it is.  And David Simon has done that.  A good teacher in the right classroom could use The Wire to give Dukie a helicopter view of the hell he’s living in, the things to avoid, the pathways out. 

After that it’s up to the rest of us.  We need to map the culture outside Baltimore, the world in which Dukie must manage if he’s going to escape.  Who knows about this?  Well, anthropologists for one.  The ones that study contemporary culture that is.  Planners, too. Marketers of several kinds have a detailed knowledge of the domestic, professional, private and public lives that Dukie needs to know about.

Sure, this is patronizing.  We know.  Dukie doesn’t.  But hey, if I were Dukie, I would want to hear from someone on the outside.  And it doesn’t have to be an exercise in asymmetry, not if it’s a dispassionate, unsentimental kind of thing.  It just says "Dukie, here’s the 411 on all those worlds Simon couldn’t pack into The Wire." The idea is to mobilize Dukie by supplying him cultural capital and critical intelligence that is not now in place.

But hey, first things, first.  Please let me know, dear reader, what do you think is the best place to donate a hundred bucks.

Reprogramming CBS Evening News

Katiecouric I give CBS a lot of credit for picking a woman. They just didn’t pick the right woman.  (Marc Berman)

Katie Couric’s numbers are down again.  After a promising start, she’s posting the smallest numbers CBS Evening News has seen in 20 years. 

Personally, I think Couric’s an engaging newscaster. But Berman could be right.  There might be a better choice out there.  Let’s spin the wheel of pop culture and see. 

Rosie O’Donnell?  Kathy Griffin?  Minnie Driver? 

Any candidate, however odd, forces the issue.  Why not?  Exactly, I mean.  Rosie O’Donnell.  Why not?

Well, of course not. But for a moment we step out of conventional wisdom and wonder if  "combative" could be the cardiac paddles newscasting needs.

Kathy Griffin? Campy, sardonic, candid (aka rude)?  Well, of course not.  But are we certain this sort of thing can’t be mixed into the signal? 

Minnie Driver?  Intelligent, charismatic, feeling, alert.  Splendid. This could work.  Holly Hunter, the woman who stole Timecode with a couple of scenes on one quarter of the screen.  This could really work.  Perhaps what we are looking for is the person who can do for the news what Nigella Lawson did the cooking show or Rachel Ray did for morning television. 

At some point, we begin to close in on the strategic truth of the exercise.  Newscasters play a part, the newscast is a performance.  Perhaps it’s time to move away from the "journalism" model and start again.  The anthropological approach says "audition" candidates until a new model merges.   

Glenn Close?  Sarah Silverman?  Paula Abdul?  Tim Gunn?  The possibilities are endless. 


Bauder, David.  2007.  Ratings raise TV news sexism questions.  Mercury News. June 3, 2007.  here.

Shister, Gail.  CBS news flash: Is Katie leaving?  The Barre Montpelier Times Argus.  April 24, 2007.  here.

Scandal rocks New York Magazine


What is the matter with New York magazine?  This issue shows on the front cover a photograph of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with their new baby (as pictured).

Just kidding!  Those are models.  Now that you’ve bought the magazine, the truth may be told.  In 7 point type:

Requisite disclaimer: This is a fake picture Brad is an imposter; Angelina is a computer clone.  The baby has not yet been born. 

In the typography business, 7 point type is called "mouse print."  It’s virtually invisible.

How craven do you have to fund your commercial success using someone else’s privacy (or the facsimile thereof)?  How utterly without journalist scruple to trade in the bond between parent and child?  How deeply and completely corrupt does this make you?

Using the photos of the real Jolie and Pitt would be objectionable.  But New York magazine has stuped to turning real people into avatars, the better to have them do their bidding. 

What’s especially galling is that it comes with a wink, as if to say

When New York magazine does this sort of thing it’s ok, because we’re being ironic, we’re having a little fun with the whole concept of celebrity, we’re being critical.

Ladies and gentlemen, when you hear these terms, I advise you to collect the silver and run for your lives.  There is an intellectual mountebank in the house. 

"Whole concept" is particularly telling.  What it tells you is that the speaker is having a hard time "getting their head around" an idea.  "Critical," especially when applied to "studies," "approach," or "theory," tells you that the writer is too stupid to understand that all studies, approaches and theories are "critical" except, rather too often, the ones that feel obliged to say they are. 

Come to think of it, it’s a little like saying "requisite disclaimer."  This is the kind of thing stupid people say when they’re trying to be cute.  All disclaimers are requisite.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t make them.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I give the impression that the editors and writers actually used language like "whole concept," and "critical?" 

They have made their breakfast.  Now they may lie in it. 

That means you, Adam Moss, editor-in-chief, John Homans, executive editor, and Ann Clarke, managing editor.  Shame on you.


McCracken, Grant. 2006.  Celebrity Culture: Muddles in the models.  This Blog Sits At The… October 10, 2005. here.

Zengerle, Jason.  2006.  Not Since Jesus.  New York.  April 17, 2006, pp. 32-39. 

Pink and the Stupid Girls Video II


A couple of days ago, I was moved to comment on Pink’s "Stupid Girls" video.  Why criticize the likes of Paris Hilton, Mary Kate Olsen, Jessica Simpson, and Lindsay Lohan?  Why would Pink need to make herself a spokesperson for "smart girls?"

I was wrong…as readers pointed out!  Tom Asacker observed that my examples of smart women were a generation or two too old.  Patricia said, "There aren’t many young celebrity women equated with high intelligence that could be mentioned as effective role models."  Anastasia Goodstein at YPulse made the good point that the high profile of the video may be taken as proof of its veracity. 

I can’t recall the last time I heard a true pop song that made a meaningful social statement to any effect. I’m sure they were made, but the fact that I don’t remember them points to the fact that they didn’t have traction in the media or culture. But now, Pink’s "Stupid Girls" is arguably pulling it off, even if the social commentary is generally off-the-cuff and fairly shallow. The fact is, it is sparking a lot of discussion, and Pink’s new role is manifesting in ways I wouldn’t have previously imagined.

So it’s time for the anthropologist to think again.  Last night I staged an informal focus group in the kitchen.  We tried to think of young women who now serve as celelbrities. (There’s a good chance we missed some.)

Here’s the list we came up with:

Keira Knightley
Sarah Silverman
Avril Lavigne
Little Kim
Britney Spears
Christina Aguilera
Natalie Portman
Nora Jones

A word on Sarah Silverman.  I really wanted to get this name on the list.  (Silverman is evidently smart as the dickens and I was still trying to prove my original argument.)  But it probably doesn’t belong there.  1) No one in my kitchen knew who she was.  So she is not a celebrity in the full sense of the term.  2) It turns out, she is 36 years old.  Damn.

It’s worth pointing out that Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Lindsay Lohan all went through "bad girl" moments.  This appeared designed to free them from the Disney brat pack, "not a girl, not a woman," vacuity, and to give them sufficient substance to survive the transition into older markets and new, more substantial material.  On the other hand, some will say that this new persona was a "dumbed down," that these girls were turning themselves into witless boy toys. 

Avril Lavigne is in that pop punk tradition (not so much angry as bad tempered) but I think it would be wrong that she dumbed herself down to win stardom.  The great case in point is of course Natalie Portman, Harvard educated, articulate, beautiful, charismatic.   This is I believe is what everyone means by a role model. 

Summing, there is some evidence to the contrary, but in general it appears to be true that young women (late teens, early 20s) are not supplied with an extraordinary number of smart girl exemplars.  This raises two questions: are young men? (and) is this age group ever so favored?  I leave these questions to very smart readers.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a piece about "what it’s like to be 18."  Apparently, I left one condition out: when you are 18, you are not well served by your heroes. 


Goodstein, Anastasia.  2006.  Pink’s Smart Girl PR.  Ypulse.  April 10, 2006. here

McCracken, Grant.  2006.  Pink and the stupid girl video.  This blog sits at…  March 31, 2006.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2006.  What’s it like being 18.  This blog sits at…  March 27, 2006. here.

Future of Television II: the multiplicity play

Sweeney_iiThe future of television got a little clearer today, as news of the  Disney/ABC plan continue to trickle out. 

(Piercing this together feels a little like pouring through Pravda to figure out Soviet intentions during the Cold War.)

One thing that jumps out is a multiplicity theme.  I think that’s the "new new" here. 

What we learned today:

1.  unskippable ads will be shorter than conventional TV ads (still no indication of how "unskippable" is possible) 

2.  it appears that some people are thinking that more engaging ads will help make ads at least "less skippable."  Noreen Simmons of Unilever says, "It’s going to be a different viewing experience. Rather  than people sitting back in their chairs watching TV, this is going to be a  lean-forward experience."  This seems to resonate with the notion of "engagement advertising" recently proposed by Joe Plummer.  Clearly, this does not solve the fast-forward problem, but it appears to be part of the strategic package.

3.  assuming Disney/ABC continues to sell episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives through the iTunes music store, the consumer will be able to choose whether to buy an episode that is ad-free (for $1.99) or watch ad-full. 

4.  Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group, (pictured) appears unconcerned about the possibility of cannibalization (and channel discord).  Indeed, Ms. Sweeney seems to see multiple streams as a value add for the viewer.  If we miss our show in first run, we can use internet download to catch up, and iPod purchase to catch up on the run. 

(This model assumes that the viewer will not choose one stream, but work with several of them to manage the complexities of their own lives.  Some seem to assume that viewers will segment by channel choice, as they choose a single platform and use it exclusively.  This does not conform to anything else we know about the new consumers.)

5. Ms. Sweeney volunteered, "None of us live in the world of one business model."  I think this marks a big shift in the world of marketing thought and practice.  This is a senior manager saying, ‘listen, the world is multiple, we will work its complexity for our advantage and as a value ad for the consumer.’  When you think about how much the notion of cannibalization has terrorized marketing decision making, this is pretty remarkable. We might go so far as to say that Sweeney has opened up the future of TV by embracing a multiplicity model. 

6. No hint in any of this whether Sweeney will open up shows like Lost to greater cocreation.  The studios and the networks are sometimes slow to relinquish any kind of creative control to the viewer, but cocreation is precisely one of the things that encourages the use of several media and if this is one of Sweeney’s objectives, she might want to give MIT’s Henry Jenkins’ a call about this thing called "transmedia." 

7.  Sweeney was quoted today as saying,

"In the future, consumers will rely more and more on strong brands to help them navigate the digital world, and we have some of the strongest brands in entertainment. Our digital media efforts will help us strengthen our connection with our consumers. Stay tuned … because this is just the beginning."

If I were an analyst with a bet to make on Disney, this sort of talk would make me uncomfortable.  It is unquestionably true that the Disney is a choice making portal that guarantees certain standards of quality and a certain moral tone.  This makes them a favorite supplier for families struggling to rise their kids well.  Got it. 

But the world of the viewer has changed dramatically here.  (Henry Jenkins is once more the go-to guy on this question.)  We have seen the emergence of a more confident, more participatory viewer/consumer.  Now we could just as easily say,

"In the future, the brand well rely more and more on strong consumers to help them navigate the digital world…" 

And as it stands, there is nothing in these several Pravadas that suggests Sweeney understands this part of the proposition. 

In sum, the Disney move appears to take a page from the multiplicity play book.  Thus does TV change to remain the same.


Barnes, Brooks and Brian Sternberg.  Disney’s Web Move Shakes Up Decades-Old TV Model.  Wall Street Journal.  April 11, 2006.  B1, B2.

Bosman, Julie.  2006.  Soon, Catch "Lost" Online, a Day Later.  New York Times. April 11, 2006.  here

Shields, Mike.  2006.  ABC to put hit shows on line.  AdWeek on line.  April 11, 2006.  by subscription.  here.

The reinvention of television: so now we know


Disney is planning to show Desperate Housewives, Lost and other programs on line for free.  Viewers would be obliged to watch ads. 

If this works, we are looking at the reinvention of television.

The winners:

conventional programming
(for now, conventional content will continue, new media will not make for new messages…yet)

conventional advertising
(30 seconds ads, challenged by TIVO and purchase, are restored)

The losers:

(Moonves, CBS CEO, has been talking about the "cable bypass," here it is.  Cable loses twice, as the pipeline and as the supplier of on-demand content)

(eventually, all content will be available all the time)

(why have our own copies if all content is available all the time?)

The network and its affiliates
(remind me, what’s an "affiliate" again?  The tail that so often wagged the network dog is now in peril.)

television sets
(we will no longer "watch TV" to watch TV)

(Google wanted to be a video pipe line.  ABC has not forgiven them technical SNAFUs)

The Ipod "pay per" model is now at risk.  In the early days of television subscription models were hoped for.  The British pursued this with license fees for the BBC.  Then advertising paid the way.  History repeats itself.

The questions:

1) The WSJ says Disney will an attempt to engage an on-line community:

[V]iewers from around the country will be able to gather in "rooms" online to watch an episode of, say,  "Lost" and chat about it. Disney will also promote the creation of fan sites for various shows. "We want to tie all of these fan sites closer to our brand," Mr. Cheng says.

Can Disney build on-line communities?  This will take more than chat rooms, and there’s a good chance that Disney will fail to rise to the challenge.  Real fan engagement will demand an approach that is too far from the Disney corporate culture. 

2) Disney claims that viewers will have to watch the whole ad.  This despite the fact that the programming itself will have fastforward capability.  It’s hard to see how this make sense.  Even if it works, surely someone will invent a TIVO for Internet. 


Barnes, Brooks.  2006.  Disney Will Offer Many TV Shows Frre on the Web: ABC’s Prime-time hits and Zap-Proof Commercials are Pillars of Bold Strategy.  Wall Street Journal.  April 10, 2006. subscription required.  here

Pink and the Stupid Girls video


In the Stupid Girls video from her latest album, Pink is supposed to have made fun of Paris Hilton, Mary Kate Olsen, Jessica Simpson, and Lindsay Lohan.  When asked to explain, here’s what Pink had to say,

None of these girls are stupid. (sic)  They have dumbed themselves down to be cute.  I just feel like one image is being forced down people’s throats.  There’s a lot of smart women.  There’s a lot of smart girls.  Who is representing them?

This is going to be an interesting cultural artifact in 100 years.

But why wait?

Here are 5 of the assumptions in evidence.

1) that these women have dumbed themselves down.

2) that "one image" is being "forced down people’s throats."

3) that smart women and girls need "representation."

4) that representation is the artist’s job.

5) that the way to represent smart women is to mock dumb women.

1) that these celebrities have dumbed themselves down.

I don’t know that this is so. Perhaps Pink has met the women in question. Perhaps they have revealed to her secret subtleties and depths. Maybe.  Maybe there are what they seem to be, pretty ordinary except where blessed with beauty, talent, charisma and a fan base substantial enough to make a studio executive wet himself at lunch.

I prefer to think of celebrities as experimental vehicles.  Experimental airplane are often named with an "X." (For instance, the "XF-92A" flew between 1948-1953, serving as a test for the delta-wing.)  We could adopt this practice: Paris XHilton would signify that she is an experiment from whom we expect to learn something. In her case, we are looking at a girl who is well born, not quite with us (a little like Peter Sellers as Chauncy Saunders in Being There), inclined to sybaritic behavior and the scandalous, without a flicker of the lascivious or any apparent loss of status or celebrity. Now we know.  It is not clear whether this is the triumph of self possession or the effect of watching too many Jerry Springer shows, but now we know that some people can do just about anything without cost.  We also know, or more accurately we are inclined to suspect, that there is not the performance of stupidity.  Paris XHilton has crafted herself in many ways but it is not clear that she dumbed herself down.

2) that one image is being forced down people’s throats.

This has got to be wrong. For every Paris XHilton, there is a Jody Foster. For every Jessica XSimpson, there is a Diane Sawyer. For every Lindsay Lohan, there’s an Ani DiFranco.

3) that smart girls and women need representation.

This is an ideological remainder from the 70s and the 80s. The cultural imaginary created for and by the media. We read these heavens to orient ourselves in physical and moral space. But because this imaginary has been crafted by and for special interests, some images are excluded. It is someone’s job to install these images in the heavens. Thus did the Mia Hamm and the US women’s soccer team of the 1990s help create big changes in the way in which young women thought about sports, competition, and soccer. For every Paris Hilton, there is a Madeline Albright. For every Jessica Simpson, there is a Condoleezza Rice. For every Olsen twin, there is is an Oprah Winfrey.

4) that representation is the artist’s job.

The avant garde are the keepers of culture.  It is up to them to refashion our ideas.  They do this by dint of their own courageous example. They will create new understandings of who and what we can be.

I think this is now the celebrity’s job. That’s the service they supply us when they act of experimental vehicles. The artist’s lost this assignment. Popular culture took it away from them.

Of course, Pink is a celebrity, and in that capacity she is influential.  But when she summons this explanation of her video, she is playing the artist’s card, claiming the artist’s prerogative.  And my argument here is simple: celebrities instruct by example, artists by instruction.

5) that the way to represent smart women is to mock dumb women.

This is a dubious strategy at the best of times. It is not clear that anyone has rights of mockery. This right once did exist and it was routinely exercised.  Elites would commander the op-ed page and hold forth against "young people today," "movies and TV," "professional athletes," or "wayward adults." We have been hammering away at elites for so long, and they have been misbehaving themselves so consistently, it is heard to see that they have much authority left.  Blessedly, we rarely hear from them.  But Pink believes this authority still belongs to her

Pink is many things of course, but punk, or pop punk, is an important part of the franchise. Punks defined themselves as the enemies of bourgeois hypocrisy.  They protested everything that was false, posturing and inauthentic about middle class society.  I am not sure but I think when punks are your moral arbiters, things are going very badly indeed. If I must choose an exemplar, I have to choose Ron and Nancy over Syd and Nancy.  I just have to. 

Still and all, there is something interesting and worthy about the "Stupid Girls" video, and I have made the cardinal error of listening to what the artist’s says about her art, instead of looking at the art itself.  It’s has a little too much of the burlesque about the video, but it takes up important issues and I am deeply glad Pink made it.


Collis, Clark. 2006. The Upside of Anger. EntertainmentWeekly. March 31, 2006. p. 35.

Pink.  2006.  The Stupid Girls video on See the video here

Muddles in old media models

Ann_moore_ceo_timeThere was this morning a distressing interview in the Wall Street Journal: Brian Steinberg talked to Ann Moore, chairman and chief executive of Time, Inc. 

There is some evidence that Ms. Moore gets the challenge ahead.

We are a content company, OK? We create and we edit, and we aggregate the best content out there. We can deliver to you, our reader, in whatever format you want it in the future — maybe not on paper.

The "maybe not on paper" is a worrying.  It’s almost certainly "probably not on paper" and that much should be clear. 

But then things get a little alarming.  Ms. Moore says,

One of the biggest threats to our business is this confusion in the public between real, fact-based, checked news and opinion, which is very cheap… And so, I’m really committed, as is John Huey, to really paying attention to Time and figuring out how we can hold up the price value of fact-based news.

This is a gratuitous swipe at blogging, clearly, but worse than that it demonstrates this sense that Time will continued to be a journalistic silo or citadel, with writers "in here" and readers "out there."  This boundary has blurred and journalism will adapt or die.

And please don’t tell me that the value add is fact checking.  Your value add, Ms. Moore, if I may presume to say so, is pattern recognition.  You have some magnificently gifted editors and journalists with a nice track record.  We must hope that they are still up to the task now that we live in a world where info, data, outlook mutliply like the Mayfly of a Cambridge spring. 

But then things get really distressing.  Steinberg askes a difficult question about John Huey, the new corporate editor in chief at Time. 

Mr. Huey suggested in a recent New York magazine article that he might not read some of Time Inc.’s women’s titles if he didn’t have to. But titles like People and InStyle are the powerhouses of the operation — and also where you made your mark before becoming CEO. Do you and John need to have a little chat?

Beauty, Brian.  Ms. Moore is obviously a gifted political actor and she cannot criticize Mr. Huey.  But, lord in heaven, why did she hire him? This is another boundary that has coming crashing down.  I refer to the distinction between "serious journalism" and "popular culture."  If your editor in chief insists on the silo or citadel approac here, God help you.  Two "boundary errors" of this kind, and, as Heidi Klum would say, " you out."

Thoughts on the media summit tomorrow.

Steinberg, Brian.  2006.  Time’s Chief Plats A Digital-Age Transformation.  Wall Street Journal.  February 8, 2006.  p. B3.

How to write a blog entry (or a WSJ piece)


In the WSJ today, Max Boot gives us a writing lesson.

Step 1: choose a question that people find compelling

Mr. Boot’s question: "Why is Terrell Owens such a jerk?"  (For those just returned from the exploration of deep space, Terrell Owens is a wide- receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is famous for being uncooperative with coaches, hostile to fellow players, and one of the greatest football players ever to walk this earth. His training camp has been the great preoccupation of ESPN for some time now.)

Step 2: Ask, in this case, whether Owens’ bad behavior in training camp is an idiosyncratic matter or a reflection of something more structural.

If it’s “idiosyncractic,” search for another topic. But if it’s “structural,” go to step 3.

Mr. Boot decides it’s structural on the grounds that other wide receivers (Randy Moss and Keyshawn Johnson) sometimes act as Mr. Owens does.

 Step 3:  Ask yourself whether there is anything about the position of wide receiver that might provoke Terrell Owens’s bad behavior. Mr. Boot obliges us:

Wide receivers are far removed — literally — from the rest of the team: They line up close to the sidelines. While the other players battle in the trenches, the wide-outs do their own thing, dashing around the field accompanied only by a defensive back or two. They aren’t part of the action unless they get thrown the ball, so many of them spend an inordinate amount of time lobbying their own coaches and quarterbacks to get the pigskin into their paws. In short, they have a built-in incentive to be loudmouths. And whereas other players know they’ll be ruthlessly punished by the opposing team for acting up, wide-outs can usually stay safe by running out of bounds or flopping to the turf prior to a hit.

Step 4: Ask an anthropologist if there is anything he would add. He obliges us with two additional explanations.

1) Wide receivers are often the best athletes on the field. They routinely accomplish something that is almost unthinkably difficult. They travel 50 yards at Olympic-class speeds, leap in the air to NBA-class heights, and while falling backwards, first touch and then, while hyper-extended and dragging two defensive backs, catch something that isn’t much larger than a hamster, traveling about 60 miles an hour, thrown by a lesser athlete who just happens to be running for his life at the point of origin and moment of launch.

2) Wide receivers are routinely subjected to blind side hits when hyper extended. This means the best athlete on the field is exposed to collisions when most exposed and least prepared. The best athlete, mind you: most exposed to injury when least prepared for injury. I can’t help thinking that this would make me grumpy too. (Happily, anthropology is fairly low contact.)

Step 5:  Wait  for the congratulations to roll in

Here’s some now: Well done, Mr. Box. This is an important contribution to public discourse and a fresh and intelligent take on the single biggest story to emerge from training camp.  It penetrates all that who-does-this-guy-think-he-is, sometimes racist scorn that has descended on Mr. Owens.  In a second, ESPN condemnation burns away and for one very brief second we can imagine what it’s like to be Terrell Owens. I say, well done, Mr. Boot. If you weren’t writing for the Wall Street Journal, you’d make a damn fine blogger.


Boot, Max. 2005. In Bad Company: Why Terrell Owens Isn’t the Only Wide Receiver Who’s Not a Team Player.  Wall Street Journal. August 17, 2005.

The future of TV advertising


I was reading the interview by Piers Fawkes (IF/PFSK) of Niku Banaie (Naked). 

Piers wondered whether the video equipped cell phone might create a new venue for the TV spot.

It’s an important question.  Many of the substitutes for TV advertising are lightening quick or too unstructured (e.g., billboards, product placements in a film, internet banner ads, in situ sampling, event sponsorships).   

As the consumer’s time and attention becomes more fragmented, it becomes harder for the marketer to build brands, manage meanings and create relationships. 

That’s when it struck me: now is the time for the big brands to invest in public transit. 

The big brands helped create television: Kraft Television Theatre (1947-1958), Texaco Star Theater (1948-1956), General Electric Theater (1953-61), and of course the “soap opera” created by P&G. They created these theatres as a way to commandeer the attention of the US consumer.

Public transit can deliver as much as a couple of hours of attention time per consumer.  The cars can be wired for video, or consumers will bring their own 3G devices.  (The Tokyo subway rider has been disappearing into a 3G phone for some years now.)

Naturally, the commuter trains would have to be roomier and more pleasant than the present ones.  But then again, if “Metro lines” were being run from deep pockets and Madison Avenue, I’m guessing this would be inevitable.

This was our mistake: treating public transit as an opportunity for smaller traffic jams, faster rush hours, reduced pollution, Kyoto compliance. What the hell were we thinking?

Radio and contemporary culture


A radio format called Jack emerged roughly four years ago. From obscure origins in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the format colonized big swathes of the radio world.

Jack features many more, and more diverse, songs on the play list, a less predictable set of choices, and most interesting, the collision of songs so strange and wonderful, Jack programmers call them “train wrecks.”

In an excellent treatment of the topic, Molahphy notes that “the invention of Jack in 2001–02 coincided perfectly with a far more influential invention, the iPod.”  Emerging in very different parts of the music industry,  the iPod and Jack gave us the chance to "shuffle."  And indeed, it does seem that Jack is particularly cherished for those "train wrecks." 

We now have several indicators (mash-ups, etc.) that suggests that we have not just loosed the bonds of genre but that we are now actually actively anti-generic. We want things that were not  meant to go together to be brought together.  We like to break things open and see what’s inside. We like to cross the currents and see what happens.  Everything else is fast becoming a little tedious. When confronted to the typical Hollywood film, something in us wants to scream, "Got it. Move on!"  (And I have no doubt that this is one of the reasons Hollywood now faces a downward trend at the box office.) 

This is not a novel argument, but I am not sure that we have admitted into evidence the TV remote control. When we are banging away at the remote, it is sometimes because we are searching for something better, or trying to monitor several programs at once.  But I think our motives are sometimes of the train wreck variety.  We are splicing together several feeds, perhaps, so to create a new, higher level of discourse. The structural properties of this level we haven’t yet began to explore. 

Please do read the Molahphy’s post.  It really is good.

References and acknowledgments

With a tip of the hat to Ennis at SepiaMutiny and Ishbadiddle.

Shame on you, Lisa


Schwarzbaum_2Suppose we created a “who’s who” of people good at illuminating contemporary culture? We would want to include Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. This magazine and this writer are two of my favorite measures that contemporary culture is becoming more robust. (Schwarzbaum sees Roger Ebert and she raises him.)

Here is Schwarzbaum on one of her pet peeves: the cameo appearance in general, and the recent participation of James Lipton (of Inside the Actors Studio) in the film Bewitched.

Lipton’s show is its own mesmerizing bonfire of the vanities, but the gimmick of casting pop-cultural celebs as themselves in fictional situations has become the lazy filmmaker’s shortcut to meta chuckles; it’s also a depressing index of who’s willing to shill his reputation.

Good, huh? But here’s the problem: when someone with Schwarzbaum’s power discourages an aspect of movie making, there’s a good chance that it will disappear forever…especially these days when movies struggle to make their numbers.

It is not hard to see inside the director’s head on this one. When he or she contemplates a cameo from, say, Charlie Rose, a small plane will appear from the margin of consciousness and begin laboriously to cross the mind’s eye pulling behind it the warning: “What if this cameo costs us EW support?  What if Lisa doesn’t like us?”

The decision is irresistible. The benefit doesn’t look anything like the risk. Smart directors will can the cameo and with it the sometimes interesting experiments in self reference that cameos make possible.

It is fun to write little essays entitled “what I hate,” and so to sound off in that “pet peeve” tradition. Indeed, this is a staple of the bloggers’ world. But Lisa is not a blogger. Her magazine and her reviewers hold the power of life and death over very risky enterprises. That she has pet peeves should not surprise us. That she is permitted to air them in this way perhaps should. With talent and power come responsibility. 


 Schwarzbaum, Lisa.  2005. What I Hate: cameo caveat. Entertainment Weekly. July 8, 2005, p. 50.

post script:

I expect that someone is going to object that it is inevitable that a critic’s preferences should form an industry and that Ms. Schwarzbaum’s has already made her influence felt in this way.  My rebuttle: there’s a big difference between approving by degree (this movie is really good) and approving by kind (this practice is really good). 

Thank you, American Demographics

Grant McCracken AD cropped.jpg

I don’t look like this image of me from this month’s American Demographics and I sure hope I don’t sound like the person they “quote” there.

They interviewed me over the phone and the result is clumsy and repetitive. Worst, they make the “essay” sound like something by me, instead of something solicited over the phone and then badly transcribed.

How very annoying.

post script: the “comments” field is now bug free.