Archive for April, 2012

I became convinced of the power of social networking roughly one year ago. I was at my girlfriend’s apartment, engaged in my internetings, when my Twitter feed suddenly exploded.

Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

Within seconds I had retweeted the announcement, shared the link to CNN’s streaming coverage on Facebook and opened 12 different tabs that gave me a timeline of events from 9/11 to the (then) present day, background on the hunt for Bin Laden over the years, information on the secret mission of Seal Team 6 and a clip from the most recent Bin Laden video on Al Jazeera. A few minutes later, the live white house press conference began and I watched it in real time in high definition while balancing my computer on my legs and eating a bowl of cereal.

It was a historic, generation defining moment and I experienced it simultaneously with millions of people around the country, all from the comfort of someone else’s home in rural Logan, Utah.

That’s when I became convinced but for more than a year I had my suspicions about the so-called Web 2.0 of user-generated content and had been working on my own particular brand of online presence.

Facebook, and the internet at large, is many things to many people. For a large portion of society, social networking is little more than a attempt to present an edited and exaggerated digital version of themselves out to the world – because we are supposed to believe, based solely on the stata and pictures that are posted, that Jane Doe’s life is nothing but swimming with sharks in Hawaii and “Goin clubbing with my Girlz Woot!”  and not, in fact, that of the boring Office Manager from Des Moines that she actually.

On the other extreme of the spectrum  are the people who realize, perhaps sub-consciously, that even though they are not even remotely clever, there are boat-loads of clever things online and thus transform their online profiles into a dumping ground of every pointless meme to cross their paths – Yes, I’m talking to you, person who posted 12 different “This is what my parents think I do, this is what my friends think I do, this is what I actually do” grids.

Perfection, lies in the middle. While my own online persona falls short, in theory I see my profile as a place where my friends can pass some time, with equal parts political and social debate, humorous observation, entertainment reporting and – let’s be honest – a fair amount of self-promotion. I personally consider a status a failure unless it receives some “action” and I’ve had some very heated exchanges go down on my wall. The beautiful thing about Facebook isn’t that you can see 25 pictures of your cousin’s newborn baby, but that you can bring together a group of individuals who would otherwise never interact and carry on a conversation that without the internet would be impossible: whether that be on the student loan debate, universal health care, what the legal drinking age should be or who would win in a fight between Batman and Spiderman (Batman).

That’s my way, but it’s not the only way. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you immediately “like” and “follow” George Takei. The beloved Star Trek actor turned Gay Rights activist has one of the best online empires I’ve ever seen, doling out a daily dose of geek-boy humor and pro-equality messages. It’s political action wrapped in nerd comedy and under the guise of fan appreciation. And the best part is: It Works! I dare you to follow Takei for a month and not come away slightly more tolerant of diversity. Let’s see Justin Bieber do THAT for his 130,000 followers.

What amazes me about the internet is how it is both a conduit of invaluable information and a dirge of useless trash. But, so is day-to-day life in what we know as “reality,” which only goes to show you just how much of our lives we have relocated to the World Wide Web.

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With all the MPAA ratings hullabaloo that surrounded the release of “Bully” it’s easy to forget that before a movie needs to worry about reaching an audience, it needs to worry about being good. After a few weeks in larger markets the movie finally opened in a theater near me and I made my way down to see just what all the fuss was about.

The result was an emotionally satisfying yet somewhat underwhelming look into today’s public school system. Unlike other social-issue documentaries that say “Here is a problem, here is why it needs to be fixed, here is what people are doing to fix it” bully meanders somewhat disjointedly through a series of vignettes examining the lives of real-life victims. It makes some strides in diversity, giving us an outed gay student, a child born premature and never expected to survive and a few examples of what happens when kids are finally pushed to far, whether that be retaliation or suicide.

There is one glaring flaw, however, that my friend Emily pointed out more articulately than I was able to. Every story takes place in the bible-belt heartland, so even though they talk about the universal problem of bullying, the sub-text is that the issue is limited to simple, backwoods folk. City dwellers, it would appear, are immune to the humiliation and terror that their country peers are able to bestow.

The stories that are shown are heartbreaking, but after so much talk about the content of this movie I was, frankly, expecting to be more shocked. In one scene we see what could be described as the “main” character being punched, choked and stabbed and it is effective. Beyond that, however, we mostly walk through hallways or through fields as subject talk about their torment. Most of the horrors of bullying, then, are told to us instead of shown.

Obviously, showing is hard, and I do not mean to dismiss the efforts of the filmmakers in shining a light in dark corners. I only mean to say that for all the talk, you never arrive at a point where your eyes are opened. Yes, kids can be cruel. Yes, schools often do not do enough to punish bullies and sometimes turn a blind eye. But at that point, the difficult discussion between “boys will be boys” and “book ’em Dano” needs to take place yet it doesn’t. Should an elementary or Jr. High school student receive criminal aggravated assault charges? Should a victim who pulls a gun on her abusers in a schoolbus be charged with kidnapping? It’s fascinating because there is not a clear answer, and it is exactly that argument that needs to take place for change to occur and exactly where “Bully” falls short.

Do not mistake my meaning, this is a great film. Sadly, where much hype is given, much is required. For a movie, it is moving and shows an exceptional display of tone, mood, and sincerity. For a documentary, it is a commendable piece of art and deserves to be seen. For many viewers, I suspect it will start a conversation that would otherwise not take place. What is absent, however, are the framing issues that would guide that conversation and the destination that we, as a society can hope for. B+

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This week’s Entertainment Weekly (hey, remember when I used to work there? That was fun) had an interview with the amazingly-talented Florence Welch (love her) called The Soundtrack of My Life.

As I read Mz. Welch’s picks for the songs that she carried with her I couldn’t help but start making a list of my own. AND, since I’ll never be famous, no one will ever interview ME about the soundtrack of my life so I’m forced to interview myself (if you want something done right…)

The first song I was obsessed with:

I come from a very musical family so I was breaking into song from a very young age. The first CD I ever owned, however, was Semisonic’s “Feeling Strangely Fine,” which showcased their one-hit-wonder single “Closing Time.” I was 12 or 13 so the fact that it was about picking up randos at a bar completely went over my head, much like how Eve 6’s “Here’s To the Night” ode to one night stands completely went over my head a few years later. 

The song that reminds me of my first kiss:

I think I’ve blogged this story before but my first kiss came during a viewing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Again, I was a teenager so I was weirded out of my mind so shortly after “Time Warp” I decided that I had better things to do with my time, lips and tongue. I had braces at the time, I will always hold that girl in my heart for being so charitable.

The song that reminds me of home:

My parents are Golden-Oldie fans so my childhood was a lot of early-era Beatles hits like “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” or Simon and Garfunckle tunes. If I had to pick one song, though, I’d probably go with “Henry the XIII” by Herman’s Hermans. Everytime I hear it I can see my mom seeing along in the kitchen while she mixes dough of some kind in the same old mixer that still sits in the lazy Susan. If I could pick 2, the second would be Suzie Q by CCR.

The song that reminds me of college:

Since I’m only one year out of college I’m going to answer the song that reminds me of Freshman year. I actually have a whole playlist devoted to my time in the dorms (Shiny Toy Guns, The Academy Is, All-American Rejects) but the one song that really backdrops the memories is “La La Lie” by Jack’s Mannequin. I saw him perform that year in the venue and when I play it on the piano the line that says “I’ve got friends who help me pull through” always brings the Alva Heights gang to mind.

The song that makes me cry:

I don’t cry, I may in fact be a robot. “Brick” by Ben Folds is really sad though.

The song that reminds me of my first love:

The entire (500) Days of Summer soundtrack reminds me of Katie but especially the cover of “Here Comes Your Man.” We listened to that soundtrack whenever we drove anywhere but would always rock out in the car to HCYM.

The song people might not expect me to love:

“Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground. That song is freaking awesome. Honorable mentions include “Don’t Lie” by the Black Eyed Peas and “Boys in the Hood” by Dynamite Hack.

My favorite song to perform:

I have quite a few that I always go back to (Straylight Run, Keane, the aforementioned Jack’s and Folds) but just about every time I sit down at the piano I find myself playing “Boston” by Augustana. It’s the perfect combination of a simple but solid piano line and fits pretty well in my range.

The song I wish I had written:

“Someone Like You” by Adele. It has one of the easiest piano parts in the world but it’s all you need when you pair it with the perfect voice (her’s, not mine). That song is the musical equivalent of the Greek ideal: simplicity, perfection and order.

The song I play when I’m getting ready to go out:

I don’t really have any ONE particular song but two come to mind. “Me and Mia” by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists always gets me pumped up and oddly enough, before a date I like to rock out to Julio Iglesias’ “Moonlight Lady.” That song is a freaking jam.

My karaoke song:

I love karaoke but I haven’t had many opportunities to do it because to do kareoke right you have to go to a bar and to go to a bar you have to have friends who drink. Now that I’m back in Utah… My quick answer is “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations but I’ve been thinking lately that if I auditioned for The Voice I’d singe “Change Your Mind” by the Killers.

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Dear David Caspe,

First off, I love the show. I think it’s important to state that up front because Open Letters are typically negative (we prefer the term “constructive”). It’s hyperbolic to say “you have one of the best Comedies on TV” so I’ll be specific: You have one of the 5 best comedies on Television (the others being Community, 30 Rock, Modern Family and How I met Your Mother, with an honorable mention to New Girl).

At various points this season, and prominently in the season finale, you chose to imply an underlying romance between Penny (Casey Wilson) and Dave (Zachary Knighton). This is unacceptable.

I respect and appreciate your decision to avoid the pratfall of Dave and Alex being a “Ross and Rachel.” That said, the love triangle trope is hardly your only avenue of escape and furthermore, there is absolutely no chemistry between Knighton and Wilson. None.

During the rom-com episode, when this romance was first alluded to, we all told ourselves it was merely for the sake of satire since there was no way we could be expected to buy that Dave and Penny had feelings for each other. Then the Turpentine sex dreams started (amazing episode by the way, and Colin Hanks was an inspiration) and we all thought “wait, were they serious?” Then of course our fears were realized when Penny acknowledged this invented attraction at Derek and Erik’s wedding (DRAMA!).

Penny dates a different guy every week. Dave is kind of a d-bag who wears V-necks and carries a cross for Alex. Will the characters need to eventually mature? Yes. Does it have to be in the second season? No. With each other? Absolutely not.

They don’t work together. They just don’t. And, lest we forget, their parents are dating. We don’t need any Brady nonsense up in here.

It’s ok, we forgive you. Let’s just chalk this one up to a studio note (that darned pushy ABC) and pretend like it never happened. Give our love to the wife and kids, and tell Damon Wayans Jr. we said hi.

Best regards,

Benjamin Wood

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I am an ardent supporter of the MPAA rating system, mostly for three reasons. First, I’m older than 17 and capable of independent thought, so the ratings system doesn’t really effect me in any way. Second, I’ve have enough experience with the system to actually use the guidelines in informing my movie choices. And thirdly, because someone has to be.

The big “R” is back in the headlines once again because of the documentary “Bully” which, because of language, requires someone younger than 17 to be accompanied by an adult in order to view the film — there’s talk of releasing the film as “unrated” which would eliminate that requirement but also limit the number of theaters that carry the film.

For the uninitiated, generally speaking a movie can get away with one F-bomb and still secure a rating of PG-13 (two if neither are used in a sexual connotation). Meanwhile, PG-13 movies can have a fair amount of nudity (i.e. Titanic), violence (i.e. Lord of the Rings) and sappy melodramatic nonsense (i.e. anything starring Katherine Heigl).

A whole stink has been made about Bully’s “R” rating, with advocates saying that it limits the amount of teenagers — who would otherwise benefit from seeing the gritty realism of bullying in schools — that will be able to see the movie. The Weinstein Company hired the prop 8 lawyers to appeal the rating to the MPAA and I’ve read that it came within one vote of the 2/3 majority necessary to overturn the “R”. Similar petitions have also been launched by anti-bullying advocacy groups, lobbyists, and concerned would-be viewers.

It is, by my perspective, nothing but smoke and mirrors and much ado about nothing.

First off, no “R” rating is going to stop a kid from seeing a movie they want to see. Theater security is nonexistent and as any 15-year-old will tell you, once you buy a ticket to see “The Lorax” you have free reign to see just about anything you want to. The big “R” didn’t keep me out of Blade 2 and The Matrix when I was a kid. Anyone, and I repeat anyone, who wants to see Bully in theaters will find away.

Secondly (and more importantly) how many teenage kids are really dying to see a documentary about bullying? Scratch that, how many teenage kids are dying to see ANY documentary? Teenagers want to see the 3D Jonas Brothers Concert movie and the umpteenth Transformers sequel. They do NOT want to pay to see a 2-hour education piece about how they should be nicer to the nerds at school. I’m the first one to advocate that EVERYONE should watch more documentaries, but it’s not a fluke that Avatar makes a billion dollars while Waiting For Superman slowly trickles across the country in art-house theaters.

That leads to my third point. Since no one watches docs and the rating won’t stop anyone that does, why all the fuss? TWC makes a good point that the R rating stops the film from being shown in schools (for example) and other educational settings, but all the rallies and protest boil down to one big grin on Harvey’s face: Free Publicity.

TWC knows that even though hundreds of Docs are made each year, only a handful gain name recognition — Super Size Me, The Cove, Bowling For Columbine, Man on Wire, etc. The “alleged” viewership loss ascribed to the dreaded “R” is dwarfed in comparison to the hundreds — if not thousands — of movie-goers that will buy a ticket to Bully due to the simple fact that they’ve heard so much about it. This isn’t a crusade, it’s a hedge bet.

What is easier, after all? Spending 20 million dollars on a multi-platform advertising campaign or hiring two lawyers to spend one day arguing before a jury of conservative movie-raters? The petitions by lay-people is just delicious gravy.

All bully would have to do to secure a PG-13 is beep out a couple of F-bombs. That’s it. Six or Seven beeps and children of every age would be able to watch Bully in just about any setting. Does it compromise the integrity of the film’s storytelling? Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is that the filmmakers care more about making a fuss about the system and ganing notoriety than actually presenting the film in a format that would be acceptable to the common denominator. Is that censorship? No, because they have every right to release their F-Bomb dropping R-Rated movie and hope enough kids sneak in for a double-header after Mirror Mirror.

Could the rating system be improved? Arguable. Does it succeed in differentiating between movies to inform, but not dictate, a customers viewing choices? Yes. If you want to go see Bully, go see bully. If you think a few F-Bombs is less objectionable than the stylized violence and sex in PG-13 films than don’t see the PG-13 action-sex blockbuster and take your kids to the artsy R-rated doc instead. The rating doesn’t change the content, just the color of the wrapping paper.

*UPDATE: The Weinstein Company announced Friday that an edited, PG-13 rated version of the film will be released nationwide on April 13.

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