Archive for February, 2007

Gawking as national pastime

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Here’s a thought-provoking article from Chicago Tribune columnist Cal Thomas. I don’t often find myself in agreement with his conservative views, but some of his points are spot-on; America has, indeed, become a nation of gawkers. I don’t believe, however, that most people think these objects of our media attention exhibit particular “heroic” (or for that matter, anti-heroic) behavior. It’s more the train wreck effect, something to divert collective minds from the depressing news of war and terrorism. In any case, I’d like to know what you think; please read and comment.

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PUBLIC LIVES
by Cal Thomas

Anti-hero: A main character in a dramatic or narrative work who is characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage.

Consider what occupies and diverts our attention from substantive matters: Anna Nicole Smith; Britney Spears; the astronaut gone wild, Lisa Nowak; the sleeping, dating, marital and divorce arrangements of film stars. It is all about the base, the tawdry and the anti-heroic. Today’s heroes are cartoon characters, and those (Superman, Batman, etc.) are from another era in which real heroes mattered.

Some blame television networks, especially cable, for our increasingly prurient interests. In recent days, TV has gone down into the septic tank with so many of the rest of us and delivered not what we need, but what we seemingly cannot get enough of. TV wouldn’t be obsessing with it if we didn’t demand it.

USA Today reported on a Pew Poll that found most Americans believe the media overdo celebrity news, but they watch it anyway. Sixty-one percent say they think the media overplayed Smith’s death, but 11 percent followed it as closely as the 2008 presidential campaign (13 percent) or the Super Bowl (11 percent).

Can you name the last person you heard about who behaved in a classic heroic manner? How about our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? The media ignore their heroism, even when they are awarded medals for bravery. When the word ”hero” is used at all, it is generally to label someone who is simply doing his job or her duty.

There’s little time to explore heroism among a people who prefer to indulge themselves in stories about a Qantas flight attendant having sex in the airplane lavatory with actor Ralph Fiennes, or Bridget Moynahan of ABC’s Six Degrees announcing that she is pregnant with the child of ex-boyfriend and New England Patriot All-Pro quarterback, Tom Brady. Who gets married before having children these days? And what difference does it make in our ”anything goes” culture?

Politically, heroism disappeared around the time of Harry Truman, with brief reappearances during the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Now, everything is poll-tested and ”leaders” follow the opinions and base instincts of those they should be persuading to follow them. Today, when one speaks of ”vision,” they are usually referring to Lasik eye surgery.

There is little sign any of this is about to end. Last week, ABC drew nine million viewers to The Outsiders, a prime-time program about a group of Arizona polygamists. Commenting on the appeal of such a show, correspondent John Quiñones said, ”I guess (it’s) the voyeuristic appeal.” It’s true — we are a nation of gawkers.

To some extent this has always been so, but television has made gawking easier and the objects of gawking more accessible. This indulgence in the base and banal has had a corrosive effect on our collective spirit. It also lowers our defenses against those who would destroy us.

It isn’t as if we haven’t been warned about self-indulgence in secular and sacred writings. In his Republic, Plato has Socrates describe the effect on the soul of grace and gracelessness in the material culture:

“Our aim is to prevent our Guards being reared among images of vice — as it were in a pasturage of poisonous herbs where, cropping and grazing in abundance every day, they little by little and all unawares build up one huge accumulation of evil in their soul. Rather, we must seek out craftsmen with a talent for capturing what is lovely and graceful, so that our young, dwelling as it were in a salubrious region, will receive benefit from everything about them. Like a breeze bringing health from wholesome places, the impact of works of beauty on eye or ear will imperceptibly from childhood on, guide them to likeness, to friendship, to concord with the beauty of reason.”

You won’t find such “craftsmen” on television. Better to turn it off, or get rid of this unfriendly guest, than to allow for the creation of another generation of anti-heroes and gawkers.

©2007 Tribune Media Services

Right now

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Testing out a couple of blog widgets from my ISP:


Take my survey here.

Extra!

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

MR. TOAST SHAVES HEAD, GOES INTO REHAB!

TEXAS (AP) – The blogosphere was still in shock this evening after the pop icon known as “Mr. Toast” unexpectedly shaved off all his hair before a stunned group of onlookers earlier today. The stock market plummeted, rivers reversed their flow, and planes fell out of the sky as the world reeled from the astounding news. Major television networks interrupted their regular programming to trot a non-stop parade of behavioral experts including psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and psychologists (with a couple of phlebotomists thrown in for good measure) in front of the cameras, all seeking to answer the endless public cries of “Why? Why would anyone do such a shocking thing? Why? Oh my God, Why?”

Paparazzi from all over the world converged on the Lone Star state trying to snap pictures of the newly bald Toast, however he remained secluded at an undisclosed location, releasing only one publicity photo (shown above) to the media. When it was pointed out that the image strongly appeared to be Photoshopped (and poorly at that), Mr. Toast responded that anyone foolish enough to consider going to this website to place a minimum one million dollar bid for the locks of a former Pop Icon also might conceivably be dumb enough to fall for this stunt as well.

In an attempt to escape the media circus, I, er… that is, Mr. Toast then checked into Rehab. Seriously. OK, we’re talking about cardio-pulmonary rehab here people, where you work out on exercise machines at the local hospital while a nurse monitors your vital signs. Yeah sure, it’s supposed to help people with heart or lung problems stay healthier and technically speaking it’s a “multi-disciplinary program of care for patients with chronic respiratory impairment that is individually tailored and designed to optimize physical and social performance and autonomy” but it’s still rehabilitation and maybe I was kidding about the hair thing but hey give me a freakin’ break already.

At least I’m wearing underwear.

Good advice

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

On my random web travels today, I stumbled upon this cool blog on a site called Blogster. Here’s a snippet of a post that stood out:

Years ago a teacher made each student in the class write down our top 5 goals for our lives on a little piece of paper. Ok, now think about it. In my adolescent brain my main goal at the time was a date for the big Homecoming Dance. Yet, somehow I managed to jot down my top 5. This simple list took me 5 minutes to think of and will take 5 lifetimes to achieve.

1. Love. Discover true and everlasting love and don’t let go.

2. Play. Believe in magic.

3. Laugh. Find joy in all things.

4. Forgive. Accept that people are imperfect.

5. Live.

These are some great words to live by. Life should be this simple, so how does it get so damn complicated? This further advice (found at a different site) is not nearly as inspirational, but probably more practical:

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me the hell alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.

3. It’s always darkest before dawn. So if you’re going to steal your neighbor’s newspaper, that’s the time to do it.

4. Don’t be irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

5. Always remember that you’re unique. Just like everyone else.

6. If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

7. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

8. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

9. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

10. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

11. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

12. Some days you’re the bug; some days you’re the windshield.

13. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

14. Duct tape is like ‘The Force’. It has a light side and a dark side, and, it holds the universe together.

15. Generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your lips are moving.

16. Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.

17. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

18. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

The preceding has been a Wind In The Wire Public Service Announcement.

The simple life

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Anyone into PowerPoint presentations? I’ve discovered a great site called SlideShare that lets you upload and share .ppt files as slide shows, and conveniently embed them as flash objects in a web page or blog. You can also browse the site and view presentations made by other users. Here’s an example that features some feel-good photos of animals and nature; I guarantee at least one of these will bring a smile to your face.

Peter Pan Syndrome

Friday, February 16th, 2007

For anyone who may not have heard:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to eat certain jars of Peter Pan peanut butter or Great Value peanut butter due to risk of contamination with Salmonella Tennessee (a bacterium that causes foodborne illness). The affected jars of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter have a product code located on the lid of the jar that begins with the number “2111.” Both the Peter Pan and Great Value (Wal-Mart) brands are manufactured in a single facility in Georgia by ConAgra. Great Value peanut butter made by other manufacturers is not affected. If consumers have any of this Peter Pan or Great Value brand peanut butter in their home that has been purchased since May 2006, they should discard it.

Links:
FDA warning
ConAgra Foods press release and update
More news here.

I am a confirmed Peanut Butter addict, and Peter Pan Extra Crunchy is my favorite. So, we were a bit surprised to find three jars of the stuff with this product code in our pantry, especially considering that I just had a PB sandwich this afternoon. However, it’s now several hours later and I feel fine, so I’m not too worried. Nevertheless, our local grocery store is offering refunds on any product brought back to them, so I guess we’ll take them up on it just to be safe. I should also probably drink lots of alcohol this evening, strictly for medicinal purposes of course, to kill any possible germs that might be lurking in my system. Hey, why take any chances?

Shit, it’s always something.

Let’s look at Love from both sides now

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Love is a beautiful thing…

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…or not.

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IPF Strikes Again

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) died today at his home after a long battle with chronic lung disease. He was 65.

His congressional passion was health care. Taking on insurance companies, he spent much of his political career pressing for a “patients’ bill of rights” aimed at giving consumers better access to care. My kinda guy, even though I may not have agreed with his stand on some other issues.

Diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis in 1998, he underwent a lung transplant in 2004 but suffered recurring side effects due to the suppression of his immune system needed to prevent rejection of the organs. Eventually, cancer set in, which spread from his lungs to his liver. (Read full story here.)

I shudder whenever I read news like this; it’s a combination of rational fear, and irrational anger that despite advances in medical science over the years, this insipid disease continues to claim lives unchecked. While transplantation can indeed be lifesaving, it’s also an incredibly risky treatment of last resort. I have no doubt that in centuries to come, medical professionals will look back at the practice of hacking out and replacing major human organs as barbaric, much as Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy scorned highly-invasive 20th-century medicine as “medievalism” in the Star Trek series. But at the moment, it’s the only option we have when other treatments fail.

This news also makes me more determined than ever to fight and survive my IPF. I’m participating in cutting-edge clinical trial research, and have been relatively stable for almost two years now, so I still have hope.

I will beat this thing!

News you can use

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Since I’ve been sidelined by my lung illness, I’ve found that I get tired easily and as a result, often take naps for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Raised under a uniquely American work ethic that considers such behavior “lazy” and unproductive, I’ve always felt a bit guilty about this.

But today has brought sweet vindication in the form of news from a team of American and Greek researchers who have found scientific proof that naps are good for you. According to their study, those who take at least three daytime naps a week lasting 30 minutes or longer cut their risk of dying from a heart attack by 37 percent.

“If you can take a midday nap, do so,” advised co-author Dimitrios Trichopoulos, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Trichopoulos and his colleagues followed almost 24,000 originally healthy men and women in Greece for more than six years. Of these, 792 died, 133 of them from heart disease. Slightly more than half the study group took regular midday naps, a popular activity in Mediterranean societies. The nappers’ death rate was only about two-thirds the rate among Greeks who stayed awake all day, the study found.

Regular siestas apparently lower stress, which is frequently associated with heart disease. This report in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine is the latest in a number of studies that have found links between heart troubles and physical or emotional stress. “There is considerable evidence that both acute and chronic stress are related to heart disease,” Trichopoulos said. “An afternoon siesta in a healthy individual may act as a stress-releasing process [and] reduce coronary mortality.” Napping provides the body with an opportunity to recover from stress, and can result in measurable improvement in a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, hormones, sugar and cholesterol levels.

Napping is a much more commonly accepted practice in many countries outside the USA; here, boiler-room pressure to stay competitive tends to cause most bosses to frown upon daytime sleepers. However, some forward-thinking employers have realized the value of helping their workers avoid stress and stay healthy, and have set up “nap rooms” for employees use during the day. This progressive attitude can make a huge difference in the therapeutic value of an afternoon siesta.

“Here, if a person naps, people say, ‘You lazy slob’,” said Peter Vitaliano, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “In the Mediterranean countries — like Greece, Italy and Spain — they say, ‘Did you have a good nap?’ So there’s going to be a difference how much naps help.”

I’m glad to know that I’m on the cutting edge of health, and I encourage my readers to do the same whenever they get the chance. Maybe right now. If you’re reading this blog at work, you can’t be doing anything that important, so why not grab a few zz’s? If your boss complains about you sleeping at your desk or office, just show them this prescription from Dr. Toast for reducing stress and avoiding heart disease, and point out how taking a nap could save your life. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.

On billionaire babies and space cheaters

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

baby-daddy2.jpgNEWS FLASH!

I have a stunning revelation to announce to the world: as can be seen in the actual, unretouched photo to your right, I am the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daughter.

I had been keeping this secret in deference to Mrs. Toast, but now that so many pretenders are stepping forward to claim paternity (we’re up to at least four now), I can no longer be silent with the truth. The blonde bombshell and I had a torrid affair when we both lived in Houston back in the 80′s, and it is now glaringly apparent that she must have kept my, er, “essence” safely frozen in the back of her Frigidaire (next to the Bird’s Eye Green Peas) and used it to impregnate herself. I can now claim my rightful share of the millions of dollars little DannieLynn stands to inherit.

Oh sure, you say, that sounds pretty bogus … but no more so than the surprise announcement by Anna Nicole’s half-sister, Donna Hogan, who claimed that the child’s father is none other than her sister’s former billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall, who’s been dead for ten years now. She alleges that her deceased sis froze the sperm of her 90-year-old hubby before he died, and used it to become pregnant as a “trump card” in winning the ongoing legal battle for the billionaire’s estate.

I may joke about being a baby-daddy, but all kidding aside, what bothers me most is that of all the players in this soap opera, the child is the one person most likely to be negatively affected in the long run. With so much at stake financially, she will be used as a pawn all her life and has virtually no chance of growing up to be “normal”. She will be forever haunted by her mother’s shadow.

This tragic story is no doubt destined to become a TV “movie of the week” soon; the public fascination fueling the media circus is enormous, and parallels to Anna’s idol Marilyn Monroe (who lived a similar short, sad life, but possessed considerably more talent than ANS) are inevitable. Ground zero for the latest bizarre twists and turns would have to be TMZ.com, where if you’re interested you can read about her final booze-fueled hours, or learn that her body has been moved to “a VIP area” of the hospital indefinitely pending further investigation into the cause of her death. However, there is no truth to the rumor that the body of James Brown (who is also yet to be interred) is with her there as well.

The implications for social commentary are enormous as well. While much of America laughed at Anna Nicole’s antics over the years — the billionaire sugar daddy, the weight gain and loss, the slurred public appearances, the physical attributes coupled with dubious mental prowess — her death now makes such satire difficult. If it was an acceptable joke to mock her as a bimbo while she was alive, is doing so now improperly disrespectful to the deceased? Does this very blog post cross the line of decency?

A good question … as is why her life and death have so fascinated the public while the lives and deaths of so many others (people who have made truly significant, lasting accomplishments) go unnoticed at the same time. We do love our myths — and our heroes, which probably explains the other item that has dominated the press this week. Over the years, how many people involved in love affairs gone wrong have driven cross-country to confront their romantic rivals with less-than-noble intent? Hundreds, perhaps thousands; it’s an unfortunate yet common human foible. But throw the word “astronaut” into the mix and suddenly it’s a news story, like those who train to work in space are somehow superhuman and not subject to the emotional weaknesses that plague normal earthbound folk.

Nope. We all live on this strange little planet.

Controversy For All

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Perhaps you’ve heard that the Mars Corporation, makers of Snickers®, have responded to protests by several Gay and Lesbian groups over its Super Bowl commercial (featuring two “manly men” who accidentally kiss while enjoying the candy bar) by yanking all further replays of the spot. The company also pulled the plug on a planned extensive follow-up campaign around the ad, which had been on the web at www.afterthekiss.com. Protesters called the theme of the ad “violent” and “homophobic”, and in a statement announcing the cancellation, a spokesman for the candy maker said “We know that humor is highly subjective and understand that some people may have found the ad offensive. Clearly that was not our intent.”

You probably know as well that the American Association of Fast Food Workers also complained about the Kevin Federline Nationwide ad, saying it demeaned employees in that industry. Apparently, this means it is no longer politically correct to say “you want fries with that?” in a jocular manner. Remember that the next time you’re trying to be funny at a party.

But most amazing to me is that just when you thought it was again safe to watch the half-time show, religious conservatives and some journalists are complaining about Sunday’s acclaimed performance by Prince. It was not enough for them to decry the thousands of children who would forever be doomed to a life of crime and moral depravity by their 9/16-of-a-second exposure to Janet Jackson’s right breast in 2004, they are now upset that Prince’s silhouette, projected on a flowing curtain during his rendition of “Purple Rain”, contained (gasp!) phallic imagery. New York Daily News TV critic David Bianculli called it “a rude-looking shadow show,” and “embarrassingly rude, crude and unfortunately placed.” A spokesman for the NFL countered, “We respect other opinions, but it takes quite a leap of the imagination to make a controversy of his performance. It’s a guitar.”

Look at the photo and see what you think. All I can say is if the image is meant to be anatomically correct, the man must have a hard time picking out a pair of pants at Wal-Mart. (Not that Prince would shop there anyway.)

Anyway, I think what we’re seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg. If controversy can be sparked by this somewhat overzealous interpretation of Prince’s act, then a lot of other special-interest groups are missing the boat and should jump on the bandwagon of criticism as well. For example:

  • Atheists should be upset that Prince sang a portion of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” during his show, a direct reference to the official publication and website of The Jehovah’s Witnesses. Has no one else picked up on this? Prince became a Witness in the 1990′s, and obviously used his halftime appearance to deliver thinly-veiled religious propaganda to millions of Bowl viewers.
  • The National Association for Mental Health and Mental Retardation should be all over Prince for his song selection as well: his opening number, “Let’s Go Crazy”, is clearly a derogatory term and a stereotypical slur to the mentally handicapped. At the very least, they could force the Purple One to change the lyrics of the song from “Let’s go crazy/let’s get nuts” to “Let’s exhibit situationally inappropriate behavior/let’s have a learning disability.”
  • The NAACP can complain that Prince wasn’t a “black” enough choice for the Super Bowl crowd, while the Aryan Nation can be offended that he wasn’t “white” enough. Every other ethnic group could follow suit, including Asians, Hispanics, etc. NOW could protest that he’s not female, and the Anti-Defamation League could protest that he’s not Barbra Streisand.
  • Any person of British descent should be appalled by Prince’s choice of his own name, an obvious slap in the face of The Royal Family. Unfortunately, this is a no-win situation for the entertainer, as when he changed his name back to Prince some years ago, he received howls of protest from The Association of Artists Named After Unpronounceable Symbols at his defection from their ranks.
  • The Fashion Designers Guild must protest Prince’s choice of his outfit. I mean, a light orange umber shirt under a light-aqua-blue jacket? What was he thinking with that abominable color scheme? What horrible message does this send to our esthetically-challenged youth?
  • Finally, a newly-formed group, the Association of All Recording Artists On The Planet Except For Prince must no doubt find it highly discriminatory that sales of Prince’s album catalog jumped by an astonishing average of 653% after his Super Bowl gig. “The Very Best of Prince” moved from No. 710 to No. 71 on Amazon.com’s Top Sellers list, and following his soaking-wet rendition of the song, “Music from the Motion Picture ‘Purple Rain’” moved from No. 432 to No. 53 on the chart, an increase of 715 percent.

In a related story, the NFL announced today that due to the controversy over Prince’s halftime performance, there were only three “safe” acts left in the world being considered for future shows. Viewers of the 2008 Super Bowl will see either (a) Pat Boone, (b) Michael Bolton, or (c) The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I feel safer from depravity already.

Reversing the call

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Just like the ref who has to own up to a bad call after reviewing the incontrovertible video evidence of the instant replay, on closer examination I must admit that I blew it with yesterday’s post.

This was one of the best football games, ever.

From the moment the Bears ran back the first opening-kick touchdown in Super Bowl history, this was one exciting show. I decided since the Colts were underdogs going in to the match, that I was going to root for them, and for once my chosen team rewarded me. (This is a totally unknown feeling to any former fan of the Houston Oilers.) The Bears defense struggled, worn down by having to be on the field for most of the game, while their offense simply never kicked into gear despite the opening TD strike. The wet and slippery conditions made for fascinating watching, and also made me extremely appreciative of my warm, dry seat in front of the TV. World-class event or not, I was just as glad not to have spent $4,000 to sit in the pouring rain for five hours (that’s about thirteen bucks per minute, a really expensive shower).

The commercials were creatively entertaining as expected; I especially liked this elaborately animated Coca-Cola spot, and the clever Robert Goulet parody for Emerald Nuts. If you missed any or care to see them again, you’ll find them online at numerous web sites including AOL Sports, where the video quality is excellent and the ads are conveniently grouped by quarter. You can also vote for your favorite.

And Prince’s halftime show? Wow. Talk about your “Purple Rain”, indeed; he couldn’t have picked a more appropriate tune for the soaked crowd. His guitar pyrotechnics were topped only by those exploding above the stands, and made McCartney and The Stones look like old (albeit respectable) geezers. The Purple One — no spring chicken himself at the age of 48 — has certainly come a long way since the 80s, when he sported a thong and sang about “Darling Nikki” getting herself off to a magazine in a hotel lobby; hard to believe that Prince is now considered “family-friendly”, but I guess that’s what becoming a Jehovah’s Witness will do for you. Born-again or not, he rocked the house.

So after further review, the official Toast Superbowl ruling? Kicked. Ass.

Stupor Bowl

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

I hear there is some sort of football game scheduled for tomorrow. Oh yeah, the Super Bowl. (yawn.) While a few previous year’s games have felt like national holidays to me, please excuse me if I fail to get too excited about it this year. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

  • Who’s playing again? The Chicago Bears and, ah … lemme think … The Detroit Pistons? Oh yeah, The Indianapolis Indians, or something like that. In the past I may have had a regional affection for certain teams (New England, Miami, Denver, and Tampa Bay for example) because I’ve lived in or had close friends in that part of the country, but with no connection to either of this year’s participants, I could frankly care less who wins.
  • In other years the Super Bowl has been a fine excuse for a bacchanalia of food and fun. We’ve consumed a mountain of pizza, chips & dip, hot wings, BBQ weenies, nachos, and other things that aren’t good for you … not to mention buckets of beer. In fact, icing down a variety of imported bottled beers in a huge aluminum tub the day before the game so it would be barely a degree above freezing by kickoff time on Sunday had become somewhat of a tradition around the Toast household. This year, however, my doctor has me on a serious diet due to my possible future transplant surgery, so consuming a mound of junk food is out. And considering all the medications I’m taking, the beer is a definite no-no as well. What’s football without beer? I mean, c’mon.
  • Most people look forward to seeing the Super Bowl commercials as much, if not more so, than the game itself. But for the last couple of years, the ads have been widely available on the Internet so there’s no reason to have to slog through boring football plays to see them. This year, many of them can be seen on YouTube, and there are also a number of other sites like this one especially devoted to the “art” of the game day pitch.
  • Another spectacular element to the Super Bowl in the past has always been the halftime show. But following Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 event, the entertainment has become so bland and family-friendly as to be unexciting. Paul McCartney’s appearance in 2005 was boringly dull, and I was hugely disappointed with last year’s walk-through by The Rolling Stones, who seemed to practically phone in their performance. This year’s entertainer, Prince, is a bit edgier, but I’m still not expecting His Purpleness to come up with any big surprises.

Nevertheless, I’ll probably watch the event tomorrow along with the other millions of world-wide viewers. For one thing, it beats actually going to the game, where ticket prices go for an average — average, mind you, of between $4,000 and $5,000 (although The Miami Herald has reported that due to a comparative lack of excitement for the teams this year, tickets can be found for the “bargain” price of around $1,500). And if the game action gets too ho-hum, I can always switch over to the Puppy Bowl.

Freakin’ out in Boston

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

By now everyone has heard about the so called “terrorist scare” in Boston caused by promotional electronic devices placed at strategic locations around the city by a company promoting a TV show for the Cartoon Network. This story fascinates me from a couple of different angles: not only was I just writing about the highs and lows of promotional marketing, but I also have had some vicarious experience in the past with attaching stealth objects to public transportation fixtures in Boston (my former home town).

Had the same level of public paranoia existed back when my friend pulled off his prank, who knows what the reaction might have been. For most of the day yesterday, the city was virtually paralyzed after blinking signs with exposed 1-foot square circuit boards were found on bridges and other high-profile spots; highways were closed, the bomb squad blew up several of the devices, and the city reportedly spent over half a million dollars in police costs before realizing they were harmless.

To me, nothing quite so visibly shows how jumpy we’ve become in our post-9/11 world than to see a major American city thrown into utter panic over a promotion for a talking milkshake, a box of fries, and a meatball. The devices had been in place for two to three weeks in ten cities across the country, and no one gave them a second thought until yesterday’s mass hysteria. Now Boston’s mayor, Thomas Mennino, is saying “I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today’s incidents.”

Two local men hired by Turner to put up the signs have been arrested for disorderly conduct (a “catch-all” charge if ever there was one); one of them, a 27-year old artist by the name of Daniel Berdovsky, told the Boston Globe that he was “a little kind of freaked out,” by the furor. “I find it kind of ridiculous that they’re making these statements on TV that we must not be safe from terrorism, because they were up there for three weeks and no one noticed,” Berdovsky said. “It’s pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation.” Berdovsky’s attorney told the press, “It’s very disturbing that what was just an employment for a struggling artist turned into some major misunderstanding.” A Turner company spokesperson said, “We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger.”

Other cities where the devices were placed did not appear to freak out quite like Boston did. In Seattle and several suburbs, removal of the signs was low-key. “We haven’t had any calls to 911 regarding this,” said a Seattle police spokesman. Police in Philadelphia said they believe their city had 56 devices. In New York City, local news broadcasts showed images of the devices being collected, and the New York Post reported that police confiscated 41 in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The whole thing reminds me very much of Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” 1939 Halloween radio broadcast, when panicked listeners believed we had been invaded by aliens. “Terrorists” are our new Martians.

But instead of, say, pointing out how vigilant they are about public safety (which should theoretically make the citizens of Boston feel more secure), officials are clearly so embarrassed by their over-reaction to the “threat” that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is now investigating whether Turner Broadcasting and any other companies should be criminally charged and forced to pay restitution to the city.

Granted, this was probably not the smartest promotion in the history of marketing, although I think it’s highly ironic that nearly everyone in the country has now heard of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force“. Did you know there was an Aqua Teens movie? And that it is described as an “action epic”? And that it features a flaming chicken? You do now, so perhaps from that perspective the campaign was a smashing success.

However, yesterday’s incident also demonstrates that if our society has become this fearful, then the terrorists may have already succeeded in their mission as well. That bothers me a whole lot more than an ill-conceived publicity stunt.