Monthly Archives: February 2008

Jimmy Kimmel is engaging in coital relations with Ben Affleck

The New York Times provided a hilarious example of newspapers’ self-enforced irrelevancy the other day, when they attempted to write about Jimmy Kimmel’s “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck” response to Sarah Silverman’s “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” video. The article is meant to show the Times is totally plugged into the viral vidgeist — but of course it serves only to show how out of touch and prude newspapers are.

As Vulture points out, “The entire article is a masterpiece of tortured syntax that deftly removes all humor from the videos.” Here are the best parts, as flagged by Vulture:

“A satiric video in which Mr. Kimmel, the host of the ABC late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, talks enthusiastically — jokingly, we are led to believe — about his sexual relationship with Ben Affleck, has been a huge hit online. …

“After Ms. Silverman revealed that she was hooking up with Mr. Damon — everywhere, it seemed, and all the time — Mr. Kimmel vowed to take his revenge. … Most of the lyrics of Mr. Kimmel’s and Ms. Silverman’s songs are too graphic to be repeated here. One vulgar word describing the coital relations between, on the one bed, Ms. Silverman and Mr. Damon, and on the other, Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Affleck, was repeatedly bleeped out for the broadcast of each video.”

Never mind the priceless juxtaposition of New York Times second-reference style with the subject (Mr. Kimmel is fucking Mr. Affleck — must show the proper deference!). Could the Times possibly have written a more unironic, monocle-wearing ode to their own dowdiness? It’s not just the language dodge, which is bad enough. They’re still writing about comedy bits with a straight face — the way the Times probably wrote about that just wonderfully droll Church Lady in 1988.

This was a one-off (two-off, really) viral video attempt. Proper responses include laughing and forwarding to a friend; watching a second time; ignoring; and writing a blog post about the inevitable and annoying response videos. Responses that show you don’t get it include: writing a long article simply summarizing the videos — even while blushing and hiding from the central joke — and treating them like big productions that need to be explained and reported on.

R2-D2 and the siny guy

I’m probably a little late to this party, but this is just too cute.

She’s right: The siny guy always worries, that pansy!

The linguistic idiocy of TV meteorology

I know I said recently that newspapers should stop worrying so much about AP style and other copy editing minutia. But I have to add a large exception for jargon — particularly, as John McIntyre notes in a great post, redundant meteorological jargon:

Listening to the radio in the car yesterday, I heard an announcer warn of the possibility of “rain activity” later in the day. How, I wondered, does rain activity differ from rain?

McIntyre also gives a nice rundown of the many unnecessary words TV weatherpeople use for snow:

snow event, snowfall, snowstorm, snowflakes, sleet, slush, wintry mix, blizzard, precipitation, icy pellets, powder (for skiing), blanket and the apparently irresistible vulgarism white stuff.

Ah, mid-Atlantic winters. One of the great things about living in New Hampshire (lots of snow) and then Florida (no snow) is not having to watch TV newspeople go nuts over the hint of flurries and report from the supermarket on people rushing to buy bread, toilet paper and milk — just as they (both newspeople and shoppers) have done every single other time ever that there’s been snow in the region.

And yet, you never hear anyone worry that TV news is going broke. No justice, I tells ya.

Diablo Cody wins for Lamest Punk Oscar Statement

Few things are more annoying than celebrities-slash-“artists” taking meaningless faux-stands against the celebrity and public relations machines that drive American pop culture. My all-time favorite example is Kurt Cobain wearing a “Corporate magazines still suck” T-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone. Because, you know, that’s so much more punk than simply turning down requests for an interview and not appearing on the cover of the country’s biggest music magazine. He took a stand, maaaan.

Anyway, Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody joined these esteemed ranks when she totally refused to wear designer Stuart Weitzman’s diamond-studded shoes on the Oscars red carpet Sunday. See, she found out they cost like a million dollars — and there are people starving in Haiti, maaaan. I totally believe her when she writes things like this on her MySpace blog:

I must have somehow missed the part where my shoes cost a MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS and my “choice” of footwear would be publicized nationwide. I honestly thought they were just sparkly shoes. Mr. Weitzman did mention that the diamonds were real when I tried them on, but I’m not Nancy Rockman, Expert Gemologist. I didn’t, you know, bust out my miniature spyglass and assess the potential worth of my kicks.

She just thought that they were sparkly shoes, people! How could she possibly have known that Weitzman makes a special pair of shoes for one rising star every year?! Doesn’t every actress wear zirconia-encrusted shoes on the red carpet? It’s not like Weitzman told her how expensive the shoes were, right? Oh, he did? Okay, well at least she wouldn’t participate in any other over-extravagant red carpet traditions, right? Uh — wearing a Dior dress doesn’t count, does it? Surely those sparkly things at the neckline were just zirconia! And anyway, why would she have agreed to wear the shoes when she’s doing everything possible to stay out of the public eye? According to her blog,

I would never consent to a lame publicity stunt at a time when I already want to hide.

Really, folks, just leave her alone! She doesn’t want to talk anymore about how she was just a li’l stripper-turned-blogger-turned-screenwriter before Juno, or about her book, or her Entertainment Weekly column. She’s way too real and punk for any of that kind of self-promotion.

Just leave her alone and let her wear her Dior and act like she’s Avril Lavigne’s punker/realer big sister in peace. And then read her blog about it.

SNL’s ‘Milkshake’ miss and the limits of viral video fads

Saturday Night Live’s first post-strike episode was surprisingly solid, thanks to Tina Fey and her love of slightly sexist humor and poop jokes. Only one sketch bombed (a TMI drunken wedding toast) and an otherwise brilliant Rock of Love parody was ruined by Amy Poehler’s annoying one-legged farter (topic for future consideration: why SNL still bothers to come up with “characters” and why SNL characters and catch phrases were ever big deals in the first place).

The most interesting sketch came near the end, when a scene opened on Bill Hader doing a spot-on Daniel Plainview impression inside what turned out to be an old-fashioned soda shop. Sure enough, it was an “I Drink Your Milkshake” sketch. And it got an interesting audience response — not crickets or forced laughter, but what seemed to me to be chuckles of sheer bafflement. Most of the audience simply didn’t know what was going on. (The biggest laugh line was Kenan Thompson joking that Hader would get a cold from his shake — hardly a reference to the original gag or the movie.) It was a great lesson in the limited reach of Internet fads and viral video.

The sketch is based on a scene from There Will Be Blood in which Daniel Day-Lewis’ crazed oilman shouts “I drink your milkshake!” I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I gather it’s roughly equivalent to Borat saying “I crush her” only more violent. Various geniuses made viral videos parodying the line, or mashing it up with the Kelis song “Milkshake,” or otherwise creating Internet hilarity. New York Magazine’s Vulture blog called it (only semi-sarcastically, as far as I can tell) “2008’s fastest-growing catchphrase” and provided a guide to its proper usage. Various non-NYC-insidery-blog media outlets picked up on what the cool kids were blogging about, and soon you had the Associated Press noting in its Oscar roundup:

Despite the art-house nature of “There Will Be Blood,” Day-Lewis’ performance has seeped its way into popular culture. A line he bellows during the film’s stunningly violent climax — “I drink your milkshake!” — has become a bit of a catch phrase.

Note the hedge “a bit.” Judging by the response to SNL’s milkshake sketch, the catch phrase hasn’t seeped very far beyond the in-the-know audience from which it came. It’s saying a lot if Saturday Night Live’s audience — not a hip bunch like the Daily Show crowd, but probably a good barometer of general pop culture awareness — missed the joke.

The sketch is a good reminder of how even the Internet’s top pop culture blogs are still pretty self-contained and inter-referential and off the general population’s radar. The same thing happened last year when Best Week Ever discovered “Chocolate Rain.” They tried to turn their discovery into a pop culture phenomenon; viral vid parodies ensued; and “Chocolate Rain” singer Tay Zonday appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s show — again, to the audience’s utter bafflement.

I Drink Your Milkshake and Chocolate Rain are both fascinating examples of pop culture’s real-time, Internet-era metamorphosis. Their narrow reach, and the hipster blogs’ attempts to recreate old-school fads like catch phrases and characters in viral video form, show that maybe things aren’t changing as quickly as we thought.

Why can’t news be interesting just for the sake of it?

I came across two blog posts yesterday that offer reminders of how the prevailing view of what’s news needs to change.

First, Alan Mutter calls out The Oklahoman for wildly overplaying a story about a U.S. Geological Survey project mapping out where burmese pythons could survive in an ever-warmer U.S. The study found that the pythons “could colonize one-third of the USA, from San Francisco across the Southwest, Texas and the South and up north along the Virginia coast,” according to USA Today. The Oklahoman’s story examined the finding that most of Oklahoma is now a possible python habitat, and concluded in the fourth paragraph that

Even though the pythons might find Oklahoma’s weather suitable, local wildlife experts don’t expect to run into any of the massive constrictors any time soon.

Nonetheless, the piece ran as the front-page lead story with a large, two-deck headline reading: “Big snakes could slither into state.”

The story, of course, says no such thing. Mutter asks, “why did the Oklahoman play this non-story in the sensational fashion it did?” I think the answer — besides simple bad editorial judgment — is that papers fear running interesting stories just for the sake of running an interesting story. There has to be some ostensible “news peg” or other timely reason for running the story.

Continue reading

Some honest comics nostalgia, for once

Over at Slate, Grady Hendrix has written a nice appreciation of Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, who died last week. I’ve never read the comic book (nor have I seen the notorious George Lucas movie “adaptation”), but I’ll definitely be looking for the Essential collection after reading Hendrix’s piece:

Howard the Duck sent up the ’70s and parodied Marvel’s purple prose style (“The ghastly rumble of the explosion reverberates off the Pocono mountainsides—a sonorous death burp echoing into eternity. …”), but the book grew into something deeper. Howard raged against the glorification of violence, had a nervous breakdown, lost Beverly to Dr. Bong, was transformed into a man, and, in the end, rejected his friends and bitterly set out on his own, trying to forget a past of pointless superfights. One issue was all text; another took place entirely on a long bus trip. These were surreal flights of fancy with razor-tipped wings, America’s answer to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

What I like most about the piece is that it dispenses with the post-Kavalier and Clay veneration of golden and silver age comics and recognizes that, at heart, they aren’t much more than fun cultural artifacts:

The clunky comic books written for Marvel and DC (the two biggest comic book companies) in the 1960s and ’70s may have acquired a certain retro chic, yet they bear almost no relation to the comic books of today. Marvel was the House That Squares Built, and in the kingdom of the unhip, Gerber was the only writer who had a clue.

[large snip]

Gerber was the amphibian stage in the evolution of comic books, from when they swam in the funny-book oceans to the modern age, when graphic novels walk the earth and earn glowing reviews in the New York Times.

The early superhero books were obviously important to their historical contexts. And I like a good old-school Justice League of America 100-Page Super Spectacular as much as anyone. But the deification of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Siegel & Shuster, et. al. can be tiresome. This is a nice, if minor, corrective.

In other comics news, I’m definitely going to get this book.