Friday, August 29, 2008

Grand 'Open' Party?

I hope you’re all paying attention kids… This is an amazing time to be alive. Whether you love politics, or you don’t. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. Whether you think Diet Dr Pepper really tastes like regular Dr Pepper, or not. It is now official. We will either have an African-American President, or a female Vice-President. Think about the magnitude of this… The Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, is less than 100 years old. And the National Voting Rights Act, which prohibited voting qualification or prerequisite to cast a vote, (mainly targeting blacks in the South), was only passed in 1965! Now, for the first time in our nation’s history, one of the two most visible representatives of our government will not be a white male.

Does this mean there will be drastic, sweeping, much needed change in Washington? Who knows… but I think it increases the odds a bit. I must admit, I don’t really know anything about Sarah Palin. From what I’ve read, she’s known for shaking things up… Good for her, and good for Tina Fey, who will be the obvious choice to play her in the movie someday. As far as the other camp goes, Barack is finally being a little specific, and giving more detail regarding his plan for the future. It’s nice to hear him say something in the midst of all of these speeches. I heard Hillary the other day, still talking about glass ceilings, change, the future, and building bridges… I had no idea what she was talking about. Partially my fault, I took ‘Spanish’ in high school and not ‘Bumper Sticker’. Is it me, or when she gives a speech, does she sound like Loraine Newman as Prymaat Conehead?

I have to say… For the first time since this lunacy began, I really am interested in seeing what happens. I hope, for our sake, that the Obama camp can pull it off. McCain has gotten way too George W for me. I hope Barack is truly able to affect change where it is desperately needed. I hope he is supported in his endeavors. I hope he restores faith in the members of our armed forces, and only puts them in harms way when ABSOLUTELY necessary. And I hope he restores America’s reputation around the world, and we’re once again OK with being represented by our elected officials. As you may know, I haven’t been a die hard, weak-in-the-knees supporter of Barack Obama…

But I do have hope!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The thrill of victory...

So… Are you watching the Olympics? NBC says you are. The telecasts of the Beijing Olympics are averaging close to 30 million a day. It has trailed off a bit since swimming came to an end. And by swimming, I of course mean Michael Phelps, whose dominance in the water cube earned him a record 8 gold medals. Oddly enough, the pinnacle of the Neilson numbers was achieved at the very beginning of the games… before the first dive, serve, pitch, leap, or jump-shot. It was the opening ceremonies, which averaged over 34 million viewers. Second to that is the night on which Michael Phelps took part in the 4x100 medley relay to win his 8th gold medal. This was NBC’s best Saturday night, ratings-wise, since 1990. An average of 31 million watched that night, with the number jumping to 70 million during the race. The show in 1990 which the Olympics beat out was a very special episode of “Empty Nest”… So, Saturday turned out to be a double whammy for Michael, as he was overheard saying that ‘medals were nice and all, but he couldn’t live with being involved in something with fewer viewers than anything starring Kristie McNichol’… I’m paraphrasing of course.

And… like any event where the world strives to get along for a couple of weeks, there is no shortage of controversy, conjecture, and conspiracy. Again, starting with the opening ceremonies. Turns out that several of the groups of children in the parade, representing different regions of China, were not from those regions at all, but just kind of thrown together and given a banner. Part of the perfectly synchronized pyrotechnic display was CGI, and sound enhanced… Not unlike the crowd sound at a Pats game I imagine. And the cute little girl who sang ‘Ode to the motherland’ was actually lip-synching to the voice of a girl, kept behind the curtain because the Chinese thought she… well… had a face for radio. OK – no big deal. No medals involved in walking in the parade. (but with ‘trampoline’ being an Olympic event, we’re not far off). Any sport in which the medal winners are left to the discretion of judges, have seen some problems. There have been issues in boxing, fencing, synchronized diving, (which seems to have sprouted up overnight like a zit on prom night), and of course… gymnastics. In one event, Nastia Liuken of the US, scored identically, down to the hundredth of a point, with her Chinese opponent, Kexin He. Yet was awarded the silver medal due to a bizarre tiebreaking method the judges used to ‘name’ a winner. Is there some sort of bias, or conspiracy here because our hosts are dominating in gold medals, and half of them came from ‘judged’ events?

Funny thing about Americans… We don’t like to lose. It’s amazing how the attitudes in articles, and blogs, and on radio and TV have turned since week one, when Phelps sucked up gold medals like Pac-Man after a power pellet. Now the attention turns to bias, and cheating on the part of the Chinese who have claimed 45 golds to our 26. Look, I personally think that judged events are kind of silly. Sure, they all take incredible training, and skill… although, in equestrian, the horses kind of do all the work. (relax Lauren, it’s just a joke!) But judges are human. They can have a bad day. She may not like your outfit, or your country… Maybe he got a speeding ticket on the way over. The girl at Dunkin Donuts put cream instead of skim milk in her coffee, or maybe there’s a painful itch he can’t scratch because the damn camera’s on him. There will always be controversy in judged events. Then there’s the cheating argument. I love how people are spouting off about how the Chinese divers, and gymnasts do not look 16… They’re CHEATING! This is your argument, you bozos? Yes… let’s launch a full investigation into this so we can expose to the world that not only are they kicking our collective ass, but they’re using their 7th graders to do it! Brilliant…

By the way, we are leading overall in medals 82 to 79. So can we just shut up, put the conspiracy theories to rest, and just enjoy the rest of the games in the intended spirit of Olympic tradition? Root for your country’s athletes, or another country if you happen to like that particular diver, or hurdler, or badminton player… speaking of which, has badminton changed that much? I remember games in my backyard as a kid, and the players on each side of the net played with a Budweiser in their off hand, and a Marlboro in their mouth… They have it easy now. But I digress… All of these exceptional athletes have worked incredibly hard to get there. Shouldn’t we just cheer them on, celebrate when they win, and feel a little bad for them when they come up short? Someone has to win, and someone has to lose… That’s life! Jim McKay had a great tag line at the end of his introduction to ‘The wide world of sports’, that I think perfectly describes what the Olympics are all about from the athlete’s perspective. “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”


Friday, August 8, 2008

Brought to you by...

Hey kids… I know, I haven’t posted in a bit. (I am of course laboring under the delusion that people actually read this). I, like the rest of you, have been spending most of my time making decisions. We are deluged with choices, every day, all day, in every aspect of our lives… From the time you get up – Folgers or Maxwell House? Ivory or Dial? Crest or Colgate? And you haven’t even left the house yet… Cars, insurance, investing, which pain reliever to choose, Coke or Pepsi, PC or Mac… Come on! Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have choices. But do they have to be in our faces every waking minute. Advertising is a part of everything we do, see, and hear, all day long. You can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, surf the net, drive on the highway, go to a sporting event, or get your mail without some sort of recommendation on what to eat, drive, or clean your bathroom with. So how does it work? It must, right? Advertising budgets can range into the millions. But we are not children. How is it we can be so swayed into being convinced we need the newer I-phone, a vacuum that picks up ball bearings, or a razor with 5 blades?

I think a lot of it has to do with ours being such a disposable society. Replacing something is so commonplace, because throwing things away is really no big deal these days. We used to have TV repairmen, cobblers, tailors, haberdashers, and vacuum repairmen. Now, it tends to be easier, and cheaper to just toss it, and head to the mall for a new one. We’re also a competitive bunch… Keeping up with the Jones’ has become a second job for many of us. And new gadgets come out every day. Do you really think every one of those GPS units on the dashboard of every car is getting used all of the time? We all can’t be that lost. But they’re cool, and they talk… and Fred’s got one. Another thing the advertisers have tapped into brilliantly, is our vanity. How will purchasing a bigger TV, or 20” rims affect my image? We fall for it… we fall hard. If I get a Bowflex, I get the girl. Get rid of my gray, I get the girl. Axe body spray, 5 girls at a time… and apparently if I drink Miller Chill, I get the sweaty girl in the tight dress. But what if it works out? What condom do I buy? And if I need….. assistance - should it be Viagra, or Cialis? (BTW – If my erection lasts more than 4 hours, I’m not calling a doctor, I’m calling everyone I know… I’m just sayin’).

I guess I’m just sick of it all… I currently have no one to sue, my deodorant appears to be working ok, and I don’t notice the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (probably because I haven’t been to Lense Crafters and can’t see them). But it gets worse… Have you noticed the ads are now louder than the show you're watching? They’ve increased the volume of the commercials on TV. We thought we had them beat by using commercial breaks for a trip to the bathroom, or to go make a bag of popcorn. But now, when we’re refilling our Sprite, Mountain Dew, or Fresca, we can still hear about the best pad to use during our period. There’s an industry fraught with choices. I personally don’t have periods… not since I turned 40 anyway, but with feminine products taking up an entire aisle at the market, I don’t know how you women do it. You can’t give guys those kinds of choices. I need half a Paxil just to make it down the cereal aisle. And speaking of cereal, does milk really need an advertising campaign? Beef? Cheese? We’re all moderately aware these things exist… How about watching a Red Sox game on NESN, and seeing a commercial telling me I can watch the Red Sox on NESN… Are you kidding me?

It’s only going to get worse my friends. Not only is the game brought to you by Buick, but there’s a Budweiser half-time report, Geico updates, and a Gatorade recap. I wonder when the first sponsored wedding will be… Can’t you see it? The grooms tux looks like a NASCAR jumpsuit. The cake is shaped like a giant Coke can, and then the wedding song, brought to you by the Discovery Channel – ‘boom-deyada boom-deyada boom-deyada boom-deyada’… If an advertiser can get a product placed, he/she will do it… One day we’ll all be sponsored… Just walking around with Jiffy Lube hats, and bags of Doritos, handing out coupons. Won’t those initial conversations be riveting. “Bob? Name’s Ted… Nice to meet you. – Say, do you find your toilet tissue to be soft enough?” “I tell ya Ted… TP’s fine… It’s those damn untimely herpes flair ups.”

I don’t have an answer… I’m just venting. And hey, I’ll admit it. Some commercials are really funny. But being so inundated with products all day long, it really is a lot of work to keep reminding ourselves that we don’t need everything corporations say we do. My Ipod is 4 years old, and has a black and white screen, but still works perfectly, and holds everything I need it to. I can’t bring myself to replace it for a color screen, and hard drive space I don’t really need. Sure, I’m walking around with the digital version of a hand-crank Victrola with a cone speaker… But I can live with that.