Monday, April 30, 2012

Nepotism and 'Girls'

A few weeks ago, accompanying the debut of the new HBO series "Girls" was this Photoshopped parody poster critical of the show's casting:


(Click for a larger version.)

There's a lot -- a LOT -- to be said about "Girls," as the internet has been proving for months now.  Opinions run passionate about this show and, as we all know, people who have opinions are assholes.  Or something like that.

The thing about this parody poster is that it's wrong.  Just plain incorrect.  Someone put what I have to assume is a significant amount of time into making this poster, and he or she did so without knowing the definition of "nepotism."

It's true that the four lead actresses in "Girls" are all somebody's daughters.  But I did some research, and it turns out that every girl is somebody's daughter!

Here's what nepotism means, as defined by the very-difficult-to-find-and-use website dictionary.com:

nep·o·tism   [nep-uh-tiz-uhm]
noun
patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics: She was accused of nepotism when she made her nephew an officer of the firm. 

Now, this poster does accurately track the family relationships of the girls in "Girls." What it does not do is explain how being the daughter of the drummer of a band that nobody's cared about since 1982 caused HBO executives to pull Jennifer Euston, the casting director, into a quiet, dimly lit room where they proceeded to make vaguely threatening comments about her loved ones, and then casually "recommend" that she take a serious look at the acting chops of Bad Company's dummer's daughter.

(I like how the maker of the poster didn't even bother to look up the name of Bad Company's drummer.  I also like how I'm not doing it either.)

Folks, this is not nepotism.  Judd Apatow is a producer on "Girls."  If Apatow's daughters, who have been known to make appearances in his films, were cast in lead roles on "Girls," THAT would be nepotism.  Adorable, precocious nepotism.

(By the way, Judd Apatow putting his daughters in his movies is also not nepotism.  It's more of an extended cameo, or like an expensive family photo album.)

See, the way nepotism works is, a family relation in a position of power gets someone a job.  In order for Brian Williams to get his daughter cast on "Girls," he would have to have some sort of sway over at HBO, or with the production itself.  He doesn't.  (Or does he?  If you know something I don't about Brian Williams, please tell me.  Come to think of it, I have no idea what he does with himself outside of 6:30-7 PM eastern time.)

And folks, please walk me through the logic on this: how does Lena Dunham being the daughter of artist Laurie Simmons get her a show on HBO?  Connect those dots for me.  What scenario are you imagining where Laurie Simmons' "fame" leads to her daughter landing a deal with HBO?  Now if Laurie Simmons had arranged her daughter a show at an art gallery owned by a friend or partner, that would be nepotism.  But until my DVR is bursting with shows created by the children of prominent New York artists, I'm not seeing how being an artist's daughter gets you a leg up in the television business.

And speaking of Laurie Simmons' fame... who the fuck is Laurie Simmons?!  Really?  Truly?  Honestly?  What you're trying to tell me is that you've known who Laurie Simmons is, you've been following her work for decades?  No you haven't!  You know who Laurie Simmons is now, after her daughter made a movie and a TV show, not the other way around.  Moving forward, if Laurie Simmons gets a TV show because of her daughter's success... that is nepotism.  Hey, you know what?  Lena Dunham casting Laurie Simmons in her movie Tiny Furniture, which is something that actually happened... that was nepotism!

The word you're looking for is "privilege."  This cast makes you mad because it goes against the American Dream narrative that we all want so desperately to believe in - that a person can come from nothing and, based on hard work and talent, achieve ultimate success.  The cast of "Girls" forces us to face a cold reality: while the American Dream can happen from time to time, it is, in fact, easier to operate in America if you already have money or fame to begin with.  That's privilege, not nepotism.

Or maybe the word you're looking for is "favoritism."  But it's a lot more difficult to be critical of favoritism, isn't it?  Every single one of us practices favoritism.  This time last year, I was working a job that was easy for me to get because I already knew half the people at the company.  I was a known quantity to them, so they hired me.  Likewise, when I'm in a position to hire, the first thing I do is check in with friends to see if they need a job or know somebody who does.  Furthermore, the most recent TV I bought was a Samsung, because I have a history of loving that company's products.  And no matter where I go, I know I can always rely on Starbucks coffee to taste the way I want it to.  Favoritism!

But the word you probably should have landed on is "jealousy."  Lena Dunham gets to make a show, and you don't.  Lena Dunham's show airs on one of the most prestigious networks in existence, and you can't even get on TruTV.  Critics do backflips for her.  Come Emmy time, she's likely to win every single category.  ("Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program goes to... Lena Dunham for 'Girls!'")  And all you've managed to accomplish is getting people to recognize your mad Photoshop skills.

Now here's the kicker: I don't like "Girls."  I've watched all three episodes so far, and I'm just not into it at all.  And the fact that EVERY single critic and cultural commentator loves the show -- 100% across the board, without fail, not one dissenting opinion -- is as obnoxious to me as it is to everyone else who doesn't get the show.  So I understand the backlash.  I do.  But when you make a bad argument -- when the crux of your argument is a word you can't even define correctly -- you're ruining things for those of us who have legitimate negative criticisms about the show.

So, stop it!  Learn what "nepotism" means, and then go away.  And while you're at it, search your soul and ask yourself: if I were making a TV show, wouldn't I try to hire all my friends to work on it too?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Podcast Rollcall: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

About a year and a half ago, I profiled the Sound of Young America podcast.  Recently, the Maximum Fun network has revamped and rebranded the show, so I figured it was time to revisit it here.
Genre: Interview and Culture

What It's About: Bullseye, like The Sound of Young America before it, is a lifestyle show which concerns itself with nothing less than the very best of American (and world) culture.  More tightly formatted that its predecessor, each edition of Bullseye begins with recommendations from various pop culture critics, followed by the feature interview, which is either in two parts or followed by a secondary interview.  Then a few minutes are devoted to a comedy routine of some sort, and the show ends with a few words about something the host is currently obsessed with.  It's a strong format that holds the listener's attention and packs a lot into one hour.

Why You Should Care: The primary draw of host Jesse Thorn is that he has good taste.  On Bullseye, you'll hear interviews with actors, comedians, musicians, filmmakers, authors and more, all of whom are doing interesting, innovative and high-quality work well worth of your attention.  You'll hear from some of your favorites, but, more importantly, you'll be introduced to new artists and performers that you'll wish you'd heard about sooner.

Frequency: Weekly

Average Length: Approximately one hour

iTunes Link: http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/bullseye-with-jesse-thorn/id73331298

Website: http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/bullseye

As always, if you become a regular listener to a podcast that solicits donations, try to find a way to make the occasional contribution.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Movies Will Change Forever - This Year!

Last year, I commented on an exciting report that James Cameron was planning on using a higher frame rate for his still-in-the-planning-stages sequel to Avatar.  Well, while Mr. Cameron has been busy with deep sea diving, Peter Jackson has beaten him to the punch by shooting this December's Hobbit movies at 48 frames per second.




Why will this matter to you?  When more visual information is put in front of your eyes, the brain is more convinced that what it's seeing is real, is present in the room with you.  After all, life has no frame rate at all; the closer movies can get to "faster-then-the-eye" frame rates, the more movies will look like life.  This, in most people's opinions, is more effective than stereoscopic "3-D" movies.  The effect is that there is no screen with images being projected onto it; it appears as though you're watching fully-dimensional objects behind a proscenium.

Many filmmakers have been pushing for higher frame rates for years; decades, even.  But the goal was a financial burden that no studio was ever willing to carry.  It would have meant not only doubling (or even tripling) the amount of money spent on film stock while shooting, but also doing the same for every single print of the movie sent to the thousands of theaters it would be exhibited in.  Also consider the double or triple weight of the physical film, effectively doubling or tripling the shipping costs.  And, of course, it would have meant that movie theaters themselves would have been responsible for buying new projectors that could handle higher projection speeds.  Increasing the frame rate would mean a complete systemic overhaul, and an expensive one at that.

So why is it finally happening?  Once again, it's digital to the rescue!

The Hobbit films are being shot digitally.  And while it's a bit of a burden to handle so much data (reportedly up to 12 terabytes are being shot for The Hobbit every day, with 265 shooting days scheduled; for those of you who don't understand computers very well, that's what's known as a "shit ton" of data), the cost of shooting, storing and distributing the movie digitally keeps the total cost down to manageable levels.  And since theaters have by and large converted to digital projectors, it's only a minor software and hardware-component upgrade for theaters to exhibit at the higher frame rate.

I'm conflicted about the inevitable dominance of digital cinema.  Don't get me wrong, I love the digital revolution; it's done more for our society than any individual person can account for.  But digital imagery looks different from film; many people don't notice or care, but that doesn't mean it's not the case.  I will miss film.

At the same time, there are many aspects of digital cinema worth championing.  The actualization of increased frame rates is one of them.  In an age when movie theaters are desperate to distinguish themselves from the increasing quality of the home video experience, movies with increased frame rates are, in this viewer's opinion, going to be a far superior value-add to cinematic history than stereoscopy.

This December, with the release of the first Hobbit movie, a new standard will be set, and movies will be changed forever.

(Note: Some initial reactions to advanced footage of The Hobbit from CinemaCon are very negative.  Click here for more.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stand Strong, Daily Show

I suppose it speaks to my complete lack of sensitivity that when, while watching Monday night's "The Daily Show," I gave a quick laugh to an on-screen graphic of a naked woman with a Nativity scene between her legs and then promptly forgot it.  Either that, or it speaks to the oversensitivity of certain other people that it's still an issue on Wednesday.  How did I not see this coming?  Of course it's an issue.  Of course certain people are "outraged" and demanding an apology.  And of course I don't think "The Daily Show" should apologize.

This article on The Hollywood Reporter website elaborates on the issue well, and includes video of the "Daily Show" segment in question.  In short, as The Hollywood Reporter puts it, "Stewart’s intent during the segment in question was to ridicule the Fox News Channel for not covering the GOP’s alleged 'war on women' with the sort of zeal that it annually covers the 'war on Christmas.'"

This has led some guy named Brent Bozell of something called the Media Research Center to call out "The Daily Show."  "We dare Jon Stewart to be equally disgusting & desecrate the Koran & Torah to prove they are equal opportunity bigots," says Bozell.  He goes on, "If [Stewart is] such a daring political comedian, he should demonstrate his boldness by performing the same routine, but this time with a Koran and the Torah. Otherwise he is not only a bigot, but also an outright coward."

Bozell is being disingenuous.  He'd have us believe he's being hyperbolic, but he clearly intends to rile his base over a fabricated "controversy" and a challenge that doesn't make any sense.  (Until Fox News starts reporting on a "War On Hanukkah," "The Daily Show" will have no opportunity to put a menorah between a naked woman's legs.)  But my hat's off to him for accomplishing his cynical mission of raising his own profile - this morning, I didn't know what a Brent Bozell was.  Tonight, I spent a good hour writing about him, and will probably have his name stuck in my head for a long time to come.  Well played, sir.