Category Archives: Our Crap Culture

The Other Side of Soccer: Our Idiots are Tougher than Your Idiots

I guess I don’t give this side of soccer much attention, because it tends not to be an issue here in the States, but perhaps it’s an inevitable consequence of soccer’s global emergence.

Or, just another example of the increased idiocy level of people in groups.

Crew-West Ham United friendly marred by brawl between fans

Security guards hold back fans after a fight broke out at an exhibition match between MLS' Columbus Crew and English Premier League side West Ham United.

Security guards hold back fans after a fight broke out at an exhibition match between MLS' Columbus Crew and English Premier League side West Ham United.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Owe Starbucks a Debt of Gratitude

Recently, the Starbucks chain of coffee shops announced a series of store closures, indicating an economic retrenchment after many years of rapid growth. In some circles, this stumbling on Starbucks’ part has been met with cheers of satisfaction, as if a hated style of music had fallen on hard times.

One of the phenomena of our popular culture that has amused me over the last ten years or so is the almost religious hatred that some people have for Starbucks. Unwittingly turning the power of successful branding on its head, these people take it upon themselves as a badge of honor to reject Starbucks as a kind of self-awarded validation of their middle-class rootedness.  Even some very wealthy people do this. Think Mike Barnicle, for example.

They embrace, say, Dunkin’ Donuts as their coffee source of choice as if to say, “I’m a regular guy, ’cause I hate Starbucks”. But in fact, coffee costs pretty much the same at either shop. So it’s not an economic issue.

So go on with your smug, self-satisfied rejection of Starbucks. Because that has everything to do with your self-image; reject the comfy furniture, the calming wood interiors, the soft lighting, the idiotic substitution of foreign-sounding words for “small, medium or large”, or the availability of wi-fi so that a pretentious doofus can sit at a table for a few hours with their laptop pretending to workfor whatever reason.

The irony is, that no matter where you do enjoy getting your coffee from, that coffee is better because of the existence of Starbucks. In fact, Starbucks is the one core reason why good coffee is available nearly everywhere nowadays. But not too long ago, that was not the case.

Fifteen or more years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts, along with virtually every other place that served coffee, did so from one of those “Bunn-O-Matic” hot plate-heated glass carafes, using some crappy generic ground coffee obtained through a food distributor who probably also provided the napkins and the Sweet-n-Lo.  That coffee was made by some disinterested person opening up the store in the morning, and it sat there until it was gone and someone had to make more. Or, if the place wasn’t busy, it would sit there on the burner and get burnt. Or, perhaps someone put in too much water and you drank hot brown water.

I often hear how people who claim to hate Starbucks do so because they don’t like the coffee. “It tastes burnt”.  “It’s bitter”.  However I’ve found that many of those same people don’t drink their coffee black. Of course, that’s a matter of taste, but if you’re one of those people who dumps three sugars and half a cup of milk into their coffee, then your opinion really doesn’t matter. Because you don’t really care what real coffee tastes like. Or smells like.

But for those who actually like the smell and taste of good coffee, say a big “thank you” to the fact that Starbucks exists. Because they raised the bar for everyone. Before, you couldn’t find a dependably good cup of coffee anywhere. Now, local coffee shops thrive in virtually every town, because people now know what good coffee tastes like, and they demand it. McDonalds has great coffee now because of Starbucks. And yes, Dunkin’ Donuts has great coffee because of Starbucks.

For what it’s worth, I like Starbucks. And Dunkin’ Donuts. And McDonalds. And I’m glad I can get a really good cup of coffee at any of them. But I also know why that is.

And now, so do you.

Revisionist Pop Culture History

They say that history is written by the victors. I say it’s written by who’s around. A slight difference perhaps but here’s how I got there.

Our pop culture “history” is being skewed by those who currently create content in our media. Do you like to watch those ‘nostalgia’ shows on VH-1 about the 70s? The ones that focus almost entirely on the disco years, bad sitcoms and a few crappy Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows? Those of us who lived through the period know that there was, in fact, a lot of great music as well as some decent programming then. But then VH-1 is largely populated by 20-somethings, who only know what they can find on reruns or a quick Google search of the Billboard charts. They don’t have the boxes full of 12″ vinyl albums collected over years of diverse listening. They didn’t actually watch TV then because they hadn’t been born. So historical retrospective is shaped from a skewed viewpoint.

Allan Melvin died recently. If you read his obituary in most newspapers , chances are you learned he was “Sam the Butcher” on The Brady Bunch and, oh by the way, he did some other stuff too, but it was in Black and White so who cares. So, this talented actor who, amongst a lifetime of excellent character work, was a key player in Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko series, which had more laughs in one episode than The Brady Bunch had in its entire run, is remembered only for a few appearances in a mediocre Sherwood Schwartz pablum-fest. Because the dweeb whose job it was to crank out the obit for the wire service probably never even heard of Allan Melvin before he died, except when one of his or her peers pointed out that he was “Alice’s boyfriend on the Brady Bunch”.

And while I’m on the subject, let’s talk briefly about Sherwood Schwartz. All of his shows sucked. Without exception. You probably have heard of Gilligan’s Island, his other “hit”. But he was also responsible for the mid-60s bomb, “It’s About Time” which, despite the presence of early TV legends Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca, was horrible. I will say this about Schwartz though: his theme songs were GREAT. In fact, the theme songs were the only redeeming qualities of the three shows I’ve cited. I bet you can sing the themes to both Gilligan’s Island  and The Brady Bunch and, if you’re old enough, can remember at least part of “It’s About Time”.

Which got me to thinking about the power of a good theme song. Or jingle.

About a year ago, I was reading an article in an advertising trade publication where the 30-something pontificating creative being interviewed said that the advertising jingle was long dead. Replaced by licensed usage of pop and rock music. Jingles were history, like three networks and a captive audience.

I’m not sure of the connection between them but I do remember disagreeing when I read it. True, hardly anyone’s using jingles any more.  And yet, most of us remember the good advertising jingles we’ve heard through our entire lives. I can start them here and even without the benefit of singing them you could finish most of them (I threw in one which is local to the Boston area):

  • You, you’re the one…. you are the only reason…
  • Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce….
  • You’ll wonder where the yellow went….
  • Who do you call when your windshield’s busted?
  • Oh, I wish I were an …
  • Double your pleasure …

and so on. My point, of course, is that these jingles give instant and lasting product recall and, usually, brand preference as well. While most of our cherished rock music memories have been sold out to product placements, do they elicit the same strong product recall? Maybe the ubiquitous use of Bob Seger’s Like a Rock comes to mind, but how many millions or perhaps even billions of dollars did that take? And does it make you want to buy a pickup truck? Or does it make you want to put away your Seger LPs or CDs because you’ve heard it a million times now for a truck commercial?

It’s Not That I’m Older, Your Music Really Does Suck

The Offending Moment - Wardrobe MalfunctionThe Truth on a ButtonPreface

Do we automatically prefer the music that was dominant when we were teenagers?

Or, is the music of the mid 60s to the mid 70s truly the Golden Age of Rock Music?

This ongoing section will attempt to address this contentious area of popular culture.

 “There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.” — Duke Ellington

I’ll start things off with a rant I originally wrote right after the whole “Janet Jackson Boob Flash at the Super Bowl” mini-crisis a few years back. It started a lot of conversation at the time, and could serve to set the tone of this section.

Introduction – The State of Things, 2004

 (2/4/2004)

It’s not the boob that was the problem with the halftime, it was the entire halftime.

The Offending Moment

Popular music has been on the decline for quite some time, as “art” has been overwhelmed by the combination of lowest common denominator economics and the inability (or, in many cases, unwillingness) of parents to be able to guide their children towards some semblance of judgment and discretion. The consolidation of corporate ownership of music distribution has, for all practical purposes, dried up the investment in new artists that don’t fit the mold of either empty “American Idol” bombast or disposable ‘hip-hop’ sewage. Exceptions (such as Radiohead, for example) are few and far between.

What used to be a lively, passionate medium of expression and artistry has been reduced to a mediocre sludge of mass-produced ‘beats’ (often not actually played but ‘sampled’ from the creative work of others) and semi-literate mumbling with no vision, creativity or relevance beyond the tip of one’s nose (or other extremity).

“Performance”, previously requiring musical ability and craft, is now replaced by the playback of this studio-manufactured effluent, with lip-synching instead of singing, and the hiring of (usually scantily clad) ‘dancers’ performing the artistic equivalent of aerobic exercise at the local “Curves” salon providing what passes for spectacle.

Video did, indeed, kill the radio star.

Motorcycling: More Divisive than Politics?

HD tat

It’s a lot of fun, especially at this time of year, to point out the myriad hypocrisies involved in politics. You know, all of a sudden everyone’s religious, everyone’s out to help “the working person”, the decrying of “Swift Boating” tactics just because they got away with it and you didn’t, and so on.

Do you think that politics has become too divisive? Too polarized? Too “it’s us versus them, with no middle ground”?

Then don’t take up motorcycling.

You think there’s a divide between “red states” and “blue states”? That’s nothing compared to the divide between Harley Davidson riders and Everyone Else.

You would think that all motorcyclists would be brethren (or sistern or whatever), because we all ride on two wheels, we all love the feeling, the thrill of motorcycling, we all face the looming threat of the clueless cage drivers, and so on.

But you’d be wrong.

Yes, you gotta love the Harley crowd. Those “rugged individualists” and “rebels”, living their lives their own way, by their own rules, not following the crowd, offering only disdain for the rest of you sheep.

Well, God help you if you’re not wearing the uniform.

q       Black T shirt (preferably HD logo infested)

q       Jeans with heavy wallet chain

q       Bandanna on your unhelmeted head (see below)

q       Tats (preferably on your breast or rump if you’re a woman, ‘cause you’ll have plenty of opportunities to display them publicly)

q       HD branded outer garment, or chaps, preferably with fringes (only if temps drop below 60 – and if they drop below 50 fuggetabouddit – put the bike in storage), even though you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything with fringes otherwise.

And if you’re riding in a helmet-required state (which we all HATE because we believe in FREEDOM (as long as you’re not violating the above criteria)), and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY (except when we ride for an hour, toss back six beers, then try to ride home) you have to have the absolute minimal helmet, basically the size of a large yarmulka, worn far back on the head where it will do the absolute least good in a crash, and which MUST be adorned with anti-helmet and/or anti-social stickers.

Oh, and be sure to remove at least some of the noise-suppression baffles from your exhaust pipes, because “loud pipes save lives”. Actually, loud pipes just piss everyone off, alienating neighbors, fellow motorists and giving motorcycling in general a bad name. But hey, you’re not one of the lemmings. You’re an individual. You do what you want to. Especially when everyone else in your group does it too.

Your other vehicle (the one that you actually use 97% of the time) should have a “my other car is a Harley” bumper sticker or license plate frame, or you must have a Harley Davidson window decal prominently in the rear window.

Because, as we know, you’re a rebel.

Most motorcyclists, when encountering another on the road, wave to each other. Just a friendly little wave as if to say “this is great isn’t it? We’re sharing a fantastic experience that only we on bikes can truly appreciate. Good luck getting a wave from a Harley rider, if you’re not on one as well. Because you don’t count.

Now, you could get deeper into it, dividing the “real” Harley riders apart from the “RUBs” (abbreviation for Rich Urban Bikers; typically nouveau-riche senior level executives with more disposable income than they know what to do with, so they buy Harleys to enhance their flagging manhood because Corvettes are, well, so 80s), but that would be picking nits.

People don’t ride Harley Davidsons because they are the best bike available. Top heavy, poor handling, uncomfortable for long periods of time, they are generally rather mediocre. And don’t fall prey to the “Buy American” argument – in this global economy Harleys are made from parts sourced all over the world, particularly Asia. Just like everything else.

Go to a motorcycle convention or gathering some time. If it’s a gathering for most kinds of bikes, most of the people who came from a distance rode their bike there, perhaps even over the course of several days, because they love riding. If it’s a gathering featuring Harleys, you can be sure that most of them either came from less than a couple of hours away, or trailered or trucked their bike to the destination, then rode the remaining few miles to make their appearance on their well-polished, chrome-adorned badges of social differentiation.

You’re riding a Harley to make a statement. You’re a dissident. Different from the rest of us. You don’t play by anyone else’s rules.

Uh huh.

 

Non Harley Rider

Non Harley Rider

 

Harley Rider

Harley Rider

 

Considering a Career Change

Every once in a while, we get to a point in our work lives where we wonder if we made the right choices. Maybe we’re working too hard, or slaving away at something so that someone else can get all the praise and big bucks. Or just doing something that isn’t ultimately satisfying.

I’m in that kind of a place right now. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my next job should be. I’ve been thinking of branching out to new areas I haven’t previously explored.

I read an article by a so-called “career expert” (which apparently means they have had an article published in a job-related website) which suggested making lists of the job attributes that I’d find most desirable in a new career.

So here is my list:

q       High level of renumeration

q       Relatively sedentary physical requirements

q       Completely unaccountable for results

q       Relatively high levels of ego-stroking and positive attention

q       Does not require extreme levels of God-given talents or gifts

I had to add the last one to exclude people like professional athletes, actors, or performers who, for the most part, were born with their abilities or looks and have been able to coast their whole lives. Hey, if you got it, you got it. I just ain’t got it.

So, using this list of ideal job attributes, I’ve developed a list of ideal next careers:

q       Economist

q       Psychologist

q       Meteorologist

Most have unwarranted attention paid to them, and/or get paid well above the average person. Virtually none are accountable for results.

Let me cite a few examples.

Economists and Psychologists, and Meteorologists, Oh My

Economists

I remember watching Lester Thurow, the well-known MIT professor and economic bloviator on a television panel a few years ago. I don’t even remember what the overall reason for the panel was, but what I did take away from it was Thurow’s smarmy declaration, “I get paid enormous sums of money for doing what I do”, or words to that effect. The context of his remarks were meant to seem self-deprecating, i.e., “I don’t really deserve it, shucks, etc.” but in fact he came across as a gloating, pompous,  undeserving ass which, by and large judging his actual positions, is true.

In economics 101 we learned that Government spending crowds out private investment. Anyone with a brain knows this. The late, great Milton Friedman (the one main exception to my assessment of Economists as a group) was the lone voice in the wilderness on this one. And yet this overcredentialed weasel, despite his statements in the eighties favorably comparing the Soviet economy with the United States (less than two years before the collapse of the Soviet economy), and his general advocacy for increased governmental participation in the economy, is a sought-after public speaker and frequent member of boards of directors (two classic and highly desirable something-for-nothing occupations – trophy jobs for the accomplished scam artist).

Psychologists

You know, when things are bothering you, sometimes it’s nice to have someone to bitch to. You can vent for a while, and you feel better. The effects don’t last, but hey, you feel better for a while. We know this. And yet, our airwaves are filled to overflowing with programming content featuring the most self-promoting of these pseudo-professionals spouting glittering generalities about “feelings” and “communicating”; even turning many of them into celebrities. Would you be surprised to learn that most of these hacks are more screwed up than you are?

(I have a story to tell about a psychologists convention I once hosted, which I’ll add here later on.)

Now, there are many psychologists who toil in obscurity, actually helping people who need help, and not getting particularly rich at it. To them I offer my admiration, and sympathies to them for having to share a practice with the self-serving, crap-book-writing, talk-show-appearing, BS artists amongst them.

Meteorologists

Although this one is increasingly falling into the category of jobs for lookers regardless of talent1, there is still some vestige of expectation that there be some accountability for results. At least in the days of crusty New England weathermen like Don Kent, you expected a 50-50 chance he’d be wrong. But nowadays we have nearly a dozen computerized weather “models”, Doppler radar and all sorts of other toys. But no, they’re still wrong at least as often as they’re right. And yet, they’re celebrities, and get paid some serious money in some cases.

And one final gripe. Can we, once and for all, get rid of the idiotic convention of congratulating or blaming the weather person for the weather?  “Boy what a beautiful day you gave us today, Dave!”

Just read the friggin’ teleprompter, news bunny. Don’t try to think or be entertaining.

Ok, I took a breath. I’m fine now.

1 Glaring exception: Mish Michaels. Beautiful and talented.
Mish Michaels

Who the #*^$ is Billy Mays and why is he screaming at me?

I had never heard of Billy Mays when I first endured his undesired entry into my home via a direct-response television commercial a few years back. I figured I must have had a gap in my pop culture lexicon; he introduced himself as if I should already know him and be ready to purchase whatever he endorsed in rapt, open-mouthed wonder.1

Apparently, many people do. He has appeared in what seems to be at least half a dozen commercials, so someone must keep hiring him. Which means a lot of people must be responding positively to this obnoxious, incredible loudmouth’s high-wattage insincerity.Normally, I wouldn’t have given him any additional thought, but now I am a blogger, so I have to actually do a bit of background work before I pontificate.He always struck me (for the brief period between the start of one of his commercials and the moment when I finally located the right remote with the MUTE button) as someone who used to either work as a carnival barker, or worked his way up from hawking dusting wands at the Home Show with an amplified hands-free headset, accosting passers by on their way to get competitive aluminum siding quotes.. And lo, and behold:

That’s exactly what he is. 

 

According to his Wikipedia entry,

Mays began his career as a salesman on the Atlantic City boardwalk, selling the “Washmatik” portable washing device to passersby. Working alongside many seasoned pitchmen, he developed his trademark style of salesmanship. Mays later traveled to home shows, auto shows and state fairs across the United States for a period of twelve years selling various maintenance products and tools, including cleaning products and food choppers.”

 I love that phrase, “working alongside many seasoned pitchmen”. What a lovely, sanitized way of saying, “he learned the fine art of screwing people out of their money from other scumbags who had been doing it longer”. 

You know, it’s bad enough that many television networks deliberately amplify the volume of their commercial content well above that of the program you’ve tuned in to watch. Now, you have to endure this ass clown entering your home uninvited, shouting at you to buy some schlock you don’t want. Is there a hell hot enough for this hairball? 

And let’s place blame where it belongs as well. Anyone who hires him is guilty. And they hire him because he drives sales. Therefore, if you’ve bought something that he’s sold, you’re guilty. Stop the madness. Now.

1Who does he think he is anyway, George Foreman?