Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dumbed Down and Tarted Up Lightweights

The Pre-Bypass Al Roker

During our time in South Korea, Laurie and I were able to access only one English-language channel: AFN...The Armed Forces Network. AFN broadcasted the top shows from every major network, so even though we had only one channel, it was generally pretty high-quality programming. For that reason, and due to the fact that AFN was a taste of home, we probably watched more T.V. than in the rest of our lives combined. I'm grateful my last remaining battalion of battle-hardened brain cells survived their extended tour of duty.

I'm ashamed to admit that we began to watch the news/entertainment trainwreck The Today Show in the morning as we drank our coffee before work, due to the fact that it was the only news program available at that time. Today was the first show to combine news, lifestyle features, interviews, and banal schtick. In its early years, it featured host Dave Garroway and a chimpanzee named J.Fred Muggs. The popularity of the Today Show spawned copycat newstainment programs like Morning Edition and The Early Show.

I still watch Today as I make breakfast in the morning. I'm not proud. I consider the today show to be the Elite Republican Guard of the tabloidization of news. Considering the show was once co-hosted by a chimp, and is now co-hosted by Katie Couric, maybe I expect too much from them, and yet, I can't quite seem to ever lower the bar enough.

It's not the fluff pieces, like Matt Lauer's recent hard-hitting expose on "Mancrushes" (inspired by George Costanza), that irritate me, but rather their unbridled pomposity when ineptly covering real issues. You can tell they're attempting something of importance: Matt adopts a Rob Cordry-like countanance and Katie Couric dons her reading glasses; these are the oh-so-subtle cues that they've channelled the spirit of Ron Burgundy and are trying to pass themselves off as real journalists...

The other day,Couric conducted a typically breezy, lightweight interview with Karen Hughes.

Here's what Media Matters had to say about it:

Katie Couric, host of NBC's Today, prefaced her questioning in an October 18 interview with Karen Hughes, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, by baselessly stating, "I know you're not at liberty to talk about the investigation into the CIA leak"

If that weren't enough, on Monday morning, while packing lunch, I caught a brief glimpse of Al Roker, the clown prince of weather, covering the hurricane in Floria live on location.

Al, the de facto spokesman for gastric bypass surgery, adopted the cliched reporter-standing-against-the-wind pose, and I remarked to Laurie that it would be ironic if he were swept away by the hurricane due to his decreased density; he lost the weight so he wouldn't die only to die because he lost weight.

Little did I know my observation came this close to prophecy. Later that night, I found out that a gust of wind actually levelled Roker, and he had to be rescued by his cameramen.

That, my friends, is situational irony.

Among the other factors damaging our public discourse in the media, the imposition by management of entertainment values on the journalism profession has resulted in scandals, fabricated sources, fictional events and the tabloidization of mainstream news. As recently stated by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and tarted up." --Al Gore

Friday, October 14, 2005

Worst Halloween Costume Ever

Last year, I unexpectedly won second place in the "Best Costume: Male" category at Don and Janet's annual Halloween bash. Laurie went as Tanya Harding, and I dressed up as Nancy Kerrigan (after considerable badgering, I might add).

To me, the fact that anyone even remembered Harding's whack job on Kerrigan ten years later in 2004 seemed odd, but then again, this is Canada, a nation with a long and illustrious tradition in ice skating, and a fondness for the cross-dressing comedy stylings of The Kids in the Hall.

In the Livery's production of MacBeth this past summer, I had the pleasure of being gorrified by Heather, who skillfully applied a six-inch latex gash across my throat and doused me in stage blood night after night. My creepy appearance was enhanced by my real-life inspiration--Terry Schaivo. After the first performance, rather than glowering with a downcast expression as is the custom, I swayed my head slightly as an infant would-- as if my neck muscles were partially severed, and let my eyes wander, never settling for very long on any fixed point. As a result, gasps were heard in the audience when I turned around to face the fiendlike pretender-king. It was great fun.

This year, thanks to Mark A. Rayner of the Skwib, I'm thinking of going as Gabe Kaplan. Check out his reference to "The Worst Halloween Costumes Ever".

What are your Halloween plans? What was your worst costume ever? Photos, please!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Duelling Dystopias

Two weekends ago, Laurie and I attended a fundraiser for a local women's shelter. The featured speaker was none other than the most prominent Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood. In her presentation, Atwood revealed a passionate concern for the state of humanity, an endearing wry and self-depricating wit, and an inability to type. Our local literary giant, Alice Munro, introduced Atwood, and revealed Margaret's secret talent for making delicious rhubarb pie.

I'm currently reading Atwood's latest, Onyx and Crake, her second dystopian novel.
While The Handmaid's Tale portrays a future society in North America where a fundamentalist theocracy subjugates women taliban-style, Ornx and Crake presents the more familiar post-apocalyptic vision of extreme social inequality, environmental degredation, and genetic tinkering run amok.

The most famous dystopian novel of all time has to be George Orwell's 1984 (Not to be confused with the Van Halen album of the same name--although Van Halen is a sort of dystopian vision of music). I first read it at age 14, spurred on by the literary and mass media frezy at the time of finding parallels between what Orwell envisioned and what was reality at that time.

What dystopian novel do you think most closely parallels reality as we know it in 2005?

What do you fear the future holds in store for us?

Here are a few plot ideas I have for aspiring dystopian novellists. Feel free to take them as your own, but send some royalties my way:

1. Teens, unsatisfied with tongue piercings and tatoos, delve into genetic body modifications and "personal parasites"; lampreys, leeches, etc. in an effort to shock their parents. Those who wish to be "hung like a horse" can find scientists only too happy to prepare gene splicings to accomodate them.

2. Canadians, fearing America's insatiable appetite for their vast national resources, begin a subtle campaign of infiltration into American culture. They bring hockey to the American Southwest, send their top comedians to Hollywood, and lace Tim Horton's donuts with an addictive ingredient supplied by the Elsinore brewery.

3. The mainstream media, controlled by multinational corporations, dumbs down broadcasting to such a degree that human beings are entranced by Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, enthralled by Ben Mulrooney, and captivated by NASCAR.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Be honest. You read the title of this post, and now you can't get those awful yet catchy Styx lyrics out of your head, can you?

One of the most popular sites on the internet at the present moment is Post Secret, it bills itself as "an ongoing community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard".

Secrets, secrets, we all have 'em. I'm not sure of what to make of the site. Does anonymously confessing in cyberspace serve to purge the demons of those who contribute artwork and confessions? Is it a platform for emotional catharsis? What does this phenomenon say about our need to deal honestly with our own emotions?

Here's a picture from Post Secret to give you the gyst.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

New Uses For Duct Tape?

When I worked as a canoe guide in Northern Minnesota's Boudary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, my most indispensable repair item was a roll of duct-tape. In the middle of the wilderness, I patched canoes, repaired shoes, fishing rods, and even closed hatchet gashes with it.

At the time, I had no idea I was ten years ahead of the marketing curve.

The original use of duct tape was to provide a waterproof membrane to keep WWII ammo cases waterproof. Fifty years later, people are still coming up with creative ways to use the product.

From my hometown rag, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today:

Even tough guys get boo-boos. Now they can fix their nicked knuckles with a new 3M bandage made of real duct tape and medical-grade adhesive.

Christine Pedginski, a 3M Co. marketing manager, said the company discovered that plumbers, carpenters and other workers routinely slapped duct tape on minor wounds.

The new bandage is about 20 percent longer than a standard model, the better to fit big hands and gnarly fingers. Despite its macho appeal, Pedginski said marketing tests showed that women liked it as much as men did.

Can you imagine life without post-it pads or duct tape? St. Paul-based Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M)is the company that originally created and marketed both products.

In Canada, Red Green popularized the many uses of duct tape, and a mosiac of the Canadian Icon can be seen at the Canadian 3M duct tape gallery:

Take A Tour Here:

What novel uses can you come up with for duct tape? Your responses will be documented for posterity here at the Poutine Diaries, in the event of future patent lawsuits.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I Understand Women, Part III: What Should I Do With My Hair?

...That has to be one of my wife's most often-asked questions, along with "What should I wear"?

What should she do with her hair? You know full well you don't care, so what do you say?

"Honey, I like it when you wear your hair in a ponytail. When you have your hair in a ponytail and you wear your glasses, you look like the girl next door in a John Hughes teen romance flick from the eighties...you know, the girl who is supposed to be plain jane, but once she takes off her glasses and lets down her hair she's ten times more good looking than the hot popular girl..."

It doesn't matter what you suggest, but it's how you suggest it that counts.

This brings as to rule #3:

When she asks what she should wear, it's not about the clothes;
when she asks what she should do with her hair, it's not about the hair.

I've learned that, although my input appears to be solicited, It's usually a rhetorical question. Laurie knows full well I couldn't put an outfit together with duct tape.

In such situations, what a woman really wants to know is that you're listening to her. To most men, "what should I wear" is a simple question of color preference.

"Wear the blue one".

"Which one? Turquoise, meditteranean green-blue, or aquamarine"?


"What pants should I wear with that"?

"The brown ones".

"kakhi, teak, or camel"?


...Ten minutes later, she appears in blue jeans and a pink shirt. Don't ask me what particular kind of pants, or what kind of top...
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