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April 2008 Archives

April 30, 2008

Disney and underage girls

It's been interesting watching the Disney reaction to the flap over Vanity Fair's tamely sexualized photograph of Disney star Miley Cyrus. Even though Miley willingly removed her shirt while posing for magazine pictures, she says she's "embarrassed" to have those pictures out there in the world for everybody on the planet to see. Who knows, maybe she reconsidered and really is embarrassed. Or maybe the producers of her show are trying (in vain) to maintain her squeaky-clean image.

Whatever change of heart Miley may or may not have had, Disney's response to the photos is totally clear: they blame Vanity Fair for exploiting their young star. Spokesperson Patti McTeague said, "A situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines."

It's like Disney is just begging for someone to track down an instance of the company using sexualized images of young girls to promote their own products.

Slate contributor Daniel Brook is happy to oblige.

Brook dug out a photograph he took a few months ago in Beijing of a billboard ad for, of all things, a Disney bra-and-panties set intended for 12 year-olds. I have discreetly covered the potentially shocking areas of the ad with an emblem of unblemished virginal intactness (though the scaffolding in front of the billboard adds a disturbing, girl-in-cage kind of aspect) but you can click on the pic for the original version.

Disney bra and panties


Asked about how this ad manipulates a pre-teen girl in order to sell Mickey-themed underwear, another Disney spokesperson has been trying to rationalize. Yes, they approved the image, which was created by a Chinese licensee of their brand. And in Disney's defense, the spokesperson says that in China these kinds of images are "not unusual at all" (like they are over here...?)

April 28, 2008

World discovers Arrested Development two years too late

Arrested Development, online

Rumors about the future of Fox's canceled "Arrested Development" swirl around from time to time. Today's Times reports that since the launch of NBC and Fox's online TV service Hulu, the show has consistently been one of the top three most-watched shows up there. I guess all the people who couldn't be bothered to watch while it was on the air are just getting around to it now.

Creator Mitchell Hurwitz, who effectively ended renewal negotiations in 2006 when he decided he wasn't interested in going on, is surprised. "Isn’t that crazy?" he said in an interview last week. "This was a largely unwatched show when it was on network television," and said its too-little too-late popularity was "enormously rewarding in every way except for financially."

Money was probably one reason why he didn't want to keep the low-rated show on the air, and a few people streaming the show online for free probably isn't generating a lot of income for old Mitch. But the Times is obviously eager to fuel the recently resurrected ongoing low-level rumors about a movie in the works. From the article: "He also suggested that the show’s streaming success could enhance prospects for a film based on the series."

What that probably means is the interviewer said, "Is it true that "Arrested Development"'s success online would in theory make it easier to get a film made?", to which Mitch Hurwitz did not say no. Let's get "Untitled Bluth Project" up on IMDb!

Oo, how tantalizing: it already is. Someone 's trying to will a vague speculation into reality, but I want to believe.

April 24, 2008

Are you aware that Tina Fey's husband looks like this?

Tina Fey and husband

This photo is from last night's premiere of Baby Mama--Tina Fey and her husband Jeff Richmond.

They met while they were both working at Second City and have been married since 2001. I would bet cash money that he is a wonderful and funny guy. Incredibly, Fey says that before she met him she "could not get a date."

But I have to hand it to Tina Fey for staying with this guy instead of doing what other celebrities who suddenly find their public value rocketing to super-fame levels would do, such as divorcing him to trade up for someone more famous like Naveen Andrews or John Stamos (or even her agent.) She's a real movie star now; in terms of media measurement of her fame, she's progressed from being on the cover of Bust to being on the covers of magazines at the checkout at Rite Aid.

How many TV/movie stars under 40 at a Tina Fey-level of fame can you think of who are married to a someone who a) you've never heard of, and b) also isn't conventionally attractive (i.e. not a former model)? Anyone?

April 23, 2008

Seamy underbelly of Hell's Kitchen returns to obscurity

Dead Guy Pay-O-Matic in Hell's Kitchen

The two long-time Hell's Kitchen residents who wheeled their dead friend to a 9th Avenue Pay-O-Matic [above] in January and tried to cash his social security check were cleared of forgery and larceny charges yesterday. There was no proof that the dead guy, Virgilio Cintron, was actually dead at the time they brought him out of the apartment, so the case was thrown out.

And so, after a brief moment in the spotlight, this reminder of what the neighborhood (and a lot of the city) was like decades ago recedes to the background. The neighborhood is increasingly made up of $15/glass wine bars and posh baby-clothes stores, but those exist right next door to the check cashing places that serve the surprisingly resilient non-yuppie segment of the Hell's Kitchen population.

During their period of fame, the two defendants, James O’Hare and David Daloia, shared a lot about their lives with the press. Back at the apartment yesterday, O'Hare said that at the time of Cintron's death, his landlord was trying to evict him. "Maybe I feel like I should have done more," he said. "I could have done more to help him with the medication. I loved the guy. I miss him."

Daloia said, "If the medical examiner couldn’t tell his time of death, and they are the professionals, then how could we?," which doesn't make much sense, considering that they were actually there with the body, tried (unsuccessfully) to pull some pants up onto him, and carried him downstairs onto the street where a crowd immediately noticed that the man in the computer chair was dead.

Daloia and O'Hare have also expressed their surprise at all the media attention. From the Daily News: "Daloia said he was still amazed by all the attention generated by their arrests. 'I thought Britney Spears took her pants down again,' he said outside court."

From Newsday: "Daloia can't understand all the fuss. 'I robbed banks that got less coverage than this.'"

April 22, 2008

Pennsylvania gets ever bluer

Pennsylvania, not a red state anymore

Pennsylvania keeps getting named as a swing state or a battleground state in every recent presidential election, even though the Democratic candidate has won in each of the last four elections.

And while proud wearers of the t-shirt above in the central region of the state tend to vote Republican [county map of 2004 election], the election this November should be an even easier win for the Democrats. Over 200,000 new voters have been registered in recent drives, and 70% of them are Democrats.

It should be easy as long as the maniacal in-fighting of the last 6 weeks doesn't make all these new voters hate their party. So far, it looks like Pennsylvanians are responding to all the attention they've gotten: only 26% of Pennsylvania voters turned out in the 2004 primary, but they're expecting at least twice that level today.

Hopefully they'll still be interested in voting in the fall after the candidates have moved their bowling-and-whiskey-shots operations to Florida and other real battleground states.

April 18, 2008

Keshia, you're a big girl now

Little Rudy Huxtable = all grown up.

Keshia Knight Pulliam

That cute elementary-schooler in pigtails that was America's kid sister in the '80's, Keshia Knight Pulliam, recently turned 29 years old. For people my age, Keshia is like a one-woman version of the Olsen twins that we watched grow up on tv. The difference is that Keshia's a lot better looking, and successfully graduated from college.

Her post-"Cosby Show" career hasn't really taken off (though she was in Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah), but now she's about to enter an important rite of passage for anyone transitioning from child star to adult actress: starring in Tyler Perry's latest family movie as a hooker named Candy.

Who's America's pigtailed cutiepie now? That'll show 'em!

I just learned she also appeared in a 2003 Chingy video with a brief shot of her in a bra [video]. OK girl, we get it, you can put your shirt back on.

April 16, 2008

Pope paraphernalia

The news media is up to its chasubles in photos of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Washington, DC and New York. So here are a few non-Ratzingerian shots of America's response:

Papal merchandising: bumper sticker and "Papa Ben" mug, which bestows upon Benedict a far catchier nickname than anything he probably had earlier in life (Joey Ratz is the best he could have hoped for):

Pope Benedict merchandise

Conceptual Pope/Mary/Jesus/hearts/flowers collage by a little girl in DC:

Pope collage

Meta-Pope: picture of a guy taking a picture of a cardboard Pope cutout in the Bronx:

Meta Pope photo

April 15, 2008

Tax Day: It's on like a pot of neck bones

Today's a good day to pause and think about the Official Tax Preparer of Amy's Robot, Mo' Money Taxes. You should probably take the time to go and watch all of their brilliant commercials, featuring words of wisdom such as "yesterday I had no money, but today I got mo' money because of Mo' Money Taxes and it's on like a pot of neck bones!"

Another great thing about Mo' Money Taxes is their clever, subtle use of scare tactics:


Here you see three black women being tied up by thuggish white guys who work for a nasty Other Tax Company and are going to take all of their money. Good thing they can go to Mo' Money Taxes instead!

The latest ad is known as Mo' Money Vice which is like Miami Vice, but with more taxes and more bootyliciousness.

April 14, 2008

Robert Downey Jr., action hero

I was at the movie theater the other day, and next to the standard Prince Caspian and Kung Fu Panda posters, I saw this crazy bullshit.

Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder

Robert Downey, Jr. as a demented action hero who I think is also black.

Between this and Iron Man, which mostly looks like it's meant to be a straight comic-book action movie even though RDJ smirks through the entire trailer, I guess he's on a whole new career path as a funny-ironic tough-guy.

This movie is called Tropic Thunder. Here's a few things about it:

  • It's written and directed by Ben Stiller, so it's a joke.
  • It's the first movie he's written and directed since Zoolander, so it should be funny in a broad, hammy kind of way. Especially since it stars both Stiller and Jack Black.
  • Yep, that's Robert Downey, Jr. in blackface.
  • The use of blackface as a joke has set off a firestorm on the IMDb discussion board, where arguments mostly consist of "This movie is really offensive and racist" or "What are you talking about, it's funny and it's using blackface to make fun of racism," and go on from there without making many interesting points, and eventually descend into name-calling and actual racism. And you can bet that White Chicks and Soul Man are brought up a lot.
  • While this movie is probably not intentionally racist, any movie that uses blackface as comedy is going to cause some commotion. RDJ says about it, "If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell."
  • Parts of the trailer are really funny.
  • The movie is about the wild mishaps that occur during the filming of a big-budget Vietnam movie. Steve Coogan plays the director, Nick Nolte is the writer, and they decide to drop their coddled cast into an actual war zone to get more authentic performances.

I hope this movie is funny enough to justify every terrible movie Ben Stiller has starred in since Dodgeball.

April 11, 2008

Cultured meat becoming a reality, still grossing people out

fake meat

Today the Times' environmental blog Dot Earth has a piece about manufactured meat, which is grown in a lab through animal cell cultures instead of as actual animals.

The idea of lab meat has been freaking people out for a few years now as scientists have been figuring out how to culture meat using stem cells. Advocates point out that cultured meat doesn't require killing animals, doesn't cause the environmental damage of raising livestock, produces no waste bone, fat, or other tissue, and is essentially no different from making yogurt or wine by processing natural raw ingredients. And sausages and chicken nuggets are already heavily processed and not really visually recognizable as meat the way a steak or a chicken wing is.

But people still think eating meat grown in a lab is creepy, even if they're cool with eating actual animal meat that's been processed into a sausage or chicken nugget. You also can't grow a pork chop or a wing in a lab.

The Times has been covering this technology for a while, and featured it in the 2005 Year In Ideas issue. The best part of that article is a photo of mouse stem cells, labeled with the caption, "Tube steak?" Dick joke in the Times!

I'm probably going to stick with Boca's delicious Chick'n Nuggets and breakfast links, which are pretty much indistinguishable from genuine processed meat already.

April 8, 2008

Childcare solutions


The US has the stingiest parental leave policies in the world, so apparently some companies are now trying something new. According to a number of recent articles, at least 83 companies are now encouraging mothers to bring their pre-crawling babies to the office. There's even an organization dedicated to promoting Babies in the Workplace which claims that "having babies out in society gives people who otherwise don't see babies an opportunity to enjoy the calming and rejuvenating effect of them. " Uh-huh. I could say the same for puppies and loud hip-hop music.

As you can imagine, not all co-workers like the idea:

"I do not go to work every day to listen to the breeders' brats scream all day and to smell their baby poo diapers. And I certainly don't want to walk past a cubicle to see some woman breastfeeding her baby. NO."

Actually, that quote sounds like it's from someone who just hates kids in general.

There's a lot that doesn't seem good about this trend. As Zoe Williams points out: "If you're being asked to do your job and your childcare at the same time, the implication is that one of those things is not work."

Many of the bosses and parents quoted in these stories act like this is a great benefit. Compared to no paid parental leave, I guess it's not a bad thing. But I hardly think most parents would choose to bring their cute little screamer to work if they only had some more appealing options.

April 4, 2008

Birthdays and drugs

Robert Downey Jr. and Heath Ledger, Aries

This is going to blow your mind.

Today is Robert Downey, Jr.'s birthday. And today also would have been Heath Ledger's birthday. Both are exceptional actors, both got destroyed by drugs, in one way or another.

I bet good old Robert Downey, Jr. knows full well that he shares a birthday with Ledger, and is spending some time today thinking about his memorable "I've got a shotgun in my mouth, with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal" metaphor for his relationship with drugs.

It's also David Cross's birthday (he's actually a year older than RDJ! Amazing.) He loves drugs too, judging from his stand-up routines and some interviews.

If you're into this kind of thing, here's Robert Downey, Jr.'s astrological chart and someone's analysis of it. Here's Heath Ledger's.

April 3, 2008

Glory Glory Hallelujah

girl with a machine gun

As far as I'm concerned, this is the whole point of user-generated content: Wikipedia's exhaustive entry on the popular generation-spanning parody children's song, "The Burning of the School".

Kids have been singing versions of this song about destroying their schools and torturing/killing their teachers and administrators since 1950's England. I heard a lot of variations between grades 2 and 5, but, of course, the song has been continuously developing in different regions and populations, and today the list of variations of the verses and chorus is vast.

Every version of the song seems to start with "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school", and the chorus always starts with "Glory glory hallelujah, teacher hit me with a ruler", which is like a tribute to the olden days of public school corporal punishment that, even if it isn't practiced anymore, still serves as the justification for fantasizing about killing your teacher. A few variations of lines I hadn't heard before:

  • We have sliced the English teachers and have drowned them in their blood
  • We have wandered down the halls writing cuss words on the walls
  • We have bound and gagged the principal and tossed him in the pool
  • We have barbecued the principal, destroyed the PTA
  • and one funny, grisly variation that completely abandons the rhythmic structure of the song:

  • We have forgotten our multiplication tables, eaten our teachers and their families
  • The chorus variations are simpler, and are mostly based on different models of guns:

  • Met her at the gate with a loaded .38
  • Met her at the door with a loaded .44
  • Shot her in the bean with an M-16
  • Shot her up to heaven with an AK-47
  • And a few dated ones that seem insufficiently gruesome by today's standards, or just don't make sense anymore:

  • I hit her in the bean with a rotten tangerine
  • Met her at the bank with a loaded German tank
  • Now that cops are arresting 3rd graders and charging them with conspiracy to attack their teacher with a paperweight, it's going to be hard for today's elementary schoolers to keep developing the song with new and innovative violent imagery. Keep the underground parody song movement alive, kids!

    April 1, 2008

    Crinkly music fans rejoice

    Paul Simon rocks out

    Tonight at BAM begin a month-long residency by Paul Simon. This seems a little surprising, since BAM usually goes for less mainstream performers (Fiona Shaw in Happy Days buried up to her shoulders in a mound of dirt, for example) and I tend to think of Paul Simon as an eggheady musical tourist that my parents enjoy listening to. A month-long BAM residency by someone like David Byrne, that I could see.

    But Paul Simon? Paul Simon means swarms of aging Upper West Siders in batik kaftans and fake-exotic jewelry, getting down to "You Can Call Me Al".

    Those people will be there, sure, but there will probably be a cool element there too--Pitchfork just reviewed a collection of live Simon and Garfunkel performances that was released by Starbucks. And they gave it a 7.9!

    Also Jon Pareles at the NY Times (not exactly the most forward-thinking music critic, but still) wrote a long piece about Paul Simon with a sort of convincing argument that, for all his success and popularity among people like my parents, he's still an outsider in the music world.

    I'm not sure that one of the world's most recognizable folksy singer-songwriters is still an outsider just because he keeps writing about being alienated and sullen, and Pareles does admit that his style is "smart, bourgeois, fussy wimp." But I'll admit I listened to that Concert in Central Park cassette a million times in high school, and for at least one of the BAM shows, Paul Simon will be joined by David Byrne, as well as actual African people. Remaining tickets start at $100! (Oh well.)

    In other old rock star news, REM's new album "Accelerate" comes out today and they played a good set this morning at Rockefeller Center [video].

    About April 2008

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