Posted in Uncategorized on September 17th, 2004 by byronkho

I asked Melody to see a free sneak preview with me on Wednesday. What could go wrong? a) It was National Lampoon (remember Animal House?) and b) it had Nikki Ziering, Playboy Playmate in 1997. So we get there and there’s 12 people in the audience. 12. Ridiculous. This is at Ritz East, which was probably paid oodles of money to show a movie it would usually never condescend to show on its screens otherwise. By the way, the movie was “Golddiggers”, changed from “Lady Killers” which I guess had to be changed not to confuse it with the Tom Hanks’ vehicle “The Ladykillers”. And who could have guessed? Put a Playmate, the older bro from Boy Meets World, Fran Drescher’s momma from the Nanny and the Sherminator in one room and good things should happen, right?

So the movie starts. And we find that things are not as they seemed. (Play Jaws music.) The movie is so bad, and that’s why it’s funny. Not because any of the jokes are actually funny – but because the premise of the movie involves two dumb criminals trying to make a quick buck by marrying and killing off two crones, who are conspiring to do the same to the boys. They think each other has loads of money. Playmate shows up for maybe 5 minutes in juicy bikini, but it’s a dream sequence. Damn dream sequences! Well, we didn’t win the 3 prize drawings in a room of 12, some lady kept snoring and shouting, alternately, and the buffoons next to us were shouting in vain for the idiotic mental patient to shut up. After not being able to stand two ugly old crones for the entire movie, it ended. Finally. Some seated guy, on the way out, asked us if we would go back to watch it again. “Yeah, sure,” I mumbled. Over my dead body.

It must be the only movie to get a 0% on For real, it did. Shame on National Lampoon. Shame. In other news, Cellular wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was stupid ridiculous for the first half and pretty good for the second. And any time I get to watch Jessica Biel do anything, is a good time. Hero is a GOOD movie, I skipped the Cookout, Anacondas was a bad movie… um, I think that’s it. Oh wait, no it’s not. Vanity Fair was thoroughly enjoyable, though a bit long (and Romola Garai is so cute); and Bright Young Things was awesome. Just awesome. Emily Mortimer is so amusing, for some weird weird reason.

Conservative News Network? Foxy News? Hmm.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7th, 2004 by byronkho

I’m depressed about the news business. I don’t think I’m going to watch cable news any more, because they’re all so biased. All the news shows – especially Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity – are so virulent; news shows should not be so virulent. Whatever they are saying, the very fact of their virulency and propagation of only one opinion is bad. I just watched Outfoxed. That movie is a little virulent itself, but it points out several things that are very visible to me. After September11, there was very little proper coverage of the major social and economic issues. Last year, I watched cable news and didn’t read stuff online, and ended up knowing next to nothing about the economy, Medicare and Social Security – yet i knew every movement in Iraq and all the Bush and terrorism bullshit that they kept on parroting. Well, yes, they covered gay marriage and abortion stuff, but mainly because the outraged Christian conservatives were bringing it up. Apparently, those guys must be a big customer bloc (or voting bloc, if the networks are really political mouthpieces, as this documentary shouts at me) because the anti-Christian thing is somehow more important to us than AIDS (which is decreasing in the United States but increasing worldwide). It is also astonishing that our knowledge of foreign policy based on cable news is terrible, in that national survey done last year. Though NPR is a little more liberal than it should be, it covers a lot of material that have yet to be aired on any of the major channels, even with a right-wing view. What’s with that? How can viewers of news be more dumbed-down and more uninformed than when they started? The newspaper business seems to be a little better, as words are more vulnerable to charges of misrepresentation. I’m sure some sort of bias also occurs in the papers too, since Murdoch owns some of those. Oh, and another question here: why are Republicans so angry about Soros funding the Democrats with billions when they got Murdoch helping out with money AND with air time? People can get their Bush propaganda without even realizing they’ve been conned! And for the record, Bill O’Reilly is an asshole who knows jackshit and has no business being on a news channel. I don’t watch news channels because I want to hear a smug bastard parrot his opinion. I want to hear his guest’s opinions and NOT his. Anchors and hosts have no business inserting their opinion on the show. Any one in favor of Sean Hannity, please put your hard-on away. Thank you. That is all.

Eva Green (roll tongue back into mouth), Iraq.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 5th, 2004 by byronkho

Let me just be the one to say this: Eva Green is beautiful. There’s this game that they play, and the loser experiences the maximum of shame. That’s one part. Then, the heady goodness of 1960s liberalism, the film intelligentsia, eroticism extraordinaire. Bernard Bertolucci found a winner in Gilbert Adair’s the Holy Innocents – it’s strange that it’s out of print and it would be horrendously expensive to ship a copy from some stranger in the UK that happens to have a copy of the book. Oh, the movie was the Dreamers, and the UK version of the poster is much nicer than the stupid US cover. I have yet to experience John Hurt and Jason Priestley’s film version of Love and Death on Long Island, or the Adair book it was based on; this was found during a search of novels based in or centered on New York boroughs or suburbs. Coney Island and Brooklyn have lots of area-specific novels – there seems to be a spirit lurking in the ancient alleyways that don’t exist in Harlem or Queens, which are invaribaly the setting for homicides and drug deals which could happen just as easily in Chicago’s East Side, South Philadelphia or Hong Kong in the 1950s.

Terrorism is growing, and there is no doubt about that. This is what scares me most: that the war on terrorism has actually increased the passion of enemies, and incited passions in others where none had existed before. We can look at a similar war of futility, that would similarly escalate tensions where none had existed before; take World War I. The petty differences of the monarchs of old Europe – all related, naturally – were played out on a giant chessboard called Europe, each pawn representing millions of men and ending in a stalemate rather than a checkmate. The winner bails out the loser, and the loser is not neutralized. Rather, his people’s national passions are further inflamed, and the feeling that they have been treated wrongly and scorned by the rest of the world led to their easy manipulation by a dimunitive Austrian. World War II. It would be arguable (of course, highly speculative) that World War II would never have happened if bruised egos had not clashed and if a mass collectivization of the idea of nationality had not occurred during the 19th century. Pride before the fall. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the prior rise of nationalism compares to growing Muslim alienation and 9/11. OK, I could word it better, but I’m tired. In any case, when we had identifiable cause – the damage Hitler did to Europe before the war was a good reason, but competitions of national pride were not – it would be a good idea, and we would have grounds for a defense maneuver and be less vulnerable to charges of creating large-scale distractions. For example, Iraq as a target was never sufficiently explained or proved to the public. Even if it was a significant threat, the evidence shown us and the arguments presented turned out to be very much less than adequate. North Korea, as a comparison, happens to be much more of a threat and would be realistically a better target for defense measures. For pride reasons, we needed to find a scapegoat for 9/11, and Iraq was it. It became not a war on terrorism but a war on a country with little contact with the terrorists (Iran is a much better place to run operations out of, anyway) and scant evidence of nuclear weapons that never materialized.

But wait! Perhaps Iraq was actually a threat and we have not been given all the information for security reasons – in that case, we still have failed our primary objectives. To decrease terrorism. The plan to return Iraq to the people has been misguided at some point and seems more a campaign of oppression upon an unwilling nation, where American soldiers die (the death toll is over the Gulf War’s by now) to save children that spit on them, mothers that throw stones and fathers who set bombs in front of their headquarters. The exit plan has not been implemented as an exit, and this has served to be the final straw for Muslim leaders, who can declare an unwarranted oppression of Muslim peoples (and not unreasonably either!) given the information thus far presented by the media. I fear we have awakened a sleeping dragon.

Creative Non-Fiction Writing: the Pool.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 4th, 2004 by byronkho

I’m giving myself to the end of this week to decide if I want to go into English 135, Creative Non-Fiction Writing. I think I’d be great for the course – I love writing.

So, Molly introduces a topic from the class: a sketch of a place using sensory details (smell, feel, etc.), atmosphere, emotional connections or responses, or function of the place. Here it is…

Standing by the side of the Fairview Township pool on the last day of summer is a bitter experience. It is late; closing time is nearly upon me, and I can’t even bring myself to leave my spot on the metallic benches surrounding the pool, replacing the wood ones which had corroded away into green dampness after several years of damage. All I’ve done for the past couple hours is stare into the waters of the pool. The murky green depths seem to glare out at me, the pungent chlorine fumes from the night’s cleaning creating an ambivalent reminder of childhood, of stinging eyes and barbeques and pool parties and family and friends, all gathered to worship, in awe, in the mighty waters of the blue divine that is this pool. I wish that it wasn’t closing time. I want these memories to stay forever and ever, but the rock pits and the green slime covering the walls – some in the drains, and some in the crevices along the deck – they call out for a time of rest, when the water is not stirred up into towering demons, splashing their way into fiery oblivion to the dismay of elderly men swimming laps and mothers teaching their little children to finally swim. I can picture the water streaming away, drying up, exposing the bottom to the air and sunlight. It is sad, then, that all I picture is the rust building up on the metal rungs on the pool ladders; I picture leaves settling into the empty bottom and cradling mice and insects for a warm night’s rest in this forgotten giant, to be flushed out when the waters are turned on. I see mighty floods ravaging the bone dry pool bottom, bringing back the smell of burning hot dogs, shiny red lifeguard uniforms being hauled out of the dryers to be used, whistles being polished, kids being yelled at to stop running on the deck – then suddenly, I am shocked out of this reverie as the pool man turns to me and beckons for me to leave. It has ended, this era. The pool I knew has descended into memory, a dank shadow of what was once a glorious summer day. As I collect my bag with my bottle of sunscreen, my beach towel and my flip-flops, I shed a little tear for the pool, the summer, and all my memories. I know that I will never experience this again; this plateau between childhood and adulthood – where the pool was a central part of my life, a meeting place with friends, a celebratory romp in the middle of the best summer our little town has had, a calm oasis in the middle of hectic family gatherings – will soon become faded flowers in the overgrown garden of my mind. I sit on a bench by the parking lot, next to a little girl waiting for her parents to pick her up.

“You going home?”

“Yes,” she answers, “swimming’s all done. You should go home too. You look a wreck.”

I do. But that’s okay. There’s always next year.

Election Year Political Advertising

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1st, 2004 by byronkho

It’s an election year. From the bowels of the earth, the roaring media machine known as the political campaign traverses the width and breadth of the country, pampering the populace and lambasting the enemy – be it bleeding-heart liberals, war-hawk Republicans or those fringe candidates with wild-eyed notions of “free health-care”, or “immediate peace in Iraq.” One is supposed to take a side, because, inevitably, there will be one of these moments: someone brings up a potent political argument – whether it be economic policy, health-care reform, even the war in Iraq – and there you are, with nothing to say. It isn’t enough to have a mild inclination, or some sort of moral inner compass that steers one toward one side of an argument without a firm basis, or even any basis at all. Especially in an election year, when each person will be responsible for elevating another mere human being to the presidency, a position that holds the ability to affect the future of the entire country. In these times – four months until November by my count – it is almost dangerous to merely follow your inclinations.

Follow your heart. It’s a common enough message, portrayed in enough movies and novels that it’s almost a given in today’s world. The underdog, trapped by an unforgiving society, chooses happiness over safety – these choices are allowed us by our freedoms and democracy, no matter the risk or price. But who are we to say that one’s heart is able to choose blindly, and make the right decision? In reality, no one does. You would want to make sure your dream guy or girl doesn’t rate violence and alcoholism high on their list of priorities; similarly, you wouldn’t want to marry someone who would not care a whit about the future – ostensibly, this would adversely affect you and your potential family, psychologically and financially. You would, in other words, educate yourself on all aspects of the person and not just on how they look.

So why shouldn’t this be so with your political choice? Unfortunately, most people have taken it on themselves to be a media-educated population. Television, radio and print news keep us up-to-date without effort, and though we complain of the bias of the liberal media, there is not much drive to find things out for ourselves – what else would we be paying reporters and journalists for? So, we listen to what the media has to offer, and for better or worse, we let that rule the way we feel.

Advertising executives are well aware that the average consumer thinks with his heart and not with his head. In an April NPR round-table discussion on presidential campaign ads, Linda Kaplan of The Kaplan Thaler Group remarked that “the problem is that [candidates] think it is about what they think, when it’s really all about who they are.”

That’s probably why radical propaganda is so effective – right-wing Limbaugh paints Democrats as impractical and unpatriotic and still has the highest-rated talk radio show; ultra-liberal Michael Moore preaches the corruption and incompetence of the reigning Republicans and still came up with the highest-grossing documentary on its first week of release; and cult Democrat Lyndon LaRouche can weave Republican conspiracy theories and still come up on primary ballots for an eighth presidential campaign. Though it’s arguable that their message only further persuades the converted, they rely mostly on well-developed and consistent character smears that actually does answer the all-important question: who are these people?

On the same token, it also explains why political television ads are so ineffective in comparison to consumer ads and propaganda. While ad makers understand the consumer logic that underlies any media posturing, political media campaigns are stifled by the very nature of politics. Caution is key, as is appeasing the greatest number of voters. To do so, they utilize polls. In an article by Joshua Green in the July 2004 Atlantic Monthly, Republican media consultant John Brabender notes that in most political ads, “every candidate is basically saying the same four poll-tested things.” As polls also reveal weak issues for each candidate, many campaigns misunderstand the medium, and “try to cram as many issues into an ad as they can,” according to Brabender.

This ends up confusing the voter and obscuring the issues, which should really count for more than any character flaw the candidate might have. To make up for these lapses (which I believe raises voter apathy), candidates usually end up using personal attacks, particularly in the few weeks just prior to the election. During the campaigns of 1988 and 1992, George Bush Sr. raised the bar on negative campaigning toward both Dukakis and Clinton. Clinton himself endured two campaigns worth of allegations of sexual misconduct and later, perjury. Most memorably, the 2000 campaign had stark representations of a dumb Bush Jr. and a lying Gore.

As for this campaign? It seems as if those old negative ads – here we draw a line between comparative discourse and attack rhetoric – are back again, in full force. It’s probably the most expensive campaign in American history. In an advertising frenzy during one month, the Bush campaign paid out $85 million to broadcasters nationwide. Kerry and related Democratic groups trailed behind with only $65 million. Funny enough, the states which aired the most virulent Bush ads saw drops in positive ratings for Bush, though there wasn’t always an equal rise in Kerry’s stats. The furious attacks are probably counterweight to the “free” advertising put out from the Democratic side, especially with the films “Unconstitutional”, “Fahrenheit 9/11”, “Outfoxed”, and the other documentaries captured from all over the world to display what the world sees as the international face of stubbornness. Just as Bush did with the Swift Boat Veterans, Kerry did not deny the “truths” espoused by these extra-political sources. By not saying anything, there was a tacit acceptance of sometimes outrageous methods and conclusions. In several cases, both campaigns utilized images of Hitler to emphasize the righteousness of their campaigns (and the wrongness of the other side).

As they design the various ads that will persuade us to vote for their candidate, campaign managers seem to take it for granted that we are a nation of media addicts. We are addicts, of course; common knowledge imparts to us the fact that our children watch the most television in the world. After all, we didn’t believe the Vietnam War was over until Walter Cronkite told us so. We didn’t quite believe in Monica Lewinsky’s innocent-girl act until Barbara Walters told us so. We didn’t quite believe that Gore was president until Brokaw told us so – but of course, he was wrong. And advertising? There’s a reason why it earns the majority of the profits for broadcasting companies.

But it is important to note the context of the political campaign assumption: that they feel they can educate us enough to make the right choice – their choice – by their use of media. In their case, “media” largely refers to 30 to 60 second television ads that attempt to broadcast an entire position in the blink of an eye.

Here we pass on the argument from campaign media to news media. The public understands the bias present in advertising, whereas they are suspicious of bias in news media: a 1996 poll revealed 77% of Americans mistrust the accuracy of journalism. This is probably related to the media propensity for flashy sensationalistic stories; according to Jack Fuller in his book News Values, “the thought that news reports should be true dawned on journalists only recently.” In the not-too-distant past, journalism was almost totally propagandized. But unlike the flashy sensationalism inherent in advertising, American viewers actually prefer their news to be unlike it, even if it’s not quite as interesting.

In the end, the public is still made more educated by news than by advertising. Take television news. It is presumed to contain political posturing (the “liberal media”) and its viewer-ship runs in the millions, even making the Nielsen Top 20 during certain weeks. Though we complain about the bias, we seem to be educated and made up-to-date by merely paying a short bit of attention. We don’t have to exert much effort: what else would we be paying reporters and journalists for, if not to do the drudge work for us? So why then are we so suspicious of news sources? Maybe for good reason. It is remarkably similar to advertising in other respect; it aims to educate, it is biased (albeit to a less debatable degree), has millions of viewers, and earns millions of dollars for their media sponsors. However, nobody

But even as I wax negative on the intellectual laziness of the populace and the effects of the media, it would seem that we aren’t entirely image-driven and careless – because, in some fashion, we do worry about the issues which shape our lives in this country. According to a study in Communication Quarterly by Benoit and Lee, South Korean presidential election winners have tended to emphasize character over policy, reflecting the attitude of the voting population. The United States, on the other hand, show the reverse.

Policy over character, policy over character. Sounds good. But we still want our candidates to be like us, a profoundly “heart” attitude to take. After all, the old myth that opposites attract was finally proven untrue by Cornell researchers early last year. So what do we have now? You’re innately biased. The media’s biased. So go out there. Do some reading. Think about it. And probably the best advice you can take with you this election year (or any other time for that matter): don’t believe everything we tell you.