Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Pop Culture

Seven Minutes of Terror

Give NASA some credit, without a whole lot to work with, a whole lot of people are suddenly excited by the new rover’s landing thanks to some elementary branding.

“Seven minutes of terror.” It’s not the cleverest piece of marking out there, but summer is a boring time and NASA hasn’t done much marketing before, so it worked. Everyone is putting up the video and staying glued to their seats as if this were an actual manned mission.

If JPL pulls it off, good. NASA has been all but dismantled and it could use some positive publicity. Politicians may fund NASA based on their own district priorities, but having people show interest in the mission makes it more likely that the White House and some key Senators will decide that having a functioning space agency around may give their image a boost.

And the almost clever part of “Seven minutes of terror” is that if they blow it, and it’s entirely possible that they will, the slogan will act as a justification for it. By emphasizing how daring and difficult the landing is, no one can lose. If it goes well, they’re heroes. If it goes badly, then they dared the impossible, which is what space travel is supposed to be about.

There’s something depressing about the revelation that NASA may not have much of a space program, but that all it needed to get people to pay attention to it was some marketing mojo.

Ads, Ads Everywhere

We’re used to seeing movie ads on little stickers on oranges, but then someone thought it would be really clever to stick ads on dry cleaning bags, because it’s one of the few surfaces on earth not covered in ads.

suits the ad

Suits the ad

And it’s in an ad for Suits, the cable show, on a dry cleaning bag holding suits, that must be even cleverer.

The internet has helped accelerate a process that leads to wrap around ads in every single place, real or virtual.

Every business is slowly figuring out that any space that interacts with the human visual field and isn’t by necessity covered in something already can be sold for ads.

There will be ads on MetroCards and I’m surprised that it took this long. Soon there will be ads on credit cards. If the economy gets worse, we can have ads on money to help preserve the face value of money. There will be ads on garbage trucks and fire engines and cop cars.

The next time you see a cop car race by, sirens blazing, it will have an ad on its doors reminding you to watch Rookies or Precinct 77. The next time a fire engine arrives it will have a sign on the side. “Where’s the fire? Drop and roll over to REI sporting goods for gear that can take the heat.”

The ad subsidized model can keep going. Want a Blu Ray Player for 100 bucks less? It will feature 40 percent more ads. Want to buy that winter coat for half price? Just buy one with an ad on the back for home heating.

The future is here and it’s brought to you by Suits. A TV show about men who wear suits. Or maybe an alien race of Suits who take over human bodies to colonize the earth.

See despite seeing all the ads for Suits and writing an entire post inspired by one such ad, I have no idea what the show is about. And I don’t care, even though it would take me 5 seconds to find out.

Advertising works!

Does the Internet Make Us Stupid or Does It Expose Our Stupidity?

salman rushdie

Salman Rushdie Meets Dracula

Twitter has made it no secret that most celebrities are dumb. Your favorite actor can play a rocket scientist but once he gets on Twitter and starts ranting about chemtrails he sounds exactly like your Crazy Uncle Frank because he really is no different than your Crazy Uncle Frank. He just has more money.

Being able to Tweet anything they’re thinking has empowered celebrities to expose their stupidity and destroy any myths we might have believed about their intelligence.

But it’s not just celebrities. Give anyone access to Twitter and they’ll act exactly like a guy debating whether Miley Cyrus is a whore on a YouTube remix of her video.

Anyone? Yes anyone. Take a look at Salman Rushdie jumping into the gun control debate after the shootings.

If you didn’t just get internet access yesterday,  you’ve seen this kind of debate happen 50,000 times. You just didn’t see it with an internationally acclaimed literary figure.

First make a joke that you think is clever in your head, but is actually kind of flippant and inappropriate, and not clever at all.

Then get defensive about it and pretend that you’re too smart to have said what you did say.

Then admit that you did say it, but it was justified because the issue was so important.

Finally leave in a snit while insisting that you’re the bigger person.

This isn’t about gun control. It’s about the internet and what happens when we get an open pipeline to type anything we’re thinking into our phone.

Forget all the studies, the internet doesn’t make us stupid. It shows everyone how stupid we were all along.

We’ve all acted like Salman Rushdie sometimes. Or actually Salman Rushdie acts like us. The internet tears away the illusion that famous people, no matter how smart they’re supposed to be, are any better than we are. We’re all the same when we get a Twitter account and under all the awards, the fame and the IQ points, we all end up sounding like idiots.

Comic Con is Over

How do I know Comic Con is over? It has a red carpet. It’s a place where Twilight cast members show up to discuss Twilight. It’s a place where Twilight fans get killed trying to meet Twilight cast members.

Some might say that Comic Con is what it’s always been, loud, overcrowded and stupid. So the media merchandising has moved up from meeting Kevin Eastman to meeting the stars of the latest twenty movies to be in some loose sense based on comic book properties or cartoons or something loosely SciFi. And with Disney owning Marvel and WB owning DC, there are a ton of those.

But Comic Con has turned into another industry convention and there’s no going back. And that happened because the new blockbuster model of turning out interchangeable movies based on IP’s sitting in someone’s closet went big. And comic books are perfect vehicles for providing you with existing IP’s that you can easily turn into a movie about a few characters beating the hell out of each other on and off for 90 minutes while buildings explode. That is actually how comic books got started and it’s a big part of what the Marvel and DC brand is.

It’s not really about the comics. It’s obviously not about the people who actually enjoy them. They’re no different than Transformers. Just parts you can put together into a blockbuster movie. And Comic Con is where some of the IP sources show up.

Comic Con is a place where you go to wear your Slave Leia costume and hope G4 notices you and a place to hear the latest news about Twilight.

Filk of the Week – Return of the King

Tom Smith’s King may not be the one you expect returning…

Aaron Sorkin vs The Internet

If you remember last year stuff, Aaron Sorkin was the brilliant screenwriter who turned a dork who made a social networking site into some sort of cultural touchstone with a script that was mostly made up, but a lot of people mistook for the real thing. I’m talking about The Social Network of course, which was what Anti-Trust would have been with worse actors and a 100 million worth of publicity.

So why does Aaron Sorkin hate the internet so much, and why did he jump at the opportunity to discuss a topic he doesn’t understand, just to smear someone he never met. Take a trip back in time to 2007. Yes I said 2007.

“This was nonsense,” he went on. “The Los Angeles Times should be ashamed of itself!”Next Sorkin ridiculed the whole idea that bloggers — many of whom come from parts unknown, bearing grudges, perhaps, and not always a reliable sense of who they are and what they’re really after — be taken more seriously in the mainstream media than any random josephine walking down Main Street. “An enormous rise in amateurism,” Sorkin said of the blogosphere. “And everyone’s voice oughtn’t be equal.”

And that’s what Facebook does. It makes people equal. And Twitter and the whole internet.

But Sorkin was pissed because Studio 60 was being ridiculed and NBC didn’t have the money that Sony put into convincing people that watching Jesse Eisenberg read lines like a caffeine freak wasn’t a joke.

That was 2007. A year later Sorkin was brought on board to write The Social Network, after crashing and burning with Studio 60 and Charlie Wilson’s War. It was a safe bet that he was pissed. It was also a safe bet that he resented the internet for intruding into his cozy world of Writer’s Guild awards.

The Social Network was payback to that big mass of tubes and a billionaire who to Sorkin came to represent everything in that mass of tubes that makes it hard for geniuses and their stupid vanity projects to get the respect they deserve.

When Every Movie Became a Cartoon

It’s hard to say when exactly Hollywood’s main product became 250 million dollar CG cartoons. The Phantom Menace was probably the opening shot and then came everything else and here we are where the movie factory is just turning out people running around against a green screen and shouting at stuff.

Whether it’s Rise of the Apes or The Phantom Menace or Transformers or Wrath of the Titans, these are just really expensive cartoons with cartoon logic and plots. Tintin makes sense since it’s what Hollywood has been doing for over a decade now, grabbing a recognized brand name, building a loud explosion filled cartoon around it.

Past the 200 million range it doesn’t seem like movies are even being made anymore. It’s modern day versions of comics and serials with huge budgets and worldwide distributions. Stories get in the way of foreign box office sales. Any dialogue more complex than a punch line doesn’t translate as well. And no one really wants to see it anyway.

Movies have become what television used to be. A way to get a bunch of people in the same room and then shut off their brains. It’s not as if there’s a point to these anymore. They’re getting more and more disposable, there’s no acting and no reason for them to exist. Spielberg’s blockbusters at least made you feel something more than bored. These are just cartoons, lavish expensive cartoons.

Return of the Hand Drawn Animated Cartoon

The Lion King beat Moneyball to rule the box office (I could make some joke about roaring to the top, but why bother) and score some 70 million bucks. Not bad for a movie from the 90’s that dared to break Disney’s princess template, upset Pocahontas and became one of the few late Disney movies to endure for its characters, not for its line of backpacks.

In the age of Pixar, the return of the Lion King is a reminder that maybe the old cel-shaded animated hand drawn movie isn’t dead, it’s just been allowed to die off, replaced by Pixar’s plastic. Sure the Lion King release is 3D, the original movie was partly modeled in 3D, but it was smooth art, not Pixar’s plastic parades of characters who look like toys, even when they’re not supposed to be.

The Lion King was cinematic in a way that no Pixar production can be. And it’s what Disney left behind when it jumped all the way on the Pixar train. Disney killed its own animated golden goose with mediocre art by committee movies following a template. And Pixar which had a whole different workflow has taken over. But the Lion King reminds us of what we we lost getting there and what we could have again.

Conan O’Brien Please Stop

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is the documentary chronicling O’Brien’s post Tonight Show tour which was about his breakup with NBC. His recent viral commencement address and now documentary, more of the same. Being booted from Leno’s old timeslot in favor of Leno gave him a fire in his belly and a new identity. It also made him a one note character.

The old Conan seemed smart and self-aware. The new Conan is obsessed with being forced out of a timeslot and learning to get over it. It’s comedy as therapy, which is funny with some comedians, but not with him. Maybe it’s because Conan’s downfall is hard to relate to. The energy of sticking it to your boss brought people over to Team Coco, but go behind the scenes and you’re looking at a guy who was put in a position he wasn’t ready for, walking away with a 45 million dollar golden parachute and then building a career on insisting that he’s the victim.

I’m not one to argue with a successful media strategy. But I doubt I’m the only one tired of it. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop raises and partly answers the question of why a rich guy who has been successful beyond any realistic ambition is still obsessed. And the answer isn’t great. The contrast with Jerry Seinfeld who ran through the top comedy half-hour on television and amiably walked away to do standup is telling.

The sad thing is that the job Conan wanted and wants was wrong for him. He’s a funny writer. A very funny one. But he’s not a talk show host. He managed to hang on to his goal of having a late night show to host, and he almost managed to draw the right lesson from it in his commencement speech. Failure is liberating, but Conan didn’t liberate himself from having to be a celebrity and chat with celebrities. He put himself right back in the same cage.

Should Roger Ebert Still Be Reviewing Movies?

Forget, should Roger Ebert have ever been reviewing movies. He shouldn’t have, but his reviews at least used to be plausible. They were things that looked like reviews of movies. Not your uncle’s random stuff typed on a page. Now that’s exactly what it is. Your uncle musing about stuff and then commenting on a movie. Reading these things now is just embarrassing. And I’m not sure anyone does.

It’s not just about Thor. It’s about every review Ebert does. The Thor review is almost passable. Ebert actually at times comments intelligently on the movie and the source material. Even if the whole thing is drowned by his asides and his extended recap of most of what happens in the movie. But that’s rare.

Ebert has taken to Twitter. His condition has made him a media personality. But his reviews which were always sloppy, have stopped even trying to pretend that they’re anything but his random impressions composed in a few minutes or less.

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