Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taylor Swift Can Suck It: "Review" of the MTV Cluster****

I think the world has finally lost it. Suddenly, Kanye West is some kind of demon, and the world is rallying behind the no-talent whiner, Taylor Swift. Can anyone explain this to me?

Yes, Kanye took the mic and pimped Beyonce. Should he have done it? No. Was it rude and unnecessary? Yes. Did it ruin Taylor's life? Evidently, everyone (and Taylor) seems to think so. Taylor: it's a fucking VMA. Those awards are pretty much obsolete, and if you actually thought your acceptance speech was so momentous that one comment could "ruin" it, you need more help than even your off-key warbling would indicate.

But now--despite Kanye having delivered multiple very public apologies--Taylor is running around acting like a spoiled little brat, talking about how destroyed she is by the whole thing. She was actually on ABC's The View today where she fielded questions like "How did you find the courage to perform after that?" and "How are you showing such grace in such a horrible situation?" OMFG. These are questions for someone who has lost a loved one, been shot multiple times, or had rocks thrown at them. I don't believe Ms. Swift quite qualifies. In fact, the way she is playing this for all it's (not) worth--actually pointing out that Kanye hasn't directly contacted her yet, even though all he's been doing is apologizing for the past two days--makes Taylor about the least gracious "celebrity" I can currently think of. At least Kanye's outburst was for someone else; no one is talking about the fact that Kanye actually wasn't boasting about himself, but trying to stand up for another artist he felt more deserving. Again, that doesn't make it right; but it makes it a lot less wrong than Taylor's selfish pandering to the press.

Taylor, please get over yourself. The fact that you looked like an idiot is actually nobody's fault but your own. Kanye gave you the mic back, and you stood there looking like a pouty little four-year old after someone spills grape juice on her party dress. In grown-up life, there are disappointments. It would be fine to leave it at that and move the hell on with, oh, I don't know, maybe a fucking sense of humor about things. IT'S THE FREAKING VMA'S! I believe that shit like this is EXPECTED. Did you were accepting a Nobel Prize? Decorum is not exactly what MTV is known for. You are not a child; grow up.

Of course, I can see how people would label Taylor a "poor little girl." But the fact that she writes mind-numbingly trite lyrics, believes she can sing when she can't, and is a little rail of a thing does not actually make her a child. She is 19, securely in the adult world where she should be able to handle her own disappointments maturely without making puppy-dog faces and expecting sympathy.

Even more infuriating, though, is how the press pounced on this. They are making Taylor Swift out to be more of a victim than, say, ummm, Rhianna? Whom I believe was beaten by her boyfriend? Of course, Rhianna isn't a blonde, waiffy country singer who had her "moment stolen" by the big, bad rapper. Rhianna just got beaten in the face. So, sure, Kanye West is whom we should be demonizing. And we'll just keep letting Chris Brown run around and defend himself. Ugh.

The fact that this is being so overblown, and that the media is now treating Taylor like some kind of delicate little porcelain figure should be highly suspect to us. Where was all this outcry when actual injustices were being done, and why is everyone so quick to hop on the "Bad Kanye" train. If you ask me, Kanye is a person frustrated by the lack of recognition for actual talent in the industry. Put true talent and passion (West) up against vapidity and a strong sense of entitlement (Swift), and you can be sure of what I will pick every time.

Taylor Swift--please suck it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

First Impressions: 'Project Runway' Season 6, Episode 1

I don't often love watching the first episode of reality shows. Even when I'm a loyal fan, the first episode of a new season can be--as one former Runway contestant would tell us--a hot mess. They're trying to shove all of the contestants down your throat, you can't tell anyone apart, and at the end someone gets kicked off about whom you have absolutely no opinion. In short, I'm usually confused more than entertained. But this was not the case with last night's Lifetime premiere of Project Runway. As a true testament to the consistent quality of the show, they managed to present their opener with chaos ordered enough to be understandable, yet frantic enough to be entertaining.

While the opening was at times a little too Real World reminiscent (a bunch of slightly wacky people convening politely in an impossibly posh apartment), it worked. Without really trying, I was able to sort and remember most of the contestants, which really is a feat for a reality show. Johnny is the meth addict, Logan is the "guy's guy," Marvin is androgynous, and Qristyl the plus-size designer. And while these glimpses clearly offer us the season's stereotypes, the other clips of the contestants give enough life to their personalities to make them less than mundane.

On top of the solid opening, the mechanics of the show still work, for the most part. While I prefer the bustling New York backdrop, LA proved an appropriate setting for the show as well. Those that worried the show's jump to Lifetime would breed unwanted changes to the show's structure will find themselves placated. The judges are the same, the music is the same, and the catchphrases are (unfortunately?) the same (though I thought Tim Gunn's last-minute "Make it work" was half-hearted at best). The structure of the show remains untouched, and that is, for the most part, a working formula.

But the show did hit some lower points after the intro and in spite of its still-intact structural elements. Johnny's "breakdown" was implausable and took far too much time. It's early in the season, and Tim should not be a shoulder to cry on as of yet. I much prefer him in the role of Guy Who Walks Around and Makes People Severely Doubt Their Designs. I also now hate Johnny, since he is clearly a needy little bi-otch. And let's just talk about the elephant--excuse me, skeleton--in the room: Lindsay Lohan? Look, I loved Mean Girls as much as the next person, but hearing Lindsay Lohan take down some of the designs (even the ones I really wanted to hear taken down!) really deflated everything for me. Because, well, it's Lindsay Lohan. And I can't help but sneer a little at the fact that she thinks she has valid and worthwhile input on this (or any) topic. These things created a weird middle for me. The show really slowed down and lost a lot of power after the strong open.

All in all, though, the right person went home, which is redeeming. Ari's "disco-ball diaper" design was atrocious, pretentious, and annoying. I'm all for different, but if they tell you pick an award show red carpet, pick an award show red carpet. You know, one from this planet/era. Don't babble on about the 2081 VMAs/Nobel Prizes. While Heidi's kiss of death wasn't entirely unexpected, it was at least validating. Here's hoping the next episode picks up the pace in the middle, stops trying to give Johnny a soap opera and LiLo a platform for "credibility," and does what Project Runway has done best in the past: showcase unique personalities and true talent, while satisfactorily sneering at some true atrocities along the way.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Just reality" in ABC's 'Shark Tank'

Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only I could be a fly on the wall of some low-stakes business deals. I would give my left pinky toe—hell, maybe even the right one, too—just to hear some people talk percentages right now”? Well, if you have, you are in luck. Apparently, Mark Burnett of Tribal Buff fame and the good folks of ABC have cooked up a show just for you. It’s full of all the things you’ve come to expect from the exciting world of reality television: numbers, sales data, and literally standing in one spot for minutes on end, while everyone else in the room sits and stares. It’s called Shark Tank, and these sharks are…wait. There were no sharks.

Instead of sharks, ABC’s show offers a business-focused show that has far less action and challenge than, say, NBC’s Apprentice (which, indeed, it did seem to be riffing on, especially with the opening credits set to “Give Me Money,” in a very “Money”-reminiscent way). In this show, all contestants ever do is take the elevator up a floor to stand in a darkened room while they pitch their company/idea/device-thingy (it varies) to a bunch of millionaires (which is supposed to translate to “smart, successful people,” I assume). Said millionaires then haggle over the details and decide whether they will invest or not, and on what terms.

Take Tod the Pie Man, for example.
Todd of Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory came in with a pie mascot and handed out free pie. After taking tiny bites (who cares about the actual product, right?), they begin to listen to this guy’s numbers. It comes down to two potential investors (Barbara of real estate and Daymond of FUBU), and then they just go wild with the fascinating statistics. Barbara needs this much equity, Daymond needs that much, and then they’ll give Todd half the money, but only if he…you get the point. It was around this time that I literally found myself asking “Wait. Is business equity now considered good television?” Tod eventually took the deal, and the climactic moment of his “win” (i.e., forking over half his business to unknown investors) was sealed by…a handshake. Then Tod left, and that was it. A new person got on the elevator, and I will probably never here about Tod again, unless he actually does make it to McDonald’s (that was his plan), in which case I totally hope that the Pie Mascot starts hanging out with Grimace and the gang. But since that probably won’t happen, I myself felt a bit defrauded, if you will—robbed of the climax to the plot.

The lack of plot structure and moment of triumph, though, isn’t the only problem with Shark Tank. Not only does it manage to stretch the limits of what actually constitutes entertainment, it also seems a bit haughty for this economic climate. We watch as struggling person after struggling person comes in and puts him or herself at the mercy of these millionaires. Some are laughed at, like Darrin Johnson, who wants to implant some kind of device in your head (it defies explanation). Some are just denied what they need. Some are granted money, but they end up sacrificing large portions of their profits. In short, we watch as the rich get richer at the expense of those with the actual products and ideas. I don’t endorse this as entertainment in any climate, but in this economy it seems particularly crass. And are we really supposed to believe and respect these people simply because they have money? I’m supposed to esteem Kevin Harrington, for example, because he commodified Barack Obama’s historic win and hawked the “Obama Coin” for his own profit? The value-system the show depends on is the very same that many in the country are taking issue with right now, making it a dubious fit for the current moment to say the least.

At one point in the show, Kevin O’Leary, a software tycoon says to one of the little people that deigned come before him, “That’s what I love about money. No emotions, no tears, just reality.” Oh, yes. And isn’t that what we all love about reality shows as well? No one lots a lot of emotion or drama in reality television. It’s not like reality television is based on emotion, tears, and in-fighting or anything, right? We just want reality. And evidently, that consists of rich people getting richer off the poor(er) people that come to talk to them in dark, ominous rooms, all documented in the most yawn-inducing way possible.

The Return of 'Millionaire'

Let me take you back to the year 2000, when the first US installment of Who Wants to be a Millionaire became so insanely popular. Unemployment was at a thirty-one-year low, President Clinton was finishing up his second term, no one was thinking about a war in Iraq, and the twin towers were still standing. Yes, a lot has certainly changed since 2000. Unfortunately, Regis Philbin and his ABC cohorts don’t quite seem to get this. The return of Who Wants to be A Millionaire attempts to recreate a phenomenon by using the same methods and ideas—right down to the shiny, lavender tie—that most of the country is now trying to move past.

The problem, largely, is Regis Philbin himself. From the opening one-liners (“I’ve been standing here in the dark for the past five years”) to the mocking of the recession-turned-carnival-worker contestant Brad (Regis: “How long are you going to stay at the carnival and count rabbits?” Awkward and humiliated contestant: “I don’t know…until I find another job…”), Regis shows he just doesn’t get the state of the nation right now. The result can be as mild as a disconnect where there once might have been excitement, but it can also be more catastrophic. Take Brad, for example. When he lost at the $1000-dollar level, he sat stunned and sad in his chair for longer than was comfortable. As he shuffled off the stage to return to his Carnie life, separated from his girlfriend, Regis ushered in the new contestant with only a “too bad about that Brad.” It was a little too sad for millionaire, and it was clearly beyond Regis’s capabilities to understand the shmuck on any level other than “loser contestant.”

But the blame isn’t all on Regis, either.
The few changes that have been made to the show’s format only make the disconnect between Millionaire and American audiences at large wider. Instead of spending time talking with or relating to the pesky “average” contestants, the show has tried to bolster itself with a round of “celebrities.” At several times in the broadcast, Regis breaks us away to talk with “Washington correspondent Sam Donaldson” who can help with a question at some point (though he never does, so his presence is entirely pointless). The last seven minutes of the show is entirely devoted to the vapid Katy Perry, who answers a gimme question about her rich, famous friends for charity and tells stories about her cat (all while wearing a shiny dress!). The few new life lines really add nothing to the show, and the contestants’ shortened time limits don’t add pressure so much as choppiness to the overall format.

Not only are these gimmicks completely pointless, but they cut the very drama and tension that the original Millionaire played on so well. Even Meredith Vieira’s syndicated version (of which Regis seemed blissfully unaware for the first half of this broadcast) does a better job here because Vieira emotes, connects, and focuses on the contestants and their stories. This Philbin reincarnation, though, no longer seems to want to tell the story of the contestants attempting to secure a financial future; it wants to distract us from the fact that so many are now in such dire need of this kind of security. The result is a cold, detached, oddly anachronistic, and somehow dishonest hour of television that I won’t likely be watching again.