Tuesday, January 30, 2007

the exploitation of cute girls by other cute girls

Sure, other bloggers give you the latest news, but sometimes I just give what's news to me, even if it's a controversy that's a couple of years old. For example, I just heard about the accusations of racism regarding Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku girls.

I learned of the controversy after my girlfriend and I watched Gwen's latest video, "The Sweet Escape. It's a very cute video with Gwen and two adorable dancing Japanese girls in a gold-plated jail cell. My girlfriend said the Japanese girls were Harajuku girls, and I wound up looking up Gwen on wikipedia.

Basically, a couple of years back Gwen got four Japanese girls to appear in her videos and follow her around to press events. They never speak and they dress after a style of dress popular in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. From pictures I found on google, it's a sort of colorful version of goth. They actually dress a lot like anime characters, with school girl uniforms and pink wigs and stuff like that. While this sort of thing generally looks pretty hot in anime, in real life it tends to make the girls look rather dumpy, but they're having fun and I imagine they liven up the neighborhood.

Anyway, people are mad at Gwen. The best expression of this is a thoughtful and witty blog post by Margaret Cho, who describes Gwen's Harajuku girls as a minstrel show. Gwen is also mentioned in a very interesting article on "Asiaphiles" and there's even a blog called "Free the Gwenihana Four". Gwen's response was rather silly, accusing Cho of not "do[ing] her research," whatever that means, and saying that her Harajuku Girls are an art project.

This is an interesting controversy, because from a non-Asian perspective it all seems like an overreaction. And in some ways it is. Someone complained that if Gwen had four guys in black face following her around people would raise an objection, and of course they would, but it's not like she is dressing these girls in a western-created artificial stereotypical style. Girls in Japan do dress like this. It's more as if she hired four black people to dress up in hip-hop style, which I doubt would cause that much of a stir. So comparisons with Amos 'n Andy are not really fair.

But Cho's post explains pretty clearly what the real problem is; that this is one of the few portrayals of Asians she sees. And that's what makes this a problem. Think back to the 30s and 40s, when movies had tons of black actors playing characters that were stupid and lazy. The problem wasn't actually that there were black characters on screen who were stupid and lazy, because there were also white characters who were stupid and lazy, like The Three Stooges. The problem was a lack of balance; Lou Costello was counterbalanced by Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, but outside of Paul Robeson, who managed to get some intelligent roles, mainly in England, every black character you saw was a caricature.

So basically, Gwen is right in thinking the Harajuku girls are harmless, and Cho is right in finding them upsetting. If television and movies were full of Asian doctors and lawyers and private detectives and pop singers and circus clowns, four silly girls following Gwen around wouldn't bother anyone. And it's really not Gwen's fault that Asians are underrepresented (shockingly so, considering how many people of Asian decent there are in New York); Gwen's just some pop star enamored of certain cool aspects of Japanese culture, and she thought it would be fun to have giggly Asian girls follow her around, and yes, it objectifies women and objectifies Asians, but Gwen also objectifies herself in her videos so it may not some like that big a deal to her.

One more interesting aspect of this is simply that people look to entertainment for validation. Asians feel invisible because they're not proportionally portrayed on TV and in movies and in music videos. Of course if you're white you take it for granted that almost everyone on TV is like you so you don't really ever think about it as important, and I really don't know what I'd be feeling if there were only a handful of white celebrities. It probably would make me feel marginalized, but I'm just guessing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

the future of pizza

The ACLU has an absolutely brilliant little flash animation portraying the possible future of our privacy through a phone exchange with a pizza parlor. For me, this is exactly how to make a point. There's no preaching, it's very funny and it is seems possible. It's sort of like a sci-fi mini short story. Whether it will make people rise up and demand change or just shrug and say, sure, it'll happen, what can you do? is the question.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

webstalking that guy who pissed you off thirty years ago

UPDATE: Turns out the site was a hoax created be Weiner himself. Silly me.

When I first started reading the National Lampoon in the mid or late 70s, my favorite writer there was Ellis Weiner. It wasn't because he was the funniest writer; he was one of the funniest writers, but they were all pretty funny.

No, I liked Ellis because he was the only writer who had a real sense for people. I think the first thing I read from him was the Shear Hype Report, a take off of the Shere Hite Report, a book in which a woman simply asked hundreds of women about sex and printed what they said. Just as in the original book, there's a lot of talk about how women wish guys would cuddle more and be nicer, but at the end of the Shear Hype Report, the author admits that she just made up all the answers to get her boyfriend to cuddle with her. And even though this is only a paragraph or two, you actually feel for the author; it's just kind of sad.

Weiner's characters seemed to actually have feelings, unlike other writers like P.J. O'Rourke, who was brilliantly funny but whose articles were always just rather callous jokes strung together. It is interesting to note that P.J. O'Rourke, who as a writer had no sense of humanity, later became a right-wing writer, whereas Ellis, who always seemed to have real feeling for people, now blogs for the liberal Huffington Post.

I didn't actually know this until yesterday, when Weiner popped into my head and I wondered what he'd been doing. I haven't read anything by him since his novelization of Howard the Duck, a book every bit as funny as Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that had the misfortune to be based on a movie that is considered one of the all-time film turkeys.

Turns out he's been busy, writing books and articles, and I should probably track down one of his books and read it. But what really got my attention in my search was The Unofficial Website of Ellis Weiner (UPDATE: at some point after I wrote this Weiner apparently got control of the site), because it is run by someone who seems to have a sick hatred and fascination for the guy.

The webmaster is an assistant professor at some college I've never heard of, but from the F.A.Q. and the bio of Ellis it seems that at one point he was an aspiring satirist who had some sort of dealings with Weiner, who was a submissions editor at the National Lampoon.

And so he has created a website, that on the front has a note from Weiner saying that his lawyers tell him he can't do anything about the site but that he isn't happy with it. He lists some of Weiner's books, which he puts down and in at least one case chops up reviews to make them sound more negative (i.e. “Breezy, often funny…there’s some…writing…”).

The question is, does the professor realize how nuts this is. He's going after a guy who I guess (there are no specifics on the site) rejected his stuff or criticized it too much 30 years ago. The site might as well be called, "I am a bitter, possibly insane guy convinced that a single editor somehow managed to destroy my writing career." I mean come on, even if Weiner was, as suggested by the professor, a mean bastard, he was just one guy at one magazine. No editor owes a writer a boost up, you're actually supposed to go after what you want and prove yourself.

You'd think the guy would at least try and prove that he's funny; you know, mock Weiner in a clever way that proves to everyone that yes, this guy would have made a great satirist and it's a shame he was struck down by Weiner's cruelty. But nope, there's no indication this guy is funny.

It all reminds me of a biography of David Bowie I read once by some guy with a peripheral connection to the singer who clearly hated him with a passion and spent the whole book trashing him. It just makes you look pathetic to attack and whine about people who have accomplished much more in life than you have.

Still, I love seeing people nakedly and unconsciously expose themselves, so I wanted to share the site with others who would appreciate its pathetic nature. And make sure to read Howard the Duck and Weiner's Dune parody Doon. Hilarious stuff.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

pretty girls making life hard for prettier girls, a tragic situation indeed.

Yeah, I know it seems stupid to watch Beauty and the Geek, a show in which ditzy sex bombs are teemed with brilliant nerds to win prizes, and god knows I cringe everytime they describe the show as a social experiment, but it always has these moments that illuminate society for me in some tiny way. This season, the ditzy sex bombs were primarily blondes, and they all came together, while the two brunettes found themselves outside the clique. The brunettes actually seemed to be the smartest of the lot, and, in my brunette-centric opinion, the hottest, but in the context of the show they were the outcasts, the kids sitting at the loser table.

What I found interesting was when one of the brunettes said, "it's like high school all over again." And that was just such a fascinating comment from a woman who was pretty much a walking goddess. You would think someone like that would have been popular in high school; isn't looking perfect how you get popular in high school? Was she worse looking then? Maybe, who knows how much plastic surgery any of these woman have had. Or was she just just as pretty but undone by being poor and badly dressed or falling in with an unpopular crowd; maybe she was a troublemaker, maybe she was in the chess club: who knows? But I think it's important to remember that often the people who you assume were the popular cheerleaders everyone loved may actually have had as crappy a time in high school as the rest of us.

Of course, I had a crappy time in high school and I'm also not young and great looking, so I can't feel too sorry for the pretty brunettes, but I do have a little sympathy.

Let's see that horrible, inexcusable footage one more time, shall we?

It's a shame Countdown with Keith Olbermann insists on covering entertainment news, because while the rest of the show makes Keith look like a brave crusader ready to take on the powers that be and fight the good fight, when it comes to entertainment he often just seems as much the pretentious panderer and Jerry Springer once was. Case in point, a recent piece on the new season of American Idol in which he complained that the judges have ramped up the meanness and that it is witless, unnecessary cruelty. Perhaps so, and I think there's something to be said for asking even our cheesiest shows to show a little humanity. But to illustrate his point, Olbermann showed a ton of horrible singing followed by cruel comments. And this did not appear to be for the sake of showing how awful it was, but rather because people find that crap entertaining and Olbermann or his producers thought it would be entertaining to Countdown's audience. I feel just as I did the couple of times I saw Jerry Springer's show; if you want to show sleaze fine, but don't then get up on a soapbox and talk about how creepy it is.

It's interesting that Best Week Ever, which is pretty much my only source for entertainment news (I usually turn off Keith when he gets to that crap), used less footage of the show, seeming to make no real attempt to use the cruelty of the judges to entertain the audience. Instead, they shows clips of judge Paula Abdul in some interview acting insane (or drunk) and making fun of her. That, Keith, is what you do when you think a show is being too cruel; don't help to make fun of its victims, make fun of its stars.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bill O'Reilly, creepiest commentator of the year?

I know, it's only January and idiots are already saying stupendously moronic things, but I don't know if anyone can top Bill O'Reilly's comments
blaming a young boy for his kidnapping and possible molestation, apparently because the kid has piercings' a sure sign that's he's a dangerous delinquent who would rather live with a pedophile than go home to his parents.

You can read the worst parts,, but to get the full impact you really have to listen to the moron speak to really feel your flesh creep.

Perhaps the right wing has just given up. With Bush funneling troops into Iraq in what will probably be a successful attempt to destroy any chance for the Republicans to win in even the red states, perhaps nutjobs like O'Reilly have just decided they are on a sinking ship and they might as well just say every evil thing that pops into their corroded skull and enjoy their evil nature as much as possible.

Will anyone be able to top O'Reilly? Well, maybe, I'm sure Anne Coulter will take a shot at it sometime this year, but the competition is stiff.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

boring technical stuff: how to get rid of the nasty npdl adware plugin

It's a shame I hadn't read Pogue's Blog on the npdlplug Firefox plugin that started popping up ads on my PC. There really isn't a lot of useful info on this one, which is why I'm going to post my solution, to help any poor suckers googling for help. Pogue's Blog says you can go the their website to see how to uninstall it, but it said there should be things in add/remove that weren't there. Some company called Sophis mentions it and says they can remove it. I tried to download an evaluation version of their anti-virus software - first it was a bitch to find, second they send you an email with a link to download it that didn't work.

Something called panda software had a free scan - they actually bill a free scan and cleaning but that's untrue. But they do scan for everything they consider a threat. They actually consider every add-in for Firefox a threat! but I did save the report and searched it and found some useful information that looked like this:

C:\Program Files\Download Plugin\DlPlugin-Moz\npdlplug.dll

C:\Program Files\Download Plugin\DlPlugin-Moz\setup2.exe

C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\plugins\npdlplug.dll

C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox 2.0\plugins\npdlplug.dll

I deleted those, but found I could not delete the Download Plugin folder, which Windows said was in use. So I rebooted into safe mode and deleted that.

Of course I knew it wasn't that easy, so then I used the program StartupRun which tells you all the programs that load up when your computer boots up, looking for mysterious stuff. I found two very mysterious entries. It doesn't matter what they were called, because they were obviously random generated strings. One was something like "bird cake run" and the other was something equally nonsensical. So I deleted both entries from StartupRun (if you're less confident you've got the culprits you can just disable them. Then I went to the folders that StartupRun indicated they were running from and deleted those folders.

I also noticed when I was in c:\program files that there was a folder with one of those same nonsense names, so I deleted that too. There was not a folder with the other nonsense name.

Then I rebooted my PC. I started up Firefox, and there were no ad pop ups. I started up IE, and there were no ad popups. So it appears that this worked.

Hope all that helps someone.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

more news on the who-the-hell-are-you front

Just came across an interesting article on face blindness (a.k.a. Prosopagnosia), a subject that interests me because of my own difficulties recognizing people. It's very good, you should read it if you like Oliver Sacks-style articles about the nutty things our brains are up to, or if you're bad with faces. Oddly enough, they now say perhaps as much as 2% of the population has some degree of prosopagnosia. Which is strange because I almost never meet people who say they're bad with faces. But it sounds like a lot of people just fake it and don't even tell people. I have met two people who say they can't recognize people, though, so there are a few.

Monday, January 15, 2007

stupid people should not be allowed to produce television

Perhaps it's because I never watched, and thus never got sick of, American Idol, I'm semi-enjoying "Grease: You're the One That I Want," a new talent show that has gotten rather poor reviews. What appeals to me is that the judges have a real decision to make and that they are the people to make it. They are casting a Broadway show and their goal in the first episodes is to make sure all the finalists will do a decent job, because they know that once the American public gets to vote on who should win they will certainly vote for one of the lesser talents, as is always the case in talent shows (like Dance With the Stars) that allow the public to decide who is better at something.

So I think there is something inherently interesting in the show, but apparently the people making it disagree, because they are gimmicking the hell out of it. It's not just the standard gimmicks of showing you the deluded no-talents or building auditions into little stories or having meaningless cliffhangers before commercials in which we are left in suspense and something absurdly trivial; they also use the movie Grease as a crutch, pulling out scenes from it to remind the presumably dim-witted audience what Grease is and interviewing Olivia Newton John.

Which isn't good, but isn't horrible. But Grease manages to stick in a really grating, moronic gimmick, which is to bring its co-hosts in as some sort of audience surrogates. They actually have these hosts standing on the wings, making faces of horror or approval as the contestants sing. It's horrible. It's embarrassingly bad. The hosts will whisper to the camera things like, "who, I hope he gets through, I really like him." To which I would say, who the fuck cares. Do I really need a host to tell me whether a performer is bad or is cute?

And that's the problem with the series. It doesn't trust the audience at all. It thinks they're brain dead idiots. And I'm sure many of them are. But the fact is, the reality shows that show the most respect for their audiences, like Survivor or, in the first couple of years at least, The Apprentice (which seems to be getting stupider and more gimmicky each year) are usually the most successful. The most pathetic, desperate reality shows, the ones that throw a constant barrage of cutesy tricks at the audience, usually die early deaths. Unfortunately a lot of television producers don't get that.

I'm feeling borderline on this show right now precisely because of all the stupid stuff. I am generally inclined to keep watching, but if they keep having the hosts mugging the camera and being "personalities" then I will probably give up on it. Watching this show is going to be a week by week decision.

everything you thought was hilariously improbably is now true

Let's take a moment to admire cynical, pessimistic humorists, because they see the future so clearly. Or so it seems to me after reading a piece in the Times on the way advertisers are using every available space for advertising, including subway turnstiles and the actual eggs you buy in the supermarket.

I've seen this before, and it was in Mad Magazine perhaps 30 years ago. I can't remember what the title of the piece was, or the author, but it was talking about the next step beyond billboards, and there was an illustration in which everything had an add on it. The ads were probably more clever than the ones in the real world; I remember one company name was elegantly built into the metal grillwork of a bridge. But the idea is the same, and it is always fascinating when things that seem so extreme that it's funny suddenly become the norm.

For me the greatest example of that is still an ad in the first year of Saturday Night Live for what I think was called the "Track 3" razer. This was after the first two-bladed razer cartridges had come out, so SNL just made an ad similar to those for the two-blade cartridges but with 3 blades. Then, years later, 3-bladed razors came out, and now I think there are 4-bladed ones and for all I know 5-bladed ones. And before the were even invented, SNL perfectly summed up these future razors with their slogan for their fictional product. "The Track 3 - because you'll believe anything."

All praise humorists, because they see things so clearly in a world in which everyone else swallows bullshit whole and asks for more.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I allow myself a bit of optimism, fully realizing that I am bound to be let down

Our new New York governor Eliot Spitzer's
plans for New York are a great example of the difference between Republicans and Democrats. I mean, can you imagine a Republican coming in and saying, the first thing I'm going to do is get health insurance for all children and move towards publicly financed elections? It's really pretty cool. I don't really think he'll get much of any of this, because government seems designed to impede social progress, but if he's as effective as he is ambitious Spitzer could turn out to be a real winner.

Or maybe I'm just woozy headed from the rush of Democrats coming into office.