No Such Nonsense

A little of this, that and... what was I talking about again? It's TV, sports, pop culture and politics - all the stuff that really matters in life.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Reality TV Moment: The Dumbest People on TV

Turns out the dumbest people on TV don't work for Fox News. I know, I was shocked too!

I watch a lot of reality TV. I'm only slightly ashamed about that. I also get very, very caught up and over-involved in the reality TV. I'm actually very ashamed about that. Nonetheless, my overactive TV watching gives me a strong point of view on a wide spectrum of shows. For example, having watched both Survivor: All Stars and now Big Brother: All Stars, I can tell you with certainty that the all-stars of Big Brother are the dumbest group of reality TV contestants ever (and after multiple seasons of The Bachelor, that's saying a lot).

On Survivor: All Stars, there were 4 former winners on board at the beginning of the game. One, Jenna, withdrew, and the other 3 (Tina, Richard and Ethan) were promptly voted off by their tribes. None even made it to the jury. Players who had reputations as smart competitors who woulda-shoulda won their seasons, such as Colby and Rob C. also found their days on the island numbered. Fans may have been disappointed, but players such as Rob Mariano, love him or hate him, understood that you just cannot keep serious competition around for long. Let Richard Hatch stay and he'll figure out how to win it all again (though not, presumably, how to pay his taxes). Rob and Amber, unsuccessful in their own seasons, made it all the way to the final 2.

Then there is Big Brother: All Stars. Here, only one player had won before: Dr. Will. Manipulative, narcissistic, botoxed, 'evil' Dr. Will. He came into the house with a single ally - business partner, friend, 'chill-town' denizen and all-around dork Mike 'Boogie'. Others, including Allison, Danielle and Janelle, had strong reputations as great players, but only Will had actually taken home the prize. What's more, fan voting had assured that Will was drastically outnumbered, with he and Boogie up against a strong alliance of 4 players from season 6 and a whole bunch of unaligned 'floaters'.

Season 6 seemed to have the game sewn up - they won the power to nominate evictees for 5 of the first 6 weeks. Yet, Will was only nominated once and, even then, the season 6 alliance voted for someone else to leave that week. The 'strategy' it seemed, was to keep Will around as target in case those floaters ever won. Those incompetent, competition-losing floaters. (Sorry, I guess that's incompetent, competition-losing, all-star floaters.) So, instead, Janelle and her witless season 6 pals started nominating those floaters, ensuring that when and if the leftover floaters ever did win, it would be season 6, rather than Dr. Will, they had a grudge against. Brilliance itself.

Of course, Will started to manipulate the players around him. Throwing competitions and letting others, including a clueless Janelle, do his dirty work. And now? Season 6 is all but gone. The floaters are mainly gone too. Still there? Will. The very guy all of the players acknowledged in the first week as the most dangerous player in the game. Gee, do you think? Guess not.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Equal Opportunity: 10 Worst Characters

Working on my list of 25 great characters got me thinking... what about those characters who make you cringe rather than delight, those characters who can suck the life out of an otherwise great show? Don't they deserve a list of their very own? Damn straight.

Here then, are my nominees for the 10 Worst Characters in TV History:

1) Ross Geller, Friends
In my best list, I mentioned that it has become fashionable to slag Friends. While I still love the show, here's one area where I simply cannot argue. Slag on Ross. Slag away, people. Ross was mopey, whiney and massively uninteresting, yet managed to snag ridiculously hot girlfriends anyway (Rachel, Emily, Mona and Charlie to name a few). Painfully unfunny, Ross could zap the energy from a scene just by walking in the room. The worst character in TV history, by a long shot.

2) Kramer, Seinfeld
I may be treading on sacred ground here, but I just never found him that funny. The pratfallish entrances, the spazzy delivery... the whole goofy Kramer character started to wear thin with me around season two. And that left seven more seasons for faint annoyance to grow to festering disdain.

3) Samantha Jones, Sex and the City
I'm not sure if it was the crude sex-bomb characterization or just Kim Catrall's snooty, stilted portrayal, but Sam was the shallowest, least interesting character on the show. Though she was almost redeemed by the sweet, final season love story with Smith, I still get the urge to change the channel whenever she shows up on screen.

4) Deanna Troi, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Why was she even there? Was it just to show off her rack? I can think of no other reason. I'm sensing complete lameness.

5) Ally McBeal, Ally McBeal
In the first season, Ally was a quirky breath of fresh air. As time progressed, she became shrewish, bitter and, well, a little more crazy-ass than quirky. Introspection is one thing, utter self-obsession is another.

6) David Silver, Beverly Hills 90210
The whiter version of Vanilla Ice, David had all the street cred of, oh say, Kevin Federline.

7) Stephanie Tanner, Full House
OK, this may be pushing the boundary of 'great' TV shows, but she really bugs me. Why is Stephanie so annoying and pointless? It's classic middle-child syndrome. DJ got all the boyfriends and wacky-best-friend plots, the Olsen twins were absurdly adorable even before they were moguls and Stephanie, well, Stephanie had really big teeth.

8) Marissa Cooper, The O.C.
Man, oh, man, does Misha Barton suck. She's like a weirdly skinny robot. Bye, bye Coop, bye bye.

9) Bernice Clifton, Designing Women
This one's a little obscure, I'll admit. Bernice was the addled senior southern belle who sometimes dropped in on the Sugarbaker gals. Isn't it a hoot when old people say inappropriate, vaguely racist things? Ah, senility - how uproariously funny.

10) Claudia Salinger, Party of 5
Yes, it was very sad that she lost her parents. Yes, it was very sad that the rest of her family got caught up in their own melodramatic love affairs and promptly forgot Claudia and Owen existed. But did Claudia have to be so clingy, so needy, so earnestly annoying, so without a plot? Very sad indeed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

TV Rules: 25 Best Characters

You can't say you weren't warned...

Here are my 25 Best TV Characters Ever.(By the way, 25 is a lot. More than you'd think. This sh*t is hard!)

1. Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and The City.
Style, sex, SJP. Unless you're a girl or a gay man, you probably just don't get it. And, man, are you missing out. I can't help but wonder - how could anyone else possibly have come first?

2. Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
To avoid total chaos, I figure this list can only have one character per series and for Buffy that's a serious challenge. I considered Buffy, Oz, Giles, even Faith. But really, it came down to a race between Willow and Spike. Willow transformed from meek nerd-girl to all-powerful lesbian witch and stayed true to her sweet, doofy spirit throughout - except when she went seriously dark-hair-and-veiny-complexion evil. Though I loved Willow in all her incarnations, it's Spike who served as everything from comic foil to punching bag to Big Bad to romantic hero. He so kicked Angel's ass and you know it.

3. Arnold J. Rimmer, Red Dwarf.
Thank God for the BBC. Only there could arrogant, wormy, cowardly Rimmer live in all his brilliant, anal-retentive, hammond-organ-loving, Lister-tormenting glory. Haven't seen Red Dwarf? You must. Watch it now. Go. I'll wait.

4. Hurley, Lost.
Dude's got some issues, but you can't help rooting for him. Is he completely crazy? Is it his fault the plane crashed? Shouldn't he have lost more weight by now? Who cares; He's funny, warm and not obsessed with hatches, other people's babies or the Others. Should it worry me that the character I most relate to is probably off his nut?

5. Laine Kim, Gilmore Girls.
It would've been Lorelai if she weren't sure a drippy wimp this season. Instead, all praise to the plucky Korean, Seventh-Day-Adventist, rock-drummer, newlywed, diner-waitress Laine. As Rory's sounding board and her Star's Hollow best friend, Laine is all-too-often left on the sidelines. But her quirky romances, complicated mother issues and pitch-perfect taste in music make her infinitely more fun than Rory.

6. Edmund Blackadder, Blackadder.
Think Mr. Bean is funny? You have no idea. You can't know the true comic brilliance of Rowan Atkinson until you've sampled this bitter little treat. Sarcastic, scheming and almost always foiled, his Blackadder strives for power and riches that are temptingly close and always just out of reach. He's not above a good poop joke, either.

7. Carol Hathaway, ER
Carol (mostly) held her own in a crazy environment filled with bloody chaos, indecipherable medical jargon and ridiculously hot ex-boyfriend pediatricians. With a level head and strong sense of self, she showed why nurses are the true lifeblood of any hospital. Her final scene marked one of my favorite TV moments ever.

8. Pacey Witter, Dawson's Creek
It really toasts my marshmallows how this show gets no respect. The whole 'look who far Michelle Williams has come from Dawson's Creek to the Oscars' thing is total Hollywood elitism. Jack was kissing boys on DC long before Jake did it in Brokeback. Anyhoo, as to Pacey, he was the ultimate bad boy with a good heart. When Joey had to choose between perfect soulmate Dawson and deeply imperfect Pacey, it was no contest at all.

9. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Brainy Picard beats the hell out of brawny Kirk any day of the week. The too-die-for diction, courtesy of Patrick Stewart's classical stage training, made even Trek seem smart.

10 . Angela Chase. My So-Called Life.
Simply, the most realistic teenager ever on television. Sure, she could be annoying and whiney, but so could you at 15. Would she choose Jordan or Brian? Now, we'll never know.

11. Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons.
Sure, Bart and Homer get all the press, but it's smart, dependable Lisa who really is the heart of the show. She's my hero.

12. Seth Cohen, The O.C.
Yes, I do have a crush on Adam Brody. What's your point?

13. Chandler Bing, Friends.
It's pretty fashionable to slag on Friends lately. Ross, Rachel, who cares? But back in the day, Matthew Perry could make us laugh with every damn line he had. You know it's true.

14. Major Frank Burns, M.A.S.H.
Sure, it'd be easy to praise Hawkeye or Radar, but let's not forget one of the best comic villains of any TV show, ever.

15. Alex P. Keaton, Family Ties.
The Republican son of hippie parents, Alex could have been a total caricature (Mallory, anyone?). Instead, he is one of the most indelible characters of the 1980s. Thanks, Mike.

16. Dan Fielding, Night Court.
John Larroquette rules.

17. Lucy Ricardo, I Love Lucy.
She started it all. What else is there to say?

18. H.M. 'Mad' Murdock, The A-Team.
I totally have the theme song in my head now. You?

19. Philip J. Fry, Futurama.
A 20th-century slacker frozen in time and thawed out 1000 years later. Watch closely, for he is us.

20. The Janitor, Scrubs.
A bully? A misunderstood everyman? Funny as hell? Yup, it's that last one.

21. Mary Richards, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Could be here for the iconic beret toss alone. Turns out she was pretty funny, too.

22. Denise Huxtable, The Cosby Show, A Different World
All the other Cosby kids were eventually going to get good jobs and make their parents proud. You just knew Denise was gonna drop out of college, bum around India and get into some actual trouble. Still, I never saw Angel Heart coming.

23. Dr. Johnny Fever, WKRP in Cincinnati
Stoned is funny. It just is. Ok. It just was. In the 70s. But in the 70s, stoned was definitely funny. Oh, by the way, drugs are bad. Just say no.

24. Jo Polniazek, The Facts of Life
You were thinking Tootie, maybe? No way, man. Jo's wrong-side-of-tracks appeal beats Tootie every time.

25. Amanda Woodward, Melrose Place.
Nobody plays bitchy better than Heather Locklear. And she hit her peak with man-eating ad-exec Amanda, turning Melrose from a dull tale of 'struggling 20-somethings in the city' to a must-see guilty pleasure. Everyone into the pool.

Friday, August 25, 2006

2 directors, 50 characters, a whole lot of bloggy fans

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the best TV show of all time. It was funny, it was sad, it was scary and it was dead-on brilliant in its depiction of high school as hell. So, Buffy creator Joss Whedon is pretty much my hero. As such, I was quite interested to see his take on the 25 Greatest TV Characters of All Time. Where did Whedon's sudden desire to create pop-culture lists spring from? It all started with a MySpace list by Slither director James Gunn. Gunn's list included his wife (Jenna Fisher, who plays Pam on The Office and his brother Sean Gunn (who plays Kirk on Gilmore Girls). It included Buffy too, but not the captain from Serenity, which got the collective panties of Whedon's fans in a collective on-line knot. Whedon caught wind of it, wrote up his own list (wisely omitting any of his characters as a little too self-aggrandizing) and the rival lists got written up all over, including the websites of USA Today and Entertainment Weekly.

First off, Serenity fans need to calm the heck down. It was on for, like, 5 minutes. The movie fizzled like Snakes on a Plane. Get over it. Maybe watch Battlestar Gallactica or something. I hear Tricia Helfer's on it. I hear she's hot.

Second, I love that two fancy director/producer types (neither of whom are Kevin Smith) are spending their time blogging about TV. Too funny.

Third, I MUST make my own list. It's a compulsion. I can't help it. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mark Burnett Loses his Freaking Mind

Oh my, this just can't end well.

Survivor uber-producer Mark Burnett has announced that for the new season of the show, tribes will be divided by race. That's right - there will be "the White Tribe, the African-American Tribe, the Asian-American Tribe and the Hispanic Tribe." Ho boy. Danger, as my friend Robin would say, Danger Bay!

Criticized in the past for casting only one or two 'token' visible minorities per season, Burnett decided to go a little crazy for this, the 13th season of Survivor. In the past, tribes have been divided by age and by gender, but the racial divide is a whole new horizon. The idea, says host Jeff Probst, sprang from the strong sense of 'ethnic pride' they detected during casting. Once again, Danger Bay! Should I assume, then, as a pale waspy chick that I should be cheering for the White tribe? What if, like so many Survivor tribes, they are all annoying wanks? What of my ethnic pride then? Should my Korean friend cheer for a Pan-Asian team of Japanese-, Chinese- and Filipino-Americans? And what of the ethnicities not represented at all to play in this race Olympics?

As we all know, discussions of race in America are the hottest flashpoint this side of religious extremism. Injecting this element into a TV show for the sake of ratings - for there can be no other legitimate reason - seems tacky at best, dangerous at worst. What can be learned? That sometimes people do not live up (or is that down?) to ethnic stereotypes? That sometimes people do? Is a reality TV contest really the place for a reasoned discussion of race in America? Or is Burnett just exploiting ugly tensions that already exist. Merely pointing out these tensions for the sake of entertainment adds nothing to their resolution.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Run, Ben, Run

Today's Toronto Star has a lengthy article on the death Dr. Jamie Astaphan. For Canadians of my age and older, the name tickles the memory... I know that name, but why? It turns out that Astaphan was central figure in Canada's greatest sporting scandal. Astaphan was the Toronto doctor who provided Ben Johnson with medical treatment and, it turns out, truckloads of steroids in the years leading up to the Seoul Olympics.

In those days, way back in 1988, Johnson ran a blistering 9.79 seconds in the 100-metre final, good for a world record and a gold medal. But by the time the B sample came back, confirming a positive test for a steroid known as stanozolol, Johnson had lost his medal, his reputation and his livelihood. American Carl Lewis took home Johnson's medal and a place on a Wheaties box. That Lewis was also juiced to gills is now widely accepted. That he wasn't caught is all that mattered.

Given all we now know about the state of the sport in the 1980s - that steroids were more than commonplace, they were mandatory - how is it possible that only Johnson was caught? From the statements of the many athletes who testified before the Dubin Inquiry (Canada's government-sponsored investigation into drugs in sport that followed Seoul), it seems clear that their drugs and regimens were state of the art - designed to create super-sprinters and to avoid any detection. The Star article suggests that Johnson was coming off an injury and struggling to regain his World Champion form in Seoul. It posits that Astaphan may, from desperation, have changed the regimen and altered doses, resulting is the positive test. Or, it may have been a simple miscalculation. We will likely never know.

What is clear is that Johnson ran really, really fast. His record of 9.79 was not surpassed until 2005, almost 20 years after his race. And at least one of the men who beat the mark, American Justin Gatlin, has since tested positive for steroids as well.

Steroids were and are rife in sprinting, usually under medical supervision. After Seoul, Astaphan at first denied any involvement with steroids, but finally admitted his role during testimony at the Dubin Inquiry. Dr. Astaphan's subsequent self-justification sounds much like the rationalization of the parent who buys beer for his underage kids: they're going to do it anyway, better they get it from me, so I can make sure it is 'safe'.

Astaphan's mistake and Johnson's shame were watershed moments in Canadian sport. Humiliated on the world stage, we insisted on knowing why it happened. Thus, Canada has a unique role in the world of performance-enhancing drugs. No country has so thoroughly examined the place of drugs in sport. Awash in shame and collective guilt after Seoul, we demanded stricter testing and kept a watchful eye on our athletes. Other than the odd toking snowboarder, positive tests have been few and far between. Does that mean Canadian athletes are clean? We dare to dream. Because as long as doping exists in sport, there will be athletes desperate for an edge and men like Astaphan only to happy to provide it.

Things I Just Don't Get: James Bond Edition

I really don't get it.

All summer, I've been reading about the uproar surrounding Daniel Craig's casting as James Bond in the soon-too-be-released film Casino Royale. Too blond, too short say some. Too indie serious, say others. Not Pierce Brosnan, say another astute lot. Some enterprising fans with an internet connection and a lot of time on their hands have even started a petition and boycott.

Now, I have no strong feelings about Daniel Craig. I hear we was good in Layer Cake. I hear he helped Sienna Miller exact a measure of revenge on her nanny-bedding fiance Jude Law (thank you, US Weekly). It's not the casting of Craig that has me befuddled. It is how and why anyone could possible care.

I simply do not get James Bond.

I'm the first to admit that the trappings are cool. What man doesn't look his best in a killer tux, a killer car and genuinely killer smile. The ladies, the martinis, the attitude and the gadgets - I can see how it should add up to something special. The problem is, they all-too-often add up to something absurd. The movies, from what I can see, just plain suck. Overblown action set-pieces in lieu of actual plot. Stuff blowing up. Villains who cook up over-elaborate but easily escapable ways to kill Bond. Chicks with lurid double-entendre names, lounging in bikinis or cavorting in Bond's bed. The whole series is steeped in an 1960s ethos of spy as playboy, girl as Madonna or whore, enemy as evil-guy-with-an-accent.

The movies started in the 60s, so it's easy to understand where the mentality came from. The problem is, it never stopped. Audiences grew more sophisticated, society changed and Bond just kept right on drinking, smoking, shagging and blowing stuff up. It's not just that it's all so dumb, it's that the films and the filmmakers seem determinedly unaware of their own ridiculousness. The seriousness with which people have debated the Bond casting provides a clue to the source of the problem. There is a whole group of fans who demand spectacle and style, and who clearly don't give a damn about substance. These fans refuse to let Bond change or grow or just go away. As long as stuff blows up real good.

I have nothing against things blowing up. I just want a story to go along with it. And with Bond, it seems unlikely I'll ever get it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Dance Fever, the Movie

I may be accused of obsessing a little hard on the dance TV. It's been two posts on So You Think You Can Dance and you just know I'm salivating for Dancing with The Stars. I think it all goes back to my own complete lack of dancing ability. I tried, for years as a little kid to get some sort of connection between my feet and and my head. Never happened. White girl can't dance. Those who can't, watch. Gleefully.

So, in this brief but agonizing interlude between the end of SYTYCD and DWTS, I offer a little cinematic methadone. Here, then, is my list of the Greatest Dance Movies of All Time.

1. Dirty Dancing
You know you can't argue. It's got Swayze. It's got Emily Gilmore and Detective Lenny Briscoe. It's got Jennifer Grey's original nose. It's sweet, nostalgic and, yeah, just a little dirty. It's about that summer love you wanted to believe would last forever, but deep down you knew couldn't. It's number one because nobody puts Baby in a corner.

2. Girls Just Want to have Fun
A controversial pick I know. It's girlie, it's silly and it's cheese-tastic. But it is also fun as hell and I may personally have watched this film 327 times between the ages of 12 and 15. Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt goof around, kiss some boys and rebel against authority by auditioning for a Dance Fever/MTV hybrid brilliantly called Dance TV. With colourful spandex fashion, melodramatic conflict with a rich-bitch rival and a fresh-faced kid named Shannon Doherty, this movie showed us just how amazing the 80s could be.

3. Footloose
Pissed off that your mom moved you to a hicksville small town in the middle of nowhere? Harassed by the cops, your relatives and the local tough guys? What's a guy to do? Dance, that's what! Dance in abandoned factory with joy and, um, abandon. Then, hook up with the preacher's dirty daughter, teach the local farmhands how to dance, get in a bar fight, put on a prom and, oh hell, you know the story. The pinnacle of the Kevin Bacon ouevre. Seriously - he's never been better. His hair, however, has been better. Oh, and there's SJP again! Who knew?

4. Flashdance
Just your average welder-by-day-stripper-by-night-dreams-of-becoming-a-ballerina fable. I'm not normally one to praise the screenwriting abilities of Joe Eszterhas, but this one balances the sleeze and the story very nicely thank you. There was a dash of controversy when the filmmakers initially tried to conceal that it wasn't really Jennifer Beals dancing, but the movie doesn't suffer a bit. This film also makes Cynthia Rhodes a two-fer on this list, here as Alex's fellow stripper and way up at number one as Swayze's dance partner. My favourite Flashdance story: When casting for Alex, producers had narrowed the field down to just two: Demi Moore and Jennifer Beals. Producers went to a construction site, showed the workers pictures of the two starlets and asked which one they'd rather, um, see dance. Beals, it seems, won. She must be so proud.

5. Fame
I defy you to hear the opening notes of that theme song and not feel the urge to run out into New York City traffic and just get down with your bad self. You can't deny it. Don't even try.

6. Saturday Night Fever
I know, the list is supposed to be the top five. But I couldn't leave this one off the list. The film is famous for the Bee Gees and Travolta's white suit (bought at auction by Gene Siskel, incidentally). But if you haven't seen it, man are you in for a surprise. This is no lighthearted disco romp. Drugs, desperation, rape and death all figure in. But when Travolta hits the floor for that famous dance, you'll be entranced, I promise.

Honourable Mentions: Strictly Ballroom, Save the Last Dance, Pulp Fiction.

No bitching that Grease, Moulin Rouge and Chicago and all those other fancy musicals are missing. Movie's gotta be about dance or feature dance as key plot point. Without rules we have anarchy people!

And while we're at it, here's a bonus:

Worst dance movie ever:

Staying Alive. Oh... good... God. The sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Tony Manero stars in the worst broadway musical of all time. Trust me. I watched it 20 years ago and I'm still not over the pain.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bye, Bye Nigel

Well, So You Think you can Dance came to an end last night. It was with a touch of melancholy and a big appetite for cheese (mmm, cheese) that I indulged in the two-hour finale, which brought one more horrible Cat Deely outfit, lots more ego-tripping by Nigel Lithgow and a last scream from crazy Mary. In the end, the title of Ameriker's Favourite Dancer(TM) went to Benji. Benji, for those of you who sadly missed out, is the geektastic swing dancer propelled to 'stardom' by thousands upon thousands of ten-year-old girls who clearly found his winsome Clay-Aikenish appeal irresistible. To understand that appeal, suffice to say that he is exactly as sexually threatening as his name would suggest.

Cheerfully devoted Mormon (hey - I thought they weren't allowed to dance!) Benji beat out contemporary dancer Travis for the title, despite Travis' undeniably better skills (skillz?). It's not too sad for Travis, though. The Dance prize is indisputably the lamest in reality TV - Benji gets $100,000 (a bad night on a game show these days), a car and a one-year contract with Celine Dion's show in Vegas. The Rockstar contestants will be snorting Jagermeister with Tommy Lee and this kid'll be lucky to catch Celine's eye backstage. Just as well, I think an hour with Tommy Lee would actually kill him. I trust Celine'll take it easy on him.

Death in America

Ten years ago, 6-year-old Jon-Benet Ramsey was found beaten to death in the basement of her parent's Colorado home. In no time at all, the case became a media sensation. Like Natalee Holloway and Laci Peterson after her, little Jon-Benet became a fixture in the newspapers and on TV for months after her death. Inevitably, insidiously, as Boulder police failed to make an arrest, suspicion fell on the family.

The morbid fascination with case and the cloud that hung over the family sprang from the same source - endless videotape of the tiny Jon-Benet in full beauty-queen hair and make-up, prancing down the runway at various child beauty pageants. That so many people were willing to believe that her parents would do her harm emerged at least in part from the belief that, by entering their child in these bizarre contests, the Ramseys were already doing harm to Jon-Benet. Our disdain for, and fascination with, this strange subculture, in which little girls are shellacked into strange living dolls, translated into disdain for Jon-Benet's parents. Patsy's own beauty-queen past cast her as the evil mother desperate to live vicariously through her child.

For a decade, the Ramsey's lived under the shadow a double tragedy - the loss of beloved daughter and the crushing suspicion of the rest of the world. Her parents watched as news outlets even accused their son of killing his own sister. Amid accusations of police bungling, they waited for an arrest that it seemed would never come. Indeed, for Patsy, who died earlier this year, it never came. Thankfully, now it has. The mystery comes to an end, and the Ramseys emerge cleared of suspicion. Somehow, after 10 years, it cannot possibly be enough.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bimbo interuptus; it's a Paris boycott!

That's it. After one too many articles on too-many, too-stupid atrocities to count, I've finally been inspired to social action. I'm officially calling for a complete boycott on Paris Hilton. C'mon people... together, we can take that b*tch down.

It's a simple proposal. Starting today, this very minute, all of us stop watching, reading, talking or thinking about Paris Hilton. Forever. And ever. And, seriously, amen.

The rules are appropriately simple too: We all just ignore her. No-one buys her new album (despite the inevitable morbid curiosity - trust me, give your gag reflex a rest). We all refuse to watch the Simple Life 27: Porn Stars. We pass on viewing the official end of her faux-feud with Nicole Ritchie on Letterman. We resolutely avoid samples of her perfume. We skip over articles on her latest Greek shipping heir or her new snit with LiLo. And we promise never, ever to buy anything Paris endorses or appears in or touches or, well, looks at. Magazines with her on the cover stay on the rack. The clicker is mercilessly employed whenever she appears on TV. From now on, we officially skip all of films, even on video, even if you went just to see her die horribly (or because you wondered how that night vision thing really works) - it just encourages in all the wrong ways. Sure, we may miss out on some Hiltonic deep thoughts and some remarkable new nicknames for redheads, but it'll be worth it in the end!

Sure, she'll fight it at first. Deperate for fame, she'll wear yet more inappropriate things in inappropriate places. She'll say yet more moronic things to reporters. She'll adopt yet more pets/accessories. Maybe we'll get lucky and one will eat her. But even if her new baby cougar doesn't put us all out our misery, we can do it ourselves. Surely, if we all stop paying attention, she'll eventually get dressed and go home.

Power to the people!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Whither Trudeau? Whatever

Last week, in a lengthy Toronto Star article, writer Linda Diebel asked how each of the Liberal leadership hopefuls (Ignatieff, Rae, and company) measures up to the ghost of Pierre Eliot Trudeau - the inevitable 'invisible candidate' in any Liberal race. Diebel argues that Trudeaumania remains so strong in the hearts and minds of Liberals that every leader who follows PET must inevitably be measured against him. People, she says, want a new Trudeau.

Let's accept for the moment that the Liberal grassroots really do ache for a new Trudeau. It's not implausible - after all, he brought an undeniable vigour and vitality to the party. He was smart, funny, brilliantly articulate and even sexy (for a Canadian politician). A witty and acerbic intellectual from Montreal, Trudeau burst onto the political scene in the 1960s with charisma to spare. He dated celebrities, swore at political adversaries, even pirouetted behind the Queen. As Prime Minister, he won and lost elections, alienated the west, introduced official bilingualism and brought us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He left politics after announcing, in typical grand style, that he was inspired to retire after taking "a long walk in the snow". He was, in short, an extraordinary character. And that is precisely the problem with longing for a "new" Trudeau.

There has, in the history of Canada and the Liberal party, only been one Trudeau. Most politicians don't inspire the kind of passions - love and hate - that Trudeau elicited. Ask an Albertan, even today, about Trudeau's National Energy Program and watch the venom spew forth. To try to emulate so singular a man is folly. After all, look what happened when American Democrats tried to find a new Kennedy. They found Bill Clinton, who undoubtedly shared Kennedy's idealism and youth, but who unfortunately shared some of Kennedy's less favourable qualities too. Some would suggest that Clinton had a little less of the good and and a little more of the arrogant, womanizing bad, but that's an argument for another day. What's undeniable is that Clinton's arrogance and womanizing overshadowed his final term in office and substantially dimmed his legacy. Clinton simply could not recapture the Kennedy mystique. He was different, the press was different, the world, the public, the rules.. all were different. Anyone who seeks to emulate Trudeau will have the same problem. Trudeaumania happened in a specific time and place - the same man, today, would have a much different effect.

And what of the argument that all Liberals long for a new Trudeau? Sure, baby-boomer Liberals probably do, in that same nostalgic, things-were-better-back-then sense that ensures that the Rolling Stones can still sell out stadiums despite having released utter crap since 1975. And while I bow in subservience to the awesome demographic power that is the baby-boomer cohort, I question whether Canadians under 35 give a damn about Trudeau. The man left office when I was 11. I have no memory of him to cherish, no anecdote that warms my heart. My experience of the Liberal party is of Jean Chretien's arrogance and the nasty, brutish internecine feud between Chretien and Paul Martin that ultimately brought Canada's natural ruling party to her knees. This, I would argue, is the ghost Liberals should be worried about. Because without healing those wounds, not even Trudeau himself could help them win the next election.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hair Metal Heaven II - Power Ballad Edition

Having commented on the deep cultural significance of hair metal bands, I thought it made sense to comment further on the highest achievement of these '80s rock princes. That's right, the power ballad! These moody love songs with a little electric guitar on the side had been around for decades, but glam-rock bands took them to the level of art. So, in honour of my slightly mis-spent youth, here's Jen's Official Top 5 Power Ballads (of all time):

1. Every Rose Has it's Thorn. Poison
"We both lie silent and still in the dead of the night. Although we both lie close together, we feel miles apart inside. Was it something I said, or something I did? Did my words not come out right?" It's a heartbreak song, pure and simple, and it captures the lonely melancholy of breaking up with someone you love. Is it deep and important? Hell, no. But it captures something true and universal about what it is like to be a teenager. And that's what rock and roll is supposed to do. Plus, I totally thought Bret Michaels was hot.

2. Patience. Guns and Roses.
Features Axl Rose before he went full-on crazy. It could be on the list for the whistling interlude alone. Or Axl's soulful swaying in the video. But it's really here because it captures how it feels to miss someone, to desperately want to be with someone you can't be with. See, once again, universal and true. Who says hair metal bands had no substance. Oh yeah, I did. My bad.

3. Dream On. Aerosmith.
This is really a proto-hair-metal power ballad, in that it was first released way back in 1973. But its influence can be felt in film (Wayne's World, Miracle), commercials (it has been used in major ad campaigns) and, of course, music. Not only has it influenced all the power ballads that followed, it was actually sampled by Eminem (on "Sing the Moment", or so I'm toldby Wikipedia). I guess that puts Aerosmith in the same club as Dido. And Martika. Ah, Martika.

4. Dead or Alive - Bon Jovi
Yes, Jovi is cheesy as hell. Yes, their new stuff sucks. But for one brief shining moment, they were the biggest rock-and-roll band in the word. With 100 million albums sold, they can suck all they want these days. Plus, they have this one perfect ballad in their lexicon. A story of life on the road, with a durable rocker as outlaw motif, this song has lighters flickering at every concert they play.

5. More than Words. Extreme
Extreme had this one huge hit and then totally faded from view. Though former lead singer Gary Cherone did have an awkward, ill-fated stint as lead singer for Van Halen (post Hagar). I just love the message of this song. If you really love me, you wouldn't just say so; you'd, you know, show me. Wink, wink. Actually, a wink would probably be too subtle. It's all class.

Hair Metal Heaven

I went to a Poison concert this week. And I'm not embarrassed to admit it.

Okay, okay - that's not true. I went to a Poison concert and I am actually deeply ashamed to admit it. But that doesn't mean I didn't love the show.

First, from a purely sociological point of view, it was fascinating to watch the crowd - aging rockers in faded jeans and concert tees from '80s perennials like G n' R, Metallica and Motley Crue (the official runner-up to Poison in the fan-dedication-as-measured-by-t-shirts sweepstakes). And just like all the hair-metal concerts I attended in my early teens, there were lots of rocker chicks in teased hair, heavy make-up, short leather skirts and stillettos. Only now, these chicks are pushing their mid-forties. Sagging tattoos are actually a pretty scary sight. Anyway, Carrie and I spent as much time checking the crowd as we did Bret Michaels and crew.

The band put on a fast and fun show, part of their 20th anniversary tour (egad) - Bret looked much less puffy than he did a few years ago, so I'm assuming the hardcore recreational pharmaceuticals are behind him. Guitarist CC Deville, best known these days for his appearance on The Surreal Life, seemed genuinely pleased to be on stage again. They pretty much rocked - at least as much as they ever did.

I know that in the post-Nirvana era we're all supposed to look on hair metal with disdain. The artifice, the make-up, the spandex, the pyrotechnics, the amps that go to 11- all were supposed to have shown us how ridiculous and pointless the hair bands were. And they were. But what the hell - they wrote some seriously catchy tunes and they never rhymed libido and mosquito ad nausem.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Truth, Lies and Wikipedia

I'll admit it; I use Wikipedia a lot. It's a fast, easy and accessible way to get information. Want to know how many goals Mats Sundin scored last year, which starlet married Frank Sinatra in 1951 or how far away the moon is? It's all on Wikipedia. I've even used it as a research starting point for some of my MBA papers. But with academic work I always, and I mean always, took pains to verify the wiki-information with information from a separate source. If there was a discrepancy, I went with the other source. Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to really trust Wikipedia.

I'm a minority there, it seems. Wikipedia has slavish devotees. Most just read and reference, but a small set spent hours upon hours editing and posting the encyclopedic content. And there's the rub - these individuals are posting on a wide spectrum of topics and they are posting the 'truth' as they know and understand it. The wiki-idea is that the wisdom of the group will ensure that the whole truth on a subject is revealed in the end. But as philosophers have told us for centuries, truth can be an elusive thing. It seems like it should be clear. A fact is true, or it's not. And for some facts, this is indeed the case. Dates, times, places, measurements - these can all be independently verified. We can look to a thing and say, yes, it is blue, yes, it is 20 feet high. But many Wikipedia entries contain opinion, interpretation and extrapolation. And that can be a problem.

An excellent article from the New Yorker highlights this Wikipedia truth conundrum. Because anyone can post or edit an entry - not just subject matter experts - it isn't always clear how truthful an entry is at any given time. Many can be considered to be 'truthful enough' - which is fine if you and your friends are looking to settle an argument about who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2003 (Sean Penn, thank you very much). The real issue arises when there are multiple perspectives, and multiple versions of the truth. The Armenian Genocide, the politics of George Bush, Israel - these are all topics that cause much consternation and contain elusive truths. Relying on Wikipedia to understand any of them may be a dodgy business.

I'm not bashing Wikipedia - it's a handy resource. I'm just saying, check those references. Read more. And decide what is true for yourself.