Star Gazing: Comets, Actors, and Angelina’s Right Leg

 

 

 

                                                     by WALTER BRASCH

 

In 1973, some friends and I went to the rooftop of our apartment building to watch Comet Kahoutek, touted by astronomers and the media as the comet of all comets. We were sure we’d see it since we had the requisite equipment—binoculars and beer.

But we didn’t see the comet. Not that night nor the next night. What we did see was a lot of universe. And while we talked about the ungrateful comet that barely shone against a perfect sky, we explored a lot of questions about life, relationships, and our place in the universe. And we realized that no matter how egocentric we were, or how many kudos we earned from our peers, the universe must have a greater mission or reason for being than just to provide support for a few college students.

Growing up and working in Southern California, stars have been a part of my life. I could go to the Griffith Park and Mt. Palomar observatories; I could also hang around places where stars, near-stars, and pretend-stars walked, shopped, and ate.

Probably, that’s why I have a number of concerns about stars that are light years away and stars that are as far away as a TV or movie screen.

I’m concerned about our planet’s own star. Astrophysicists—the kind who actually know what warp speed means and why Scotty can’t give Capt. Kirk any more power—have determined that the sun is five billion years old, and will burn out in another five billion years. I’m concerned that no one knows how to treat a star for mid-life crises.

And speaking of stars with mid-life crises, I wish the media would stop wasting ink and airtime about every 50s- or 60s-year-old male actor who dates a 20-something female? If they want to date someone who scratches her head when the name Paul McCartney comes up, and then, as if two brain cells connected, suddenly asks if McCartney wasn’t that old guy in some band named Wings—well, that’s their own business.

I’m concerned that weeks before the Academy Awards, entertainment media know-it-alls tell us their predictions, encapsulated by a “who should win/who will win” story of erudite nonsense. Minutes after the ceremony, they trumpet their few correct predictions and mute their pomposity by telling us that such-and-such Oscar was a major upset, as if some magical fairy changed the votes without telling them.

I’m concerned that TV reporters parade their “intimacy” with the stars by calling them by their “close-friend-only” names. We all know about “Sly” Stallone, “Bob” Redford, and “Bobby” Duvall. The media called Elizabeth Taylor “Liz,” possibly because they had trouble pronouncing a four-syllable word; Taylor hated to be called Liz, but that made little difference. Maybe some of the stars should call reporters by their nicknames. Maybe we’ll learn about “Speed Bump,” “Jerkface,” and “Cuddles.”

The pre-Oscar runway special focuses not upon the art and craft of acting or movie making, but upon fashion. This year, ABC-TV sent five co-anchors (three of them fashion experts) onto the red carpet to interview the A-list. There was so much they could ask, and so much that the stars would have preferred to have been asked, but most of the questions revolved around, “Who are you wearing?” Clad in $10,000 one-of-a-kind dresses donated by designers in exchange for the free publicity, the stars gave names and tried to look excited rather than incredulous when asked, “So are you excited?” When not asking about the who, the co-anchors asked questions that focused upon looks. Frankly, it was nauseating to hear Tim Gunn twice tell Melissa Rivers that she had buns of steel, and Rivers saying that women who don’t squeeze their own buns won’t attract men who will squeeze them.

Finally, a week after the ceremony there aren’t many who remember the dresses or the winners, especially who won the Oscars for writing the Best Original Screenplay and the Best Adapted Screenplay. But, probably everyone remembers Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Jolie, who announced the award, wore a split dress, and brazenly showed her right leg. By the end of the awards show, there was a Twitter account (@angiesrightleg). Within two days, the leg had more than 35,000 followers, and was the subject of thousands of stories, parodies, and comedy monologues. For awhile, the skinny knock-kneed leg on one of the most beautiful actors and humanitarians allowed people to temporarily forget rising gas prices, layoffs, and a vicious presidential political campaign. It did for the people what movies and the other mass media do—it provided an enjoyable and temporary escape from reality.

[For those who care, the winners of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. The winners of the Best Adapted Screenplay were Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendants. In other news, Dr. Brasch was recently named a finalist in the USA Book News competition for Before the First Snow, and is a nominee for both the Eric Hoffer and Benjamin Franklin awards for literary excellence.]

 

Star Gazing: Comets, Actors, and Angelina’s Right Leg

 

 

 

                                                     by WALTER BRASCH

 

In 1973, some friends and I went to the rooftop of our apartment building to watch Comet Kahoutek, touted by astronomers and the media as the comet of all comets. We were sure we’d see it since we had the requisite equipment—binoculars and beer.

But we didn’t see the comet. Not that night nor the next night. What we did see was a lot of universe. And while we talked about the ungrateful comet that barely shone against a perfect sky, we explored a lot of questions about life, relationships, and our place in the universe. And we realized that no matter how egocentric we were, or how many kudos we earned from our peers, the universe must have a greater mission or reason for being than just to provide support for a few college students.

Growing up and working in Southern California, stars have been a part of my life. I could go to the Griffith Park and Mt. Palomar observatories; I could also hang around places where stars, near-stars, and pretend-stars walked, shopped, and ate.

Probably, that’s why I have a number of concerns about stars that are light years away and stars that are as far away as a TV or movie screen.

I’m concerned about our planet’s own star. Astrophysicists—the kind who actually know what warp speed means and why Scotty can’t give Capt. Kirk any more power—have determined that the sun is five billion years old, and will burn out in another five billion years. I’m concerned that no one knows how to treat a star for mid-life crises.

And speaking of stars with mid-life crises, I wish the media would stop wasting ink and airtime about every 50s- or 60s-year-old male actor who dates a 20-something female? If they want to date someone who scratches her head when the name Paul McCartney comes up, and then, as if two brain cells connected, suddenly asks if McCartney wasn’t that old guy in some band named Wings—well, that’s their own business.

I’m concerned that weeks before the Academy Awards, entertainment media know-it-alls tell us their predictions, encapsulated by a “who should win/who will win” story of erudite nonsense. Minutes after the ceremony, they trumpet their few correct predictions and mute their pomposity by telling us that such-and-such Oscar was a major upset, as if some magical fairy changed the votes without telling them.

I’m concerned that TV reporters parade their “intimacy” with the stars by calling them by their “close-friend-only” names. We all know about “Sly” Stallone, “Bob” Redford, and “Bobby” Duvall. The media called Elizabeth Taylor “Liz,” possibly because they had trouble pronouncing a four-syllable word; Taylor hated to be called Liz, but that made little difference. Maybe some of the stars should call reporters by their nicknames. Maybe we’ll learn about “Speed Bump,” “Jerkface,” and “Cuddles.”

The pre-Oscar runway special focuses not upon the art and craft of acting or movie making, but upon fashion. This year, ABC-TV sent five co-anchors (three of them fashion experts) onto the red carpet to interview the A-list. There was so much they could ask, and so much that the stars would have preferred to have been asked, but most of the questions revolved around, “Who are you wearing?” Clad in $10,000 one-of-a-kind dresses donated by designers in exchange for the free publicity, the stars gave names and tried to look excited rather than incredulous when asked, “So are you excited?” When not asking about the who, the co-anchors asked questions that focused upon looks. Frankly, it was nauseating to hear Tim Gunn twice tell Melissa Rivers that she had buns of steel, and Rivers saying that women who don’t squeeze their own buns won’t attract men who will squeeze them.

Finally, a week after the ceremony there aren’t many who remember the dresses or the winners, especially who won the Oscars for writing the Best Original Screenplay and the Best Adapted Screenplay. But, probably everyone remembers Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Jolie, who announced the award, wore a split dress, and brazenly showed her right leg. By the end of the awards show, there was a Twitter account (@angiesrightleg). Within two days, the leg had more than 35,000 followers, and was the subject of thousands of stories, parodies, and comedy monologues. For awhile, the skinny knock-kneed leg on one of the most beautiful actors and humanitarians allowed people to temporarily forget rising gas prices, layoffs, and a vicious presidential political campaign. It did for the people what movies and the other mass media do—it provided an enjoyable and temporary escape from reality.

[For those who care, the winners of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. The winners of the Best Adapted Screenplay were Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendants. In other news, Dr. Brasch was recently named a finalist in the USA Book News competition for Before the First Snow, and is a nominee for both the Eric Hoffer and Benjamin Franklin awards for literary excellence.]

 

Miss America: Auditioning for Center Stage

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH     

      

Tucked between the New Hampshire primary and Ground Hog Day, and directly competing against an NFL playoff game, is Saturday night’s annual Miss America pageant.

Although the headquarters is still near Atlantic City, where it originated in 1921, the pageant—don’t call it a beauty contest—has been a part of the Las Vegas entertainment scene for eight years. Apparently, the Las Vegas motto of “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” wrapped itself around the pageant as well, with TV viewership dropping lower almost every year.

ABC-TV divorced Miss America in 2004, claiming irreconcilable differences. Viewership had fallen from a peak of 26.7 million in 1991 to an all-time low of 9.8 million, barely enough to keep a prime-time show on the air. The pageant’s CEO, trying to preserve what dignity was left, stated “We needed to find a better partner, one that better understands our values.”

Apparently better understanding Miss America’s values was Country Music Television (CMT). However, that marriage didn’t last, and Miss America then hooked up with the The Learning Channel (TLC). By 2007, only 2.4 million viewers tuned in to watch who would be the next beauty queen to want world peace, save the whales, and “do her country proud.”

Treating its demotion to the minor leagues as a chance for rehabilitation, the pageant made a few cosmetic changes, began playing with new ways of scoring, including viewer participation, and slowly brought its ratings back to about 4.5 million in 2010.

That’s when ABC-TV and Miss America, after a six-year divorce, fell in love again. Apparently, CMT and TLC “values” (and money) weren’t as good as a major network’s. Promising eternal faithfulness—as long as the ratings increased—the two lovebirds were seen by about 7.8 million.

Now, it may seem that only TV executives and advertisers should care about ratings, viewer demographics, and selling fluff. But the contestants are well-trained actors in the made-for-TV show, complete with celebrity judges, most of whom are there solely because they are—well—celebrities.

About one-third of all contestants say they want to go into communications. As in almost every pageant for the past four decades, several want to go into television. Miss Delaware and Miss Nevada both want to be talk show hosts. Miss Louisiana wants to anchor the “Today” show; to get to that lofty goal, she plans to first get a master’s in health communication. None of the contestants wanting to go into journalism have expressed any interest in first covering city council meetings, the courts, police, or Little League games. They plan to take their beauty and pageant poise, make up their hair and face, and stand in front of a camera to emphasize the reality that broadcast journalism has diminished to the point of style over substance.

Miss New York wants to be the editor of a fashion magazine. Miss Idaho wants to write for a health and fitness magazine. Miss Hawaii wants to be a film director; to do that, she plans to first get an MBA. There is no evidence she plans first to be an actor, set designer, writer, cinematographer, or in any of several dozen crafts.

Miss Utah says she wants to be an interpersonal communications presenter (whatever that is) and also a college dance team coach. Miss New Hampshire, who probably dressed Barbie dolls in corporate suits, says she wants to “own a large and prestigious advertising firm.” It’s doubtful she’ll want to modify the gibberish of the organization that, with all seriousness, says it “provides young women with a vehicle to further their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of unique nationwide community-based programs.”

A few contestants say they want to be “event planners,” as if there already aren’t enough people wasting their own lives by planning the lives of others.

Not planning to go into communications is Miss California who is earning a degree in something called “social enterprise.” That could be anything from learning how to use Facebook to mixing the drinks at upscale parties. Miss West Virginia says she wants to go into the military, and then become secretary of state. Perhaps one day she might work for the 2011 Miss America, whose goal is to become president.

Several contestants plan to get MBAs, but almost everyone wants to use that degree to go into—prepare yourself!—a non-profit social service agency.  It sounds good, and maybe they all mean it. But, dangle a six-figure salary, stock options, extensive perks, and a “golden parachute,” and most of them will run over the Red Cross so fast it’ll need blood transfusions.

Mixed into the career goals are some contestants who plan to be physicians, pharmacists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and others in the caring professions.  

Miss America doesn’t have to worry about a job or college for a year. Along with a paid chaperone, she will tour the country to sign autographs and give inspirational speeches about whatever her platform is—and, of course, to promote the Miss America Organization.

From the “toddlers and tiaras” stage to the stage at the Planet Hollywood Casino, beauty contestants are told how to look, act, and talk, even what to say or not say. The Miss America Organization—which makes the Mafia look like a second rate fraternity—doesn’t tell contestants they must attend college. But, every one of the state winners plans to be a college graduate.

There is a definite bias against those who don’t think attending college is important at this stage of their lives. And so, we don’t see talented actors, singers, dancers, and musicians who are bypassing college to attend specialized non-degree-granting schools and enter their professions. We don’t see contestants who, although beautiful and talented, are planning to be plumbers, electricians, or firefighter/paramedics. We don’t see contestants who want to be gardeners, floral arrangers, or chefs. And, we most assuredly don’t see women who are bypassing college to be part of major social movements.

[Walter Brasch, who attended several beauty pageants, although as a reporter and not as a contestant, is a social issues columnist and book author. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution, available at www.amazon.com or www.greeleyandstone.com]

 

 

ABC-TV: Oscar-Worthy, But Journalistically Unsound

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            The last segment on every Friday's broadcast of ABC-TV's "World News," with Diane Sawyer, is a "Person of the Week."

            Usually, those persons have gone out of their way to do something good for people, or have lived a long and distinguished life, or by their example give inspiration to others.

            Recent "persons of the week" have included a very special caregiver, a wheelchair-bound teen who does wheelchair tricks, and a homeless man who returned $3,300 he had found.

            However, this past Friday, the "Persons of the Week" were two actors. There's nothing wrong with honoring actors and others in the creative arts. They bring us joy and, often, intellectual stimulation. But, the reason ABC News honored Anne Hathaway and James Franco had little to do with acting—and everything to do with advertising.

            ABC is broadcasting the Oscars, Sunday, and Hathaway and Franco are the hosts. To justify their inclusion, Sawyer led off the segment by telling us: "The torch will be passed to a new generation. The baby boomers no longer hosting the Oscars."

            But, for two and a half minutes, we learned about Hathaway and Franco, and not the story of a change in the Industry. We even learned about what each would like to know about the other.

            In television, ratings, mixed with some demographic analyses, determine the price of advertising. The range for 30 second ads for scripted prime time shows is about $50,000–$250,000. For the Super Bowl, with the largest audience, 30-second ads this year went for about $3 million. ABC, which sold all ad time for the primetime Oscars telecast, charged about $1.7 million for 30 seconds advertising. ABC pays about $65 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the broadcast rights. The Disney-owned company expects about $80 million revenue and is hoping for at least 43 million viewers for the telecast. And that doesn't include the advertising for the pre-Oscar "red carpet" show, or the on-air promotions for Disney-owned productions.

            By Industry standards, if the ratings tank, ABC would have an obligation to return money to advertisers, something it definitely doesn't want to do.

            So, in addition to running numerous Oscar-related commercials during ad time in the two weeks leading to the Sunday night broadcast, ABC-TV made its "Person of the Week" nothing more than another Oscar promotion to guarantee the network a strong "return on investment."

            That decision alone damages a news operation's credibility.

 

[Assisting on this column was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch is a journalist/columnist, the author of 16 books, including Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture (3rd ed.). He is a retired professor of mass communications and journalismYou may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Fairness and the Bristol Stomp

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Almost all children hear a set of conflicting statements from their parents, relatives, and friends. They're told if they study hard, if they work hard, they can achieve whatever they want. It's the "American Dream." But they're also told that life isn't always fair.

            Looking for internships or jobs, America's children learn that no matter how much they studied or worked, it was the boss's niece or a boss's friend's son who was hired. Sometimes, the reason for rejection could be as simple as the boss thought the best candidate was intellectually superior or that the applicant had curly black hair and he liked only blondes.

            Later, on another job, while the boss bought yet another vacation home, the worker was one of dozens laid off, their jobs going to Mexico, China, or Pakistan.

            It's not fair that reality TV "stars" and pro athletes make 10 to more than 100 times the salaries of social workers and firefighters. But Americans seldom protest.

            The owner of a mid-sized carpentry shop loses a contract to a large corporation, not because of a lack of quality work but because the corporation cut deals with suppliers. It's not fair; it's just reality.

            One person driving 65 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone is stopped by police; another, doing 80, speeds along. It's not fair. But it happens.

            It probably wasn't fair that Bristol Palin, 20-year-old unwed mother with no discernible job skills, was selected over thousands of other celebrities for ABC-TV's "Dancing With the Stars." It had nothing to do with fairness or her ability; it had everything to do with a reality that Palin's presence on DWTS would bring in ratings, and ratings bring in advertising income. The first show brought in 21 million viewers who watched 30-second commercials from companies that paid almost $190,000 each, among the highest on all television—broadcast or cable.

            To assure that Palin had  a chance to stay on the show for at least a couple of weeks, the producers gave her a special advantage—her professional dance partner was Mark Ballas, DWTS champion twice in the previous 10 seasons.

            Even with one of the best professional ballroom dancers as her partner and coach, Palin was still at the bottom of the judges' ranking four times, and near the bottom most of the other times. According to the scoring system, each of three judges give each contestant pair—a celebrity and a professional—a score of 1 to 10. A perfect score is 30. But, viewers can vote by phone, website, or by texting. Their vote is worth half the total score. Neither Sarah nor Bristol Palin made any special requests of the viewers that we know about. They didn't have to. Hundreds of conservative blogs and talk show hosts did it for them, urging their flocks to vote. Many may have even scammed the system. At least one viewer told the Washington Post he not only had used fake emails to vote hundreds of times, he also told others how to do it.

            Willing accomplices and accessories, of course, were the producers who made sure that Mama Palin was seen on several shows—sometimes with speaking roles, sometimes with as many as nine cutaway shots. The audience did as they were told. For nine weeks, Bristol Palin, one of the weakest dancers in the show's 11-season history, defeated celebrity teams who had near-perfect and perfect scores.

            The week before the finals, it finally seemed destined that Bristol Palin would be off the show, having again placed at the bottom of the judges' scores. But, it was Brandy and professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who had done near-perfect routines, who were voted off. Shocked, the audience began booing. It didn't matter. Palin was now one of three celebrity finalists.

            The first of a two-part final the following week drew an audience of 23.7 million, highest for any entertainment program this season. However, this time, it was Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough, who had finished at the top of the judges' lists several times, who finally won. Second were actor Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer; Palin and Ballas finished third.

            It makes little difference if numerous celebrities weren't selected for Dancing With the Stars because the producers gave the slot to the less talented Bristol Palin. It doesn't even matter that more talented celebrities were eliminated from the show because a cult of the home audience voted for Bristol Palin. In the American election system, the best candidate, for any of a thousand reasons, including blatant lies and distortion by the opposition, often doesn't win an election.

            It doesn't seem fair. It's just the way it is.

 

 

 

Diaries

Advertise Blogads