Real World Views

In case you haven’t noticed, just about every television show nowadays is some sort of “reality TV” program. A cooking show. A travel show. A spouse finding show. A house flipping show. A rich-people-fighting show. Heck, there’s even shows about people taking their junk into pawn shops! Every channel is teeming with shows that peek into the (heavily edited and likely scripted) lives of our fellow non-celebrities or even would-be-used-to-be celebrities.

Believe it or not, despite how inescapable it is, I’ve never been bitten by the reality TV bug. My parents watch Big Brother and Survivor. They’ve been trying for years to get me hooked on them, but I just can’t. Not for lack of effort, though. To be fair, I did watch Survivor ONCE. What happened in that episode? Let’s see. If I recall correctly, one of the players stole all of the other team’s stuff before they even got to the island where the contest was supposed to take place. When that happened I said “screw this” and put reality TV in my rearview mirror. I just find that watching cheaters do terrible things to other people is more annoying than it is entertaining. As it turns out, that’s pretty much the entire foundation that reality TV is built upon. Not just Survivor, but all of them. Apparently, playing dirty is the norm and expected.

Sometime after the Survivor fiasco, I went back to the well and tried again. This time I chose Dancing with the Stars (after it had been on for a while). That one wasn’t too bad. I even made it through a couple of seasons. The first season I watched was okay, but I had my qualms. I didn’t like that the fan voting made it more of a popularity contest than a dancing contest, and the good dancers got sent home because of it. The second and third seasons kind of lost me when I realized some of the “celebrity” guests they threw in there were pretty much professionals themselves who had obvious dance expertise (a choreographer, an ice skater, a gymnast). How is that fair to the others? That’s like competing in a swim meet and the person you’re up against is a professional lifeguard. Plus, the one guest celebrity who had absolutely no dancing experience and yet was improving over time (which I thought was the whole point of the show) was treated horribly by the judges. I mean horribly. It was cringe-worthy. That turned off whatever interest I may have had in the so-called contest.

Even though I’ve been burned twice, I can’t say that I’ve given up on reality TV quite yet. Much to my dismay, actually. My daughter has turned me on to Project Runway and, to be blunt, it’s driving me insane. I get anxious. Then, I get angry. Then I get anxious AND angry, not to mention loud. And while the emotional roller coaster the show puts me through is not exactly a pleasant experience, I just can’t turn away. I must see who wins. And if it ends up not being the person I want to win, well, I simply can’t be responsible for my actions or what happens to my TV. The problem is that I get too invested. I feel attached to certain players. I become incensed over the rude comments made by the judges. I feel betrayed pissed off when someone cheats. I take offense when a player reveals they are two-faced. How annoying is all that!?  And hey, it’s only my first season of watching. So, yeah.

Watching reality TV just reaffirms everything I hate about people in general and I find it very frustrating that I now wait anxiously for Thursdays to roll around so I can see what the hell happens. I won’t be watching another season of Project Runway, I’m sure, but as it stands now, I just want to make it through this one with my TV and vocal chords intact.

Into the Fray

I belong to several different online groups, especially on Facebook. They’re mostly book clubs, classic movie fan sites, and vintage photo connoisseurs. I’ve noticed that, especially in one of the vintage photography groups, people are becoming unnecessarily mean and argumentative. In this group, anyone can post pictures of anything vintage, whether it’s their family, celebrities, locations, etc. Someone posted a photo of Doc Holliday and “Big Nose Kate,” his girlfriend/wife, and there were people – you’d think it would be just men, but women as well – who jumped in to immediately say how much Kate looked like a man in a dress (she didn’t) and of course the comments spiraled out of control from there. Good grief! This Hungarian-born, frontier woman has been dead for 77 years. Let it rest.

In the same group, a controversial photo of Billy the Kid was displayed. It’s been authenticated, but some historians still have their doubts, which I won’t get into here. Still, it was as if some of the group’s members had been personally attacked or offended or perhaps had some vested interest in the origins of this photo for all the rage and insulting comments they were throwing out…directed at the photo, the original poster, as well as to those who mentioned, correctly I might add, that the photo had indeed been authenticated and even insured, controversy within the industry notwithstanding.  Nothing is as irksome as self-appointed vintage photo police.

Photos will be posted of family members and people will scream “Photoshop!” even though the photo is obviously old and photoshopping didn’t exist then. While it’s possible the photo was manipulated in the dark room all those 100’s of years ago, who the hell cares?  In any case, it’s the person’s family, so they would probably know if it was accurate or not. People will post old Victorian spirit pictures (which are well-known to be faked) and the commenters jump on those too – screaming, “fake, fake, fake!” As if no-one else had any idea and they are exposing some modern-day fraud. These Visual Vigilantes attack the original poster and anyone else who voices a positive opinion of simply liking the photo or thinking that it’s “cool,” or complimenting the dark-room work, regardless of whether it’s real or not.

Now I know the Internet, and Facebook in particular, is a breeding ground for arguments, but it has become increasingly apparent to me that people will indeed argue about anything and everything. However, it’s amazing to me that in a group that is supposed to be all about simple, innocuous, and light-hearted fun, there are those who cannot contain themselves. It’s as if they MUST be hateful, mean, and argumentative – as if they’ll implode otherwise, by containing all of that vile vitriol…like pressure-cookers left unattended. Or would they explode? Either way, it would be a big mess.

What is wrong with people that they can’t seem to find enjoyment in anything?  Perhaps arguing and being hateful are their forms of enjoyment? If so, our society is going to hell a lot faster than I originally anticipated.

 

 

When Superpowers Fall Flat

Have you ever wanted a  superpower?  Of course you have…it’s just a matter of which one. While more of a supernatural power than superpower,  I always thought it would be awesome to have the freezing and blowing-things-up abilities that Piper from “Charmed” had. Her power centered around being able to control molecular motion — she could slow it down to freeze things (and people) and speed it up which resulted in the thing or person exploding. I’m not sure I’d be nearly as ethical as Ms. Halliwell though, in the use of such powers. So perhaps it’s for the best that I’m just ordinary.

But I got to thinking of other powers, and the pros and cons of each. You know, I’m not sure all superpowers are all they’re cracked up to be. After watching “Jumper,” I realized that teleporting would be a particularly cool skill to have. Think of the places you could see, the travelling you could do, the banks you could rob…umm, I mean, the travelling you could do!

Although, knowing me…it wouldn’t help my social calendar at all.

being late

Book Nook Schnooks Unite!

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a book nook schnook.  I can definitely relate with The Shop Around the Corner, Meg Ryan’s little bookstore in “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s a coziness, a warmth that the large chains can’t give you. Don’t get me wrong. Stores like Barnes & Noble are still very nice; especially if you like fresh muffins with chocolate icing and cappuccino with your browsing, which I get often when I’m perusing the six, eight, I mean one – yes of course, just the ONE book that I’ve finally decided on.

me in a bookstore

The advent of Kindle and Amazon sounded the death knell for hundreds of small bookstores, and many large, nationally known chains. B. Dalton, Borders, Brentano’s, and Crown Books have all gone the way of the brontosaurus.

Still, there’s a place for the little neighborhood bookstores that have been able to stay open in these trying literary times, thanks to legions of Book Nook Schnooks, just like me, across America. Although not nearly as prolific as they once were, many of these smaller shops are alive and well, and even the big publishers are now paying more attention to them, helping them with pricing and marketing. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s part of the local community. It’s a meeting place for friends and neighborhood book clubs. It’s like a “Cheers” bar for book lovers. There is a growing “buy locally” movement that benefits the independent bookseller. For every $100 spent in a national chain bookstore, only $43 of it stays in the local community. Small bookstores? More than $73 stays in the neighborhood. There is also a sensory aspect to the small bookstores. When I’m in a Barnes & Noble, while resplendent and heavenly, it nonetheless smells of credit cards, name tags, industrial cleaner, and the aforementioned cappuccino (which really, they’re worth the trip if you ask me). In a small, locally owned bookshop, I smell Emily Brönte, Shakespeare, L.Frank Baum, Jack London, and Mary Shelley mixed with essence of earnestness. And not in a bad way.
  • Who wouldn’t love the small bookshop experience? Visiting one is like putting on a warm sweater on a chilly day, a cup of tea, a shelter from the storm. One never knows what will be found when turning the corner in an aisle and browsing. That’s a key word: It’s a word that is overused, yet underrated. Visiting a small store can be like visiting a vintage clothing store. “Wow!  I didn’t know I needed that, but I want it.” A pleasant surprise — in book form — lurks around every corner, just waiting to be found. Children sit on the floor, poring through picture books. Kindly Ms. Kelly is reading stories to a group of seniors.
  • The staff knows what they’re doing. They are keenly familiar with the store’s offerings. They don’t need a computer to see what’s in stock. But they know how to use one to order any book they may not have but a customer wants, and are probably just as excited as you are when it’s finally located. They love books more than you do, if that’s even possible. “Hey, if you liked X, you’re going to love Y!” Conversely, they’ll let you know if something you’re looking for isn’t your cup of tea. “No, actually, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ isn’t a graphic designer handbook.”  You can count on what a small bookshop employee tells you. It’s like the library except you get to keep your newfound treasure.
  • The “intangibles.” There is an “atmosphere” to a small store. You may find a comfortable amount of clutter, pictures drawn by local schoolchildren, and potted plants. Walking into a small bookshop, you will feel the tension in your neck and shoulders disappear, your attitude improves, and time slow down.

Yes, I am a proud Book Nook Schnook. Do yourself a favor and visit your locally owned bookseller. It’ll be good for you – and good for the neighborhood. There are more than 1600 of them still around. When you do, stop by and say “Hello!” for me. And hey, if you want to buy me a book…even better!

story-time is the best time

It’s Good to Be Bad

As a society, we’ve been fascinated by villains in literature and drama for thousands of years. Greek playwrights gave us the concept of protagonists and antagonists, good versus evil.  Every good guy needs a bad guy to provide “moral dissonance.” But not all villains are purely true evil. Many classic villains have been molded by adversity in their lives. Great examples are Victor Frankenstein, Javert from Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Spider-Man’s Doc Ock, and even Darth Vader (okay, so maybe we can’t feel too bad for Darth Vader). What happened to turn them into villains? Chance meetings, life experiences as youngsters, personal tragedies, being misunderstood, poor life choices, and, quite possibly, poor personal hygiene molded them in their formative years.

The same is true for two of the dastardliest villains to plague Gotham City: The Penguin and the Riddler.  The Penguin entered the world as Oswald Cobblepot; The Riddler as Edward Nygma. Ed’s parents obviously had a twisted sense of humor. The name E. Nygma was too good to pass up.  With a name like that and an obsessive love for puzzles, little wonder that Edward chose Riddler as his nom de la criminalité. Twists of fate and circumstance caused these Gotham residents to turn to lives of depravity. Yes, I realize depravity may sound a little harsh, but come on! Riddler has tried every way under the sun to kill Penguin after being practically blood brothers, to which Penguin promptly responded by turning Riddler into a block of ice. Sorry, spoilers.

The early years of Oswald Cobblepot of “Gotham” fame are somewhat shrouded in mystery. What is known is that he was raised by a seriously over-protective mother. Adding to young Oswald’s difficulties, he inherited his father’s short, stocky stature, and something his mother lovingly called “a Roman nose.” Actually, it looks more like a beak. Turns out PeeWee Herman is his long-lost dad. I can’t help but think, poor Oswald. But I digress.

His physical features surely caused him no end of problems on the schoolyard. His classmates teased him and called him “a stupid puffin.” “Oh, Oswald dear,” his mother would say trying to comfort him, “if anything, you look more like a penguin.  An emperor penguin at that.”

Experiences during his adolescence honed his cunning nature and hurried his development toward acts of unbridled malfeasance. He would open his school locker and find it filled with fish. After serving at the feet of some of Gotham’s true villains, Oswald discovered that revenge soothed a lot of his ruffled feathers…no pun intended. Okay, so maybe it was a little bit intended. At any rate, the point being he decided that a life of crime brought him great joy.

Penguin’s ex-friend, Edward Nygma, followed a somewhat similar path, although his metamorphosis occurred somewhat later in life than Oswald’s. There is an old saying that goes, “There’s a thin line between genius and insanity.” Edward was living proof.

After graduating from Gotham University, Ed was no doubt recognized for his brilliant work in criminal science writing essays such as “Just the Facts Ma’am!” He worked closely with the Gotham Police Department to help solve crimes, often giving them clues in the form of riddles. Indeed, his brilliance is unparalleled. But things went off the rails for Ed when he fell for a woman who worked for the department, and, oddly enough, after his friendship with Penguin began.

I’m not too shy to say that Riddler and Penguin are my favorite characters on Gotham. They remind me a bit of Loki. Oh sure, they’re evil…but also maligned and misunderstood. Who knows what they would be like if they had only been accepted by those around them? If society had been nicer to them, would they still have gravitated to a life of crime and underhanded devilry? Would their cunning and brilliance have been contained to the side of good instead of forwarding their goals of petty revenge or feeding their delusions of grandeur and dastardly ambition?

Being a villain, however, is not all bad. They get to do bad things, which seem a lot more exciting and fun than the hero’s lot in life. Comic book villains often take great pleasure in performing their wicked villainy…often laughing as they do it. I mean, hey, at least they enjoy their jobs, right? We should all be so lucky.

Thanos, Red Skull, and their genuinely malevolent ilk aside, villains are terribly underrated and underappreciated. AND they perform a valuable service. Do you think Batman and Superman would be considered superheroes if all they did all day was to act as crossing guards and pick up dog poop in Gotham City and Metropolis? No. They need villains to fulfill their life’s work as superheroes. Their very status in the world relies on the Penguins and Riddlers of the underworld. Villains on the other hand don’t need anyone to be…well…villains. So, who’s the better character now, hmm?

Netflix and Chaos

Sometimes I feel sorry for Netflix. Well, as sorry as one can feel towards a combination of old style in-home Blockbuster and new-age Artificial Intelligence.

You see, there are three individuals who use Netflix in my house, and we could not be more different. Can you imagine the havoc we must play on the poor program’s algorithms?

First, you have me. I love horror. I’m not ashamed. Love it. “No One Lives” is one of my favorite movies – the name sort of gives away the plot, but hey. Great movie. Classic B movies such as Dead Silence? I am so there, popcorn in hand. BUT. I’m also addicted to British crime and mysteries such as Miss Fisher, Midsomer Murders, and Ripper Street. Throw in period dramas like Pride and Prejudice, Peaky Blinders, The Tudors, Versailles, and The Borgias, along with a smattering of off the wall shows like Psych and Monk, and well…you’ll kind of get a sense of my eclectic taste.

On my chaotic watching alone, Netflix could not be blamed for pulling its hair out when trying to pull together a cohesive list of matching shows.

But then you add in my kids.

There’s the daughter who watches anime along with sitcoms like Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Office, and Parks and Rec. BUT. She also likes superhero movies and so gets her fix by watching Gotham and Daredevil. Continuing her love for animated movies, she watches those frequently, but only certain ones – namely Megamind, Moana, Emperor’s New Groove, Road to El Dorado, Zootopia and the like – no standard princesses for her. Add in her love for stand-up comedy, especially that of John Mulaney, and movies such as The Way He Looks and Out in the Dark, and you’ve got quite a confusing trend for Netflix to track.

The boy on the other hand, he watches a different kind of anime (I’m told there are MANY varying styles of anime) and Seth Rogen movies (ugh!), and a surprising number of stand-up comedians I’ve never heard of before but that I’m assured are hilarious. BUT. He shares my love of comic book inspired entertainment and watches Iron Fist, among others. So, that’s a good thing.

I can only imagine what Netflix’s algorithms must think about our household. As many of you probably already know, Netflix loves to make recommendations “for your viewing pleasure.” It’s one of the system’s more endearing qualities. Netflix’s complicated programming allows for it to analyze your extensive viewing selections and then based on that analysis, the system generates a list of shows it recommends that should, theoretically, match your past selections.

Well. With the diverse t.v. viewing going on in my household, how on earth can Netflix condense these wide-ranging choices into a coherent recommendations list? One answer. It can’t. And for that, I feel sorry for it. The little man in there must be really scratching his head. Or pulling his hair out. One or the other. I don’t blame the system. I mean, it must truly appear that at times we are simply choosing shows at random. You should see some of the recommendations we get in return. I find it quite amusing myself.

After checking our “top picks for you” list recently, I found that next to Axe Murders of Villisca, is Minions. The Unborn has a place next to That 70s Show. Secret Life of Pets is immediately to the left of Twin Peaks. Chicken Little? It resides beside Doc Martin. Arrested Development was next to Octonauts for god’s sake. Last Airbender is followed by It Follows (a movie about a sexually transmitted curse – I had to check the plot after seeing the name). British comedian Jimmy Carr’s latest stand-up is listed right beside an anime called Mushi-Shi. The odd pairings go on and on.

So yeah, quite the eclectic list of recommendations, I must say. It’s sort of like my bookshelf, I suppose. If anyone wants to come in and go through the list without asking, they get what they deserve.

 

 

What Did You Say??

I was watching a Hallmark channel love story this past week – one of their typical “June wedding” movies.  And as I usually do, I had the captions on because, having the attention span of a gnat, I don’t always catch the dialogue of t.v. shows and the captions help. Usually. But in the case of this destination-wedding themed bit of escapism, the captions let me down. Big time.

I can’t be the only one to have noticed. I mean, I realize these movies cater to a very particular niche, but nonetheless, I’m sure they have a somewhat broad audience who, like me, partake in the weekly guilty pleasure. You’d think with the revenues generated by the romance industry, especially considering it’s Hallmark of all people, that there would be a higher quality of closed-captioning available. Well, you would be wrong.

Now, I realize that most captioning is mechanized these days and with automated translations come massive translation fails, especially when the actor on-screen is speaking a language the captioning program doesn’t understand.  I’ve seen some very good, high quality movies or shows where the caption states “Jane Doe speaking Vulcan…” or “John Smith speaking in High Valyrian,” which demonstrates an obvious programming flaw, but at least in those cases, even the caption program realizes, hey, I need to be respectful here even though I can’t make heads or tails of whatever it is they’re saying. If we’re really lucky, the movie’s internal production system kick in and the translation appears via subtitles built into the movie. Sadly, that’s not always the case, as proven by my foray into the wilds of Hallmark movies previously mentioned above.

So, as I said, the plot was centered around a destination wedding set at a resort in Acapulco, Mexico, complete with white sand beaches, turquoise water, the obligatory romantic tension between completely dissimilar people, and Spanish-speaking locals…you know how they do…in Mexico. With such a heads-up as to the setting of this movie, you’d think that a strategy would’ve been put into place to cover and possibly translate any oh, I don’t know, Spanish dialogue. But there, you would be wrong again.

I’ll set up one of the scenes in question for you – zoom in on a beachside table at which sits the starring couple, who just happen to have perfect teeth and great tans, and who also just so happened to be in love years ago though it didn’t work out because they were completely unsuited for each other and who now reluctantly find themselves thrown back together while planning the wedding of a friend and whilst doing so forget that they’re completely unsuited for each other and eventually fall in love all over again – but, BUT before they realize they are once again besotted with each other, it is time to try out different foods for the dinner aspect of the aforementioned wedding they are planning – hence sitting beachside, surrounded by food. Enter one Spanish-speaking local who, apparently flustered by the couple’s nitpicking at each other, does his nervous best to describe the food he has prepared – and the results are these impressively awful captions.

 

 

I don’t think that means what you think it means…

I pretty much had the same look of utter confusion, though admittedly my teeth aren’t nearly as perfect. So. Yeah. I’m hoping before Hallmark releases another movie with bilingual dialogue that they sort of up their game on the whole captioning thing — on so many levels. One can only hope, but in the meantime, I won’t hold my breath.