Tag Archives: TV

Trap Door

My imagination was captured the other day by this article about recent discoveries at an intriguing place in Wyoming called Natural Trap Cave.

The cave was first explored by paleontologists in the 1970’s, and then sealed up for thirty years.

The 2014 expedition has been making news for the variety of animal remains found in a well-preserved state at the bottom of this naturally formed pit. It’s 85 feet deep with a hidden opening perfectly positioned to receive unwitting prey in full flight from a pursuing animal, or scavengers too hungry to resist getting tragically close to the edge.

Since no one has been in the cave for several decades and the only way to get down to the bottom is to rappel (or fall) in, I immediately took Natural Trap Cave off my vacation spot list even though it would be a true wonder to behold.

But because art can transport us to places we will never go, I did commission Trail Baboon’s Sing-Song Poet Laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler to craft a rhyming masterpiece from the point of view of some prehistoric horse, pack rat or other careless mammal who tumbled into the abyss.

This is what he gave me:

Sprinting through the underbrush I hurtled at a run.
And by the time I saw the hole my plummet had begun.

A sudden transformation. Total darkness fell at noon.
My legs continued churning like a roadrunner cartoon.

I couldn’t gauge the distance. Eighty feet? Perhaps a mile?
No matter. At the end – I’m just a fossil on the pile.

I’ve been here undisturbed for 20,000 years (about).
To every new arrival, far too late, I say “Watch out!”

While I admire the brevity of this work (you can’t write an epic about falling 85 feet), I did challenge STW on his use of the roadrunner cartoon imagery. A short-faced bear (extinct 11,000 years ago) is just one of the animals found at the bottom of this pit who would have no familiarity with the Merrie Melodies oeuvre. The others include every single creature whose remains are down there.

Thus, I argued, this work violates the rule that says an artist must honor the boundaries of the fantasy world he creates. Obviously, the poem-writing skeleton of an extinct animal would never have had the chance to watch Saturday morning TV. Thus, the roadrunner reference makes no sense and should be removed.

STW responded in verse, as usual.

While I honor all opinions about every work of mine,
You’ve mistakenly put “artist” and “boundaries” in the same line.

You cannot know what I had in mind, exactly, when I wrote,
I control the contours of my world and you don’t get a vote.

When the animals looked upwards from their unexpected leap,
they had visions, as you would, if you were dying in a heap.

And what last hallucination would you see at your life’s close?
Some would opt for God or Yaweh. But for me, it’s Warner Bros.

If the TV was on in your hospital room at the very end, what would you want to watch?  

Artful Dodgers

Advertising represents a bid by well-financed entities to capture our attention and direct or change our behavior. Yet the baboons on our trail sound like they are exceptionally committed to avoiding this influence. From Verily Sherrilee’s use of the mute button to Ben’s channel changing, to That Guy In The Hat’s aggressive and possibly un-American refusal to own a TV, one could almost say living a low-ad lifestyle is a point of pride.

Spend your billions, Captains of Industry. We are unswayed!

What’s more, we are oblivious to your desires!

A research and consulting organization called YouGov looked at advertising avoidance, particularly as it applies to political ads. But they also looked at how assiduously their sample viewers skipped around other kinds of advertisements too.

The chart they published could have been drawn by Clyde, who appears to be having a personal feud with the Geico gecko.

Chart from YouGov
Chart from YouGov

One can see that the insurance reptile’s ads were ignored with a level of enthusiasm that must make people in the gecko animation industry think perhaps it is time to go about polishing up the resume.

Human attention is a prized commodity in our digitally interconnected world, and each person has a finite amount of it to trade on the open market. Right now, other people (producers, talk show hosts, movie stars, disc jockeys, bloggers) get paid to do or say things we will read, watch or listen to so intently that we might accidentally stick around for the things some lizard (pitchman or politician) has to say. What a disappointment to learn how expert we have become at ignoring the message.

Will it ever come to a point where large companies simply pay us directly to consume their ads? Would you give the Geico gecko your eyes, ears and brain for thirty seconds if he gave you a quarter to do it?

Fifty cents if you could pass a multiple choice test about it?

A dollar if you could force a friend (probably not for long) to watch it?

New models will be developed. How much is your attention worth?

Ad (foolishness) Infinitum

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde.

I have been watching a lot more television lately, some of the bowl games and a few shows on HGTV and the Food channel. Most evenings my wife has been visiting my art room/office where the bigger TV is to watch some holiday specials, such as on Hallmark channel. She watches the shows, when she is awake, and I notice the ads.


I have some observations:

  • We are expected to choose an insurance company on the basis of how stupid, irritating, and over-repeated are their commercials.
  • As usual children are smarter than adults.
  • Perky women with big eyes and red-dyed semi-messy hair are the gold standard in advertising spokespersons.
  • We are fat, have too much stuff, and spend money we don’t have.
  • Women can boss, nag, or control men, but men cannot do any of those things to women. One of a few examples: the Walgreens ad where the woman crushes her husband’s sugared donuts to bits. It’s good that she did because that donut must have been very stale. This is not a pro-male or anti-female rant. I just notice the pattern.
  • Apparently men deserve this because men in ads are so often childish and driven by their appetite for greasy food, beer, and big-screen TV’s.
  • Speaking of beer, people in beer commercials are the antipodes of everyone sitting in beer taverns drinking beer. Are those people watching those ads as they drink? Do they think about that contrast? Should I go tell them?
  • All the ads for tablets, readers, and cell phones disappeared after Christmas.
  • Many women apparently take a picture of themselves in their underwear before they lose a bunch of weight.
  • Does Marie Osmond make a good model for health and beauty with her botoxed lips and over-lifted face?
  • Attention Food Channel – cooking is neither a race nor a competition!
  • The louder the spokesperson shouts in a commercial the more dubious are the claims.

What messages to you get from Television ads?

Happy Birthday, Roger Miller

Today’s guest post comes from tim

roger millers birthday is today. he’s not around to enjoy it anymore but he left something behind for us to enjoy in his absence.

roger miller was a blip on the screen in the 60’s when his hits , dang me, do wacka doo, king of the road and you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd were topping the charts. i enjoyed them and thought they were good songs. i gave them more credit than the equivalent guitarzan by ray stevens which sort of appealed to the same demographic.

king of the road upon inspection is a tune that offers a view of another mans shoes that is not really given enough credit for how different it was from everything else out there and if you actually went into the thoughts behind dang me and do wacka doo they show that there was a serious thought behind the semi babble top 40 pop effort of the times.

my first marriage gave me many unique memories two wonderful kids and one mother in law that insisted on knowing exactly what gift to buy for christmas and birthdays before she went out to shopping . i told her album collections were the way to go. dylan, the stones the beatles, roger miller and she chose roger miller. i already had too many dylan albums and most of the beatles so if it comes down to the stones or roger miller , roger miller won.

each album was 8 dollars and 50 was the budget so 6 was the number of roger miller albums I received . I had no idea you could get so much music form 6 albums. in addition to king of the road, do whacka do and dang me there were tunes like husbands and wives and other heartfelt balads he was incredible at writing that never made the radio and….there was an album called big river which was roger millers broadway musical i had no knowledge of at all at that point. it turned out to be a turning point for me and roger.

he spent three years writing big river. unlike all his other efforts he put time and energy into the production and it showed. he even played pap on broadway when john goodman had to leave the broadway production to take the role of dan conner on the tv series roseanne. if you haven’t heard the album recording of the musical do it. it is the best musical ever.

that fistful of roger miller albums caused a backwards biography of roger miller that informed me that while he was a kindred spirit he had a troubled history with many problems starting when his dad died during the depression in the dustbowl era of oklahoma and he and his two brothers were each shipped off to live with a different uncle.

shep wolley was another relative who taught roger to play violin and introduced him to the nashville end of showbusiness where roger got his start writing tunes for ray price and someone else on the grand ol opry and then befriended chet atkins and johnny cash and became part of the nashville scene. along the way he burned through life with ex-wives drug problems bouts with depression and kind of a death wish outlook on his career.

he was given one of those tv show in the 60’s. remember them all, the nat king cole show, ed sullivan, dean martin, red skelton, jimmy dean, judy garland, johnny cash, well they cut rogers out after the first 13 weeks, showing up for work was not a good job description for roger who did best shooting from the hip and writing songs when inspired.

while i am fortunate enough to be able to claim no depression, drugs and relationships had taken their toll and offered their challenges.

sometimes you are attracted to a guy and then find out the creative juices that he oozed were not a celebration of life but a pressure relief valve. if its in there its just gotta come out. when it does how you deal with it determines where it goes from there.

there are lots of roger miller clips out there on you tube. its like looking into steve goodman or john prine or a bag of lays potato chips once you get started its hard to stop. you guys are all fine but i may need to do some serious accessing.

name a creative artist who you would consider a kindred spirit.

Dusty Old Dust

The latest Ken Burns documentary project is about the Dust Bowl in the central plains in the 1930’s.

The four hour series debuted last night and will conclude tonight on PBS stations. Here in the Twin Cities the first two hours debuted at 7 last night and were repeated at 9pm, and on Monday at 1am and 3am. Like the dust storms themselves, the series fills the air and just keeps coming – it completely engulfs you.

I’ve recorded it and plan to watch when there’s sufficient time – probably sometime in 2013. But My understanding is that one of the major points of the series is that the Dust Bowl was an environmental disaster that was largely man-made.

For this project, Burns was fortunate to find dust bowl survivors who could tell their stories in front of the camera. He couldn’t do that with the long-dead eyewitnesses of The Civil War. And for the Dust Bowl he had the advantage of great archival photos and movies from the time, along with a sound track by none other than Woody Guthrie.

Here’s more on the series.

Meanwhile, the Mars Curiosity rover reports “feeling” dust devils pass by as it sits in Gale Crater. Maybe the Martian terrain is an example of what might have happened to Oklahoma if the government hadn’t intervened and the drought hadn’t ended.

Will Curiosity’s next shovel load of soil uncover some Martian troubadour’s ode to the Okies of Gale Crater?

What’s the most severe environmental calamity you’ve witnessed?
(Natural or Man-Made)

Cry If You Want To

There’s no formula for becoming an internet video sensation. If it were simple, everyone would do it, and if everyone could do it, online celebrity-hood would become meaningless. We’d all be enthralled with each other, equally.

Hmmm. That’s not a bad goal. But it’s almost impossible to plan to get there.

One thing that greatly boosts the popularity of an online video is its genuine-ness. Fakes don’t fare well. And if your message also EXACTLY echoes the feelings of millions, well … as I said there’s no formula, but these are mighty good qualities.

Witness this brief clip of four year old Abigael Evans.

Abigael’s distress is so real, NPR was moved to issue a formal apology on its website. Publicity-wise, this was a smart move. I am surprised Obama and Romney weren’t close behind with sympathetic words, treats and maybe some fun music to listen to in the car instead of radio news. Romney especially. Since he can’t do much to soothe the suffering in New Jersey, you think he’d jump at the chance to publicly wipe away a little girl’s sorrow.

The power of politics is awesome, and it is amplified a million times over by the internet. A star is born. Abigael will receive commercial and product endorsement offers. She may be invited to some election night parties, if she isn’t already booked to do analysis on CBS.

Five days to go.

What does it take to bring you to Tears of Frustration?

Bounce House

Today’s post comes from Minnesota’s 9th District Congressman, representing all the water surface area in the state, the Honorable Loomis Beechly.

Beechly Uses The Smooth Lake Surface as a Teleprompter

Greetings Constituents, non-Constituents, All Pontoons in my District and all Ships At Sea,

I hope you all had a chance to watch the two political conventions over the past couple of weeks. I loved them both and after each one I wanted to vote for the party that had entertained me! That’s the way I am – I can’t help it. I think I share that tendency with most Americans.

We like the people we see on TV because they’re on TV and we’re not and we know that’s a Big Deal, even today when TV is not nearly as important as it used to be. A week’s worth of televised political speechifying that goes in one particular political direction does tend to have an effect on the viewing public, much in the same way a bunch of ads for Budweiser run over a short period of time will get people to buy more beer. It doesn’t much matter whether the product is any good – if it’s being talked up on TV people will respond. A large part of our economy has been built on this predictable effect.

So it is with the political candidates. Each one got a “bounce” in the opinion polls immediately following the convention.

Romney and the Republicans received a mild lift in terms of the electorate’s response in the few days following their shindig in Tampa, and Obama’s Democrats got an 8 point surge after the conclusion of festivities in Charlotte.

Like a small wake from a passing canoe, it appears Romney’s bounce passed quickly and faded to almost nothing by the time it reached shore. The Obama swell is bigger, and could be longer lasting. But will it take him all the way to election day? That remains to be seen.

But it makes me wonder – if having your gathering and its parade of loyal faces on TV assures even a small rise in the polls for each party, how long will it be before one of them decides to roll the dice and hold their convention, not two months ahead of election day, but during the week right before polls open?

Well why not?

We’re already messing with the voter laws, talking about putting an ID requirement in the Minnesota Constitution. The campaign season is too long – everybody knows that. And the big, big money comes out with a barrage of TV ads in the last few days before voting anyway! Why not move everything there?

In each case we already knew who the nominee would be – no surprise there if we wait. In fact there are no surprises at all at the political conventions anymore. There’s nothing to keep them from being held during the last week in October. And if they had done it like that this year, the Wednesday night speeches would have happened on Halloween!

Think of it.

The American people love Halloween. It is our own version of Mardi Gras, and we would embrace any political party that included a Halloween extravaganza as part of their convention. Wild costumes and elaborate make-up create great television images, and the spirit of the observance makes it logical for a candidate to literally demonize his opponent. Halloween night would be, for example, a great night to bring out Clint Eastwood talking to an invisible presence in an empty chair. Suddenly it all makes sense!

We the People have already shown that we have short memories. Why not truly take advantage of that and put on a show just before we have to decide? It works for American Idol and Dancing With The Stars. I believe this is where we are headed!

I wrote this all down as a blog post to share with you all so that you can remind me of it in four years. Otherwise, how will I remember?

Your Congressman,
Loomis Beechly

I think Rep. Beechly has a terrible idea here that is so bad, it will probably come true. By 2020, look for the conventions to start migrating into October as Halloween and Election Day slowly merge. Boo!

What are your ideas for improving the electoral process?

The Day The Music Arrived

Today is Buddy Holly‘s birthday. He landed on the planet as Charles Hardin Holly in Lubbock, Texas on this date in 1936. He had a strange, short life that has been much chronicled since. I’m amazed at how listenable his music is even today. You have to admire anyone who could create such a lasting body of work in a few short years.

The video in today’s post presents a weird scene, very early in Holly’s brief live TV career. He had made his first appearance on American Bandstand just four months before, and now just a few days before the start of the new year 1958 he shows up in enemy territory on the Arthur Murray Dance Party.

The show was an infomercial for the Arthur Murray Dance Studios. Americans were learning to waltz and do Latin steps in the 1950’s, but rock and roll was an intruder. I suppose as a business strategy it was important for the show to include new music that younger audiences preferred, though it’s hard to imagine dancing to Buddy Holly’s music in the outfits the Murray cast is wearing as they provide a mostly stationary backdrop to his performance of “Peggy Sue.”

I particularly enjoy Kathryn Murray’s painfully polite introduction. She may as well have started with “I will explain why we are about to horrify you” and could have added “please don’t turn the channel” after every sentence.

A motherly “and it’s good for you” would have been an appropriate finish.

What do you say when you know you are just about to disappoint someone?

Easy Crafts for a Summer Afternoon

Today is do-anything-yourself maven Martha Stewart’s birthday. She’s 71.
We had a party for her at the house but of course she wasn’t able to come, being occupied with numerous projects and always on call for emergencies with her company, which is so far reaching and ever present it is not merely about “media”, but “Omnimedia.”

You can make something useful out of these!

Since Martha always enters our house through the black box in the corner, I ran down to the basement looking for raw material and fashioned a festive TV frame in her honor using discarded cereal boxes, pine cones, twine, golf balls, crafter’s clay, shoelaces, clothing scraps, dog hair, beach toys, sun-bleached chicken bones, pocket games, VCR tapes, Elmer’s Glue and lots and lots of glitter. I would show you a picture of the finished product but in the terrible mess that was left behind I seem to have misplaced the camera. And my phone.

Also, I haven’t see the dog for a few hours.

But Martha is an inspiration, whether she’s throwing a fabulous party, making a delightful memory book, or trading on insider information. You also have to give her credit for not letting a stint in the hoosegow break her, even though small people like me keep bringing it up. We also tend to point to unflattering articles that make her out to be some sort of irrational control freak. Some folks are so gauche.

Still, things haven’t gone so well of late. The company has lost money in nine of the last ten years, and stock values have fallen off 21% in the past year. But with some push pins, rubber bands and a little bit of adhesive tape, you can make those slumping shares look perky and fresh!

And speaking of simple things done quickly and well, musing about Martha and exploiting all those tired stereotypes about her craftiness has made it possible for me to put together this lovely, lovely blog in just a few short minutes on a beautiful summer afternoon!

How absolutley charming!

What do you make from scratch?

R.I.P. Andy Griffith

The actor Andy Griffith died yesterday at the age of 86. He is best known for his portrayal of a quintessential and relentlessly likable American character.

As Sheriff Andy Taylor, Griffith was one of the last adult males to appear in a TV comedy who wasn’t painted as a nerd, a numbskull, a no-goodnik, or a nut job. His “brand” was quiet wisdom and abiding decency – try that in a major series today and see how well it goes over.

There will be tributes, of course. Many will indulge in the popular assumption that Andy Griffith and Andy Taylor were the same. Maybe they were, though some of the most thoughtful obits say Griffith was infinitely more complex.

But it is so easy to think of Griffith as Andy Taylor personified. Why shouldn’t he be? Somebody should! There was a tidbit in the excellent New York Times obit that shed some light on Griffith’s more nuanced personality when it described him doing something, I think it’s fair to say, most of us simply could not do – surrender control.

“Mr. Griffith’s fans may have imagined him as a happy bumpkin, but he enjoyed life in Hollywood and knew his way around a wine list. His career was controlled by a personal manager, Richard O. Linke, who forbade Mr. Griffith to solicit advice from anyone else, even his wife.

‘If there is ever a question about something, I will do what he wants me to do,” Mr. Griffith said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1970. “Had it not been for him, I would have gone down the toilet.’”

The Times article says Griffith and Linke got together after Linke, who worked for Capitol Records, heard a recording of the then 27 year old actor giving a humorous talk to a convention at Standard Life Insurance Company in Greensboro. The bit became a hit on local radio – that’s how Linke heard it. One can fairly assume that without this bit of whimsey, none of the rest would have followed. What a fortunate convergence! You’ll note in this recording that Griffith’s voice goes a might heavy on the southern syrup.

Hard to believe something so innocuous launched Andy Griffith’s memorable career. Even if Sheriff Andy Taylor did not reflect Griffith’s true personality, it led to lots of laughs and many pleasant memories for hundreds of millions.

What sort of TV character are you best suited to play?