Monday, February 29, 2016

It's Trump: The Musical!

In a bit of late-night comedic genius, last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprised their roles from The Producers. Except in this version, Bialystock (Lane) and Bloom (Broderick) are not Broadway show producers but political consultants, looking to get rich by finding the worst candidate, a real loser, and raising lots of money for themselves "him" by offering ambassadorships and other perks -- then keeping the money "when the public finds out what a nutcase our guy is, [and] he drops out of the race."

As in The Producers, and real life, however, things don't turn out as planned. Indeed, the more whacko things their candidate, Donald J. Trump, says, the more people love him.

I love this skit, but instead of "Trumped," they should have called it "Springtime for Trump,"  substituting Trump for Hitler in the lyrics, set it in America, and used Miss Universe contestants! I can see it now...

The USA was having trouble
What a sad, sad story
Needed a new leader to restore
Its former glory

Where oh where was he?
Where could that man be?
We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me and now it's

Springtime for Donald Trump and the USA
America is happy and gay
We're marching to a faster pace
Look out, here comes the master race

Springtime for Donald Trump and the USA
Winter for Mexico and Muslims
Springtime for Donald Trump and the USA...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Is journalism today worse?

I've been thinking about writing a post titled "The sloppy state of journalism," to discuss the dearth or lack of proper editing and vetting of news stories these days, which often results in typos, errors, and worse.

Then I saw this post on a friend's Facebook page:
Quick poll: Do you think that online news articles (and their headlines) are meant to objectively inform and educate, or to subjectively incite and impel greater site traffic and interaction?
The overwhelming response was the latter, which got me thinking, again, about the current state of journalism, online and in general. And this is the comment I left:
Headlines have always been written to compel people to read the article. That is not new. Newspapers and magazines make their money from advertising (and, to a lesser extent, subscriptions). And their job is to sell papers, or magazines. In the past you had yellow (or sensational) journalism. Today you have click bait. The goal is pretty much the same.

THAT SAID, plenty of news organizations try to inform and educate readers -- and use headlines designed to grab readers' attention. "Click bait" and "journalism that informs or educates" are not mutually exclusive. Today, as in years past, you need an eye-catching headline if you want people to read at all. The idea that there was some Golden Age of journalism where the media's sole or main desire was to educate and inform is erroneous.
Indeed, people often forget (or don't know) that until relatively recently, newspapers, even so-called respectable ones, would print titillating, sensational, or salacious stories, often thin or devoid of facts, for the sole purpose of getting eyeballs and driving up circulation.

As explained by the Office of the Historian for the U.S. Department of State:
Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. During its heyday in the late 19th century it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States.
As to the question of whether the Internet and social media and the rise of the 24/7 news cycle has degraded the quality of journalism, I would say that the need to "be first" has definitely taken a toll.

Most blogs and many news organizations do not fact check, copyedit, and/or proofread articles before they are published these days -- or editors are so overwhelmed or inexperienced that they often miss or introduce errors or typos. (As a journalist and editor for over 30 years, I know, and I can cite more than one instance where The New York Times and other "reliable news sources" have gotten something wrong.) This has resulted in what I call sloppy journalism. And there is a lot of it out there.

However, there is also a lot of great, or very good, articles out there, many of which are published on non-traditional news sites and blogs. There are even articles that are deemed "click bait," pieces with headlines designed to get readers to click to read the full articles, that are educational and informative. Indeed, I would argue that the reason there is so much click bait right now (though again, baiting the reader is nothing new) is because people have such short attention spans and don't take the time, or have the patience, to read unless given a good reason to do so -- and publications have just adjusted to this new reality.

So, is journalism today truly worse than it was 50 or 100 or 150 years ago? If you objectively look at the history of journalism (keeping in mind that gossip sheets have been around for over 200 years), I'm not so sure.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Howard Beale for President

The U.S. Presidential Election of 2016 will no doubt go down in history as one of the strangest.

Who would have thought a few years ago (or even a few months ago) that the front runners would be an angry old billionaire from Queens (Donald Trump) and an angry old Democratic Socialist from Brooklyn (Bernard "Bernie" Sanders)?

Somewhere in heaven, Paddy Chayefsky must be laughing.

Who is Paddy Chayefsky and why would he be chuckling over the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election? Chayefsky, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter and novelist from the Bronx (yet another New Yorker who knew how to channel anger), wrote the screenplay for the movie Network (which won him one of his Oscars) and created the character  Howard Beale, a disgruntled newsman who was "mad as hell" and wasn't "going to take this anymore!"

For those who have seen Network, or know the famous "Mad as Hell" speech, this election must seem like life imitating art.

Both candidates, Donald Trump on the Republican side, and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic one, claim to be angry, or mad as hell, about the way things are or are going in this country.

And they want their supporters to go to their windows (or polling places) and tell the world they are, likewise, mad as hell and aren't going to take "this" (whatever "this" is) anymore. And their supporters are doing it!

Apparently, hope is dead and anger is in this election cycle. And both Trump and Sanders are channeling voter anger to garner votes.

However, while anger may seem like a winning strategy now, just remember what happened to Howard Beale. He was murdered on live TV. Of course, in Donald Trump's case, that probably wouldn't stop people voting for him.

[Speaking of the Donald, if you haven't seen Funny or Die's Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal: The Movie, I highly suggest you watch it this weekend -- and be sure to watch the end credits.]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The problem with American Idol (and The Voice)

I love a good singing competition. And for years, I avidly watched (and blogged about) American Idol. Until the show became a parody of itself and lost its ability to find or make pop (or pick your musical genre) stars. Yes, there were still some good singers -- make that very good singers. But actual stars, people who could sell lots of albums, after the glow of that season's American Idol had dimmed, who you would hear in heavy rotation on the radio? Not so much. Make that not at all. (Lee DeWho? Caleb Who's Son? Nick Fradiani anyone? And how many of you bought Candice Glover's R&B album? And how many of you even recalled any of those people before reading what I just wrote?)

Indeed, the last Idol winner or finalist who I recall ever hearing on the radio is Phillip Phillips, who won Season 11 -- and I had to look up what season he won.

The Voice, NBC's singing competition, has a similar problem. While I love the idea of the blind audition, it's really just a gimmick. And the show has yet to produce any real stars. In reality, the true stars of the show, the ones who have actually sold lots of records because of it, are the various judges, not the competitors. (While I can actually recall the names of several winners, I have yet to hear any of them on the radio or read about them selling out concert venues or selling many records -- and I've looked.)

So why hasn't either show produced any (new) stars, or produced any platinum- or gold-record sellers in the last four (or more) years? Two reasons. (And neither of them has to do with the fact that no one buys records any more.)

The first is the judges. Say what you will about Simon Cowell, but he knew how to spot and develop musical talent. That was his job as an A&R, or artists and repetoire, guy for record labels, to find and groom the next breakout music star. And he has a pretty good track record.

While Paula Abdul was a successful pop star, back in the 1980s, and Randy Jackson was a successful musician and producer, neither one of them had or has a track record, or success, spotting or grooming or marketing a great singer/star. Ditto Steven Tyler, Ellen DeGeneres, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., or Keith Urban* -- or Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, or Gwen Stefani** -- all of whom are talented, award-winning performers. But spotting, grooming, and marketing someone, other than yourself, is a different talent.

And while Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr., are, in my opinion, the best, as in most fun/entertaining, group of judges American Idol has had since the early days (before Paula went gaga and Randy became a cliche), their collective superstar powers have yet to identify a superstar, or even a star. And while Scott Borchetta, the American Idol mentor (which seems to involve making or supporting terrible song choices) may have signed several big names, perhaps, most notably, Taylor Swift, it would seem as though American Idol is his kryptonite.

The second reason the show has failed to produce a real winner is the American public. We suck at judging talent competitions. Or when we vote in packs we do.

All that said, I am (as of this writing) planning to watch -- and blog about (when it goes live) -- American Idol Season 15, supposedly the last season ever of American Idol. (Though never say never, or ever, in Hollywood.) And I am hoping (though not hopeful) that this season the judges and America will have finally "discovered" another star.

Stay tuned.

*No, I did not forget Kara DioGuardi, though I would like to.
** The one exception on The Voice is Pharrell Williams, but he has yet to pick a star from that competition. And before anyone says "What about Sawyer Fredericks?!" When have you heard him on the radio -- and do you know anyone who bought his album? Does he even have an album?