Friday, August 25, 2006

Never Mess With a Guy With Two Last Names, Because He's Probably Even Richer Than You

Our occasionally excitable visitor Pastorius raised a few eyebrows (including my own) by suggesting Viacom's bouncing of Tom Cruise was related not just to his general wackness of late, but something to do with Scientology as well.

I was of the "I'm Sumner Redstone, I'm sick of this [stuff], I'm 83 years old, and I don't give a flip" school. But it seems Brother Pastorius was on the right track, too:

The unknown trophy wife of a Hollywood film executive has been revealed as the unlikely driving force behind Tom Cruise's dramatic firing this week.

Paula Fortunato, 43, the wife of 83-year-old Sumner Redstone, the Viacom chairman who sacked Cruise, took a dislike to the actor after he publicly criticised the actress Brooke Shields for using post-natal anti-depressants.

Cruise's obsessive devotion to Scientology has seen him demand that his young fiancee Katie Holmes should go through the agonising process of childbirth in silence.

His allegiance to the cult has itself stirred controversy, it being based on the belief that humans are an exiled race from outer space called Thetans.

"Here is a woman - and I care about Brooke Shields because she is an incredibly talented woman - where has her career gone?" Cruise ranted on national television. "These drugs are dangerous. I have actually helped people come off them. When you talk about postnatal depression, you can take people today, women, and what you do is, you use vitamins."

Redstone estimated that Cruise's off-screen behaviour cost his latest movie, Mission: Impossible III, between £50 and £75 million in lost box office revenues even though the film was, he said, 'the best of the three movies' in the action series.

Sources say Fortunato told her powerful husband, "I never want to see another Tom Cruise movie again".

Manners, Morals, and Macy

Actor William H. MacyManners are vitally important to society and to each of us as individuals, in that they codify and simplify many of the hundreds of little decisions we have to make every day. Contrary to modern thinking, manners don't oppress us, they free us.

The talented and acclaimed actor William Macy made this point yesterday in a thoroughly admirable criticism of the unprofessional behavior of a younger colleague, the actress Lindsay Lohan, in her work on a film in which the two appeared together. As E! Online reports,

When it comes to tardiness, William H. Macy follows the golden rule. Do unto under-the-gun film crews as you'd have them do unto you.

"You can't show up late," the Emmy winner said Thursday at a Los Angeles press junket for his new film, Everyone's Hero. "It's very, very disrespectful."

So let that be a lesson to you, Lindsay Lohan.

Actress Lindsay Lohan "I think what an actor has to realize [is that] when you show up an hour late, 150 people have been scrambling to cover for you," Macy said when asked about Bobby costar Lohan's usual check-in time. The two share a scene together in the Emilio Estevez-directed drama about the 16 hours leading up to Robert F. Kennedy's assassination in 1968.

"There is not an apology big enough in the world to have to make 150 people scramble. It's nothing but disrespect. And Lindsay Lohan is not the only one. A lot of actors show up late as if they're God's gift to the film. It's inexcusable. They should have their asses kicked."

Habitual lateness may not just be a problem for Lohan but, according to Macy, despite his opinion that she's a huge talent, "she was pretty late" all the same.

A studio spokesperson declined comment.

Lohan has some very good traits, I am sure, especially her expressed wish to travel to Iraq to entertain U.S. troops stationed there, but grand (and highly publicized) gestures do not wipe away other offenses, especially habitual ones.

Macy's comment is just right, on all levels.

Cor bless yer, Mr. Macy! Cor bless yer!

From Karnick on Culture.

Another Great Thing About America!

Harpers Bazaar cover artSure, our subways are soaked with urine, but at least we're spared THIS:

[AP reports:] Tokyo's subway authority will allow a station advertisement featuring a nude and pregnant Britney Spears, officials said Thursday, dropping an earlier plan to censor the photo.

HB Japan Inc., publisher of the Japanese edition of Harper's Bazaar, plans to rent ad space at the posh Omotesando station next week to promote its October issue with Spears posing naked on the cover.

The ad, in which Spears bares her belly but covers her breasts with her hands, is the same one used in the August issue of the magazine's U.S. edition. The 24-year-old pop star is pregnant with her second child.

OK, the magazine cover did appear on newsstands here in the United States, but at least it was smaller and might be covered up by a copy of Guns and Ammo or Beekeeper's Fortnightly. This ad will be unavoidable. People of taste will have to hire large people in overcoats to stand in front of the ads and block them from view. It's an extra expense to clean up the subways, but a necessary one.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Orwellian Word Games In The Middle East

In the Orwellian media world we now live in, words are whatever you want them to mean. Since the war between Israel and Hezbollah started Sheikh Nasrallah has used the word “resistance” repeatedly in all his public comments. As might be expected, the press has followed suit.

Yet it is interesting to explore what Hezbollah is resisting. Israel voluntarily and unilaterally left southern Lebanon in conjunction with a U.N. accord. Israel did not respond in force to literally hundreds of rocket attacks against its northern territory until its soldiers were wantonly killed and three were kidnapped. And Israel did not challenge the U.N. when it didn’t enforce Resolution 1559 which specifically called for the diarmament of Hezbollah.

What Hezbollah appears to be resisting is the very existence of Israel. There are two theoretical observations that make this case. If tomorrow Hezbollah gave up its weapons, peace in Lebanon would follow. Even detractors of Israel would admit this result. If tomorrow Israel gave up its weapons, Israel would cease to exist. That too is indisputable. Therefore who is resisting whom?
When Sakarov and Scharansky were dissidents opposed to the tyranny of the Soviet leadership, it was clear who they were resisting. When Jews fought Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto, it was clear who they were resisting. Who precisely is Hezbollah resisting?

If I were to ask, who is Lebanon resisting, the answer is apparent – Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. Lebanon is an occupied country that no longer represents the will of its five million residents. It is and has been a client state of Syria for years and the Cedar revolution notwithstanding, either Syrian secret police, Hezbollah forces or Iranian Revolutionary Guard pull the political strings. To argue, as our State Department does, that the Lebanese government must be propped up is an exercise in self delusion.

In the media universe where ignorance prevails, the word “resistance” has meaning as a cause. It reverberates with the echo of freedom fighters and nation builders. Now, of course, the word has been preempted, a casualty of double-speak.

“Resistance” is not alone in this preemption category; it is merely the latest example. In the last few years the word “occupation” was the Orwellian word of choice; it too was used by the PLO and Hamas to argue for their resistance against Israel. In this case the world seemed to buy the line since an entity called Palestine and a people called Palestinians were invented and given legitimacy.

What the West doesn’t understand is that the Koran and the Islamic faith countenances “teqiya,” or lying, that promotes the religion and is consistent with Allah’s will. Since Allah’s will cannot be determined and designs on caliphates can be contemplated, teqiya is a useful method for promoting Islamic expansion.

The part that is infuriating about this state of affairs is that American journalists are often persuaded lies are true and truth is lies. How does one know? If you start with the Chomskyan supposition that the American government always lies, you may be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the Islamists.

However, there is a simple test for truth detection. Whenever Hezbollah spokesmen use the word “resistance,” and whenever Hamas uses the word “occupation,” you can be sure lies are forthcoming. Now, if only the American press corps would adopt this simple litmus test.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website,

And Here I Am, Using My Own Nose, Like a Sucker!

Yes, in the Omniculture, everything happens.

The New York Times has brought on a perfume critic, AP reports. The column will appear frequently in the Times's style magazine. In a statement, new Times perfume critic Chandler Burr said, “Every other true art has a serious criticism. I believe perfume should as well.” He said he intends to take his new position very seriously.

Well, I suppose somebody has to—and it makes sense that it would be the person who's being paid for it. . . .

From Karnick on Culture.

Money Talks and Cruise Walks

This undated file photo, originally supplied by Paramount Pictures, shows Tom Cruise in a scene from 'Mission: Impossible III.' Sumner Redstone, whose company owns Paramount Pictures, said the studio would sever its 14-year relationship with Cruise's film production company because 'his recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.' Redstone estimated that Cruise's off-screen behavior cost his latest movie, 'Mission: Impossible III,' $100 million to $150 million in ticket sales, even as he praised the film as 'the best of the three movies' in the action series. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Stephen Vaughan)Tom Cruise's loss of his production agreement at Paramount Pictures has raised a good deal of comment in film-industry circles. The action itself is rather mundane. Cruise's deal at Paramount was on very good terms for him, which means it was expensive for the studio—more than $10 million a year. Cruise's representatives say that Paramount made an offer to Cruise to keep his production company on Paramount's lot, but the offer was significantly less money than the Cruise's company had been receiving, so they decided to shop around for private financing. This is not unusual: the Hollywood studios have been slashing costs recently, especially payments to big stars such as Cruise. A slowing of growth in DVD sales has certainly contributed to this trend.

Moreover, Cruise's company was primarily producing films not starring Cruise himself, which would suggest that any slip in popularity on his part would not affect their box-office prospects. These production deals, however, are realy just ways for studios to keep their most popular stars happy, giving them additional compensation by allowing them to function as producers—making them "creators" rather than just before-the-camera types.

Cruise's popularity has definitely fallen in the past year, making him a less valuable commodity as an actor at Paramount. As AP reports,

[N]egative public perception of Cruise has soared in the past six months in the closely watched Q Scores, which rate celebrity popularity. They indicate that negative perception of Cruise jumped nearly 100 percent since mid-2005, while positive perception fell about 40 percent.

"He's definitely at his low point in terms of consumer appeal, among both males and females," said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., the Q Scores company.

Actually, contra Shafer, there is room for Cruise's rating to drop further, but that's up to him, of course. Cruise can overcome this if he behaves somewhat normally and has another hit movie, but certainly a Cruise with these Q ratings is worth a good deal less to a movie studio than the Tom Cruise of two years ago. Welcome to Microeconomics 101, Tommy Boy.

All of this confirms that this parting of the ways was really just a bottom-line, cost-cutting business decision on Paramount's part. What made the situation rather surreal and newsy was two things: public awareness of Cruise's bizarre recent history of TV rants and goofiness, and Viacom chief Sumner Redstone's statement regarding the decision to break with Cruise's company. The chief of Paramount's parent company said Cruise's recent antics—leaping about on Oprah's sofa proclaiming his undying love for wife number 3, tearing Matt Lauer a new one for not understanding the magnitude of the conspiracies surrounding us about which Cruise and other Scientologists wish to warn us, etc.—were "creative suicide" and cost the studio up to $150 million in lost ticket sales for Mission Impossible 3.

Cast photo, Mission Impossible TV seriesPossibly, but these big crash and explosion movies may well have run their course, and the fact that the John Woo-directed Mission Impossible 2 was so irrational and uninspired probably did more to tank installment three than anything Cruise could have done. (I like Woo's Hong Kong films and Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and even Paycheck, but I have to say that he was a poor fit for MI2, not that I can fully understand where it all went wrong; it really should have worked. Well, OK, one thing that was disastrously wrong was the fact that MI2 dumped the central concept of the TV series and first film, the creation of a vast illusion to thwart the villains through ingenious trickery. MI2 was at heart an ordinary action film with extraordinary absurdity in its action sequences, which is saying a lot. And it appears that this was a consequence of Cruise's ego and his desire to avert rumors of homosexuality by emphasizing physical action, such as him climbing cliff faces, etc. This overbalanced the film, further removed the film series from the essentially cheerful and optimistic nature of the TV series, and made MI2 perfectly ludicrous.)

It made sense for Paramount to try to get Cruise to sign a less expensive deal and , failing that, to let him leave. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this, and no need to pile on the hapless Scientologist goofball with harsh words. A simple "We love Tom and wish him well" would have been much better than Redstone's high and mighty rant. As in all things, Redstone and Viacom have shown themselves as entirely devoid of class, manners, and principle. A pox on them, I say.

I'll tell you more about the repugnance of Viacom and Redstone in future postings on this site.

Boy, things are getting weird when I find myself defending Tom Cruise. That's how repulsive Viacom is.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chicago Nannies Ban Foie Gras—Steaks, Potatoes Next?

The Chicago City Council, in its infinite wisdom and benevolence, has banned the sale of foie gras, arguing that some producers of the delicacy force-feed the geese from which the liver pate is produced, which the Chi solons say is painful and inhumane.

Defying a Chicago city ban on the sale of the delicacy, BJ's Market & Bakery's owner John Meyer prepares sauteed foie gras with with a foie gras cornbread dressing special Tuesday at his South Side restaurant. Chicago Tribune photo by Scott Strazzante, Aug. 22, 2006

Chicago mayor Richard Daley opposed the ordinance but it went into effect anyway. The New York Times reports that many people in the city are embarrassed and angered by the law:

On Tuesday, this city’s lawbreakers were serving foie gras.

The illicit substance could be spotted in places it was rarely seen when it was legal: buried in Chicago’s famed deep-dish pizza, in soul food on the South Side, beside beef downtown.

In one of the more unlikely (and opulent) demonstrations of civil disobedience, a handful of restaurants here that never carry foie gras, the fattened livers of ducks and geese, featured it on the very day that Chicago became the first city in the nation to outlaw sale of the delicacy.

“This ban is embarrassing Chicago,” said Grant DePorter of Harry Caray’s Restaurant, which dreamed up an appetizer of pan-seared foie gras and scallops ($14.95) and a Vesuvio-style entree pairing foie gras and tenderloin ($33.95) just to buck the new ordinance. “We really don’t think the City Council should decide what Chicagoans eat. What’s next? Some other city outlaws brussels sprouts? Another outlaws chicken? Another, green beans?”

The "offense" is subject to fines of $250 to $500, though there remains some question about how aggressively the city will enforce it. The alderman who sponsored the ban, Joe Moore, has been the subject of praise from animal rights activists and derision from restaurateurs, gourmands, and people generally concerned about erosions of individual liberty in the City of Big [Government Looking Over Your] Shoulders.

The law has already induced mockery from outside the city, according to a Chicago Tribune story:

Allen Sternweiller, executive chef and co-owner of Allen's New American Cafe, whose company is a plaintiff in the restaurant association's lawsuit, said Chicago is getting an unwanted reputation based on its proposals regarding trans fat and foie gras.

"Some of my colleagues (around the country) call Chicago 'The Nanny City,'" Sternweiller said.

The prospect of foie gras speakeasies and gang wars over rights to distribute the delicacy is amusingly farfetched, but the increasing number of things being banned by the Nanny City and other places makes a greater flouting of the laws a certainty at some point.

From Karnick on Culture.

Sony Grabs "Amateur Video" Site

Grouper feature listAs I noted just this past week on this site and Karnick on Culture, the democratization of the media through technological change will probably be only a temporary phenomenon, as the 'Net will ultimately be harnessed by governments and corporations for their own benefit. Today Sony will announce its latest contribution to this process: its acquisition of Grouper, an amateur-video website along the lines of YouTube. The New York Times reports:

Sony Pictures Entertainment plans to announce on Wednesday that it has acquired Grouper, a Web site featuring videos contributed by users, for $65 million.

The deal marries one of the biggest and most powerful movie studios, which regularly spends more than $100 million on a film, with a Web site that provides free access to short and often inexpensively made videos on topics like pets, sports and music.

Michael Lynton, the chairman and chief executive of Sony Pictures, said the investment was a bet that material posted by users would continue to be a big draw online.

“My sense is that user-based content is a form of content that’s going to last,” Mr. Lynton said. “It’s a bet, no question, but it’s a bet worth making.”

Despite its emphasis on letting users share homemade videos, many of the most popular clips on Grouper are slick short productions, including music videos and commercials. . . .

Grouper will promote Sony’s content and seek to build communities of users around Sony movies and television shows, Mr. Felser said.

Of course it will. That's the whole point of the transaction.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

People on a Plane—with Snakes

The box office performance of a "high concept" film such as Snakes on a Plane is typically based not on the cleverness of the concept but on whether there is actually a good movie in it. Die Hard and Speed, for example, had characters we could care about, and the films put them in situations where they had interesting choices to make. Those that don't have these things usually fall off at the box office even if they get a good opening weekend.

Samuel L. Jackson in "Snakes on a Plane"

Interestingly, the least entertaining and involving parts of Snakes on a Plane are the two big action scenes in which the serpents attack the passengers on the plane. The snakes operate in a riidiculously implausible manner, even if we accept the filmmakers' premise that pheromones released on the plane would make the creatures more aggressive. These snakes are much more than "more aggressive"; they're positively malevolent and volitional. That's not at all believable—and it's not the slightest bit necessary, for the film is interesting enough without sci-fi snakes.

The first 40 minutes of the picture are devoted to scenes setting the stage for the big action sequences. The central conceit is that a young man who witnessed a murder by a powerful gangster in Hawaii consents to testify against the killer and is duly to be flown to Los Angeles to appear in court. That leads to the scheme to release hundreds of snakes on the plane and cause it to crash. OK, better plans have been devised in this world, but we'll let it go, shall we?

Poster for Snakes on a Plane

After all, what really makes a high-concept thriller successful is how the characters react to the situation, and especially the need for them to show courage, honor, and other good character traits. Snakes on a Plane has plenty of that, with some characters acting honorably, others meanly, and others developing better character through the course of the story. What is most pleasing is that the characters actually manage to surprise us just a little bit once in a while. The film has a solid performance by Samuel L. Jackson at its center, and it has the right amount of humor, meaning not too much. Snakes on a Plane also has enough action-film cliches to choke an anaconda, but the filmmakers' willingness to let us see human character in action makes it worth seeing.

From Karnick on Culture.

Turner to Remove Smoking Scenes from Cartoons—in UK

I hope I can get away with run.ning this photo that "glamorizes" smoking

In response to a complaint by a single viewer, British media regulator Ofcom said Turner Broadcasting has offered to delete scenes that "glamorize smoking" in cartoons from earlier decades, when such scenes were commonplace. According to Reuters, the change was instigated when a single viewer complained to Ofcom about two scenes in two Tom and Jerry cartoons (one scene in each) shown on Turner's Boomerang channel in England, 56 percent of whose viewers are aged four to fourteen.

As a result, a Europe-based representative of Turner Broadcasting said the firm will "voluntarily" go through the entire inventory of cartoons owned by the firm, as reported by Ofcom in its news bulletin, according to Reuters:

"We are going through the entire catalog," Yinka Akindele, spokeswoman for Turner in Europe, said on Monday.

"This is a voluntary step we've taken in light of the changing times," she said, adding the painstaking review had been prompted by the Ofcom complaint.

This applies only to Great Britain at this time, as far as I can ascertain.

Interesting how times change, isn't it? In the 1950s, top-rated I Love Lucy was sponsored by a cigarette company, and the firm and network insisted that Lucy be seen holding a cigarette as often as possible. (Of course, it is debatable whether Lucille Ball can be said to have been capable of glamorizing anything at that time. . . .) Requirements that sympathetic characters smoke cigarettes and villans not smoke at all or smoke pipes or cigars were common practice throughout television at that time.

Screen still of Lucille Ball abominably glamorizing cigarette smoking

Such strictures applied even on the Camel News Caravan, a network news program, where Winston Churchill could not be shown holding a cigar.

Today, the situation is reversed: sympathetic characters do not smoke cigarettes, and villains do. It's a better lesson, I suppose, but one sometimes wonders why we all have to be treated like children because the federal and state governments will not allow the media to trust parents to teach their kids that smoking cigarettes is a very bad and unnecessary risk.

From Karnick on Culture.

Gratitude Sans God?

An interesting essay by Ronald Aronson on gratitude and its difficulties for those who don't believe in God or the certainty of historical progress (ala the Marxist). Gratitude seems like a natural and good thing, but it's hard to figure out how to be grateful if what we see around us has no purpose or no purpose-giver. There's a sense that we can either be grateful in theistic terms or simply believe all of life is a lottery and being grateful is nonsensical. He suggests, alternatively, that there are two ways to be grateful still in that absence. First, we can be grateful to the people who came before us and built the culture into which we were born, its language, patterns, etc. all give us a context within which we can live good human lives. Second, we can be grateful that nature itself has provided such rich resources for us to live:

there is an alternative to thanking God on the one hand and seeing the universe as a “cosmic lottery” or as absurd on the other. An alternative to being grateful to a deity or to ignoring such feelings altogether. Think of the sun's warmth. After all, the sun is one of those forces that make possible the natural world, plant life, indeed our very existence. It may not mean anything to us personally, but the warmth on our face means, tells us, and gives us a great deal. All of life on Earth has evolved in relation to this source of heat and light, we human beings included. We are because of, and in our own millennial adaptation to, the sun and other fundamental forces. My moment of gratitude was far more than a moment's pleasure. It is a way of acknowledging one of our most intimate if impersonal relationships, with the cosmic and natural forces that make us possible.

I wouldn't deny that it's possible for non-theists to have genuine feelings of gratitude even beyond the sorts of transactional gratitude everyone experiences every day ("thanks for the coke, here's a dollar..."), but I'm not sure Aronson really shows that non-theistic (or maybe non-purposive) views of the world really get you to defensible claims for gratitude, rather than just a "feeling." After all, when Aronson talks about "impersonal relationships" it's not really a relationship, it's a much more generic connection. The sun would - on his terms - burn just as brightly if we weren't here. We don't have a relationship with the sun, any more than the millions of people who buy tabloids have a relationship with the celebrities they think they know.

Indeed, on Aronson's take, it's hard to figure out how we might have gratitude for the most distinctive thing about us, that we are able to think about whether to actually be grateful or not. Our rationality, our consciousness, our ability to philosophize, so to speak, really sets us off from the rest of nature (so far as we know). In what sense can we be grateful for that thing that goes a long way toward making us "us" if the "us" there is just the product of blind, impersonal, non-purposive processes? Not much, it seems to me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Obliterating Cultural Distinctions: Shakespeare at the Fringe

Shakespeare in a bouncy castle, or moon walk, is the Reuters writer's pick for zaniest Shakespeare adapatation at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival (see full article here).

Every year brings several new adaptations of Shakespeare plays at the Fringe, another of those "outsider" phenomena, like the Lollapalooza festival, that become part of the mainstream culture and redifine it, as is the way of things in the Omniculture. Even midsize, stalwartly middle-American towns such as Indianapolis have fringe festivals now.

This year's Edinburgh Fringe includes a "roller-disco" version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, along with other equally bizarre ideas from a crop which the Reuters story describes as "an endless variety that could be collectively labeled '101 Ways to Murder The Bard' ":

"Macbeth -- That Old Black Magic" boasts a Frank Sinatra soundtrack and you can see "The Tempest" with acrobats, puppets and circus tricks.

In "Corleone: The Godfather," the American High School Theater Festival troupe asks "What if Shakespeare had written the Godfather?"

Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, performed by a Utah school group at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2001

We can surely hope that such tomfoolery will create an interest in Shakespeare among some individuals who would never otherwise get anywhere near the Bard's works. For the more sophisticated, it could be argued that the contrast between Shakespeare's elevated artistry and the coarse, anarchical surroundings of the Fringe Festival can make for an enlightening contrast that affords one an even greater appreciation of the Bard's work. One could conclude that the humor of such things resides in our appreciation of the contrast between what is vulgar and what is elevated.

But I doubt it in this case. To appreciate the works of Shakespeare, one need only experience them. They still speak to deep truths in human nature and of enduring realities of the human condition. The main effect of such burlesques as are common at the Fringe, it appears to me, is to obliterate lines of distinction between cultural artifacts. Burlesques of Shakespeare do not demistify the Bard's works—as if that were at all necessary; they are, after all, quite understandable to any reasonably attentive person—but instead simply make them part of a cultural stew in which all ingredients are equally important and none may be allowed pride of place.

That is something of which the Omniculture provides quite enough already, thank you very much.

From Karnick on Culture.

"Snakes on a Plane" Falters; Genre Confusion to Blame?

Screen still from "Snakes on a Plane"

The greatly anticipated comedy-thriller Snakes on a Plane drew in the most money in movie ticket sales nationally over the weekend, though actually not. Snakes would have come in second (to the Will Farrell comedy Talladega Nightsi) if not for the distributor's decision to include Thursday night figures in the total. New Line's head of distribution said it is common policy for studios to do that, and the head of distribution at Sony, which released Talladega Nights, declined to comment to AP. (See AP story here.)

Analysis: The $15.25 million that Snakes on a Plane brought in over its first weekend is a decent amount of money but must be considered a failure given the amount of advance interest that had allegedly been sparked in the film. The film's strong concept, which so greatly piqued many people's interest, may have worked against it as far as actually luring people into theaters: One could very well feel that one already had experienced all that was of value in the film just by hearing about the concept and seeing the trailers, commercials, and TV promo teasers.

I think that another problem with the film was even more serious: a conflict of genre expectations. Snakes has the concept of a Bruce Willis-style suspense thriller, which is a sure formula for success: Die Hard on a plane full of dangerous snakes. The promotion that grew up on the internet, however, saw the film's central idea as throughly comical (which it most certainly is)—and too much comedy undermines the ability to create suspense. Comedy is important to have in a thriler, but too much will make it impossible for audiences to take the concept with even the minimal seriousness required to enjoy modern-day thrillers with their outlandish premises.

I believe that this genre confusion is the main reason for Snakes' lackluster victory at the box office.

The film will certainly do all right overall and will turn a profit, but it most likely will not turn out to be the kind of phenomenon people expected.

I'll write about the film itself in a day or two.

From Karnick on Culture.

Strip Poker Championships, Of Course

In the Omniculture, everything happens. Hence, given the popularity of poker on television, it was inevitable that there should soon enough be a World Strip Poker Championship.

Photo of strip poker championships

The contest took place in the prestigious Cafe Royal in central London last Saturday. Players competed in games of "No Limit Texas Hold 'em." The winner defeated 200 other players.

His parents must be so proud.

From Karnick on Culture.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Simpsons Cruise to Emmy for Best Animated Series

The Fox Network TV show The Simpsons beat Comedy Central's South Park in the race for the Emmy award for Best Animated Series.

This was the ninth such win for The Simpsons.

Tom Cruise "Trapped in the Closet" in "South Park"

A South Park episode, "Trapped in the Closet," was nominated for the award and received a good deal of attention because of protests by the Church of Scientology, which had objected to the showing last November of the episode mocking actor Tom Cruise. Instead of airing a rerun of the episode in March, as scheduled, Comedy Central refused to run the show, apparently buckling under the pressure from the Scientologists and Mr. Cruise, whose film Mission Impossible 3 was produced by Paramount Pictures, which, like Comedy Central, is owned by Viacom. South Park writer-producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker say they believe Cruise threatened to pull out of promotion for the film. Both Cruise's representatives and Paramount say they had nothing to do with the spiking of the program.

The episode is hilarious, as those who missed it will find out when it appears on DVD.

The animated series award was given, as is the academy's custom, in the ceremony honoring technical achievements. The primetime Emmy Awards will be given out on August 27.

From Karnick on Culture.