theferrett: (Meazel)

“When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can’t.

“But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president’s control.”

I’m an honest Democrat, so I’m gonna tell you the truth: There’s not that much the President can fucking do about gas prices. So stop blaming him whether he’s Democratic or Republican or Libertarian or Green or Martian. Basically, we need this much gas to survive. Other, outside influences determine the cost of that gas, and there isn’t much we can do short-term to drop our collective usage. On a month-to-month basis, about the only thing the President can do is decide whether to open the strategic gas reserves, and even that’s a pretty stupid idea.

However, the President can influence the price of gas long-term by funding initiatives that reduce our reliance on gas. Oh, yes, I know Mr. Obama has taken a lot of heat from conservatives for investing in poor technologies like solar power, but those self-same conservative politicians back the funding of corn ethanol, which basically is like solar power except we spend infinitely more effort extracting the energy from corn farmers.

The truth is that America loves cars, and the only viable long-term strategy to reduce the effective cost of a limited resource that every other country in the world wants is to reduce our reliance on it. Sure, we can drill, baby, drill, but eventually oil’s going to get scarce enough that we’re going to regret having the transportation infrastructure of our entire country dependent on it.

Which is why we need a President who’s going to work towards other options – yes, I know, you conservatives, you have all the negative reactions towards “Let’s build trains” that most people do to kicking a baby, since it’s taking our freedom to drive wherever the fuck we want away from us! But the truth is that the paradigm of “everyone has a big ol’ expensive car” isn’t going to last forever, and we need to be prepared for the day that doesn’t work. Which will involve car regulation to mandate gas efficiency, the supporting of other technologies to at least the subsidy level and tax breaks we give to the oil companies, and – yes – an investment in public transportation that will not initially be profitable.  Just like all of those long-term military projects you never seem to mind funding.

I remember Borders, king of the bookstore world, going, “We’ll just let everyone make their mistakes in online bookselling, and then we’ll rush right in! We can make up that ground overnight!” And right now, conservative America’s going, “We’ll just let everyone else make their mistakes in creating efficient, non-gasoline-powered forms of energy, and then we’ll rush right in when we need to!” That didn’t work out so well for Borders, and it probably won’t work out so well for us. Especially since if gas hits seven bucks a gallon, which eventually it will barring the creation of biofuels, we’ll have a lot of poor people with no way to get to their jobs.

If you want someone who’s going to lower the price of gas long-term, then you gotta find a guy who believes that gas isn’t something America should rely upon. If you want someone who’s going to lower the price of gas next week, well, stop thinking that the President is a superhero who can break the laws of physics.  Whatever  party he belongs to.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So the Hunger Games exploded at the box office this weekend as fans took the theaters by storm.

My question is, how popular will this movie be in the long run?

I mean, I liked the film, but it’s PTSD in a can.  There’s no escapism in this, the way there is in Twilight – Katniss is being destroyed psychologically scene-by-scene, constantly in danger of dying, all in nervous-quiver shakycam.  I might take a friend to talk it over with them after the film, but I can’t possibly imagine going back to watch it repeatedly for any kind of comfort.  It’s like being kicked in the balls in high precision.

So I mean, it’s a well-done movie.  But will people want to go back?  Will they want this threatening thing sitting on their DVD shelf, just waiting to relive trauma all over again?  Or is there some unknown comfort/pleasure to be had from this movie where teens will relive it over and over?

I mean, scorn Twilight as much as you want, but at its core it’s a dreamy romance.  Hunger Games is straight-up horror – not action film, fucking horror.  So how many times do we want to see it?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Gini went to Teavana this weekend and almost drowned in pretention.

Teavana, if you do not know, is a store that doesn’t sell what you think it sells.  You might think it sells tea.  But what it actually purveys is an experience.  This is why the store is beautifully painted, and all the teas come in beautiful canisters, and when you read the descriptions of the sample teas available they sound like they’re a rare museum piece brought here by hand, from specially-trained Sherpas, from Mars.

It made me want to stand in the middle of the store and shout, “YOU’RE DRINKING LEAVES, PEOPLE!  LEAVES IN HOT WATER!”

Ah, but I cannot truly mock pretention, because there are things that mash my “Pretentious Douche” button hard.  Whenever I go to The Velvet Tango Room, home of exotic alcohol mixtures, I’m transformed into some snobby jerkhole who talks about top notes and his distaste for chartreuse… and I love it.  I love feeling like hundreds of people have slaved to bring me something rare and grand and noble that only We Fine Few can appreciate properly.  What I am imbibing – for a Pretentious Douche never “drinks” – is a heady blend of flavors and beauty that one must sit down to savor.  It makes me feel like a king of old, all for sixteen bucks a drink.

Done properly, I can cosplay Croesus on a George Bailey budget.

Clearly, given that Starbucks took something most of America used to view on the level of Twinkies and turned it into a four-buck-a-cup experience, one can take any drink and Experiencize it.  (One eagerly awaits the “Chill Assistance” store, wherein the various rare flavors of Kool-Aid are presented as magnificent subtleties for your tastebudding pleasure.)

The question is, is there anything we can’t Experiencize?  Is there anything humans do that we can’t apply the magic formula to?  The magic formula of:

  • Take an ordinary, everyday thing;
  • Create it from exotic, hard-to-find materials either shipped here from afar or grown locally and organically at great expense;
  • Have copywriters describe the ordinary, everyday thing in sweeping detail, so you’re forced to pay attention to every detail and start analyzing bits about this experience you never would have before;
  • Charge an assload for it, so it feels like this thing must be worth money now that you’ve paid ten bucks for it instead of fifty cents.

To verify this, I want to create a store called “Undercarriage,” a store devoted entirely to the sale of premium blends of toilet paper.  Oh, we all have our favorites already, don’t we?  Thick-ply vs thin-ply?  But what happens when you experience:

The French Curl: This rare moire watered silk blend was originally meant for Imperial usage only, famed by King Louis XIV as the only fabric smooth enough to satisfy his stylish brand of royalty.  An organza overlay gives this unparalleled cleansing material a hint of massaging purity as it excels at buffing away the clumpier waste materiel, and a hint of enfleuraged jasmine and sandalwood will leave you feeling like a monarch.  $20 per bundle, $7 for the pocketbook pack.

Think I’m kidding?  I’m pretty sure if I had the money to create a store where there were charts to find the perfect cleansing experience based on your diet, lots of references to ayurvedic medicine that mention speeding through such an essential element of life is why mankind is so stressed these days, saying that a stronger brand of cleansing material is needed to let you appreciate the sensuality of getting in touch with your body, and wham!  I’m an ass-millionaire.

You folks better hope I don’t become rich enough to start a store like this.  If I ever became rich, I’d make millions.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Here’s the thing about Occupy Wall Street: I want to like it. I’m sympathetic towards its causes.

I just don’t know if it’s really doing anything.

I mean, right now it’s doing something, and that “something” appears to be the purpose of Dennis Kucinich showing up at the Democratic Presidential Debates: raising a lot of questions that nobody really wants to answer. In particular, the responses to Occupy Wall Street have produced a lot of good videos and op-eds in response to “Why would all of these people just hang around waving signs?”

In particular, I rather like this four-minute-long video that explains everything that’s gone wrong with deregulation:

And wow, does former Representative Grayson absolutely school P.J. O’Rourke in this video (who resembles nothing more than a slightly more hysterical Harlan Ellison here, interrupting and capering):

And Paul Krugman’s Panic of the Plutocrats is succinct and well-written.

But that’s the problem I have. The responses are being inspired by Occupy Wall Street, not coming directly from Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street seems like that shy, emotionally incoherent girl in eighth grade who everyone told you dude, she’s totally into you, but whenever you talked to her you just got damp hands folded in skirts and low mutterings you couldn’t quite hear.

In a sense, that’s its strength: Occupy Wall Street isn’t like The Tea Party, which was bankrolled by corporate interests from the get-go, and had its soul pretty much gripped in the tight fists of spin doctors from Day One. No, Occupy Wall Street is a genuine grass-roots movement, and like grass, the roots go every which way.

That’s good. It’s hard to co-opt a movement like that. But it’s also hard for a movement like that to go anywhere. What we have is a seething mass of people who feel strongly about things and can’t quite seem to form a coherent shout that tells us what they want.

And people say that it’s the media who’s doing this, the media is following their traditional methodology of “Ignore, then overblow,” but I’ve been reading a fair number of the blogs and videos and Tweets from the whole thing – not all of them, but certainly enough that I feel reasonably confident that if there was a consistent solution that all of them were seeking, I would have stumbled across it by now.

It feels like they’re just sort of, you know, angry about the 1% in power (and they are in power) and the way so many conservatives have fetishized being rich as being equivalent to smart and qualified to lead, and they want people to, you know, do stuff about it. And I don’t know how that’s going to work out.

Steven Gould, that notable children’s author, told me that if I was on the ground I’d know. It’s clear there. And that’s fine, but he’s in New York and I gotta work. I hope to make it to one of the Cleveland groups, but really, from here it’s a bunch of echoed watermelon-cantelope-watermelon-cantelope noises.

Keep in mind, I agree with them. So if it’s not necessarily clear to me, how’s it playing in Peoria?

Occupy Wall Street is useful for now, because the question of “What do they want?” is circulating through the media, forcing debates on things that Fox would prefer not to discuss, holding Democrats’ feet to the fire so at least some of them are stating the truth of “Yes, this is class warfare, it’s always been class warfare, and we’ve been losing for three straight decades now.”

But what happens next? Brad Hicks makes a cogent analysis (as he usually does) about the likely consequences of Occupy Wall Street, and what he says about “Hey, when it gets cold and freezy, how many people are likely to keep showing up for hours at a time?” seem particularly relevant.

Then again, Occupy Wall Street is a peaceful movement. Say what you will about violent revolution, but it gets results one way or the other: either you smash or get smashed. The fail state of a peaceful movement is incoherent stasis – I remember seeing a protestor group in 1994 standing in New Haven green, passing out fliers to “Stop The Gulf War.”

For the record, this was four years after the first Gulf War had ended.

But they were still upset about the changes that had been wrought, and took the not-entirely-indefensible-but-certainly-unclear position that the ongoing damage and fallout still counted as a current war. They were handing fliers to baffled citizenry who you could see muttering to each other: “Did another war start up when we weren’t looking?”

The danger of Occupy Wall Street is that they become the Kucinich – the guy who raises some damn fine questions, then hangs around for too long after it becomes clear that the people in charge have zero interest in answering them and he doesn’t have any power to compel them.  The Tea Party was effective because even if you hated them, you had to admit they all lined up nicely to be voter-aimed in a specific direction.

Is Occupy Wall Street the new core of a revived Democratic Party the way that the Tea Party has become the chocolate center of conservative power, with old-school Republicanism rapidly becoming a thin, crunchy shell?  I don’t think so.  Would I want it to?  I think so, because we’d have some real fire at last.  People would be stating what the Democrats really want, making a case for socialism and regulation and government aid, instead of muttering it quickly like a sniggering teenager says “adouchesayswhat?”  We’d have to stumble for a while, given that you know, every major politician has been agreeing with most of the main Republican tenets (LOW TAXES BUSINESS GOOD REGULATION BAD) for years… But you know, the Republicans spent the better part of a decade in the wilderness before finally finding culmination in a Reagan who stood on the podium to express sentiments that would have been unthinkable in the 1960s: “Yes, greed is good.”

I dunno. I want this to work. I want to be heartened. Instead, I just find myself with the same sort of hold-your-breath feelings I had when Dubya invaded Iraq: I can’t see this working, but let’s hope.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You may think it’s too soon to reboot the Spider-Man series.  You are wrong.  It’s just right.

The cycle is speeding up. We’re going to see more remakes, at a faster clip than ever.  And it’s all in the seven-year cycle.

If you look at wrestling, it has a seven-year rule – namely, that there’s enough of a turnover in the fan base that after seven years, 80% of the audience won’t have seen this plot before.  So why not recycle the best plots?  Sure, you could spend years trying to find the Hamlet of wrestling storylines – or you could have the ones you know went over gangbusters in past years, the ones that the fans loved and blogged about and ran again.

Put another way, you’re a theater owner.  Why take a chance on a new play when you can actually run Hamlet, with newer, hotter actors?

So what happens in wrestling, and soap operas, and comics, is that hey, let’s do the Time Warp again.  Peter Parker abandons his duty! The Undertaker gets buried! Matilda’s having another affair!  This isn’t to say that new storylines don’t happen – the writers usually don’t have enough to completely recycle seven years’ worth of plot, and the old fans will walk away if it’s entirely salvaged plot – but a lot of the big storylines are a big “been there, seen that” production.

But the seven-year rule doesn’t quite apply to Hollywood, where people see movies forever… Or do they?  TAs it turns out, welve to twenty-four year-olds buy a solid third of all tickets.  Furthermore, you kind of need to rope them in young – teach them that going to the movies is a fun experience, going with a group of friends, and they’ll continue to do it until they’re at least forty.

In other words, your biggest audience and the audience you most need to reach to continue your existence? They’re largely outside the seven-year cycle. Everything you give to a teenager is new – or mostly new, anyway.

Which means that, again, as a Hollywood producer, you have a choice: try to make a new franchise, with potential for sequels, with all of the problems inherent in turning “Cowboys and Aliens” or “Green Lantern” or “Sucker Punch” into a huge franchise… Or go back and get a tried-and-true story that works?

I mean, come on – how badly can you fuck up “Transformers”? Or “The Smurfs”?  Or, you know, “The Karate Kid”?  It’s not like they’re elegantly-balanced masterpieces of characterization and plot to begin with.  You put in a bunch of cool action sequences with some awesome CGI, and have a neat trailer, and the teenagers will go, “Oh, man, that’s cool.  What do you mean it’s a remake?”

Don’t believe me?  If Bin Laden taught us anything, it’s that kids who were six to eight when 9/11 happened largely had no clue who Bin Laden was when he got killed.  Google searches for “who is ben laden” shot to the top of the search engines. And the movies of yore?  They may remember something about Lord of the Rings, maybe they saw it on TV, but today’s teenager has no clue of the cinematic history of ten years ago, nor do most of them really care. So you can sell them endlessly.

What about the twentysomething kids, who don’t want to have all these damn remakes?  Well, let me introduce you to what I call the Sue Effect.

My sister-in-law Sue, who is forty, continually bitches about how Hollywood has no originality.  Every time I see her, she’s complaining.  But I tell her, “Inception is really great.   The King’s Speech was mind-blowing.  Tangled is the best comfort watching.”

She doesn’t see any of them.  She has no time to go catch movies in the theaters.

But when I call her up, what has she gone to see? The remake of Halloween.  Why?  Because she knows the plot, and wants to see what twists they put on it.  It reminds her of a younger time, when the future looked free and boundless, and she had her whole life ahead of her.  She can round up her old high-school friends to go with her. There’s a certain bottom level of entertainment, because even if it totally sucks ass, she can complain to all of her friends how they fucked it up.

Everything about a remake is perfect for Sue, except that it’s cookie-cutter remake.  But hey!  She doesn’t have the time to find what the new, good films are!  That involves a lot of paying attention.  And she can wait for those on DVD, if they get enough good word.

So really, what Sue wants to see in the theaters is a film she’s seen before.  Even if she doesn’t want to admit it.

The thing is, when you remake a film, there’s a built-in level of publicity.  If Joe Schmoe is making his own space opera?  Well, that’s good.  Call us when you get some killer trailer material.  And hey, your space opera’s probably too complicated to sell us on these crazy robots and armadas and whatnot.

What’s that?  Joe Schmoe’s remaking STAR WARS?  Well, suddenly, you have a hundred thousand inbound links. And a lot of them will be favorable.

The twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings claim they hate remakes, and they do… But “love” is not the opposite of “hate.” That’d be “indifference.”  And hate can turn to love pretty quick if there’s a really cool trailer attached.  As opposed to “indifference,” which leads to a fucking awesome film like “Moon,” perhaps the best sci-fi film in the past decade, which bombed at the box office with one quarter of a percent of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’s take because it was a new thing that nobody quite knew how to sell to teenagers, and didn’t have a lot of shit blowing up.

This doesn’t really apply to more traditional dramatic films – I don’t think we’ll see the remake of “Shutter Island” any time soon – but for theater popcorn-munchers? When you can rope in a new generation of kids and have twenty-somethings going, “A Transformers movie?  Fuck, I loved that as a kid!  That’s gonna be awesome!” then you wind up with a cycle that’s only going to get worse.

Built-in PR. A minimum bottom line of failure. Easier to create, since all the work’s been done.  And hey, if you want originality, why not just go to TV, where Mad Men and The Wire and Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire and all the other interesting dramas that used to win the Oscar have fled?

The cycle’s not going to be seven years, since movies have a slightly slower half-life thanks to being one-shot events.  But ten to twelve?  Oh yes.  Long enough to make that even spread between teenagers and twentysomethings.

My take is that we’re going to see a cycle of Spider-Mans and Batmans and Transformers and Hangovers and Nightmare on Elm Streets and whatever else comes.  It may even become encoded, like a new season of a TV series, or this year’s new model of car.  The Spider-Man 2020 Edition.  Tried and true.  Bulletproof.

With just a few tweaks.  And some awesome special effects.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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