Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kanye West: Hip-Hop's Ultimate Brand

Kanye West is the most polarizing figure in America.  On one side, he has millions of fans who worship his music, and critics who praise his innovative production and brilliant lyrics.  On the other side, there are droves of fans who wished Mr. West would jump off the nearest cliff.  Which is somewhat understandable considering the mile long list of people he's wronged or insulted, including Grammy voters, George Bush, SNL, South Park, Taylor Swift, and about 50 million of her fans.  But Kanye has never really done anything other than speak his mind.

I'm never ashamed to admit that Kanye is my favorite music artist of all time.  I think the man breathes creative genius in just about everything he does, and puts more effort into a single song than most musicians put into their entire albums.  People are always quick to say they hate Kanye West, and therefore refuse to listen to his music.  What a shame.  Over the past decade or so, Kanye has carefully crafted some of the greatest music we will ever have the luxury of hearing.  And along the way, he's created a reputation and persona unrivaled by anyone else in entertainment.  Essentially he created a brand. A brand all about Kanye West, what he likes, and what he thinks we should like too.  I don't think our perception of him is necessarily accurate but it's at least its what he allows us to think.

Take notice in the way Kanye dresses and presents himself around the release of his albums.  During College Dropout and Late Registration he presented himself as a clean cut, polo shirt wearing, kid from Chicago who had been through alot, but has finally made it.

Then Graduation came around, and he evolved to match the stadium sized, synth heavy, futuristic sound of the album by dressing the part, and launching the Glow In The Dark Tour. He was finally on top, so he was going to live like it and make sure you knew about it.

Then suddenly his world came crashing down. After his girlfriend Amber Rose broke it off, and his mother tragically died after a plastic surgery mishap, Kanye went into full emo mode. Or at least his version of it.  It was Kid Cudi emo music before Kid Cudi emo music was cool.  He wore an uptight, nerdy suit and glasses with a heart patch on the lapel.  His auto-tune induced singing was about heartbreak, and pain, and suffering.  Months later, after album promotion was complete, he back to his old ways of lavish partying and celebration...until he crashed the stage at the VMA's, took the mic from poor Taylor, and caused his greatest public backlash to date.

He went into hiding and began searching for answers.  He wanted people to think he was trying to help himself become a better person, but really he was busy crafting his next album, a hip-hop masterpiece.  His Sgt. Pepper. His Thriller.  His Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  It was undoubtedly the best album of the year, and maybe even the best rap album of the last 5 to 10 years.  He burst on to the stage at the 2010 VMA's, a year after Swift-gate, wearing an all-leather bright red suit, and debuted Runaway. Other than the single "Power," it was the first real look into his new image.  Kanye had finally embraced what everybody had already thought about him.  Kanye West had embraced crazy.   Twisted Fantasy was just that. An insane, disturbing, crazy look into the mind of a musical genius.   Kanye was finally being more honest and open with his fans (and giving away free music didn't hurt either), he started Tweeting his most bizarre (brilliant?) thoughts and people finally began to embrace him again.  He still had his haters, and he always will, but Kanye accepted he can only impress certain people, so he may as well put his effort into pleasing those who want to be pleased.

With the release of his collabo album with his mentor Jay-Z, Kanye continued the brilliance, toned down the crazy, then anchored it with the level-headed, business savy Hova, and branded it with the luxury and lavishness of a warehouse lot full of Maybachs.
Watch The Throne will certainly bolster their gold mine bank accounts, but Kanye won't let anything slow him down. It's hard to say what he'll do next, because he's the most unpredictable celebrity alive.  Charlie Sheen takes crazy lessons from Kanye West, not the other way around.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Genius of Wilfred

Quick. Tell me how many sitcoms you can think of, past or present about a dysfunctional family dealing with their everyday issues. How many can sitcoms can you name about a group of friends dealing with the struggles of young adulthood? How many shows can you name portraying the life of people in a modern American work setting? A lot, right? Well how many can you name about a guy struggling with his life, considering suicide until he finds a savior in his neighbor's dog. A dog who appears normal to everyone but our troubled protagonist who views the dog as a pot smoking, beer drinking, womanizing man in a furry costume.  How many can you name like that? None? O, right. There has never been anything like that on American television before. Until now. Until Wilfred.

When the ads began to appear on FX about six months ago, my interest immediately peaked.  The basic premise of the show was incredibly unique. It almost seemed to bizarre for TV.  I could just picture the TV execs at most networks bolting for the door if someone had the gall to pitch something as strange as Wilfred.  On top of that, the idea seemed better suited for a movie, most likely done by a small indie studio.  But FX has shown in the past that they can appreciate unique, innovative programming. This is no exception.

Being so unique, a show like Wilfred won't have a large built in audience in the early going.  The premise alone will be enough to turn away most people. But after watching the first episode, the level of comedy is right on par with some of FX's other shows. It may not be the family-friendly humor of Modern Family, or the easy laughs of Two and Half Men, but its well written, well acted, smart comedy that will keep you laughing throughout.

Elijah Wood's character, Ryan meets Wilfred the morning after a failed suicide attempt (which is apparently also the same day he is supposed to start a new job).  In less than a day, Wilfred's influence immediately begins to work wonders for Ryan's psyche. Wilfred offer's his new friend lessons of being a man, standing up for himself, and generally, just tells Ryan to grow a pair.  Despite his ability to talk to Ryan, and perform a few human functions, he still behaves like a dog for the most part.  He needs to ask for water, plays fetch, chases motorcycles, and digs holes (although he does so with a shovel).

Amazingly the show works.  Jason Gann brilliantly plays the part of Wilfred, carefully walking a tightrope of plausibility towering over an ocean of absurdity. At times, the show stumbles (did he really just pull out a bong?) but in the end, he walks the line perfectly (his interaction with women is especially hilarious).  However, the thing that excites me the most about Wilfred isn't just it's premise, acting or funny jokes.  It's the show's potential. It's ceiling is so high because of it's uniqueness. The writers could easily think up a few season's worth of plot lines or situations without worrying about ripping off another show. How many sitcoms have felt stale or dull because it just seemed like a reincarnation of another show? I know it's only been one episode, but honestly I can't wait for next week. This show already passes my "I want more" test. Hopefully enough American viewers can embrace Wilfred as well, keeping the show alive.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stubborn Kings, Baby Dragons, and a Dwarf with Attitude

A week ago I jumped on the turnip cart bandwagon, and forced myself to watch the first episode of Game of Thrones.  I've never been much a fantasy/war epic type when it came to my entertainment. Was never much of a Lord of the Rings nerd. Never got into movies about vampires or wizards, and certainly never got invested in a show with the words "Stargate" or "Battlestar" in the title.  Just wasn't my thing.  I do, however, have a weakness for smart, innovative, irresistible TV shows and films that keep me entertained week after week. I resisted Game of Thones for weeks because of my aforementioned dislike for its genre, but eventually the blazing hot reviews drew me in, especially the celebrity endorsements being Tweeted on a weekly basis.  The first episode had my interest dragging along, simply being roped to a trotting horse. But in the premiere's final seconds, Bran Stark caught Jaime Lannister giving Cersei Lannister his, erm, sword, and Jaime responded by pushing the poor kid out the window. I was hooked.  

Learning the names of a few dozen characters, all introduced within a few episodes, can be pretty frustrating, for even the sharpest TV viewers, but once I got down the names of the important players down, I got the "I need more" feeling. This is my tell tale sign of when I've found a show I love.  It happened with the early seasons of The Office. It's happened with Mad Men, Community, Parks and Rec, and Modern Family, to name a few.  It's that feeling you get when the episode is over, and instantly, you want more. If you're catching up on episodes, you immediately begin watching then next one, without hesitation. If you're watching them as they premiere each week, you wait impatiently for seven agonizing days until the next episode premieres.  LOST was my biggest "I want more" show ever. Couldn't get enough of it. I even debated putting off watching the season finales, because I knew it would be months before I could get new LOST. Never actually put it off though. Had to watch the new episode. HAD to. 

I hit full on "I want more" mode for Game of Thrones at the end of episode 2, when Bran woke up from his coma. I immediately knew it meant trouble for the Lannister/Stark relationship, and ultimately knew that it meant war.  But that doesn't spoil anything. This show was about the adventure, about the journey, about the small plot lines turning into major talking points.  Also, and not secondarily so, it's about deceit and honor, about power and weakness, about nude whores and incest, gluttony and wine, swords and badass armor. 

Of any show I've ever loved, there have been a few constants.  First, there need to be characters I care about. I need to be interested in their lives, their well being, what they have to say, and what will happen to them in the future. The Starks fit in here perfectly.  A mother and father who care deeply about the kids, who all care about each other. It's easy to see why they're interesting, and even the absurdly annoying Sansa Stark eventually shows compassion for her father.  I'm intrigued by Daenerys, Tyrion Lannister, Littlefinger and King Joffrey. Speaking of, it's been a while since I've been more irritated with a character than Joffrey. I don't want him removed from the show. No, I want him to stay as long as possible, because he makes the Lannister/Baratheon family all that more hate-able. He makes the war seem worth it. His demise will be epic, for sure.

Second, I enjoy excellent writing and dialogue. Writing that doesn't sound whipped up by a bunch of 16 year olds. Some intelligence, humor, and creativity will do the trick.  There's excellent dialogue in abundance here. Some of my favorite scenes don't involve heads being chopped off, guts being scourged by swords, or whores being, well, whores. Scenes with Ned Stark, Littlefinger, or Tyrion Lannister offer far more interesting insight than other certain shows offer in their entire existence (I'm looking at you CBS).  

Lastly, the show isn't afraid to take chances. The Office perfected the art of awkward, uncomfortable comedy at a time when Friends-style comedy was the preferred sit-com method. LOST convinced millions to watch a show about people stuck on an island, who got off, but went back, then went through time and finally ended up in....(still not sure where?) but they still made it captivating. Community has had paintball episodes, claymation, space expedition, zombies, and more pop culture references than a Bill Simmons article. Game of Thrones taken chances in droves. They cut off heads, gashed throats, and pulled out intestines, they attempted making incest seem acceptable (still not sold on it), they mixed medieval culture with horror and sci-fi (still fascinated to see where the John Snow vs. the White Walkers story line is headed), and they even threw in an ultimate twist that no one saw coming.  The single, most memorable moment of television I've seen this year was the end of episode 9 when that insufferable King Joffery ordered the beheading of Ned Stark.  Or more specifcally, the moment after the order, when Arya attempted rushing the stage, Sansa began screaming, the executioner pulled out his sword, and the camera focused in on Ned's face, right before the head came off. My heart was pounding, and my breathing stopped.  Then, my jaw actually dropped. Not metaphorically. It dropped for real. In a show with such a large cast, sometimes it's hard to pick one main character, but it was pretty obvious Ned Stark was it.  He played a central role throughout the show, had a strong moral compass, and continually gave the audience a reason to care about him.  Then, next thing we know, his head is on a stake. Unreal. And there was still more to come.  

With multiple armies all converging on each other, the finale showed some serious promise. And although, it didn't quite deliver with some epic battle scenes, it did offer a few more twists, cliff hangers and developments to keep us satisfied and begging for season 2. It's pretty safe to say the level of sci-fi will be upped a notch or two next season, just like LOST did with each season's progression.  Jon Snow and Knight's Watch are headed into White Walkers Zombieland, Daenerys hatched three baby dragons, and I'm sure both will result in a few epic battle scenes.  Also, I won't rule out an Obi-Wan type scenario with Ned Stark. He just seemed too important to lose. I've never read the books this show is based on (nor do I intend to), so I can't say how closely they followed the novels the first season or how they will in future seasons.  I can say, however, I WANT MORE.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Rise of Lebron James

Lebron James wakes up, sits on the edge of his bed, and gazes out his bedroom window at the Atlantic Ocean, right outside his Miami home.  Lebron James doesn't want to Michael Jordan. That's not fair, he thinks.  Nobody ever compared Michael Jordan to Michael Jordan. Why can't Lebron James be compared to Lebron James?  That's all Lebron James has ever wanted.  He takes a deep breath and walks to his dresser where he picks up his NBA 2012 Championship ring, places it on his middle finger and admires it. Then he slides his 2013 NBA Championship ring onto his ring finger and spends a few seconds more admiring it.  As a grin - no, a smirk - begins to form within his neatly trimmed, graying beard, he slides his 2014, and 2015 NBA Championship rings onto his pointer and pinky fingers.  He fully extends his arm and holds his hand out so the light from his floor-to-ceiling windows strikes the rings and makes them shine. Makes them sparkle. Then he takes them off, places each one carefully onto its plush stand, and admires them. Just another second or two. But that's enough for now. They'll be here when he gets home later. He gets dressed and heads downstairs to the gym.  First though, he rubs each of his two NBA Finals MVP trophies for good measure. For good luck? No. Lady Luck doesn't give out trophies.


Lebron James pulls up to American Airlines Arena. There's a small crowd of fans waiting for him, but the security guard won't let them close. Lebron James waves the guard off and motions for the fans to come over. They've got arm-fulls of things for him to sign. He takes a Sharpie from one fan and starts signing away.  He always takes care of the fans when he has the time. A few minutes later, he heads into the arena for shoot-around, but not before thanking his fans.


Lebron James sits at the table, leaning slightly over the microphone, waiting for his first question.  The younger reporters sit on the outskirts of the room, mesmerized by the hulk of man, wearing a perfectly tailored suit (no tie tonight), sitting at the front of the room smiling at the room full of men teeming with questions.  The questions are much easier than they used to be. They don't make Lebron James want to snap back. They don't make him want to flip the table onto the first row of fragile reporters. They don't leave the sting they used to. These days, the questions have a air of respect to them.  And Lebron James is happy to answer.

"Is this the best team you've ever played with?"
"How soon can you tell if it's going to be a high scoring night? First quarter? Second? Third?"
"How does Derrick Rose adjust to such stringent defense?"
"Who do you want to play in the Finals? Oklahoma City or Los Angeles? The Clippers, I mean." Lebron James sits back, smiles. "Let's just get past Chicago, first."

A young reporter is trying to make a name for himself.  "How many more rings can you and Wade get? Can you get five like Kobe? Do you ever worry about another collapse?" Lebron James just laughs the question off. He doesn't answer those questions anymore. He doesn't have to. Nobody cares. The young reporter will learn. They always do.


Lebron James is standing next to David Stern. His team is surrounding them, playfully pushing each other around. Nothing too crazy. Most of them have been here before, on this stage, at the center court of American Airlines Arena.  David Stern hands Lebron James his third Finals MVP trophy. Lebron James turns to Dwyane Wade, who is holding the Larry O'Brien trophy,  and they pose for photos with their teammates.  Then they take their trophies and hit the Miami clubs for a celebration most people would hope to experience it once in their lives. These men have done it four times before.


It's much easier now. Skip Bayless doesn't rip him apart on ESPN every morning. The fans in Cleveland have gotten over it for the most part, especially after the Indians won the 2013 World Series. That helped alot. ALOT.  He doesn't receive hate mail anymore and he doesn't battle the media.  He embraces his fans, in Miami and elsewhere.  He never really hated the fans, he just thought they hated him. They wanted him to fail right? No, that was just his imagination.

Lebron James doesn't try to remember his years before 2011. Those years were tough. Those years slow him down, wear him down, hurt his progress. The fans won't remember those days, right? The Hall of Fame voters certainly won't, right? The ESPN talking heads have forgotten, right? Right?

Most fans don't consider this Dwyane Wade's team anymore. It's THEIR team.  Lebron James is okay with that. He has his fifth championship. As many as Kobe Bryant, who's retired now.  Kobe Bryant texted Lebron James the day after championship number five to congratulate him on the achievement, noting that he still doesn't have more than Kobe Bryant does (Kobe Bryant is capable of joking with Lebron James on occasion). 

Lebron James has his fifth championship. One less than Michael Jordan. No. Not one less than Michael Jordan. The comparisons are unnecessary, remember? Lebron James has as many championships as Lebron James does. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Crier Pryor Train Wreck

Up until this past week, my fondest (and strongest) memory of former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was actually a photo taken at the end of the Penn State-Ohio State game back in 2008.  Penn State had just capped off a thrilling win to maintain their (at that point) perfect season.  Terrelle Pryor, who was just a freshman at the time, struggled throughout the game. Time after time, PSU's crushing defense proved to be too explosive for the young QB who couldn't read a defensive play if he was given a color coded copy of the oppositions playbook.  Pryor ultimately fumbled the ball on a careless play, which eventually led to the drive that produced the game-winning drive for JoePa and Co.  Pryor took a seat on the Buckeye bench, buried his head in his hands, and a nearby photog snapped a brilliant shot that Nittany Lion fans will forever remember as the Crier Pryor photo.

As cherished as this moment was in my Penn State v Ohio State memory bank, it took back seat in the midst of the ever evolving OSU scandal. It's an everyday soap opera for college football fans.  It's so bad, its good. Tressel is gone, Pryor is gone, and four other important players are suspended the first four games of the year (not to mention postseason bans complimented by the loss of scholarships is likely on the horizon.) But as of now, the most satisfying news of the past few months is the train wreck Terrelle Pryor's legacy has become. Three years ago, Penn State fans were begging for him to take his talents to Happy Valley. Now we're counting our blessings. Thank the football gods he chose the scarlet and grey over the classic white and blues.

Issues with Pryor's personality and character have not been much of a secret.  Stories of a generally cocky attitude and using his celebrity to take over VIP areas of clubs and restaurants have graced the internet and multiple articles of the past three years (and more frequently, the past 10 days). And I've gobbled it up. Can't get enough of it.  Especially because I know Terrelle Pryor's chance of success in the NFL is limited and his days of football glory are most likely behind him. His athletic prowess is off the charts. I can't deny that. But his passing ability is mediocre on a college level at best, and his decision making (on and off the field) is not professional quarterback worthy.
"I can't wait to sell this entire uniform." "What?"
"Nevermind, just ignore it, coach." "Ok."

Besides all that, what NFL team would be willing to make a legitimate investment in a player with Pryor's obvious character flaws and a growing list of issues with authority?  I understand college football players are not paid, but NCAA rules clearly state that using your status as a football player to make money or receive benefits is strictly prohibited. Pryor disregarded this rule without so much as giving it a second thought.  He drove 8 different cars over the past three years, sold memorabilia and autographs for upwards of $40,000, and I'm sure further stories of Pryor money-grabbing antics will continue flooding ESPN in the next few weeks.  A former friend of Pryor's claims the Buckeye QB knew he was breaking the rules, but frankly, he didn't care.  Honestly, it amazes me this issue took three years to become big news.  If a kid from modest upbringing is suddenly dressing well, driving a $50,000 car, inking his entire torso, and generally living the life of an actual professional quarterback, well, somebody is breaking the rules.

I'm sure this happens at every college athletic program in the country; I'd be stupid to think otherwise. In fact, according to USA Today, just two programs have unblemished athletic programs that remain untainted by NCAA violations (For the record, aside from Stanford, Penn State is one of the two. Learning this only made this whole OSU scandal even sweeter. God bless you, Joe Paterno).  However, when a player chooses to so blatantly break major NCAA rules, not only do you have to question his ability to handle authority (pretty important in NFL culture), but you need to question his loyalty and dedication to his team.  Ultimately, Pryors and his teammates' actions have totally crippled Ohio State's football program.  It cost a potentially legendary coach his career, and in the coming months, could end OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith's as well. To cap it off, Pryor has now chosen to leave the university, quit the football team, and turn to professional football, just three months before the opening game kickoff.  Fans in Columbus are happy to see him go, and look forward to putting this scandal behind them, but really, Pryor is just running from problems and quitting on his teammates, who need a leader now more than ever.

I'm sure the saga in Columbus is far from over. More people will be fired. Future scholarships will be revoked. Postseason bowl eligibility will vanish. The prestige of a major college football program has taken a major hit, no doubt about it, and the effects may linger for years to come. It's pretty hard to bring in recruits without sufficient scholarship opportunities, or the promise of a major bowl game.  Pryor may not have to deal with the hardship OSU athletics is about to face, but I like to think he's sitting on bench somewhere, head in his hands, crying his heart out. Something tells me though, this isn't true.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The End of Inflated GB's

"Try to keep up Google!"

I can picture Steve Jobs, sitting in his office, dreaming about his upcoming tech conferences, hoping to blow everyone's minds.  The tech world treats the WWDC the way Hollywood treats a blockbuster movie premiere.  Everyone is waiting impatiently for the event, and rarely does Apple fail to amaze.

For nearly the past half decade, I have looked forward to the release of Apple's newest products.  Whether it be iPad, iPod, iPhone, or Mac, I anxiously awaited to see what Steve Jobs would unleash on the tech world, sending everyone into iCraziness.  For a while, it seemed that each product release would offer an increase in the products GB storage.  iPods started at a few gigs, but within a few years you could by one with a mind-boggling 160GBs.  Who the hell has a 40,000 song library of music? Probably not too many, but with the addition of photos, and videos, that 160GB total could be reached in no time.  But yesterday, Apple most likely ended my interest in discovering how much storage they could pack into each little device with the announcement of the iCloud, a never-ending supply of memory that can automatically sync your music, photos, and files onto every one of your Apple devices.  No more annoying white cords every time you want to sync your newest album download to your iPod. I couldn't tell you how many times I downloaded new music, or created a new playlist, but ultimately forgot to sync it to my new iPod.

I can't wait for the days where I can save a document on my computer at home, access it on the way to work on my phone, then open it up again when I get to the office, all without using e-mail or a thumb-drive.   I plan on getting the iPhone 5 when it comes out this fall, but will reconsider my plan to get one with at least 30GB.  If I can spend less money getting one with less storage, I'd rather spend the money on the $25 monthly fee for unlimited iCloud space.  It never ceases to amaze me how innovative Apple can be, and ultimately how most other tech companies scramble to keep up.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Stop the Heat Hate

For the past 11 months, the most hated team in sports has been the Miami Heat. Lebron James, the player most responsible for the eruption of hatred, started the revolution with The Decision, a one hour ESPN special dedicated to the announcement of his free agency signing.  Immediately, every fan in Cleveland, as well as millions of NBA fans across the country, began bashing Lebron's decision to "take his talents to South Beach." It was looked at as a betrayal of his hometown team and fans who poured their souls and emotion into this team over the past seven seasons.  But the other knock on Lebron, the one that I think is a much harsher attack on him, was his desire to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They say Jordan would have never done that. He would have stayed in Chicago to build something himself.

The problem with this statement, however, is how incredibly unfair it is to Lebron James. For the entire 2009-10 season, the Cavs seemed like they would be the favorites to win the NBA Championship. But in the series against Boston, it became clear to everyone, even Lebron, that the Cavs didn't have what it took to reach the top.  Cavs fans have blamed Lebron for everything over the past year. Instead, they should have pointed the fingers at the front office. Blame Dan Gilbert, Cavs owner. Blame Danny Ferry, Cavs GM from 2005-2010, and even blame Chris Grant, Cavs GM for the weeks leading up to The Decision. The summer of 2010 was arguably the biggest free agency season of the history of free agency in all sports.  Many of the league's biggest stars were signing mega contracts with their current teams, or moving to greener pastures.  The Cavs were focused on signing Lebron, but failed to make even one other big signing that would convince King James to stay in Cleveland.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lebron is the best player in the league. The Cavaliers, who were essentially the same team this year sans Lebron, were absolutely horrendous. They were comically bad at times.  They were "sports movie underdog team before a remarkable transformation" bad. Except that transformation never really came.  Has a team ever taken such a catastrophic dive after the loss of ONE SINGLE player? Lebron didn't leave Cleveland to spite his hometown fans. He left Cleveland to ensure we would talk about him for decades to come as one of the best to ever play the game.  As a champion.

I understand why people want to hate the Heat. I do. They're the New York Yankees of the NBA. The Dallas Cowboys of basketball. The Duke Blue Devils of professional ball. But we only hate them because they're great. Because for the next 7 or 8 years, they will be better than your favorite team. By a mile. Nobody really hates the Yankees because they win all time. We hate the Yankees because they beat our team all the time.  Essentially, we hate them, because we're jealous.  And the Heat are the same.  Personally, I've been a Lebron fan since he was in high school. Watched him on ESPN, and could tell he just had that IT factor. The piece of him that makes him a superstar, the intangible factor that can't be defined.  Despite my ties to the 76ers, (who are still my favorite team) I've always rooted for Lebron. Not necessarily for the Cavs, but just hoping that Lebron would win a ring. Or six. Or seven.  I like Wade, Bosh, Spoelstra and the rest, but for me, it's about Lebron getting his championships. I have a weak spot for greatness, and to me, that's what we're witnessing.  I remember rooting for Jordan in the finals when I was a kid, knowing that I was watching greatness in action. I'll never forget watching Jordan hit the shot against the Jazz to seal the 1998 Championship. And I know I'll never forget watching these Heat win rings over the next few years.

Don't hate the Heat for being great. Don't hate Lebron for moving to Miami. Embrace the opportunity to watch this team, and appreciate how much more interesting Lebron has made the NBA.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Future of Twitter

Pretty big news from Twitter announced today.  Over the next few weeks, they'll begin launching their photo and video sharing service that will allow users to share content without the use of Twitpic or other third-party services. It amazes me that it has taken this long for Twitter to launch their own sharing service considering Facebook has been doing this for years now.  I know Twitter doesn't want to be another Facebook, but it was pretty obvious that their users enjoy sharing photos and videos over Twitter, and third-party sites are just an unnecessary hassle.  I'd expect the number of photos/videos posted on Twitter to skyrocket over the next few weeks when users realize how much easier is to share and view them. There are aspects to Twitter I tend to find very frustrating, like the difficulty of searching and browsing the pages you follow, how irrelevant trending topics can be sometimes, how unclear the divide between a retweet and a response can be and of course, that frustrating 140 character limit. Most of these are fixable and will most likely be addressed as Twitter progresses (except for maybe the character limit).

Also saw some pretty interesting stats on Twitter.  Only 13% of internet users are Twitter users as well, but that number is up 5% from half a year ago.   25% of online African Americans use Twitter, compared to just 9% of whites.  Pretty interesting stat, although no explanation was offered.  It would be interesting to see it compared to stats on Facebook usage.  Only half of Twitter users access the site though their phones, a number that will continue to grow as smart phones become more prevalent considering the mobile and immediate nature of Twitter. It's far more interesting to Tweet about a concert as it's happening rather than waiting until you get home.

I admit I was hesitant about using Twitter at first. It seemed like another Facebook that stripped down everything to just status updates.  But it definitely has set itself apart. Among other things, Facebook doesn't allow you to follow celebrities as well , and it does seem less cluttered than what Facebook has become. It'll be interesting to see where they head in years to come, and what they'll do to avoid becoming irrelevant as Facebook continues to attempt taking over the Social Media world.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Jim Tressel Saga: How Much Credit Do We Take?

Liar Liar, Vest on Fire
It's been just a little over 12 hours since I found out that Jim Tressel was resigning from his head coaching position at Ohio State.  And let me tell you, there are very few college football programs whose misfortune is something I enjoy witnessing. Ohio State is right at the top of that short list, because, well, I just can't stand seeing them win anymore.  For anyone who's ever been a college football fan, or a fan of any sport for that matter, disliking a rival team is almost as important to being a fan as rooting for your own team.  Without an opponent, there's no point in competition. And a rival opponent? There is no sweeter victory.  So a few months ago, when news about this Ohio State scandal began to slowly emerge, I assure you I enjoyed every minute of it.

But I was just as shocked as everyone else this morning when news broke that Tressel was stepping down.  I thought this could happen down the road, if the NCAA got more involved and more violations became public. But I never thought it'd happen three months before the start of the season, which basically leaves no time for Ohio State to find a suitable replacement.  I know we'll hear the rumors of Urban Meyer, and possibly Bob Stoops from now until the end of the season, but until then we'll have to continue watching Ohio State pick up the pieces of this total train wreck of a situation.

The other day, while watching an ESPN special on college football scandals, one analyst commented that the number of college football infractions isn't any worse than it was decades ago.  It just seems that way because the NCAA is better at finding them, and the media is better at reporting on it.  Which got me thinking, if Tressel and his players had committed these infractions 10 to 15 years ago, how would this have turned out? The players may have still been caught, Tressel's emails may have still been found, but the media coverage may not have been as significant.  Social media can turn the most trivial scandal into the next Watergate. With every new development in this story, Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, and every major sports website became flooded with comments.  There were plenty of supporters, but as with any other situation, the haters are always the loudest.  I'm sure the Ohio State administration heard it all. There are very few coaches in college football who are bigger than the programs they run. Jim Tressel is no exception.  Tressel and Ohio State's big wigs knew they had too much to lose by attempting to fight back or try to act like this would just go away.  It's one thing to deal with the NCAA and a few newspaper articles, but when you've got 24 hour coverage from ESPN and a million college football fans tweeting in your direction, it's pretty hard to ignore.

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Heavy Rotation: Arctic Monkeys "Suck It and See"

It's only fitting that my first music post on this site be about an Arctic Monkeys' album, because after all, the blog is named after a Monkeys song title.  "Suck It and See", the band's fourth album has been considered by many as the chance for the Arctic Monkey's to win back all the fans they may have lost with their previous effort, "Humbug."  Honestly, I had my doubts about the band and "Humbug" after the first few listens. The album eventually proved to be a grower, not a shower, which came as a surprise.  As far as first impressions go, "Whatever People Say I Am,..." was probably the best first impression I've ever had of a band after one listen.  It instantly became my all-time favorite album, and still remains in my top 3 to this day.  When they released "Favourite Worst Nightmare," it seemed Arctic Monkeys were on a mission to knock you onto the seat of your pants with hard hitting, loud,  race paced rock songs that would damage car speakers for years to come.

But "Humbug" changed everything.  They slowed things down for the first time, which confused and frustrated most fans.  But those who stuck around for multiple listens, like me, began to appreciate the new Alex Turner and Co.  They had changed, there was no denying that. But they hadn't taken a step back or gotten worse.  They had matured.  Maybe I was lucky. I became a fan of this band right before college, which will change, mature, and mold just about any person, and I guess my music tastes broadened and grew to reflect the tastes of the new Arctic Monkeys.  They learned to play their instruments, learned the art of subtlety and little nuances, Alex Turner became quite a good singer, and Matt Helders had become one of the best damn drummers in the world.

I always thought the most frustrating thing for members of any band is living up to expectations with each new album.  There are fans and critics were ridicule a band for simply recreating the same sound over and over on each new release.  But on the other hand, that same band could be lambasted for trying something new, for evolving, for daring to release something nobody's ever heard anything like before.  I'll never forget a moment during my junior year of high school.  Green Day had just released "American Idiot." Critics praised the album, and fans all across the world were renewing their love of Green Day.  But not everyone was happy.  They were playing a show in Hershey, and everyone was talking about it.  I overheard a conversation between to classmates. "Hey man, are you going to the Green Day show tonight?" "No, not really my thing anymore. I didn't like American Idiot. It's not Green Day"  I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The album was great, and he was disowning the band simply because they had chosen to write a political rock opera rather than write another dozen songs about smoking weed and masturbating? I was baffled.  Still to this day, I don't understand why fans do this.

The Arctic Monkeys are a great example of a band who chose to grow up and take their music with them.  Lyrically, instrumentally, and all around quality, the band has matured. And the results are amazing.  The traces of previous albums are all here, mixed in with new ingredients.  Whereas "Whatever People Say I Am..." was a perfect album to work out and run to, "Suck It and See" may be better suited for sitting on your porch on a perfect sunny day, as I'm doing right now. Fans may often be the biggest critics of a band, even more so than actual critics, record label execs, or the band themselves.  Most critics have said this album is more of a return to their previous work, which in my opinion is only half the truth.  These songs are pop-ier, more accessible like their first two albums, and less heavy, depressing sounding than "Humbug".  In that respect, yes, fans will be flocking back in droves. But don't ever expect this band to release another "Whatever People Say I Am" or have a single as popular as "Dancefloor."  But don't expect them to quit making great music either.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Relax. For Us, It's Just A Game

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Los Angeles police arrested a suspect early Sunday in connection with the brutal beating of a San Francisco Giants fan at Dodgers Stadium in March, a police spokesman said. Bryan Stow, 42, was beaten into a coma on March 31 in the stadium parking lot after the opening game of the Dodgers' season. Lt. Rick Stable confirmed the arrest at an east Hollywood apartment, but he would not release the suspect's name.  --CNN

I think I speak for all baseball fans (and sports fans in general) when I say it's a huge relief to hear this story.  I like to consider myself a passionate sports fan.  I follow my favorite teams on a more than regular basis, greatly look forward attending games, and lose my voice cheering my team on.  But I have never once seriously considered harming a fan of an opposing team (Ohio State fans included).  We may never truly know what events led up to the brutal beating of Brian Stow after the Dodger's season opener, but what we do know is that he was mercilessly beaten by Dodgers fans, and as far as we can tell, the only reason being was that Stow was a Giants fan.

As a kid, I only looked at pro sports as games played by really, really athletic grown-ups. But over the past few years, I've come to realize that it really isn't just a game anymore.   Sports in America is a multi-billion dollar industry.  People center their entire lives and careers around a single sport. Men lose their jobs when losing becomes a issue. Players lose their lives and their health when violence on the field becomes too much.  And in the case of Brian Stow, men can end up in a coma because a few fans took their allegiance to the team way too far.  Studies have shown that people are happier with their lives when their favorite teams are wining.  I can't deny that. In fact, I totally agree with it and have experienced it first hand.  The fall of 2008 was one of the most memorable for me in part because the Phillies won the World Series and Penn State had a nearly perfect regular season (thanks a lot Iowa).

Speaking of Philly and Penn State, our fans don't exactly have reputations for being perfect angels.  Stories of beer grenades, hurling batteries, vomiting and streaking have tarnished the reputation of our incredibly loyal (sometimes too much so) fans.  I find it interesting though the paradox this situation presents.  Fans who are often labeled as nasty and relentless tend to be some of the most faithful, devoted, passionate fans. So on one hand, they're vilified for their ruthlessness, but on the other they're glorified for their loyalty.  I'm not condoning the disgusting actions of certain fans, but I have to notice that certain fan traits that increase dedication, can increase acting out against opposing fans.  It's being able to draw the line between supporting your team and taking out an opposing fan that shows the sign of a great fan.  I hate to see situations like the one in LA with Brian Stow, and I hope this taught every drunken, amped up fanatic across the country to have some restraint next time they come face to face with a guy wearing a different colored replica jersey.

What's Wrong With The Phillies?

What's wrong with the Philadelphia Phillies?

Honestly, I can't believe I just typed that sentence. By simply looking at the standings, you'd think I was crazy.  But really, what's wrong with the Phillies?

I know, they're only one game out of first place. First place IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE.  Only Cleveland has a better record, and they're an AL team.  The Phillies have led the NL East all year, and will most likely continue to do so.  So why does it feel like this team is struggling so badly?  The offense has been pathetic.  Look at the run support from the past week since the game on May 14th against the Braves: 3 runs, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2.   That's 14 runs in 8 games!  After the first two weeks of the season, the Phils statistically had the best offense in baseball.  Since then, it's been one of the worst.   They've scored only 176 runs through 45 games, which is better than only 7 other teams.  Every other NL East team has scored more runs including the lowly Nationals.  However, the Phils rank 18th in batting average which leads me to think they're leaving too many guys on base.  And they aren't driving runs in with home runs (ranked 20th) they way they did in '08 and '09.  Only Polanco is hitting over .300, while Rollins and Victorino join him as the only guys hitting over .250. They're also dead last in doubles, which can be an excellent way to knock in runs and put guys in instant scoring position.

In 2008, their World Series year, this team prided itself on great offense. Howard, Utley, Werth and Rollins were some of the biggest threats in the league at the plate.  They didn't have Oswalt, Halladay or Lee yet.  Hamels was our only true ace that year.  

Really, everyone should have seen this offensive struggle coming.  They barely put any runs on the board towards the end of last season, especially in the NLCS against the Giants.  They lost Werth in the offseason, and Utley started the season on the DL.  Guys like Rollins, Victorino, and Ruiz have had injury issues throughout this young season.  And the guy who was supposed to take over Werth's vacancy, Dom Brown, has been struggling with injury issues as well, Just getting his first ABs this weekend.  Utley has finally rejoined the team, and is expected to make his first start tomorrow against Cincy. The team has obviously begun to age.  Our average starter is now in their early to mid 30's, which tends to be the beginning of the end for most ball players.  Lets just hope they can get it together for another season or two.

The saving grace for this team has obviously been the pitching.  This isn't a surprise to anyone considering the massive amount of pub they got in the off season after the Lee signing.  They currently have the second best ERA in the league, behind only Oakland.  They lead the league in complete games and in shutouts, and are second in strikeouts.  Unreal, phenomenal pitching stats. Apparently, this has been enough to offset our abysmal offense, but may not be enough come playoff time.  We can't expect to win every post-season game by a score of 2-1.  So lets hope the return of Utley and Dom Brown, and the benching of Pete Orr and Wilson Valdez will be enough to spark this offense. Just a tad. That's all I'm asking.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Office Will Be Fine

I feel as if I'm one of the few fans who's actually looking forward to the next season of The Office.  Everyone seems to be really down on losing Steve Carell.  Don't get me wrong, I loved Michael Scott as much as Dwight did, as well as every other devoted fan.  But this show has always been about an excellent ensemble cast and their never-ending supply of quirky character traits (or flaws or whatever).  The writers purposely sent Michael off to Colorado before the season finale so that the show could find its footing before the summer layoff, therefore keeping viewers interested.  I honestly think the mystery boss selection was a better season finale cliffhanger than a sappy "farewell Michael" episode that would ultimately just leave viewers upset and unexcited for another season.

Let me be clear about this.  The Office does not need Michael Scott as much as it's fans think it does.  The perceived success of the show in a post-Carell world will require the stubborn Michael fanatics to ease their belief that this show will no longer be any good. Obviously, Michael was the star of this ensemble, but the show has made a point over the years to develop every character, giving them their own story lines and allowing them to become grow and adapt.  After spending the first 6 seasons of the show in a minor character role as a one dimensional tough guy warehouse supervisor, Daryll has grown into a full fledged, rounded, sensitive contributing character.  Pam has begun to show she can create jokes, rather than simply react to them, proven by her Jim-like prank on Creed in the finale. And after changing his personality in nearly every season, Ryan has become a character that I can actually enjoy watching. His hipster vibe, nonsensical statements ( I want someone who can lead me when I'm in the mood to be lead) and sarcastic remarks (Oh no, Stanley, you're going to live forever) have finally made him hilarious.

The end of the season left any true fan of The Office with reasons to keep coming back:  The new manager, sexual tension between Andy and Erin, Angela's odd relationship with the (state) senator, and Creed's plot to destroy the branch (just kidding).  Yes, Michael Scott is arguably one of the greatest characters in sitcom history, but his fame (or infamy?) would have never found it's place without being part of a great show.  Since the announcement of Carell's departure, I've said that next season will most likely be it's last. I don't really want it to end, but I fear that rating may take a hit, causing the NBC Suits to panic and pull the plug.  However, the cast and writers seemed excited to face the challenge of losing Carell, and are probably really excited for next season, as am I. My only hope is that the show can live up to my expectations, and change the minds of the non-believers. If not, I'd be okay with the show coming to an end.  There's nothing worse than watching a show limping from episode to episode, hoping to make it another week. And even if next season is the last, I'll still continue to call The Office my favorite show of all time.

The Only Two Songs I Really Need On My Running iPod

If I needed an extra boost for my run, I could delete every other song off of my iPod except these two.  Seriously.  These songs are like audio Red Bull.

Happy listening.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When Did Ford Become So Funny?

I just spent the last 25 minutes or so watching the YouTube videos with Doug, Ford's new spokespuppet for the 2012 Focus.  I saw a commercial on TV the other day, and thought Ford might be making a mistake with this radical idea that might ultimately flop.  But after watching a few more videos on YouTube (that were far better than the commercial I saw), I couldn't get enough. I want more Doug videos.  In no way would I suggest he have his own TV show (like the disaster of a program the Geico cavemen had), but I can honestly say Ford has changed my perception on the Focus.  In the past, the Focus would not have even been on my radar when buying a car.  Now, I can potentially see it coming over the horizon. Not quite in my driveway, but getting closer.  These videos are far more than just a puppet and a guy bantering back and forth with some well timed jokes and bits about car features that are new to this year's model.  It's the beginning of a campaign to mold the image of a car that people were beginning to forget about.

Until the this economic recession hit, it seemed like Ford was losing it's focus (no pun intended).  Their cars weren't innovative anymore, they weren't bringing anything to the table that foreign carmakers weren't already doing better, and they had that annoying turn signal noise around 2007 (seriously, what was that?)  Then Detroit car companies started getting their act together. They stopped coasting along on the notion that Americans would always buy American, and they started trying again.  It began with making cars that American's would truly want to buy, but then it had to end with creating an image for their vehicles that Americans would embrace.  Chrysler is hitting out the park with their gritty Detroit, Eminem, "Made in Detroit" ads.  Now Ford is making an effort to appeal to young Americans with a social media campaign starring a hilarious puppet with surprisingly adult, yet smart humor.  If a company as old as Ford can embrace social media so boldly and successfully, it will only continue to throw wood on the social media fire.  Last year, Old Spice revolutionized the social media spokesperson with the week long video onslaught with the Old Spice Guy answering their follower's questions.  My co-workers sat in awe, amazed at what Old Spice was doing, and doing it so damn well.  Not every company needs to have a remarkable, memorable social media campaign, but if the future of advertising is social media, we can be sure to see a lot more social spokespeople (and spokespuppets).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

View From The Afternoon

I have a confession to make... I borrowed the title for my new blog.  However, I borrowed it from a song off of one of my favorite albums of all time.  "The View From The Afternoon" the first track off of the Arctic Monkeys' debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (which happens to be my favorite album of all time).  The song is about the intense anticipation you feel about the night you hope to have, the night you could only dream of having, and the night you will always remember (or completely forget).  But I won't limit this site to a collection of posts about anticipation and hope.  After all, a good post analysis is always needed every now and then.

As a media studies major, the media is always something that grabs my attention and deservedly so.  The media can be one of the most fascinating, quickly evolving, influential beasts on the planet.  It needs analysis. It should embrace harsh criticism. And it most certainly merit's praise when it produces something spectacular.  And when I say media, anything is fair game: entertainment, news, sports, social media, etc.

But at the end of the day, when the last out is recorded, and when the keg has finally been kicked, this is a personal site. It is a blog after all.  It should be a online representation of the way I view the world, not just a regurgitation of popular news stories.  I just hope to keep it interesting.