Friday, March 09, 2012

The draw of being a celebrity

“'Cause when you're a celebrity, it's adios reality. You can act just like a fool; People think you're cool just 'cause you're on TV.” - Brad Paisley
I've mentioned previously that I've never been one to be impressed by celebrities. I figure most of them are even more messed up than me, so why should I admire them. A portion of them have talents that I do not have, namely the athletes, but many of them do not. Yet still they become celebrities, mostly because they can get other people to pay attention to them. Now I have no real problem with getting attention. I think most of us feel the same way. But it's what you get attention for that you may cause you to rethink your goal of being famous.
If your name is Kardashian, apparently that gives you a free ticket on the Celebrity Express. This comes despite the lack of any discernible talent, aside from being able to grow and maintain a large posterior. Reality shows have upped the number of celebrities into the ka-jillions, with the only real distinguishing characteristics being the ability to follow a map, to choose from among 25 potential spouses or to survive an immunity challenge. But let's move past the world of reality television and instead focus on another medium -- the Internet.
Do you know how many Internet celebrities there are? Alright, neither do I, but let me tell you it's more than you might suspect. The Internet has opened the doors of the Celebrity Express to anyone with a PC and a camera or a webcam. The first Internet star I can recall was Cindy Margolis, who was billed as the most downloaded woman in the world. Forget for a minute the possible double entendres of that statement and focus with me on the fact that a woman whose sole marketable talent is looking pretty can become a “celebrity” on the Internet.
My sons are avid followers of a couple of Internet celebrities who inhabit cyberspace through videos posted on YouTube. One of them even “moved up” and was a contestant on a reality show (fittingly enough) for one season. But the shows are typically about playing video games or their own naiive takes on news events presented in a style reminiscent of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update skits.
But it's not just the kids who are turning assorted computer geeks into “celebrities. I was talking to a woman the other day who is nearly my age who admitted to me that she is always checking to see if new videos are posted by a certain woman who demonstrates makeup. Apparently the video-maker has plenty of followers who feed on her every suggestion.
Other YouTube “celebrities” do other ground-breaking things like point a video camera inside their dresser drawers and describe the items inside, often with language that would make a sailor blush. Amateur filmmakers produce parody videos skewering anything hot in the world of pop culture. And the videos become popular, and the video-makers become popular, and eventually turn into Internet “celebrities.”
The old commercial used to ask, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” but I am asking, “What would you do to become a celebrity?” Display your drawers and their contents for millions upon millions to see? Perform feats of idiocy to get people to watch? Play video games and tell people what you think about them? Well, those things have already been done, and who knows how many of their 15 minutes of fame still remain.
But I wonder why someone would want to be a celebrity in the first place. Interviews with real celebrities that I have heard have also included tales of being chased by photographers, being never given any privacy in a public place (including the rest room), and being nearly assaulted for not stopping to talk with every person who recognizes them.
Who needs that? Then again, the same celebrities talk about never having to wait in long lines, getting free food and other special goodies, and being given respect despite their poor behavior. So maybe it's time to dust off the video camera...

Friday, March 02, 2012

Don't try to wiggle out of this one

Who knew the world of children's television programming could be so brutal, so cruel, so... wiggly?

Word out of Australia is that the original Yellow Wiggle is coming back to take over the part from the Replacement Yellow Wiggle. Of course I realize many of you have no idea who The Wiggles are. I also realize that another large percentage of you are pretending not to know who The Wiggles are but you were forced to listen to the songs and watch the TV shows and videos with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or kids who wandered through the house. But for those of you who truly have no clue, The Wiggles are a four-man group of children's performers from Down Under who have made approximately $578 ka-jillion by singing silly songs and making funny faces at kids. Not bad work if you can get it, eh?

These four guys dress in four different colors -- Anthony (the Blue Wiggle), Murray (the Red Wiggle), Jeff (the Purple Wiggle), and Greg (the original Yellow Wiggle). And while my daughter was an infant through preschool age, these four kids crooners were consistently on the TV in one form or another. And I will admit, that I much preferred The Wiggles singing about Fruit Salad (Yummy, Yummy) than listening to the rantings of a purple dinosaur.

Then about five years ago, the Yellow Wiggle, Greg, had to retire from the group for health reasons. He had fainting spells (which can scare young kids watching their favorite performers in concert) and had such chronic pain that he could only walk using two canes. That does make it hard to wiggle. However now, Greg appears to be back in good health at age 40 and is ready to Wiggle for Dollars once again. But the thing is, while Greg was on the sidelines the group hired another guy to be the lead singer and Yellow Wiggle.

Sam was not only the Replacement Yellow Wiggle, but apparently he wasn't given that lucrative of a deal to pull on the yellow shirt. Of the $578 ka-jillion, Sam was apparently making minimum wage or some such nonsense. He was on a salary as terms of a contract. The reported salary -- $200,000 annually. Certainly I'd take that paycheck for wearing a yellow shirt and singing songs about hot potatoes and the pirate Captain Feathersword, but it's not exactly an equal share of The Wiggles' bankroll.

Now, with Greg again donning the color yellow, Sam is a free agent, dumped back into the unforgiving market of singing and dancing about remembering to wear a sun hat in the summer. And now the backbiting has gone public, with the powers within The Wiggles organization (the Head Wiggler perhaps?) calling poor Sam “a hired hand,” and references to Sam being mocked as the Salaried Wiggle have surfaced. All the silliness makes it sound as if those in The Wiggles organization are perhaps no more mature than the dancing four-year-olds they have been singing to.

I hope it hasn't always been this way. I hope Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Moose weren't snickering at the hem on Mr. Green Jeans' green jeans. I pray that the teacher from Romper Room wasn't making young girls cry by making fun of their hair bows. And I certainly hope that Alan and Daphne didn't leave Shaggy and Scooby-Doo to rot in jail on drug charges because all the sandwiches in the Mystery Machine were eaten by a pair of munchie-ridden beatniks. Maybe the world of kids television has the same motto as that toy store: “I don't want to grow up.” But with my children out of range of these shows, I guess I'll have to wait for grandchildren to give it some further study.

Snow days are different

As I write this, my school-aged kids are home instead of having knowledge crammed into their brains. Why? It’s a snow day. Well, not exactly snow, but you know what I mean. School was closed and the juvenile world celebrated. Oh, so did the teachers and school staff and bus drivers and others. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a surprise vacation! But the whole routine just seems so different than when I was the school boy wondering if it would snow enough for the powers-that-were to call off school.

First of all, back in my day (just picture me leaning back in my chair, putting my thumbs in my suspenders and gripping an old pipe in my teeth for this part), we didn’t get days off school unless the weather was really bad. These days, with everyone threatening to sue a school district for any little things, superintendents have to be far more conservative about sending buses and student drivers and parents out on the roads. When I was a kid, the administrators relied more on experience -- meaning if they could drive to school without experiencing a ditch or pole firsthand, school was on!

A friend of mine whose wife is a teacher wrote me today that since school had been cancelled, he was taking his beautiful wife out to breakfast. I responded with something about it being too awful outside for school, but apparently not for breakfast! He responded that he had to run to town anyway, so he might as well bring some unexpected company!

Of course in my boyhood, if school was called off, it was because no one without a military tank or a snowmobile could get to the building! The rest of us old folks all remember the Blizzard of ‘78, the Winter of ‘79, and countless other seasons that didn’t rate special commemorative names. Most of those times, the question was not if school would be cancelled, but how many days in a row would it be cancelled.

Also, the way we learned about snow days is so much different now than back then. This morning I got three separate text messages informing me that my kids were delayed, further delayed, and finally cancelled. The most work I put into finding out was to reach for my cell phone on the nightstand.

Back in the day, we used to crowd around the radio as the announcer on WOWO or some other station would read the list of schools where kids could play all day. The list would be long, especially on WOWO since there were maybe 100 school districts reporting there. We waiting anxiously, hoping against hope that this time they weren’t reading them alphabetically when they forgot to read off my district.

There are so many ways to find out about cancellations today. Sure there is radio, but there is also the crawl at the bottom of the television channels, school websites, radio and TV station websites, signs in front of the schools, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. The kids today don’t get to experience near as much anxiety in the wait.

When I worked in radio, we took the calls from the school big-wigs who got to call off school. Calls from people asking about school delays and such came in on the same line. And yes, there were the occasional kids who tried to cancel their own school day. Do-it-yourself snow day! The problem was, the school administrators were all given a code that had to be repeated when calling in a school announcement. So when the kid would call, trying desperately to sound like an adult (and fooling no one), and tell me that the city school system was closed for the day, I would just have to ask, “What is the code?” After a few seconds of stammering, the line would go dead. So much for the do-it-yourself snow day.

I saw plenty of kids out and about during the Thursday snow day in the county. They weren’t snowed in. They weren’t trying to dig their way out of the house to make a snowman. They went out for breakfast and lunch, and went shopping. On a snow day! It’s just not like it used to be.

Poking my head out

Six more weeks or right around the corner? Even after Groundhog Day I really don’t have any idea. And I’m still not sure why we pay attention every Feb. 2 to this bit of silliness. Sure it gives us an excuse to watch the classic movie with Bill Murray as a weatherman stuck in serious rut in time, but why do we look to the animal known alternately as the whistle-pig or the land-beaver to clue us in to meteorological matters?

Yesterday, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter. At the same time, from the weather-forecasting capital of Ohio (Marion, in case you were wondering), comes Phil: The Sequel, better known as Buckeye Chuck. Ohio’s entry into rodent prognostication has been active since the 1970’s and was deemed official for the state since 1979. And at the crack of dawn yesterday, Chuck, apparently still rubbing sleep from his eyes, saw no shadow. So Chuck the woodchuck declared winter to be just around the corner. Who’s right? Will we need a no-holds-barred cage match to decide when spring is to arrive? Well, of course not. Spring will show up when it’s good and ready just like always. The calendar says March 20, but we’ve heard that one before, haven’t we?

Phil was first asked to predict the onset of spring in 1887 and has been doing it ever since. (We must all pretend that the life expectancy of this certain groundhog is somewhere around infinity.) The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club takes care of the varmint throughout the year and hauls him out each February for the annual event. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the routine. But in checking the statistics, yesterday’s shadow sighting was pretty predictable. Of all the years (1887-2010) with records kept, the rodent called Phil has seen a shadow 99 times and did not see his shadow 15 times. I guess it’s a safer bet to predict more winter at the beginning of February than to go out on a limb (or whatever it is groundhogs would go out on) and predict an early spring. With that in mind, Punxsutawney Phil’s accuracy record should be pretty impressive, right?

Uh, not so much.

One study proved that Phil’s forecasting was correct a grand total of 39 percent of the time. If you narrow the predictions to more recent years, 1969-2010, the accuracy of the famed whistle-pig drops to 36 percent. And when you consider that Phil has only two choices -- spring showing up Feb. 2 or March 15 -- he’s really not doing well. Flipping a coin should get you a 50 percent rate. Now before you complain about the accuracy of human beings predicting the weather, let me tell you that one person from the National Weather Service who let himself be quoted for some odd reason admitted that if the NWS has it right 60 percent of the time they consider that good. I realize that most people would love a job where you can be wrong 4 out of 10 times and still be employed, but then again most people wouldn’t like a job where they have to predict the future.

I find it interesting that for both Phil and Chuck, the handlers check for a shadow right at sunrise. If I was ever up at sunrise, I doubt I'd have enough energy to cast a shadow, let alone see one! But at least they don't have to adjust for Daylight Savings Time or leap seconds or anything else.

So instead of awaiting the grudge match between Buckeye “Give me spring!” Chuck and Punxsutawney “Make more cocoa!” Phil, I will patiently await the arrival of 70 degrees during this faux winter we've been having. I figure the tough part of winter will be right after that.

Dressed in high collars and tails

I've always been an animal lover. And for the most part, animals have always loved me. Currently I care for three dogs, three cats, and a kitten, but the total has reached well into double digits at varying times of my life. I'm the guy that grumpy barking dogs want to sit close to, and the guy that moody cats like to rub up against. I believe that animals like me because of one factor. I do not dress them up in funny costumes. Animals can sense this sort of thing, and I'm sure they recognize me as being a non-costume owner.

Now, if you are one to put a hat on your dog, I have no beef with you. Just realize that sometimes the pet may not be as happy about being festive as you are. Perhaps ol' Lucky actually likes his little baseball cap that you strap on his head every so often. More power to you both. And perhaps, you even have a cat, bird, hamster, or marmot that enjoys donning their gay apparel. I'm happy for you. However, for every pet who is a closet clothes horse (so to speak), there are likely dozens who consider the ritual of dressing a mild form of animal abuse. I am their advocate.

If you are on the Internet even a fraction of the amount of time that I spend there, you have seen countless “cute” photos of pets dressed in all sorts of clothes. Many of these pictures are kind of cute. There's a pug dressed like Raggedy Ann, a black lab dressed like Zorro, and a cocker spaniel wearing the blue gingham dress of Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” I'll admit, I chuckle at most of those pictures. But then I look into the eyes of the pooch in the costume and I see a profound sadness. It's the same look that Ralphie had on his face in the movie “The Christmas Story” when he was standing at the top of the stairs in that pink bunny outfit. It's the look that says, “Has my life really become this meaningless to become the laughingstock of the neighborhood? I hope no one sees me wearing this!”

Dogs are easy to dress up. They handle the physical movements of putting legs into sleeves, etc. better than other animals. Like cats. I have never tried to put any of my cats into any type of clothing, but I cannot imagine coming out of the process without blood dripping from numerous parts of my body. Cats are temperamental anyway, why would you want to add to the poor animal's mood swings by putting a bonnet on it? Birds never really seem to be better-behaved to me either. Maybe a nice docile rabbit or guinea pig, but I doubt any of them really enjoy it too much.

But the thing is, people don't stop at putting Superman capes and Elvis-style sequin jumpsuits on their hounds, they design all sorts of humiliating costumes for the canines. While many of the costumes show great imagination, I sincerely doubt that Fido has much appreciation for how much work went into the making of the costume that makes him look like a taco or a hot dog with mustard, or the Sphinx. Perhaps the worst picture I've seen is the one featuring a pathetic looking black and white hound wrapped in a corrugated cardboard contraption made to look like the starship Enterprise from “Star Trek.” While the general shape of the spacecraft is cardboard, mounted above the fuselage (or in this case, Rover's back) are four beer cans poised to resemble warp-drive engines. There is a clever combination of intelligence, white trashiness, and geekdom all rolled up into this costume. But the look on the dog's face makes me want to call the ASPCA. It actually goes beyond heartbreak to something like, “I'm going to kill you in your sleep.” And what jury on earth would convict him?

And so, speaking on behalf of my friends, the animals, please put away the hats and wigs, the bonnets and the bridal dresses, and above all, the cardboard and the beer cans. The life you save may be your own.