Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stop Telling Me to Forgive Chris Brown

You've probably heard by now that Chris Brown cried during the BET Awards broadcast Sunday night. In case you didn't see his emoto-show, I'll summarize: Brown performed in honor of the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death; he danced brilliantly to an MJ medley; he began singing “Man in the Mirror,” choked up, stopped singing, fell to his knees, shook his fist in the air and wept while the audience sang the song for him. Very dramatic, right? By Monday morning, of course, the blogs were buzzing with speculation about whether Brown’s tears were real or fake, whether they were in tribute to MJ or to show Brown’s contrition for the Rihanna incident. Each headline on the topic was basically identical to another. "Are we ready to forgive Chris Brown?" "Have you forgiven Chris Brown?" "Should the public forgive Chris Brown?" "IS IT TIME TO FORGIVE CHRIS BROWN?" Well, I don’t know about you, but Jermaine Jackson thinks it’s time. After the BET show, Jackson said, “People make mistakes, they need support, and he’s a wonderful performer.” Um, listen, JJ: you named your son Jermajesty. Jermajesty. So I can't take you seriously. And, more to the point, I am sick and tired of hearing about forgiving Chris Brown.

When Brown surfaced in 2005 with his first album and the single “Run It,” I was a huge fan. Seriously, and feel free to judge me on this statement alone, but I love that song. There were days back in the sweet innocence of ’06 when I nearly drove off the road listening to “Run It” in the car. And then, three years later, Brown beat up Rihanna, and that was it for him and me. It wasn’t a deliberate decision. It’s just that ever since I read about the incident, when I hear Chris Brown all I see is Chris Brown punching Rihanna. It’s involuntary. Sorry, Jermaine, but I tend to avoid music and people that make me wince. Also, after the incident, Brown unrolled the worst PR performance in the history of celebrity falls from grace. His apologies were late and entirely unconvincing. He complained during interviews and on Twitter about radio stations not playing his music. And then, in his most brilliant move since the fateful night, he Tweeted, “the [music] industry can kiss my ass.” It didn’t seem to me that Chris Brown was asking for forgiveness. This is all to say that I’m not in control of whether or not I forgive Chris Brown – he is. But, more importantly, who cares? Who cares if I forgive Chris Brown or if you do or if the person next to you does? What matters is that Rihanna and Chris Brown forgive Chris Brown. The question the media should be asking is, “Why did it happen?” What are the events and circumstances that put two young people in the positions in which Brown and Rihanna were? If we are going to put this sort of horror on display, we should get something progressive from it. So anyone who really cares enough to be mad at Chris Brown in the first place should be talking about why – and that includes Brown himself.

I’m not opposed to forgiving Chris Brown. I don’t think it matters, and I don’t think it’s likely, but I am most certainly not opposed to it. The BET Awards stunt isn’t going to get me there, though. If Chris Brown wants to use an emotional breakdown to persuade us to give him money (and let’s just be honest, that's what's really going on here), then he should tell us why -- why it happened, why he couldn't stop, why he shouldn't make me cringe. I’m not saying he owes the public that. He has every right to not tell us why. I have every right to not support his career. And you have every right to care or to not care. It’s pretty simple in that sense. So, Jermaine Jackson, please don't talk to me about forgiving him. Mind Jerbusiness and let Brown speak for himself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jillian Michaels's Hurt Locker

It’s body image madness in the media lately – all day, every day. It’s mayhem, people, mayhem. I’m not talking about old-school mixed messages, like those from Us Weekly, who put “Is Tori Anorexic?” on the cover one week and “How Kim Lost 10 Pounds in a Week” the next. I’m talking about a creepy, exploitative relationship between the media and eating disorders. This shiz gets ugly – just ask overeaters, who in recent weeks have been taking a beating in the media vs. food scramble, with Ms. Jillian Michaels leading the ill-conceived assault. You may remember Jillian from “Jillian Michaels Maximum Strength Fat Burner,” the pill that magically melts away fat. Or perhaps you’ve witnessed her work on the humiliation festival “The Biggest Loser.” Her latest attack comes in the form of her own show, “Losing It with Jillian Michaels.”

In fairness, I should admit that I have a "thing" about Jillian Michaels. I have expressed my frustration with her several times in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!” as well as in a column or two. So, yes, she starts at a disadvantage with me. Given how much time I spend enraged by her, I can’t in any good conscience watch her show, which is convenient, because I really, really don’t want to. So I hadn’t seen it until tonight. Unfortunately, I read two articles this week about how awful the show is, and I had to see for myself. I watched the entire episode. Bias or no bias, it’s bad.

“Losing It” follows the same formula every week: Jillian moves in with an unhealthy, overweight family for seven days, she works her magic on their emotional and behavioral issues, she forces them to complete extreme boot camp style work-outs, she yells in their faces, and there is a lot of crying. Jillian leaves after one week but returns two months later to “reveal” the family members, who (generally, I presume) have lost a lot more weight. Jillian is revered as a hero, she praises the family’s tenacity, and then there is more crying. Obviously, the process begs questions. How can anyone in one week address the myriad problems these families reveal? Why is she screaming so much? Isn’t it dangerous to start exercising at that intensity? I don’t have time for all of those, so let’s just talk about all the screaming. It’s an embarrassingly obvious shtick. In tonight’s episode, Jillian enters the scene with a discernable swagger and immediately antagonizes the group by saying, “Wow, I didn’t think one family could get me this pissed off in one day.” She was angry, you see, about the unhealthy, high-calorie lunch she watched them eat -- on camera, broadcast from their own kitchen. And it continues like that from there. Jillian berates the father, who has been depressed since losing his job, for “failing” at his workout. She yells insults as the family struggles to keep going. Then she forces the parents to talk about their marital and family problems in front of their 14 year-old twins.  As a result, all four end up sobbing as the children, who fear their parents will die, beg them not to quit, and the exhausted, ashamed parents break down at the horror of hearing their kids beg them to live. I think it’s a great idea for Jillian to strut into a family’s house all Terminator-style and force a huge, traumatic, emotional upheaval. Don’t you? Plus, nothing makes school more fun for a 14 year-old than having your peers watch you bawl over your sweaty parents on TV. Good call, Jillian.

It can be argued that the families are willing participants, so what’s the harm? They agree to be on the show; they know how it’s going to go down. Well, in tonight’s episode, the father was unemployed, both parents were morbidly obese, and the show gave them $50,000 plus Jillian’s services. So, is it exploitation on NBC’s part or opportunism on the family’s part? It sounds to me like a game of “How Much Is Your Pride Worth?” and I don’t care whose fault it is -- it’s gross. To an extent, I blame Jillian Michaels, because she is the self-proclaimed expert who puts herself in charge of the experience. I think she owes the families a little more than hasty pseudo-therapy and verbal abuse. Also, I wonder how the public would respond if Jillian were screaming in the face of an 80-pound anorexic woman. Sounds cruel, right? I guarantee there will never be a show like that.

Of course, Jillian Michaels is not the entire problem. It’s airbrushed models and liquid diets and fast food and “Celebrity Fit Club” and “The Biggest Loser” and my beloved/despised Us Weekly and more. But whichever end of the spectrum or part of the issue one looks at, whether talking about those who starve or those who binge, the problem is really the same: our society encourages a toxic and disordered relationship with food. I don’t know what should be done about it; I have my own issues. But I’m pretty confident that creating a public showcase out of people’s problems isn’t really helping the relationship any. That means you, JMic. Stop yelling.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Say It Isn't So, Mario

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and shamelessly again: I read a lot of trash. If you visit “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!” regularly, you know that I am a committed slave to gossip blogs. Hard to believe, but there was a time when there were no gossip blogs; back then, I survived on Us Weekly, “Entertainment Tonight,” and E! Entertainment Television. Those were “the lean years.” In 2005, my life changed when I discovered; that was the beginning of the Golden Age. I have been a Perez reader for five years now. In fact, just this morning I cited him as my source in “WTF?!” -- a funny if regrettable coincidence, because the big story on every other gossip blog was that Perez is in some deep shiz. It seems that the self- proclaimed “Queen of All Media” posted on his Twitter two nights ago an up-the-skirt shot of Miley Cyrus that revealed…let’s just say too much. And Miley is 17 years old. He took down the photo very soon after posting, but the damage was done, and Perez Hilton (real name Mario Lavandeira) now might be facing child pornography charges. Oops! His alleged felony has confirmed what I already knew: Perez is a creep; Miley is a disaster waiting to happen; and the kids are NOT all right.

Before I unpack this pop culture Greek tragedy, let me address my Perez hypocrisy, because one might wonder why I read Perez if I know he’s such a jerk. Well, at first, he was the only source of fast, accurate, and funny gossip. Yeah, yeah I know: “accurate gossip” is a wobbly concept. Just go with it, please. The point is, Perez was the first, and he remained the fastest for a long while. And until recently his worst offenses were jumping to conclusions and drawing phalluses all over celebrities’ photos. Since the first is basically the foundation of gossip and the second appeals to my pathetically immature sense of humor, he seemed perfectly harmless. But although the Miley photo is probably the most offensive thing he’s ever posted, it is not the first offensive thing he’s put out in the last year or two. So, yeah, I should have stopped reading him a while ago, but I didn’t. Take this moment to judge me, and then we’ll get back on track. Go ahead. Take your time.

So, Perez posted a photo of Miley’s private anatomy on his Twitter even though the singer is only 17 years old. Since then, he has come to his own defense, pointing out that Miley was in fact wearing underwear (as evinced by paparazzi shots from the same day in which her underwear is visible through her dress). Um, okay. So he posted photos of Miley’s bottom half that were Photoshopped to appear naked? STILL DISGUSTING, Mario. From a legal standpoint, it doesn’t matter; it’s just as punishable if the photo is doctored. From a moral standpoint, it is reprehensible regardless. Plus, Hilton’s attempt to neutralize the scandal only magnifies his irresponsibility and stupidity. In the video he posted on his website addressing the rumors, Perez is smug and scripted and wearing – wait for it – a fake fur coat and no pants. Way to show your remorse, jackass. At the end, he clarifies that he posted the photo of Miley because he “thought she was exiting the car in a very unladylike fashion,” lathering the words with sarcasm and smirking. Did I mention he isn’t wearing pants? Watching the video, I really felt compelled to punch him in the face, but one can’t waste a Macbook Pro on a D-List celebrity with a penchant for drawing penises on Jennifer Aniston.

And then there is Miley. Oh, Miley. Let’s face it; Miley hasn’t acted like a kid in some time, and her age-inappropriate antics are everywhere you turn, every time you look. I am pretty sure that even Perez would not have posted an up-the-skirt shot of Dakota Fanning or Demi Lovato or Taylor Swift -- which is not to say that HIlton’s disgusting post was in any way Miley’s fault. I mean, I’ve made a bit of a hobby out of insulting Miley and her pole-dancing, nonsense-spewing, lap-dancing ways, but Miley is not the problem. Her parents and the other adults in her life are the problem. They have been marketing her as a sex object for a couple years now. Her father actually defended her pole dancing and her lap dancing, and her mother seems to do little more than tag along to awards shows. The last time a young, female star was so obviously pimped out to the world by her parents and management, the result was a bald Britney Spears attacking cars with an umbrella. Evidently, one cautionary tale is not enough for some people. It is NOT Miley’s fault that Perez exploited her the way he did. However, her parents, her management, and the other adults who support and encourage Miley’s  media-ready sexuality all get a slice of the culpability pie. Perez Hilton is not the only one doing something wrong. Miley’s career for the last two years has been, in essence, child pornography.

In his blog, Perez regularly disparages Miley for her overt sexuality. He even refers to her as “Slutty Cyrus.” Evidently he hates seeing Miley exploit herself, but he’ll be happy to do it for her. That’s cool. It’s a scary world we live in where a 32 year-old man posts photos of a 17 year-old’s naked bottom half on Twitter. It’s even scarier when the 17 year-old is being paid to dance on a pole with her parents’ support. Miley and her people want us to know she’s just a wild child – you’ve heard her new song, right? She “can’t be tamed.” Look, I was 17 and couldn’t be tamed, too, and I ended up grounded. Someone isn’t doing his or her job at Camp Cyrus. As for Perez, he deserves to be prosecuted. And, at the very least, everybody needs to put some pants on.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What the $%#* Happened to MTV

I hope I don’t scare anyone with this confession, but…I was born before MTV. Yes, that means that I remember when phones needed cords and cameras needed film. But more importantly, I remember when MTV was awesome. There hadn’t been anything like it before. It was huge. For better or worse, depending on who you are and how you look at it, MTV dramatically and forever changed the music industry. Obviously, the people at MTV knew it would; the first music video ever aired on the station was for The Buggles’ song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” And it did. MTV was a game-changing, star-making, generation-defining phenomenon. Now, however, it is literally and figuratively a big pile of *&%$.

I watched “The MTV Movie Awards” this weekend. I’ve watched the show every year since it began – and that was in 1992. Evidently they’ve run out of ideas, humor, creativity, something – because the preferred gag of the night was the F-bomb. There were over 100 “bleeps” during the show as the censors struggled to keep up with the profanity. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with foul language. In fact, I have a mouth like a truck driver’s. That’s not the point. The point is that when you can bring nothing to the table but three hours of cursing, you’ve lost your edge. And MTV has lost not only its edge, but its way. There was a time when it was about music and music videos. If you are near a TV right now, tune it to MTV. Is there a music video on the screen? Is music even playing? Probably not. It’s more likely that Snooki is doing a shot or Heidi is trying to get her frozen face to move. When one considers the programming that has dominated MTV for the last two decades, it becomes clear that rather than focusing on music, MTV has been focusing on the degradation of society.  Let’s look at some of the &*%$ , in addition to Sunday’s awards show, for which the station is responsible:

“The Real World”
This show was the blueprint for people-behaving-badly programming. Reality TV owes its life to “The Real World.” The roommates have been drinking, fighting, hating, puking, hooking up, bullying, breaking laws, indulging addictions, and showcasing personality disorders since 1991. So the next time you wonder where The Real Housewives learned how to act, look no further. Thanks for that, MTV.

“My Super Sweet 16
You have to be 18, I think, to be on “The Real World.” Evidently, MTV wanted to provide a model for younger people who enjoy acting like complete jackasses, so they created this gem. If you haven’t seen the show, each episode features one very wealthy birthday girl or boy who spends the entire show begging for a BMW, threatening her parents, and telling the unpopular kids at school that they aren’t invited to the party. Want to be on MTV? Treat people as poorly as possible, and you’ll get your own episode! Teenagers welcome!

“16 and Pregnant”
Sometimes greedy and materialistic just aren't enough, you know?

“The Hills”
One word, people: Speidi. With “The Hills,” MTV decided that spontaneous, bad behavior (like that on “The Real World”) wasn’t enough, and they started scripting the interpersonal drama under the guise of reality. “The Hills” not only elevated reality TV to a new level – completely contrived – but it also gave birth to a whole crop of famous-for-nothing saps on society. Now, thanks to “The Hills,” Lauren Conrad is a published author and Spencer Pratt is a millionaire. I’m pretty sure those are two definitive signs of Armageddon.

“Jersey Shore”
I like to think of this one as MTV’s piece de resistance. Having clearly given up on plot lines, proper English, and any semblance of productive behavior, MTV now pays people to drink, go tanning, and feed into cultural stereotypes. Hey, MTV, when your stars call themselves Snooki, J-Woww, and The Situation, it’s time to take a long, hard look at what you are putting out into the world. Just saying.

Sunday’s awards show is a pretty fair representation of what the station has become – just a lot of $%@#. As a member of what is referred to as “The MTV Generation,” I’m sad. But, you know…every empire falls. I’m not sure where MTV can go from here. I mean, what is the next step after Speidi? I think it might be time to retire, MTV. Video killed the radio star. And that’s cool. Let’s not kill any respectable place you have in pop culture history. Cut the %&$%, okay?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I'm Not Mean; That's Just My Avatar

Few things put fear in my heart like the wrath of a teenage girl. If you went to school, you know what I mean. Some time around 7th grade, all the girls sprout wings and drop fangs and enter into a world of hate. They hate their parents, their school, that girl, this shirt, her shoes, his voice, those jeans, and you. Before I go any further, let me say that of course I have met some pleasant, charming, middle school girls. Of course. But I was not one, nor did I know any when I was in middle school. My boss has a daughter who is one – a sweet, middle school girl. No, really. I’ve met her. She’s positive and loving and gracious. But, you know, she’s still in sixth grade. Full of light though she is, I wouldn’t turn my back on her; the proverbial shizzit could hit the fanizzle any day now. Horror aside, though, I empathize with the plight of the teenage girl. It’s hard business, that adolescent female stuff. Hormones and pimples and cramps, OH MY. It’s no wonder they turn on everyone – and they turn on no one more viciously than they do each other. In the epic journey through identity formation, girls take no prisoners. They are wont to decimate the self-esteem of every girl in their paths, if only so that their misery has company. As a girl, I can tell you there is relief in adulthood. Sure, some girls are still competitive and catty, but at the very least the behavior is subversive. Or, shall I say, it was. The fine folks at Facebook, in partnership with Playdom, now bring us “Sorority Life,” a role-playing game that offers you all the hate and hazing you enjoyed from middle school to college, in convenient Facebook form. Yay!

Here’s how the game works: Players choose and outfit their “Sorority Life” avatars and then spend real or game money (usually the former) to accumulate better clothes, flashier accessories, makeup, and boyfriends. Yes, one purchases boyfriends. Then, to rise up the ranks of fake sorority members, a player puts herself on a virtual runway with two or three other avatars so that the community of players can vote for the “girl” who is hottest. To gain even more status, a girl can fight another girl. In a "Sorority Life" fight, one player challenges another to a showdown. Their avatars are displayed next to lists of their assets, and whoever has the most (outifts, boyfriends, etc.) wins. And make no mistake; the game is all about trying to be the hottest chick around by publicly attacking and shaming other girls based on what they are wearing and how much stuff they have. There is no effort to disguise the agenda. Christa Quarles, CFO of the game’s manufacturer, Playdom, told,  “It’s as simple as an ‘I’m prettier than you are’ type of thing.” Great. But none of this is really shocking, right? Girls are mean, blah blah blah, and they like to harass each other on social networking sites, yeah, yeah, we know. Here’s the kicker: According to Quarles, of the approximately 700,000 daily players of “Sorority Life” on Facebook, the great majority are women over 35. Whaaat?!

My first reaction to the age of the players was this: What in the name of all that is good and holy would make a 35 year-old woman spend time and money animating herself so that she can prove her avatar is hotter than other avatars? It made no sense. I read the post over a week ago, though, and since then I've thought about it quite a bit. First of all, I need to lighten up, right? It’s a game. Look at "Grand Theft Auto." Plenty of grown men spend countless hours pretending to be felons who kill people and hire prostitutes. What’s worse? And why am I surprised that people like to recreate themselves online? Remember the early days of chat rooms, when “I’m a 20 year-old Olympic swimmer” translated to “I’m the creepy guy talking to himself at the bus stop?” Look at online dating sites, where every couch potato who subscribes to Mad magazine lists “mountain climbing” among his hobbies and War and Peace as the last thing she read. But, um, "Grand Theft Auto" is gross, chat rooms are creepy, and lying about yourself on isn’t exactly a banner for your intact self-esteem.

My point is not that “Sorority Life” is the worst thing that has ever happened to our civilization. No, no, no. We have Miley and Speidi and The Housewives to destroy us. And, I’ll admit, a lot of online competition is lost on me. I always pick on Farmville, and I am still trying to figure out why anyone tries to be “Mayor” of a restaurant on Foursquare. You do know that you’re not real mayors, right, Foursquare-ers? So, maybe it’s me. I am not asking anyone to start a revolution. I don’t think “Sorority Life” warrants bloodshed or a boycott or anything. Rather, I just ask that you consider what the F is going on when adult women choose to pretend they are catty sorority girls. Come on, ladies. Weren’t the real “mean girls” days bad enough? Let’s save Facebook for what it’s good for, thinly veiled narcissism and sanctioned voyeurism. We’re grown-ups, after all.