Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shameless: adj. see: Weiner, Anthony

It seems that former Congressman and current New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has once again been caught engaging in the very behavior that led him to resign from Congress two years ago. Weiner has refused to drop out of the mayor's race, his wife is once again standing by him; it's now up to the voters of New York City, of whom I am one, to decide Weiner's fate.

This feels more appropriate than how it went down last time, when Weiner immediately resigned on the assumption (most likely on the part of his handlers) that he would not be re-elected; I'm not so sure that's true, and by re-entering politics so quickly after the his resignation, Weiner clearly feels what he did was not so awful that it couldn't (or wouldn't) be forgiven. This time, since Weiner enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls just before this second scandal broke, there will literally be a referendum on the relevance of a politician's peccadilloes on his fitness for office.

I will not be voting for him.

I have no objection, on a moral level, to his habit of sending south-of-the-border selfies and extra-forward text messages to women not his wife. It's an old saw by now, ever since the Clinton-Lewinsky contratemps, that nobody knows the true parameters of a marriage except the people in it, but it's an old saw because it's true.

It's entirely possible that Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, has always known about his tendency to use a keyboard as a means of self-pleasure and given her blessing. For all we know, she could have a nasty puppy-on-kitten fetish porn problem, and they chose each other with the agreement that each would allow the other their idiosyncrasies without judgement. Far stranger marital arrangements than that have celebrated golden anniversaries. Dickpix and I'll-do-you-so-good texts wouldn't fly in my marriage -- not even if they were directed at my wife -- but that doesn't give me the right to assume the same of anyone else's.

The fact that he lied about these correspondences also doesn't really bother me. Of course he lied about them, they're enormously embarrassing -- the flexing pectoral shots even more than the sheathed sword shots. (You've got to admit, he's got a nice piece.)

The idea, as some have floated, that he's some kind of online predator taking advantage of starstruck (for lack of a better word) young women also doesn't move me; there's no evidence that he's directed any of these sonnets at anyone under 21, and there's no evidence that he's had any real-world contact of any kind with any of these women. They're old enough to consent (if not to know better), and in the absence of a blue dress or any kind of evidence that he did any more than solicit some long-distance ego-stroking (which he then converted into short-distance self-stroking), I don't have any real problem with it on this level either.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I draw a distinction between online activity and real-world activity. Just as shooting someone in a multiplayer game of Call of Duty is not real-life murder, neither is writing sexy messages to someone you have no intention of ever meeting real-life cheating.

In general, I don't believe that the sexual habits of consenting adults with other consenting adults, be they straight, gay, bi, poly, out, closeted, monogamous, or extracurricular should be any kind of factor in what they can or can't be hired (or elected) to do.

So if I don't have a problem with what he did, and agree enough with his politics that I would probably have voted for him if the election had been last week, what's the problem? Why not give him my vote for mayor? If nothing else, it would be fun to watch the Post and the Daily News use him as a scratching post every day.

I didn't necessarily feel that Weiner needed to resign from Congress two years ago. I thought what he did was super tacky, but it had no real relevance to his duties. I wasn't out in the street demonstrating on his behalf, and I wasn't the least bit upset when he did resign, but if he had stayed that wouldn't have bothered me either.

Whether you feel that he should have resigned or not, though, one thing is undeniable: when it came out, it created a giant shitstorm, a shiny new ball for the media to chase like a first grade soccer team, crowding out any discussion of any other issue and effectively making it impossible for Weiner to function in the job.

So, after having witnessed firsthand the worst-case scenario -- sexts and dickpix going public, wife humiliated, media shitstorm, resignation from Congress -- the fact that this guy would continue in the exact same behavior, after promising on live television to make sure it never happens again, is just baffling to me. It is the very definition of "shameless."

It's not that he did it. It's not that he did it and got caught. It's that he did it, he got caught, and then he did it again, knowing exactly, from direct experience, the ruinous consequences of getting caught. It points to a fundamental lack of impulse control and a startling naivete: did he think he wouldn't get caught again? Did he think people were tired of making fun of him? Did he think that THIS starstruck 22-year-old would be the one that wouldn't, ahem, expose him?

Maybe he thought that he was out of politics for good, so why not go ahead and enjoy what he enjoys? That would be fine, but it also shows a very peculiar lack of self (selfie?)-knowledge. He's been chasing the mayor's office for his entire adult life, and always saw the Congress as a steppingstone to City Hall. His blustering speeches on the House floor, particularly those about health care, showed an almost supernatural self-assurance, which is a close cousin to ambition, which has coffee every morning with narcissism, and none of them let you stay out of the spotlight for very long. I knew the day he resigned that Anthony Weiner would be back in politics. I would have given it five years, but I knew he'd be back.

How could he not know he'd be back? Does he not know himself at all? Does he completely lack the ability to think ahead?

This guy doesn't belong in City Hall, he should be in a psych ward. He doesn't need a shrink, he needs a team of them, working around the clock, only on him. They should devote an entire wing to spelunking his bottomless well of self-delusion.

A couple of great speeches about health care just don't outweigh crisis-level vanity, poor decision-making, the impulse control of a child left alone with a can of frosting, repeated lying, and a total lack of self-knowledge. Maybe these yawning character deficits could be overlooked in the Congress, where he was one of 435 members that never do anything anyway, but I do not want someone like that in charge of my city. Shit happens here!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Win A Date With Dzokhar

My Twitter feed today has been chock full of outrage. Not outrage about the Zimmerman verdict -- Zimmerman verdict outrage is sooo three days ago. No, today everyone's outraged because Rolling Stone magazine, which is apparently still a thing, put (alleged) Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev on its cover.

How can Rolling Stone treat a terrorist like a rock star? Doesn't this send an awful message to people, like all they have to do to get on the cover of Rolling Stone is plan and execute a bombing in a highly populated public place? Why did they have to use such a dreamy picture of the guy?

These are the kinds of questions people are asking about this cover. I have some pretty strong feelings about it myself, if total indifference can be described as a strong feeling.

First of all, this is not the first time anyone's seen Dzokhar Tsarnaev's face. It was plastered all over the place for weeks at the time of the bombing. Any of the many representatives of the Free Dzokhar community (which shares over 98% of its membership with the Daddy Issues community) that wants to moon over him does not need to go to a newsstand to do it.

Also, I think people may need to readjust their perception of Rolling Stone's cultural reach, circa 2013. I certainly used to be a devoted reader, from the late '80s to sometime in the mid-'90s, and I admit that I hung more that one Rolling Stone cover on my bedroom wall as a kid. But does anyone still read it? Moreover, does anyone still read it in print? I want to say that I haven't picked up a Rolling Stone in ten years, but I just remembered that's not quite true: I bought one at the airport right after Adam Yauch died. The tribute to Yauch was lovely, but I was struck by how wheezy and sweaty and desperate for relevance the rest of the magazine felt, like a 59-year-old man in skinny jeans talking about the new Kanye album.

Look at the rest of the cover. There's Dzokhar, looking dreamy with his tousled curly hair, but check out the other stories: On the bus with Willie Nelson; Jay-Z's 'Magna Carta' Stumble; Robin Thicke, Pretty Fly For a White Guy; Gary Clark Jr, Reluctant Guitar Hero.

So the supposed standard-bearer for youth culture and hip influence is trumpeting the inside scoop on an 80-year-old country singer, an aging billionaire's 15th rap album, and in the tagline for the story on the top-selling artist of the moment references a song that peaked at #53 fifteen years ago. Pretty cutting-edge stuff.

A little light Googling reveals that Rolling Stone ranks 53rd among American magazines in terms of circulation, just below Self and just above Golf, selling an average of 1.4 million copies per issue. The United States population is 313 million. Rolling Stone does not have a ton of cultural reach anymore, is what I'm saying.

Here's the thing, though: I don't buy Rolling Stone anymore, but I do read it online from time to time. Not for stories about Robin Thicke or Mumford & Sons, because quite frankly I'm 40 years old and long since out of touch with the music of the moment.

On the rare occasions that I read Rolling Stone, I read it for its news and political reporting, principally (but not only) by Matt Taibbi. Some of the best long-form journalism I've seen in the last several years has been in on Rolling Stone (dot com). It's the tail that is increasingly wagging the entire dog at Rolling Stone.

If they have an indepth feature about how this smart, good-looking, popular kid somehow went off the rails and became an accomplice in a pointless act of domestic terrorism, that's an article I would be interested in reading, and it's clearly the most interesting thing Rolling Stone has this week, so why wouldn't they promote it? And is there a better way to promote a story about Dzokhar Tsarnaev than with a photo of Dzokhar Tsarnaev? I'm sorry he's got such a beautiful head of hair and such bewitching bedroom eyes, but that's not something any of us has any control over. Should they have drawn a scary-looking artists' rendering? Or maybe darkened his skin, like Time did to O.J.?  It's not like the photo is captioned "Win a date with Dzokhar," or "Dzokhar talks about the girl that broke his heart." It calls him a monster. Hardly an endorsement of his deeds.  

It seems like some people are worried that putting him on the cover glamorizes what he did, or glamorizes him personally, so that people may be more sympathetic to him because they find him so irresistably attractive. I would argue that anyone who can be persuaded by a pretty face to condone or excuse or deny the maiming and shrapnelling of innocent people -- of knowingly leaving a bomb right next to a small child -- is someone whose problems run deeper than anything a magazine cover could either cause or solve.

Anyway, this doesn't bother me at all. I don't find it in good taste or bad taste -- It achieves exactly the magazine's intent, which is to make me aware of the article and want to read it. Maybe I'm made of stone, but the fact that the kid is handsome does not make me any likelier to join the jihad.  (I might blow him, but only after making clear my loyalty to the U.S.)

I don't presume to tell you how to feel about this cover, but if you really are bothered by it I'd suggest voting with your dollars and not buying it, not going to, and most importantly not posting your outrage about it all over Twitter and Facebook. Because nobody pays attention to Rolling Stone anymore -- indeed, nobody pays attention to anything anymore -- unless everyone's hollering in outrage. I never would have known about it without the outrage, so I guess I should thank you, outraged Internet, because I just read the first few hundred words of the piece and look forward to finishing it.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Don't Hire A Movie Star For A Commercial Voiceover

Once upon a time, it was considered unseemly for TV and movie stars to appear in commercials. It seemed to cheapen a celebrity's mystique, to bring them down to Earth, to make them less than the inhumanly beautiful Gods and Angels walking among us that we (and they) so desperately need them to be.

(A notable exception to this unwritten rule has always been actresses and shampoo commercials, maybe because they only amplify and underline their beauty and mystique.)

But this arrangement came at a terrible price (for the celebrities): a literal price, in the form of all the millions of dollars the celebrities were not earning to appear in commercials. Can you imagine the pain a millionaire must feel having to leave more millions on the table to do almost nothing but smile, hold up a product they don't use, and say a line or two of forgettable ad copy?

For quite a while, there was an easy workaround to this problem: the stars would appear in commercials overseas, that would only air in Japan and never in the U.S., thus preserving the illusion that the stars were above such craven concerns as amassing wealth, while simultaneously allowing them to amass wealth.

All the big movie stars did it. But at some point along the line, maybe because of unfavorable exchange rates or something, all those millions of Yen and Rubles and Euros ceased to be enough for the movie stars. So they found another way to have their cake and eat it too.
I don't think I have sat through a commercial break in the last few years that didn't have at least one A-list celebrity doing a voiceover for a commercial. Julia Roberts for Nationwide Insurance. Jon Hamm for Mercedes. Ed Harris for Home Depot. John Krasinski for eSurance. That guy from Entourage for Best Buy. Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, John Goodman, Gene Hackman, and even George Clooney are but only a few of the voices I have noticed during commercial breaks, and these are just the ones off the top of my head.
Now, I don't care if celebrities do commercials, and I care even less if they do commercial voiceovers. I'd just like to point out to whoever's underwriting these ads that having a movie star read the voiceover copy is distracting to the point of undermining the ad completely.
Because it becomes a game: how quickly can I identify the voice in this commercial? My wife and I have turned it into a contest. (A contest she's never won and never will because she's not really interested, but I enjoy it.) You're still listening, but you're listening in a different way. You're listening to the character in the voice, not to what it's saying.
What I don't understand is what the perceived advantage is, from the point of view of the advertiser, in using a celebrity voice but not identifying it. Is the idea that the audience will unconsciously trust the familiar voice, even if they don't place it?  Because that's not how it goes. How it goes is, I hear a familiar voice talking about insurance. I realize that it's the voice of Julia Roberts, who not long ago was the biggest movie star in the world and routinely commanded $20 million plus per picture. I think to myself, "Julia Roberts is doing commercials? Has her star fallen that far? Even if it has, can she possibly be worth less than $150 million? How much money does she need? I guess she has kids, so it makes slightly more sense, but still... and insurance? Shouldn't she be shilling for a luxury car or a high-end vacation destination or something?" Etcetera etcetera. Whatever she wanted to tell me about insurance might as well be pops and clicks. I'm sure there are reams of marketing research on this topic but to a layman like myself, it looks like you're paying ten times as much as you would for some unknown voice whose generic everyvoice would be more effective in getting your message across because the audience wouldn't be a) straining to figure out who it is or b) wondering why they're doing it.
Face it, movie stars, the jig is up. You're whoring out your enormous, bottomless personal integrity and unknowable mystique to sell useless crap no one needs. And that's fine! I've got no problem with that. I'd probably (definitely) do the same thing. Just own it. Show your face. Most of us know it's you already, and the ones that don't are missing out on the fascinating details about how it's never been a better time to lease a a 2014 Mercedes because they're trying to figure it out.
Or wait! Here's an idea! You can still do the voiceovers, but use one of those voice-changers like they use for ex-Mobsters that want to participate in Mob documentaries but don't want to be identified. That way, everyone wins: You get the cash, the advertisers get the prestige of having you in their ads, and the audience gets to fully absorb how much better eSurance is than regular old snail insurance.