Archive for August, 2008

Project Runway redeemed as Shear Genius dies!

Wow, last night’s episode “Fashion that Drives You” really surprised me. Maybe I’ve been underwhelmed by the designers this year in general, or maybe there were just too many to begin with – the gradually ballooning cast has now expanded to an attention-span-stretching 16 self-involved creative types. I think my impressions of the show have also been tainted by its proximity to the sheer horrors of Shear Genius which I foolishly watch every week right afterwards. It really says something when someone like me who knows nothing about cutting hair and could easily be blown away by a well-cut bob is bored week after week after week. Perhaps it is no coincidence that my first real wow moments and lasting impressions on Project Runway for this season happened on a night when I decided to forgo Jaclyn, Kim and the gang.

In any case, I think the cast on Project Runway has finally been whittled down to those who have a consistent and interesting sensibility. In my estimation the judges have done a great job of getting rid of the duller designers quickly and without incident so I can forget them entirely and focus on falling in love with Korto and her repeatedly “africana,” but repeatedly flawless work. Check out her unreal coat dress made of nothing but seat belts. Good lord. I was going to post last night’s winner, the bustled number from the adorably introverted Leanne but it just doesn’t look as amazing in the photos.

Anyway, my picks for the final three are Leanne, Korto and Kenley. It would be out of character for the producers to select three women, but they’re all interesting, consistent and totally different so I’d be into it. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Suede or Terri in the final. In the next couple weeks I expect to see Jerell, Blayne and Joe get the axe. They’ve all had moments of greatness, but mostly just boring crap.

Here’s hoping that the season continues to impress. I can’t imagine it could get worse now that Shear Genius is officially over. The only thing I’ll miss about SG is my weekly fascination with the bizarre facial expressions of the omni-ethnic master colorist Kim Vo. Although he’ll surely continue to have many more crack-infused appearances with Debbie Matenopoulos on E!’s Daily10, so I won’t shed too many tears.

Hey Jesus, Can You Turn Your Chin to the Left

Last night I  watched a great program on photography (“The Genius of Photography: Right Place, Right Time” – on Ovation TV). You can see a short clip from the show on photographs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki at this link. In a different part of the show, one of the interviewees shared a quote about the power of photographs that stopped me cold with it’s profoundness. I’ve since discovered that it’s actually quite a famous quote and I should probably be a little embarrassed that I’d never heard it, but I’ll share it with you just the same.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

It’s by George Bernard Shaw, the uber-prolific turn-of-the-century Irish playwright, novelist, critic, etc. and goes a little something like this: “I would willingly exchange every single painting of Christ for one snapshot.

First of all, don’t you agree? I certainly do, and I would venture to guess that most people would at least consider it. And that’s just shocking when you think about how many times Christ has been depicted in art through the last 2000 years. That’s a lot of precious artwork to cast aside for just one polaroid. But a picture is different than a painting isn’t it? That was definitely the point in the documentary, photographs are more real, more convincing, somehow more compelling. But I think the point of the quote is really about Christ. If you replaced his name with some other historically significant figure who we only know through art, like Queen Elizabeth I, George Washington, or Cleopatra, I don’t think we’d care as much. Personally, I’d be really disappointed to find out that Cleopatra didn’t really look like Elizabeth Taylor (Note: see comments below for clarification). I think we’re all cool with the reality of those people with or without photography. But I think in most of us there’s some seed of doubt as to who Jesus really was, if he was real at all. And for most people with a Christian background, there would be major vindication in seeing a real photograph of God.

Don’t get me wrong, if there was a picture of Jesus, the debate over its veracity would probably start world war III, which I think would pretty well negate any warm fuzzies in the hearts of a small number of Christians. But isn’t it interesting to consider how that would change the way people see and think about Christianity? Maybe more fun to consider, if there was a picture of Jesus, what would you want him to be doing in it? Would you want a picture of the virgin birth? If so would you stage a “gather round the manger scene” or would you want graphic obstetric photos proving Mary was a virgin at the time of delivery? Would you want a photo of the crucifixion? If so, would seeing him on the cross be enough, or would you need to see him dead after the spear wound? Or would you rather just have some random candid photo of Jesus chillin with his peeps in downtown Damascus? Maybe a myspace-style self-portrait where he’s holding the camera out to photograph himself? It’s so interesting to me because every one of those photos would be hugely significant culturally.

Well, to end this exploration I’ll leave you with this artistic rendering of the J man posing for a mentos ad. It’s possible that this might be the one kind of photo of Jesus that would actually be disappointing.

Chick-fil-A’s for Christ

Well, my friends, I just discovered that one of my favorite fast food dumps has a mission that has nothing to do with food. Chick-fil-A, the home of yummy pickle-adorned chicken sandwiches, is owned and operated by an aggressively Christian family who’s corporate mission at Chick-fil-A is to “glorify God.” I’m all for glorifying God, and I’m all for chicken, but there’s some shady business dealings going on at the CfilA.

Franchise operators at CfilA are subject to intense scrutiny over their faith, marital status and other characteristics irrelevant to an individual’s ability to do work. It’s legal for them to do it because franchise operators are independent contractors and are not protected by the equal opportunity laws that protect normal employees. The founder and chairman of CfilA, S. Truett Cathy, has been quoted as saying he would fire an employee or operator if he “has been sinful.”

Chick-fil-A has been sued 12 times for employment discrimination, but the company shows no signs of slowing. The annual turnover for hourly employees is only 60%, compared with 107% industry average. Last year’s business-wide sales were over 2.3 billion dollars at over 1,300 locations in the US (including one delicious location in the Coralville mall). This is a big big company, with a very restrictive way of doing business.

So how does it work? Cathy claims that one of the keys to success is working using a Christian approach. He says, “You don’t have to be a Christian to work at Chick-fil-A, but we ask you to base your business on biblical principles because they work.” I’m not sure where the Bible dictates proper methods for chicken sales (and “be nice to people” doesn’t count – Jesus doesn’t own that intellectual property), but it does seem clear that one of the Christian approaches used is that of rigid exclusivity. I grew up in a veritable buffet of assorted evangelical Christian churches, where being a Christian meant you get to go to heaven when everyone else (Jews, Buddhists, Hinduists, Muslims, Pagans, Athiests, and other generalized sinners [which includes me according to the evangelical set]) goes to hell. Jesus is the only way to heaven – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” – everyone else can suck it (with respect to Kathy Griffin of course). Similarly at Chick-fil-A, there is a strong sense of being a member of a club for those who belong. Interviewing for an operator position at CfilA can be a year-long process taking over 15 interviews, and you can still be rejected for not having the right (legally vague) “fit.”

Exclusivity works great for those who fit and share the collective’s mindset. For those who don’t fit, there is a constant sense of being watched. A Chick-fil-A operator who didn’t participate in a prayer at a corporate training event was fired the next day. He sued and the case was settled out of court. I feel that same sense of being watched when I’m in church. I feel like no one believes that my faith is authentic because it’s not as exclusive as theirs, I feel like they are watching and waiting for me to make some kind of gay mistake so they can be validated in their wholesale disregard of anyone who is different.

My response to these vibes at church has been to just not go. I have a living faith in something much bigger than me. I think I’m smart enough to not try to put a name on it and claim to know everything. I know that the cultural language of Christianity is what I was raised on, and it’s what speaks most plainly to my life experience and my heart. And that faith does just fine without the judgment, politics and self-righteousness of the church-going elite. In fact, I think my faith is better and stronger this way. So should I not go to Chick-fil-A for the same reasons? Well, if I felt persecuted by the 16-year old who gave me a sandwich, then maybe not. But it doesn’t seem that Chick-fil-A has any problems taking money from those who are not members of the 700 Club. As long as they don’t ask me to join their prayer groups, and as long as the Coral Ridge Mall food court continues to offer slim pickings, I’ll probably eat the occasional Chick-fil-A. Does that make me a hypocrite? No, I’m just doing my best not to be exclusive. 🙂

Elephant Cams

I was watching Animal Planet today and they had a commercial for an upcoming special on Tigers and they said that there would be footage from the first ever “Elephant Cams.” Naturally I assumed that I misheard, because I seem to do that a lot, but sure enough, there they came on the screen – elephants with cameras strapped to their faces. That’s crazy. I’m not sure what bugs me more about it, the actual idea of instrumenting animals with bulky cameras or that the elephants are doing it for a special about Tigers. I would be pissed if I had to wear a camera 24-7 for a TV show about someone else. I think I’m going to Tivo it just to see if I can be proved wrong. We’ll see. I think it’s ridiculous.

I just found this youtube video of a abcnews report on the elephant cams.  I still think it’s ridiculous.

Reality TV Dissected

I spend a lot of time watching reality TV. We all do. Who hasn’t lost a Saturday afternoon to a COPS marathon or fallen off to sleep to the soothing tones of Janice Dickenson berating one of her models? Jason and I had a night of reality TV on Bravo last night, we watched Project Runway and Shear Genius. Why we would choose to watch them back-to-back in the flexible age of the DVR is unknown, but watching the two side-by-side made it very clear that some reality shows are just better than others. Maybe it was most striking because here are two shows that have a very similar message (fashion and hair are amazingly cool and translate well on TV), audience (women and gay men), contestant base (women and gay men) and celebrity star power on the B+/A- list level. Jaclyn Smith may be C list now, but she was full-on A list back in the day, and Kim Vo, well he’s no Michael Kors bubbling over with sarcasm and bile, but you’ve surely seen him on some horrible segment on E! News where you found yourself terrified by his face. Who could have even recognized Michael Kors pre-Project Runway?

Anyway, this awareness of the stratification of reality shows into the good, the bad and the ugly made my mind wander to all the other reality shows out there. Which ones are good, which ones are train wrecks and why? I did some investigation of the science of reality television and found a nice breakdown of the different types of reality shows on Wikipedia. What I present to you here is a summary of that breakdown and some examples of high points and trainwrecks within each category.

Documentary-Style

Special Living Environment

Pure voyeurism – people placed in a unique environment with a bunch of cameras and not much to do. Hall of Fame: Big BrotherI can’t speak for the current season of BB because it started in the middle of our move, but this is a great show that is successful on a global level. There’s just something about hamsters running on a wheel that people everywhere love. Hall of Shame: Real World – although it claims to have invented reality TV, this show has been degraded down to one of the most boring shows on TV in recent years. There’s all kinds of shows that I hate, but everyone else likes. I think everyone is starting to realize what a colossal waste the Real World is now.

Celebreality

Celebrities followed by cameras blurring the line between fact and fiction, fame and success… Hall of Fame: Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-Listone of the most stage-y of the celebreality programs, but that makes it one of the most successful. The banality quotient is reduced significantly by a purposeful attempt to setup and tell a story with each episode. Kathy Griffin may have openly begged for the Emmy, but it was deserved. Hall of Shame: Hogan Knows Best – I’ve never seen an episode of this show that didn’t make me angry AND bored. It was only made worse when it became clear that this show was actually a platform for the Hulkster to launch the careers of his largely undertalented children. It’s The Osbournes without the humor.

Professional Activities

Shows which follow a business or professional in their day-to-day goings-on with widely varying results. Hall of Fame: COPSthe longest running reality show ever was and continues to be successful because of its in-your-face portrayal of a whole other side of society most of us only see occasionally at the gas station. Let’s face facts, this show is not about COPS, it’s about crazy people and their disconnection from reality. Hall of Shame: Blowout – this show was so terrible for so many reasons, not the least of which was the self-proclaimed celebrity of leather-fleshed lead stylist Jonathan Antin. Episode after episode showed his inability to work professionally with others, lack of leadership, utter soullessness (see any episode where he is in a therapy session) and simultaneous inexplicable rise to greater success in the LA hair market. I hate you Jonathan Antin.

Elimination/Game Shows

Dating-Based

These shows have a long history going back to the Dating Game and Love Connection. Recently they have adhered to a strict formula of group dates, solo date passes and rose ceremonies. Hall of Fame: I Love New York 1 and 2I know there are a lot of Tiffany “New York” Pollard haters out there, but the best thing about her shows was her over the top persona and of course the incomparable Sister Patterson. The tone of the show followed suit and did not take itself seriously – a key to success in the world of televised speed dating. Hall of Shame: All Bachelor/ettes – right down to the one-on-ones with uber-bland host Chris Harrison, this show takes itself way too seriously. Every year the contestants claim to have fallen into a magical love in just hours of face time with the chosen bachelor. You never see that kind of deliberate self-deception on I Love New York. Also, I just want to say that for this category of show, a two-hour season finale is NEVER needed.

Job Search

This is probably the most successful format of the reality genre because it does actually display talented individuals and their crafts. It is compelling to see behind the scenes of your favorite industry and to see the future stars of that industry discovered. Hall of Fame: Tie to Project Runway and American Idolboth shows have been wildly successful in their own ways, Project Runway by establishing Bravo as more than just a junky cable arts network, American Idol by dominating the world and making us love and hate ourselves simultaneously. Answer me this, has a season of American Idol ever gone by where you didn’t get chills from a performance one week and then two weeks later wonder why you continue to subject yourself to the torture of phony Coke commercials, “after the break”s and unfunny inside jokes? Hall of Shame: American Inventor – the winner of this show invented a crazy baby car seat that was basically a free-spinning egg that kept baby from getting slammed around by just allowing it to spin indefinitely in the egg chamber. Seriously.

Fear-Based

There’s not much to say about these shows. Sort of like Candid Camera with the emphasis on scaring people. Hall of Fame: Scare Tactics – one of the few great SciFi originals. The show was at its best in the Shannen Doherty-hosted first season. Who wouldn’t want to punk their friends into thinking they are being abducted by aliens or being sprayed by chemical mutagens and then laughing in their face. Hall of Shame: Celebrity Paranormal Project – unfortunately this show just wasn’t scary. It was just celebrities going into haunted locations and pretending to be scared. I still regret making my brother and sister-in-law watch this at our house. I hope they don’t think we actually watch shows that bad all the time.

Self-Improvement/Makeover

These shows are widely varied in the topics they cover, but always involve some kind of sad case, a down-to-the-wire transformation and an emotional reveal. At their best they are inspiring, at their worst they are boring and predictable. Hall of Fame: Tie to The Biggest Loser and Flavor of Love Girls: Charm SchoolI’ve never seen a season of The Biggest Loser that didn’t make me cry and thank god for my fast metabolism at least once. Huge personal transformations with the utmost sincerity. And there is the steadfast hotness of trainer Bob Harper. Charm School on the other hand had largely insincere transformations but the characters on the show were unbelievably funny. Chatar’s yarn-y wig and cha-ching sound effects when she batted her lashes kept me in stitches for weeks. Hall of Shame: Sadly, this dishonor goes to TLC’s While You Were Out – the manbeauty of host Evan Farmer was not enough to redeem this show and its frequently unfinished lackluster transformations. The premise is cool, but the rooms usually looked cheaply done (a la Trading Spaces) and you always got the impression that the designers might have actually been actors who spent a week working at Home Depot for “training.”

There are more categories to discuss, i.e. sports competition, social experiment programs, multi-season cast competitions, but I honestly can’t imagine that anyone would want to read more. Please comment on your best and worst reality shows! Also, I welcome your disagreement on any of mine. I really could talk about this all day, so bring it on!