Archive for the 'Media' Category

06
Mar
10

The Power Duo of Lopez & Gonzalez

My wife and I were driving down the Sunset Strip when we were taken aback by one of the area’s numerous gargantuan billboards. To our horror, leering over us was the mugging face of comedian George Lopez. The enormous ad promoted his talk show or an upcoming movie or something else low-class that he’s involved in.

My wife looked at the billboard and said, “I don’t know if anyone has ever been so successful with such little talent.”

I was going to nominate Madonna for that distinct honor, but we have agreed to disagree about her. Still, my wife had a point about Lopez.

He is not particularly funny. Yes, I’ve seen worse attempts at humor: Pauly Shore, late-era Chevy Chase, and the movie “Revenge of the Nerds II” spring to mind. But the appeal of this Mexican American comic has always mystified me.

As if to compound my low opinion of his abilities, the very next day, I read this disturbing fact: New Line is planning a live-action/CG feature film of Speedy Gonzalez. The fleet-footed rodent will be voiced by none other than George Lopez.

Lopez and his wife, Ann, are producing the movie, which indicates that this misguided project isn’t just a work-for-hire but some kind of twisted labor of love.

I’ve written before about the love-hate relationship that Hispanics have with Speedy Gonzalez. Among other things, the fact that he is quick and clever is outweighed by the inescapable symbolism that he is a thieving rat.

Ann Lopez acknowledges Speedy’s problematic image. She says the movie will be modernized so that the character is “not the Speedy of the 1950s – the racist Speedy.” She further adds that the film will have “the Latino seal of approval.”

For some reason, I’m not filled with confidence by her assertions. But perhaps we should just give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the movie will be charming and funny and poignant. Perhaps it will provide an insightful look at Hispanic culture. Hell, let’s just predict that it will be brilliant and win twenty-seven Oscars.

After all, how can it go wrong with the guy who voiced “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” onboard?

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17
Nov
09

So I Guess We Have Three Years to Live It Up

I have to finish this post quickly, before the world ends. At the very least, I have to wrap it up before 2013, when it will not only be irrelevant but even more embarrassing for the paranoid among us to read.

As you are no doubt aware, the blockbuster movie “2012” is currently assaulting filmgoers across the country. The film, which grossed more than $65 million on its opening weekend, is a disaster flick about the end of the world. The plot revolves around the ancient Mayan “prophecy” that we will all be obliterated on December 21, 2012. This is the date on which the Mayan calendar ends. Ergo, we’re toast.

This supposed prophecy was also referenced in the series finale of “The X-Files,” only then it was the launch date for the ultimate alien invasion or something (seriously, does anybody remember what that show was about at the end?).

In any case, I hesitated to even write about this movie, as I certainly don’t relish dishing out free publicity to moronic Hollywood flicks. I do have to admit, however, that the visuals look pretty cool. Apparently, my new hometown of Los Angeles gets obliterated in spectacular fashion:

My problem with Roland Emmerich’s film isn’t its absurdity or farfetched plot or cardboard characters – none of which I can actually verify because I haven’t seen the movie (call my impression an educated guess). And it’s not that I’m oh-so-above these big-budget popcorn flicks and watch only obscure Hungarian dramas about beet farmers. Check out my DVD collection for proof of my affinity for car crashes, huge explosions, and zombie attacks.

No, my issue is that “2012” pillages an ancient culture, deliberately misrepresents its traditions, and then claims its all true. More important, it taps into the serious vein of crazy that we have in this country.

We would like to believe that the “2012” stew of new-age hokum and cynical commercialism appeals solely to undiscriminating viewers and guys who hope their dates will jump onto their laps during the scary parts. However, the film’s central premise has already found a huge online following of people who are convinced it’s rational.

Perhaps this is not surprising in a culture where the theory of evolution appears to be open to debate, and a new September 11 conspiracy arises every month. But this latest strain of paranoia can have repercussions.

David Morrison, a senior scientist with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, says in a “National Geographic” article that he’s received emails from people who “were contemplating killing their children and themselves so they wouldn’t have to suffer through the end of the world.”

Of course, that’s an extreme reaction. Or perhaps it’s just the most effective way to avoid seeing another movie from the director of “Godzilla.”

The point is that it’s fine when a film tells us that Martians are coming or computers have became sentient or a synthetic virus has turned everybody into cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. But don’t insult people and get the nuts riled up by insisting that these wild scenarios are based on fact.

That the filmmakers are distorting Hispanic culture to give the movie some kind of old-school legitimacy is vexing. In actuality, the Mayan calendar’s exact meaning is open to debate. But its status as a doomsday clock is purely an American invention.

As the “Onion” points out, the real Mayan prophecy is that this movie will end any respect we have for John Cusack’s acting career. That prediction is far more plausible.

11
Nov
09

In Jeopardy

I recently wrote about the study in “Freakonomics” that showed white contestants on game shows were more likely to discriminate against Latinos than against blacks. The more I’ve thought about this study, the more that it begins to make sense to me.

You see, over the past decade or so, I’ve tried out for several game shows – not because I have any desire to appear excitable on television, but because I’d like the cash. It helps that I have an affinity for trivia. Really, you would want me on your team on quiz night at the bar, because I know a lot of useless shit.

Now, when it comes to the tryouts, I’ve always passed the written or online test (by the way, the “Jeopardy” one is a bitch). But the follow-up, the in-person interviews have gone about as well as a blind date between Condoleezza Rice and Michael Moore. Not once have I been called back to appear on the numerous shows on which, according to the test results at least, I would theoretically kick ass.

When I first started trying out, I figured that my rejections were because a long-haired guy in his twenties was too odd for primetime. Even after my look became more, shall we say, conservative, however, I failed to make the cut. So I presumed that I was just too stoic or reserved for tv.

But now I have proof. I’ve seen guys mellower than me on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” I’ve watched as contestants have floundered over gimme questions like “Who is the only U.S. president to earn a PhD?” (Woodrow Wilson, but you knew that already).

I mean, some people have come across as truly thick-headed:

Yes, I’ve had it. The next time I try out for a show, I’m informing the interviewer that this one goes out to La Raza.

That should work.

24
Oct
09

Entering a Symbiotic Relationship

Not too often do I encounter multiple Latino-centric stories just days apart. But this bonanza of attention occurred this week. The reason is not happenstance, or a strange cosmic alignment, or even the majority culture’s abrupt realization that Hispanics aren’t going away anytime soon.

No, it’s because Soledad O’Brien has a book to push. The CNN correspondent has talked her parent company into rolling out the “Latino in America” series as part of her media campaign. The series has been going for awhile, but it hit its full stride this week, garnering a couple of banner stories on their website.

Now, I don’t know much about O’Brien. I watch as little television news as possible, because I can feel my IQ points dropping whenever anchors introduce more screaming heads to discuss politics. As such, I’m not qualified to to question O’Brien’s motives. But it’s clear that Latinos are getting a tiny spotlight only because it’s convenient for a major corporation, which is distasteful, or at best, a cynic’s delight.

However, I’m going along with this ploy because some of their stories are actually pretty interesting. Rest assured that I’m not selling out. Oh, you’ll know when that happens, and it’s going to be sweet! But I digress…

In the here and now, I just want to point out that the CNN series gives updates on a couple of stories that I discussed in the previous months. There is more on the killing of Luis Ramirez, an immigrant bludgeoned to death in the street in Pennsylvania.

We hear about how Hispanics are the present and future of the Catholic Church, as if I hadn’t mentioned this fact months ago. Of course, CNN neglects to mention that this future may be short-lived as younger generations become less religious, but I’m sure that will be covered at some other point.

In addition, a few of CNN’s articles intrigued me enough that I may write separate posts about them in the coming weeks. I will refrain from going on, however, about the silliest article in the series. Under the bizarre headline “Americans More Familiar with Latinos,” we discover that “a new poll indicates that two-thirds of those surveyed now say they have at least some contact with Latinos.”

This makes me wonder about the one-third of Americans who have no contact with Hispanics, as well as ponder if we’ll see headlines proclaiming that Americans have finally accepted black people. Perhaps that will be in CNN’s next series.

29
Aug
09

Seems Clear to Me

This one comes courtesy of our friends at Fail.org (a damn funny site).

fail-owned-latino-allowed-fail

No, there isn’t some organization out there with a master plan to combat the obesity epidemic by ostracizing Hispanics. A cursory examination of the picture shows that the word “Eating” was vandalized to change it into “Latino,” leading to the racist non sequitur.

I’d like to say that the sign indicates deep-seeded sociological problems, but it’s probably the work of some bored teenager who got tired of defacing the instructions for hand dryers (yeah, changing “press button” to read “press butt” never got old…). As such, it means little, but makes for an attention-getting picture. It’s worth noting, however, that the perpetrator used white-out, which is a heavy-handed way to make a racial point.

In any case, before we try to figure out why both “food” and “eating” are prohibited (what else is one to eat other than food?), let’s address a more pressing question: Is the act of drinking, or black people, allowed past the sign?

04
Jul
09

The Great American Melting Pot (?)

You will not catch me dissing “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Like all good Gen Xers, I grew up with the infectious tones of the Saturday morning series permeating my brain. Before I could stop it, “Schoolhouse Rock” told me how a bill becomes a law, informed me that zero is my hero, and explained how an interjection shows excitement or emotion (and starts a sentence right!).

Kids of the last twenty years have matured with a serious gap in their educational and cultural knowledge. Plummeting test scores and rampant student apathy will not end because of laws like No Child Left Behind. For that, we need the immediate return of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

However, despite its emphasis on objective facts and wholesome entertainment, the series thrust itself into controversy on occasion. Well, actually, on just one occasion, and even then only in retrospect.

I’m talking, of course, about the segment titled, “The Great American Melting Pot.” As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s take a look back at this dash of 1970s patriotism set to a soul groove.

One of the lesser known segments of “Schoolhouse Rock,” the segment features a pitch-perfect spokesinger extolling the virtues of immigration (no, really… she does), who then explains how America is a mixture of different races and ethnicities. The singer also belts out uplifting lyrics that praise liberty and the fact that any kid could be president.

Watching it now, however, one has to wonder about the accuracy – and even the appropriateness – of “The Great American Melting Pot.”

Is it a call to racial harmony and an appeal to the common roots that ninety-eight percent of Americans share (i.e., immigrant forefathers?) Or is it a trite, jingoistic anthem created in troubling times that is even less relevant now?

Of course, this isn’t about “Schoolhouse Rock.” The big question is whether the great American melting pot ever existed. And if so, were the perimeters of this ethnic kettle – in reality – confined to Europeans, the occasional Russian, and Jews who changed their last names?

The answer that one gives, and the passion that he or she conveys while giving it, says a lot. What really makes it interesting is that the question doesn’t lend itself to easy left-versus-right debates. Both liberals and conservatives can praise or lambast the melting-pot metaphor, based upon their perspective.

Some liberals love the melting pot for illustrating the quest for equality and the concept that every ethnic group, no matter how recently arrived or troubled, contributes to the American Dream. Or they hate it for its simplistic demand that people drop their customs and heritage to adopt “American ways,” which are inevitably defined by an inflexible majority culture.

Meanwhile, some conservatives grow misty-eyed at the melting pot for enforcing the old up-from-the-bootstraps idea and the supremacy of American society. Or they loath it because it implies that the government should acknowledge languages other than English and that people can’t just shout “Merry Christmas” at everyone.

So which is it? Can the melting pot be both innocent ideal and vile subversion? Is it both inspiring metaphor and insufferable indoctrination?

It shouldn’t be this difficult. We live in a post-racial society, after all… right? We’re supposed to run around yelling, “Hey everybody, it’s the achievement of Martin Luther King’s dream!” But clearly, even looking at thirty-year-old cartoons can prove vexing to that plan. We still struggle with the very idea of what it means to be American. One has to wonder if we will ever come to an answer.

In any case, regardless of your opinion of the segment, and the whole idea of an American melting pot, there is one thing that all Americans can agree upon:

“Conjunction Junction” flat-out rocks.

12
May
09

On a First-Name Basis

In my previous post, I wrote about my love of baseball.

No sooner had a I written it than Manny Ramirez – that highly talented, hulking, crazy-eyed freak show on the LA Dodgers – got himself banned for fifty games for taking performance-enhancing drugs.

MannyRamirez1

There’s a whole debate over why certain efforts to gain an edge – popping fistfuls of “vitamins” or sleeping in oxygen tents – are ok, but injecting a liquid is a punishable offense. We can look deeper and examine the themes of hypocrisy, American hyper-competitiveness, hero worship, and misguided priorities. But I’ll leave that to the sports bloggers.

What I found interesting is that when the news broke, it was “Manny” this and “Manny” that. It reinforced my observation that white sports stars tend to be referred to by their last names. Hispanic and black athletes, however, are often called by their first names.

If this is true (and the evidence is only anecdotal), is it a sign of disrespect or a display of affection? Does it mean anything at all?

I first noted this about a decade ago when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were in their epic homerun race. The references to “Sammy” were ubiquitous, while I don’t recall anyone calling the St. Louis slugger “Mark.”

Similarly, in debates of greatest pitchers of recent history, there’s a lot of talk about Clemens, Johnson, Maddux… and Pedro (as in Martinez). Even when the white athlete has an uncommon moniker (I’m looking at you, Chipper Jones), he usually gets the last-name treatment. That’s not always the case with, say, the very troubled Ramirez (as we see here).

Perhaps this is all just overanalysis. But at the very least, maybe some sociology grad student out there can use my observation as the basis for a dissertation. Just give me credit for the idea.




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