To New Graduates, Especially the Artists

[Warning: Bad Words, but hey, we’re talking to artists, aren’t we?]

Most graduation speeches are optimistic, painfully so, because graduation is terrifying. You are moving into another stage of your life. The next, precarious stage. That one that doesn’t end until you have kids. And a house. And life insurance. And cable. The order is up to you. I’d go with cable though. You’re going to need a distraction.

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A Field Guide to Summer TV: Wednesday

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday! (Apologies for the delay. My to-do list expanded, as it often does when moving house is involved.) But I’m here now, (and on Los Angeles time, no less) ready to get back in our Jurassic Park style safari vehicle. I can feel that water surface vibrating right now. Let’s find some T-Rexes.

If "Falling Skies" had more dinosaurs, I'd like it a lot more.

8 PM – Those Adorable Dinos That Kind of Remind You of Littlefoot

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A Field Guide to Summer TV: Tuesday

So you’ve figured out Monday, set your DVR, Hulu queue, etc. And you got ready for Tuesday, only to find out that the USA network and ABC Family have jumped into the mix. And there are some hard hitters to deal with.

[Note: I’m only including new, narrative television, so I won’t be taking on Teen Mom. You’re on your own for that kids.]

Tuesday’s Child is Atmospheric and Sophomoric (In the Best Way)

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A Field Guide to Summer TV: Monday

Hello intrepid Lemoners! I see you’ve been crawling through the wilds of summer, swatting mojitos and drinking mosquitoes. Strike that. Reverse it. Anyhoo…

Yet another terrible heat wave has hit the Midwest and East Coast, and I want my readers to stay cool and entertained. How? Find some air conditioning, a drink with an umbrella, and watch some summer TV. The afternoon is easy. Either you’re by the pool or in the office or watching HGTV, but how do you decide when everything’s at 9 and 10 PM, set up against each other?  Let’s make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Monday’s Child Is A Little Bit Geeky, But Stronger Than She Looks

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Lillian Explains the Nielsen Ratings (Or How You Too Can Play “Charlie”)

At an industry panel at Carnegie Mellon, just before we graduated, someone asked why shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, American Idol, and Two and a Half Men remain on the air while more adventurous and artistic fare (anthologies, Pushing Daisies, Better Off Ted, etc.)  gets slowly shunted to the side and eventually canceled. The magic answer, folks, is advertising money, or rather, how those advertisers choose the shows they back: the Nielsen Ratings.

How It Works

You’ve probably heard the term “Nielsen Ratings” flung around at some point. It’s how networks claim the “#1 Drama on Television” “#1 Comedy Block on the Air,” etc. The Nielsen households are a set of about 25,000 homes throughout the nation that have “Set Meters” attached to their televisions. These Set Meters record what is watched by the household and send that data through the phonelines to the Nielsen company, an advertising consulting firm.

Not everyone has Set Meters. You would know if you did. When the Nielsen Company calls, the first thing they’ll ask is if you have a family member in the entertainment industry. They don’t want your family ties contaminating their data. Yet, even if you don’t have an uncle who’s a grip for Jerry Springer, think about how being a Nielsen household might affect your viewing habits. Compare how you watch television with your parents vs. how you watch when you’re alone. (They know you watch 90210 guys. Really they do.) Though there are lots of measures in place to try to keep Nielsen households from undue pressure, you behave differently when you know someone cares about what you watch. From an ion article about the Nielsens:

We weren’t to tell people or accept gifts or otherwise be persuaded to watch a certain show… We did make sure to watch Buffy and Angel in syndicated repeats, and made a special effort to watch the first season of the Venture Bros, which did need just another household or two to put it over the top. And it worked.

A partisan Nielsen voter? WHA?!?

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How to Prevent Piracy (or What the MPAA Can Learn from Commodore Norrington)

I love Hulu. LOVE Hulu. I love the interactive ads and the recommendations. I even tolerate the freezes and the delays after broadcast. Which is why I facepalm in response to the current piracy laws in the United States and the way that they are enforced. The most public and political pirate sites like Ninjavideo were shut down just over a year ago now, and the entertainment industry still hasn’t learned its lesson: you have to win the PR war before you can beat the pirates.

You Think You’re John Wayne, But You Look Like Prince John

Do you remember those high stakes ads that used to run at the front of feature films that compared downloading films to stealing a car?

It’s understandable that companies are frustrated. The MarkMonitor report has pointed out that the top three pirate websites (rapidshare, megavideo,and megaupload) get more than 21 million views per year, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. As one of the founders of Ninjavideo, Phara said in the circulated Ninjavideo Manifesto, every pirate will be replaced by another. For the younger generations, pirating is a way of life, talked about with the casual tenor that older people reserve for jaywalking. This is the generation that grew up with the hyperbolic ad above. They will not be guilted and they see through scare tactics like lawsuits against individual users. So the next choice was to change the way young people thought about intellectual property.

You can’t share something that’s not yours. But how do you explain to a teenager that they don’t own that Justin Bieber CD that they bought? Or rather that they own the physical disc, but not the data on it? Or they do own the data on it, and can load it into their iTunes, move it from that CD to iPhone, iPad, iPod, iwhatever format you want just not a file sharing website pleasegodplease?  Continue reading

I’m So Over Apathy

It takes courage to say what you like. Maybe more than it takes to say you don’t like something. Saying “I don’t like that.” puts you at risk of being called negative, but when you like something that’s unpopular you are at risk of having bad taste, of being seen as complacent. Just look at the language that’s tied to both ideas.

People who tend to dislike things can be seen as negative, snobbish, a wet blanket. On the positive side we say they have discerning taste. They’re a critic, a skeptic. There’s a perception of higher intelligence. On the other side we have terms like easily pleased, Pollyanna, positive, optimist. There is an undercurrent of condescension to this term, a feeling of simplicity. When did we decide that intelligence was tied to negativity, that positive people are somehow missing something?

Kelli O’Hara can explain it better:

In Nellie’s case, her optimism is also a stand-in for naivete, and she can’t seem to find the bright side of finding out that her true love has two biracial children. Apparently privileged white women leave their optimism outside the plantation gate.

In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events he says

“Optimist” is a word which here refers to a person…who thinks pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed”, but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”

So maybe optimism doesn’t always require intelligence, but it certainly requires courage. As a director, one of your most important skills is to inspire your team, to make them feel like you’re on the right track. I don’t know if you can somehow run out of positivity. One of my fellow directors hasn’t run out of it yet, and she’s still producing absolutely beautiful work. Though she is certainly an optimist, she’s by no means unintelligent, and she can critique performances more articulately than many of the more negative directors I know.

I wonder sometimes if we forget that seeing the good doesn’t mean not seeing the bad. In one of the Fourth Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, K-9 defines optimism as

Optimism: belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insane.

Though Doctor Who characters’ optimism may seem irrational, but much like in Shakespeare in Love, it usually turns out quite well in the long run.

See what I mean by turning out well?

Quite well indeed.

Ultimately optimism comes from believing the best in people, truly caring about them. It’s hard to do that all the time. It’s tiring, and ultimately it’s depressing.

This is the continuation of the conversation with K-9 in “The Armageddon Factor”:

The Doctor: Oh do shut up K-9! Listen Romana: Whenever you go into a new situation, you must always believe the best until you find out exactly what the situation’s all about. Then believe the worst.

Romana: Ah. But what happens if it turns out to not be the worst after all?

Doctor: Don’t be ridiculous. It always is. Isn’t it, K-9?

K-9: Master?

Seems like even two Time Lords and a tin dog can’t reconcile optimism in the real world, but it’s certainly what keeps all of them going.

Fountain of wisdom.

The Casting Couch and Where Does Chauvinism Come From?

So my lovely friend Elize’s blog seems to have infected me lately. Over at Female Gazing she celebrates our need to objectify and subverts Laura Mulvey’s observation of the “male gaze” in media with a gaze of her own.

Here’s an excerpt from a lovely post in which she explicates the concept:

Objectification of women will never end.  Women are beautiful and sexy.  We have soft curvy bodies which attract attention.  I don’t want to ask men to stop looking at me and my sisters.  I want to ask them to do it respectfully, remembering that I have as many opinions and feelings as they do.

I consider it my job, nay! my duty to gaze at men.  To make them ever so slightly uncomfortable, to turn my head when they jog past.  To hug one whenever I feel like it.  To have friends who are male and tell them what I think and feel without fear of being considered too girly, vain, or sensitive.

So please don’t feel threatened (for as a woman I’m taught that the last thing a man wants is a woman who is threatening) and join me.  Enjoy bodies (consensually!)  Gaze respectfully.  Gaze with love and responsibility.  Honor people’s feelings, his, hers, your own.

(If you like that also check out my favorite post so far, about one of my favorite guilty pleasures, the remake of Universal Pictures’ The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser.)

The blog is filled with pictures of gorgeous men (and women) who know they’re sexy and don’t apologize, and Elize helps you feel that way too. It’s a great mission but when I’m in one of my over sharing hormonal places it can be a little dangerous.

How you ask? Well, directing requires a certain level a maturity and sensitivity because you’re in a position of power. The clichés about the casting couch exist because they are based in fact. (Contemporary fact, if Megan Fox is to be believed.) That is a really depressing thing. And it goes both ways. As women become more powerful in Hollywood they develop the same power that was exploited by the cigar chewing male producers we see in the movies. Exploitation goes all kinds of ways: straight, queer, male, female, everything in between and outside. It is the person in power’s responsibility to not exploit, not the potential victim’s responsibility to speak up, which is why people in positions of power have to be very careful.

I go to the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. It is filled with gorgeous, gorgeous, talented people. Like the way TV is filled with really, really ridiculously good-looking people who never have to go to work or take a bathroom break. And you know how when you’re watching TV you find yourself saying things that you wouldn’t say if the person was in the room?

For example:

Yes, darling, they're still there. But you should check again in five seconds, just to make sure.

Oh, just makeout already.

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The Mad Menifesto

[Note: So many Mad Men spoilers.]

Last month, a friend sent me this open letter to men from Christina Hendricks. I’ve written about Ms. Hendricks before but I have to admit I’m endlessly fascinated by her and our cultures reactions to her and the show she now stars in, AMC’s retroporn Emmy winner Mad Men.

The first thing Hendricks offers us in this open letter is this little gem:

We love your body. If we’re in love with you, we love your body. Your potbelly, everything. Even if you’re insecure about something, we love your body. You feel like you’re not this or that? We love your body. We embrace everything. Because it’s you.

If that’s not real love, I don’t know what is. And let me be clear: I’m not discounting Dan Savage’s “you have the right to demand body maintenance.” mantra. But I do believe that when you’re with the right person, it’s their mind and personality that also turns you on, so that helps you love everything about them. Even what they don’t love about themselves. It’s also refreshing to hear a sex icon address male body issues so directly.

It’s funny, but there’s begun to be a backlash against Mad Men in papers like The New York Times and sites like Salon. The Times article justified the show’s success by the new Puritan and yuppie-ism of the upper class which distances the über rich from the messiness glamorized on Mad Men, a place they’d like to get back to. Salon explained that Mad Men was bad for women because “the women not only suffer but also do so with the clear message that the fault lies not in society, but in themselves.”

The argument of whether the men in Mad Men are acting as a result of societal pressures or personal flaws is a complex one, and you could really argue it both ways. But I must make the point that Mad Men‘s complicated feminism is actually a great guide for third and neo-second wavers because it illustrates a few complex but important maxims.

Maxim #1: Very few of us get to “have it all.” But you have the right to try. Continue reading