Friday, May 1, 2009

Mayday! Mayday!

It's that time of year, when you wake up before the sun to celebrate the coming summer... or in my case when you get on the phone first thing in the morning to try to get Verizon to fix your internet problems.

In any case, it's May Day, Beltaine or whatever you want to call it. In the old days it marked the beginning of summer, or at least the end of the chilly winter weather.

It's a good excuse for a party, anyway.

So, a traditional song in celebration (if you see me in person, I'll sing it for you):

Hal an tow, jolly rumble oh
We were up long before the day oh
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the may oh
The summer is a-comin' in
And winter's gone away oh

Take no scorn to wear the horn
It was a crest when you were born
Your father's father wore it
And your father wore it too


Robin hood and little john
Have both gone to the fair oh
And we will to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare oh


What happened to the span-iard
That made so great a boast oh
They shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast oh


The lord and lady bless you
With all their power and might oh
And send their peace upon us
And bring peace by day and night oh


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Aw %#$@, you still can't say $#%@ on %@#ing television.

The Supreme Court ruled today that the FCC is within its rights to fine broadcasters who air "fleeting expletives," that is, profanity used in passing during a live broadcast. (read it here)
A classic example would be during the 2003 Golden Globe awards when Irish singer Bono said "This is really f---ing brilliant!" (it's worth noting that the Irish, particularly in Dublin, seem to use "the F word" about as often as Americans use "um." In fact, it's more polite in Ireland to say "for f---'s sake!" than it is to say "for Christ's sake!" because at least then you're not taking the Lord's name in vain. I call that a good excuse.)

Of course, this ruling does not apply to cable, satellite or internet channels, only to those networks that broadcast over the public airwaves (remember when TV only had 12 channels or so? Those airwaves).

The Supreme Court, which voted a close 5-4 in the FCC's favor, dodged the question of whether or not banning expletives is a First Amendment issue. I'm going to follow their lead and leave that question for another day.

What I am going to do is follow the argument of Justice John Stevens, who noted that most four-letter words are used in a sense totally deviod of their literal sexual or scatalogical meanings. These words are not, in and of themselves, obscene when they are used as a modifier or casual expletive. When you drop something on your foot and yell "S---!" or say "I can't f---ing believe this!" you are not referring to feces or the act of copulation, and therefore, are not being literally obscene.

However, these words can be considered rude and probably inappropriate for some contexts. Few people would argue that they are polite.

So, my question then is not whether it's Constitutional for the FCC to ban profanity. My question is whether it is appropriate for a government agency to regulate manners.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Movie Review: Hannah Montana

If you have a child between the ages of 6 and 13, especially a girl, chances are you're going to see this movie.

Possibly, if you ARE a child between the ages of 6 and 13, you might like this movie. Parents, on the other hand, who may have been spoiled by high-quality family offerings from the likes of Pixar, Dreamworks and even Disney's corny-yet-amusing High School Musical series might not be so impressed.

To summarize, in case you have no children, or live under a large rock:
Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) leads a double life as an average, everyday, independently wealthy California teenager on one hand, and teen country-pop star Hannah Montana on the other. Apparently the only necessary disguise for someone who has thousands and thousands of worshipping fans who scrutinize her every pose in her photo shoots and music videos is a blond wig (hear that, Madonna?)

Miley is letting all the celebrity, money and attention go to her head, just like any other teen Disney star, but her father, Robby Ray (played by the Achy-Breaky Guy, her actual father), has had enough.

He takes her back to the family farm in Tennessee, the magical land where, apparently cheap acoustic six-string guitars can sound like either 12-string guitars or mandolin and guitar duets, depending on who plays them. There she gets back to her roots and learns what's important in life and all that other Disneyfied Small-Town Mythology stuff.

But not really. The thing is, nothing changes, nobody except for the "bad guy" (who is, of course, British) learns any important lessons, and, at the end, the whole plot could have been condensed into one of her television episodes. Hannah goes from being a superficial teen pop star to being a... superficial-in-a-slightly-different-way teen pop star.

Now, I don't expect everything my daughter watches to teach her some sort of important life lesson, especially when it comes from Disney. However, I'm not satisfied at how this whole thing is packaged.

One thing that bothered me was the "we're rich and so is everybody we know, even the poor people" thing. Contrast Hannah Montana: The Movie to last year's American Girl movie. Both aimed at roughly the same demographic, but one is about the trials and tribulations of a teen idol, the other is about a family coping with the Great Depression. Guess which character is more likeable?

Because even when Miley/Hannah treats her best friend like crap, there are no consequences. The next scene they're best buds again. Totally blew the chance to explore the whole value-of-friendship theme.

No, it's not necessary for entertainment to have some redeeming social value. But on the other hand, when your whole plot premise revolves around getting away from the Bright Lights of LA (tm) in order to get Back to Reality (tm) you could at least go as deep as, say Doc Hollywood or Cars.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh on the escapist fantasy, but I keep hoping that I'll be able to take my daughter to see a live-action movie with a little more substance one of these days. At the very least, there's another Harry Potter movie on the way...