Pop Culture With Paul Farhi

Apr 06, 2010

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi talked about topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Greetings, all, and happy glorious spring to each and every... So, it's over for Tiger Woods. And by "over,"  I mean the whole hideous nightmare tabloid media frenzy of the past four-plus months. This assumes, of course, that Tiger's hideous nightmare personal life is back in order, or close to it, which appears  (and I stress "appears") to be the case. But he's far along the road to recovery now, as a media superstar/heroic sports figure, if not necessarily as a husband and father.

To me, the watershed wasn't Tiger's very controlled, even sedate, press conference at the Masters yesterday.  It's what happened before it. Tiger tees off on a practice round--and the gallery is applauding and cheering and yelling the usual things that golf galleries yell at Tiger Woods.  Conclusion: Golf fans not only forgive Tiger, they  WANT Tiger to be back (so does the PGA, so do his sponsors).  Fact is, we like contrition, we like fallen heroes, we like redemption stories. And Tiger is the greatest contrition/fallen hero/redemption story going. He's  hit all the right marks and made all the right sounds since he went from the cover of Golf Digest to the lead story on "Entertainment Tonight" (multiple tawdry affairs--yes, I guess that qualifies as  "entertainment").

My (rather easy) prediction:  If Tiger is anywhere in contention this weekend, the Masters TV ratings will set records. Even if that doesn't happen (and I can't imagine that Woods will be in tiptop shape after so long a layoff from competitive golf), the masses will be back the next time he contends for the lead. In six months, maybe less, we'll look back on his whole sordid story and think of it like the legwarmers craze--a passing moment, of no real consequence, and gosh I hope he makes this putt. Ain't that America?

Meanwhile: I was just about on vacation (not fast enough!) when the news broke about Sarah Palin's deal with Discovery/TLC to do an eight-part travelogue show about Alaska. Ingenious media engineering by Palin's people, and Discovery. I'm sure the show will be pretty and non-controversial (unless it reminds people that Alaska is the state Palin was supposed to be governor of before she skipped for bigger things). In all, it's the kind of feel-good PR exercise that a politician can only dream of. And, frankly, it's bizarre, too. Can you imagine any other pol doing something like this?  "Obama's Chicago"? "David Paterson's New York State of Mind"? "Ahnold's Gallifornya"? As is, it's a nice backscratching project: Discovery gets a few hundred thousand Palin diehards to tune in; Palin gets a few hundred thousand more dollars and some pretty scenery with her name attached to it. See you in 2012.

And one more thing: Wrote up the new Elvis exhibit at the Newseum today. Some glitzy Elvis rummage-sale stuff on display, but I was mostly taken with the (far less visual) clips of media reactions to the young Elvis. The whole lock-up-your-daughters vibe is amusing, and is a great comment on whatever the media is trying to scare us about now.

Anyway, let's go to the phones...

Reportedly Tina Fey will reprise her wildly-popular Sarah Palin impression when Tina hosts SNL this weekend. Which Sarah do you think we'll see depicted-- the Fox, tea party cheerleader or TLC version? (should stress that this TLC is not short for Tender Loving Care)

This is going to seem like an odd answer, but SNL has been relatively soft on Sarah. Tina Fey's impression is entirely a work of genius, but the satire isn't all that tough. They've basically got her down as a gun-totin', tough-talkin', quasi-redneck. Which is amusing, but ultimately flattering to her and her base. Interesting that Palin, who complains about almost everything the media does or says about her, hasn't protested anything SNL has done (and she even appeared on the show while it made fun of her!). I say, draw a little more blood. That's what satire is supposed to do.

Here to stay or a passing fad?

Here to stay, I think.  The cinematic experience (in the right hands) is pretty cool, and the kidz seem to love it (which means they'll come to expect it more and more). 2-D won't go away, of course, but we will have two, three, four or more 3-D'ers around at any one time. Have to build a few more 3-D theaters, too. I think the real question is: Will 3-D television make it?

Mr. F: This is "jazz" culture, and not "pop," but a tip of the hat to Mr. Herb Ellis, who died last week at 88. He was about the last of the great jazz guitarists who come to the fore during and after WWII. 88.5's "G-Strings" had a good restrospective last Sunday, with local drummer/vibe player Chuck Redd providing some great stories about Ellis playing in D.C. with Charley Byrd and others. I know it's hard to believe, but you can make great music with just one guitar, or guitar, bass and drums, with no other instruments and no over-dubbing.

Thanks for the TOTH to Mr. Ellis. I'm not a jazz fan, but his is/was one of those names I've vaguely heard.  Although it reminds me of a great bit Letterman once did. He introduced a "legendary" blues man named Willie "Blue Moon" Johnson, who sat in with the band one night.  People applauded wildly, like they'd heard of Blue Moon. Camera kept cutting back to Willie during the musical segments--and he never played. Turns out "Willie" was just some made-up guy that everyone seemed to "know."

Can't wait to watch the NBA in 3-D in my living room.

Could be interesting! I'm thinking Nickelodeon's slime thing (they still do that, 15 years after they started doing it) could be kinda cool in 3-D, too.

It seems to me that Tiger has for all practical purposes ended the public phase of the scandal. He is no longer in hiding and has undergone the public apology tour and press conference that the media deems necessary for redemption. While his marriage might be doomed, at this point all he has to do publicly is to play golf and win.

Exactly. Well (and concisely) said. And--just to go all gossipy on you--I don't think his marriage is doomed. In the very bad reporting on this episode, his marriage was supposed to be doomed by Christmas, by New Year's, by whenever. It wasn't.  Maybe the worst is over.

Do you think Comcast will make us pay for yet another 'tier' of service (like HD), or will the 3-D broadcasts be included with everything else? Are we going to have, for example, ABC, ABC-HD, and ABC-3D?

Is this question serious? Will Comcast make you pay extra for 3-D? Were you born last Thursday?

I went to watch Jaws 3-D in 3-D and discovered another dimension.

Hahaha! I guess that one didn't work out so well, eh? But the technology  IS better now (although the glasses are just as stupid as when "Jaws 3-D" came out).

Tiger is saying all the "right things" publicly. How can one tell whether it's genuine, or just an act, or even self-deception?

Yes, this is a measure of how cynical and jaded we've become to public confessions. We all know what the "right" things to say are ("I hurt my family..." "I let myself down..." "Mistakes were made..." etc.). And we can also pretend to measure the sincerity of such statements. But you're right--we don't really know jack.

For people who can't see well (or at all) in 3-D? Will I have to wear an eye patch to block out the other image? Oh, and how well do the 3-D glasses fit over regular glasses?

I don't know the technical answers here. But I am waiting for the first lawsuit from someone claiming that their eyesight was seriously messed up by watching too much 3-D. Probably has already happened.

You know what would make me profoundly happy? Tiger missing the cut. After listening to that Duke-sucking weasel Jim Nantz for the last three weeks rhapsodizing about the Masters whenever he isn't expressing his desire to have Koach K's baby, nothing would be better than to have the incessant CBS promos made all but worthless.

Nantz may be the most pleasant sports announcer on network TV, but also the smarmiest. Although I don't know about his Duke-loving ways, there's no organizing committee that he can't laud. The NCAA? Wonderful, wonderful people. The IOC? Marvelous. The Masters organizing committee? A tribute to humanity. Sheesh. Admit it, Jim: CBS paid a lot of money to these people. You HAVE to say that.

Hypothetical question here: I never sit and stare at the TV. I am cooking, folding laundry, doing a puzzle. Are they going to make special 3D/2D/bifocals for people like me?

Yes, it's called "radio."

Was a 3-D sci-fi extravaganza. Her career seemed to recover. For a while.

Wow. I would say that's trivia, but so as not to disrespect trivia,  I would prefer to say that that's trivial. I won't ask how you know this, but just for the record, what was this great cinematic epic?

If I'd been in the audience I would have clapped, too. You know, to be polite. All the while asking myself "who is this guy?"

Yes, it would be polite, but  I fell for the trick. I thought, this is some guy I'm supposed to know, but don't. Since everyone else is applauding, THEY must know who he is. I felt insecure that I didn't know (not the first time, btw).

Suppose he said, "We're getting a divorce. My marriage was a mistake, and from now on I'm just going to have a long string of affairs. Now let's play golf!" Would the crowds and sponsors still support him? My guess is not, which is why I have to wonder about the sincerity of his "redemption".

There's a whole school of thought, somewhat legit it seems to me, that his personal life is nobody's business but his and his wife's. On the other hand, implicit in everything Tiger and his sponsors sold was the idea of this heroic, hyper-disciplined family guy. That was a lie. And that is our business.

Later in the year we get Jackass 3-D. Lucky us.

The 14-year-old boy in me says this could be a very good thing. Might even be the best use of 3-D ever! (Incidentally, as I get older, I become prouder and prouder of the 14-year-old boy in me; don't ever change, alter ego!).

Paul, please help me. Give me some methods to employ to overcome my desire to run away screaming whenever the subject of Sarah Palin arises. I'm begging.

C'mon, admit it. You're fascinated by her! I know I am, and so is the Lovely Mrs. Pop Culture (nee Mrs. Station Break; we had the name legally changed the other day). She (Palin, that is, not my wife) is the ultimate love-hate test in American society. There are no middling opinions here.

How long will it be before only people who subscribe to Comcast (or Fios, or DirectTV, or whatever) are allowed to view television programs on the Internet? It sounds as if the subscription model will be put into place soon, just after Comcast takes over NBC.

An excellent question/editorial comment.  I tend to agree with the drift here. The cable companies aren't dumb; they've seen what has happened to the record and newspaper businesses. Giving content away is a bad model. I think the "authentication" model--that is, you only get to see stuff on a site for free if you already subscribe to cable--is probably the wave of the future, particularly when one company (Comcast) will control so much popular programming.

It was really bad. I mean, Ice Pirates was "The Odyssey" in comparison.

Assuming this was Molly's first movie...Interesting how a series of bad movies doesn't necessarily kill a career (obviously, in this case, Molly's career hadn't really started). I mean, I was watching the ads for Jennifer Lopez's forthcoming generic rom-com and thought, how many chances to fail do people in Hollywood get? Has J-Lo starred in a successful movie this decade?

Has anyone else noticed the quality of the free movies on Comcast On Demand lately? By lately, I'd say the last 4-5 months or so. You could always find a few good oldies from the 40s and some great ones from more present day. Now, it's all Saw I, II, III, and a bunch of bad movies that I've never heard of. I checked the Movie Collection section and now the decent previous free ones are under the "Movies under $3.00" collection. Bah!!!

Wow--I could have written this one myself! Yes, the selection is  horrific. There are nights when I will run through the ENTIRE On Demand movie section (including all the movies available on all the premium channels I get) and not find a decent title.  Sub-question here: Why are TCM's archived selections so skimpy?

Haven't checked IMDB, but I believe it was something like "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone" -- saw it in the theater when I was like 12 or so. Pretty bad movie, even by 1980's sci-fi standards.... (Not the original poster, BTW)

Yes, thank you. Hard to believe that TWO people actually saw that. Must have been available On Demand for, like, 12 years before anyone punched it up.

I think it's the same as the faux-sophistication of the SNL fans. They're supposed to be these elite special people just because they live in NYC, but they laugh at the stupidest jokes.

Well, there's no accounting for what people laugh at. I have always been amazed, since I was a little kid, at the nonsense that seems to cause fits of laughter in people. I know that sounds really Grinch-y/Scrooge-y, but do you remember how surprised you were the first time you went to a movie theater and people in the next row were falling all over themselves with laughter at something you KNEW wasn't even close to be funny? And don't get me started on laugh tracks....

Everyone's face gives off involuntary muscle movements (or fails to show certain movements) that correspond to the emotion being felt. One example, if the corners of the eyes don't move when someone smiles, they aren't genuinely happy. If you are trying to hide how you're feeling, your true feelings will show on your face for at least a second or two. So I would say, take a psychology class on how to read these signs if you want to know geniuine vs. an act.

Good class for poker players...

So when these commentators talk about how much they love some show on the network, are they lying about that too?

Wait. That's not genuine? I thought Jim Nantz was a HUGE  fan of "Two and a Half Men."

...in memory of hurler Miguel Cuellar, from the Birds' glory days in the '70s.

Yes, remember him well. And there was another really good player from that era who just died recently, too, but can't remember his name...

I don't think there's any special technology yet for people who don't actually LOOK at the screen. They can't make it appear visually inside your head while you look at something else, 3D or not.

I think we already have that inside-the-head system. It's called "dreaming." Man, you should have seen the movie I got on Paul's On Demand system last night...

Do you think they'll maybe do something about making the 3-D glasses more comfortable? I spent half of Avatar holding the darn things off my face because they hurt my nose!

It sounds trivial, but I bet this is going to be the big drawback of 3-D TV. I gotta wear the glasses? Again? To watch TV? And where did the kids/spouse leave them?

I'm a conservative, and I honestly couldn't care less about Palin. She's not particularly compelling as a candidate, and if she weren't purty McCain wouldn't have plucked her from obscurity to put the paddles to his flatlining campaign. Just because someone believes some of the same things I do doesn't make him or her qualified to be president.

I'm offering no political opinions; I'm simply saying she is a person who commands strong feelings, either way.

She's Anne Coulter without the brains.

See what I mean?

"There are no middling opinions here." Baloney. The media use this claim to justify their coverage of her. There is a significant amount of disinterest in her. In my world, her name never comes up in conversation, at least not in any serious way. I didn't read her book, watch her show and won't watch the Discovery Channel show. BTW, the ratings for her Fox show were apparently lower than Greta Von Susteren's normal ratings. If Palin's such a star, how is that possible?

The media uses this claim to justify coverage of her because the coverage of her justifies it in terms of the reaction the media gets to its coverage of her. She's a lightning rod...As for her Fox News show, I caught a segment the other night. It's marvelously terrible. It would not be on the air if she was just anyone. The fact that it gets any ratings at all helps to prove the point of her popularity. People would watch her dig ditches.

My big problem with 3-D is that the glasses really dull the color. I watched Avatar in 3-D and I found myself peering over my glasses to see the vibrant color that was lost with the glasses. Apparently most people don't care, but I prefer 2-D for that reason.

I thought Avatar was adequately colorful, even though I did the same thing you did with the glasses. The resolution of the colors was the least of my complaints about that movie.

"There are nights when I will run through the ENTIRE On Demand movie section (including all the movies available on all the premium channels I get) and not find a decent title." Paul, you're living the dream.

Haha! I forgot to add that I do this as a way to relax after jetting back from Cannes with Clooney or bungey-jumping off the Taj Mahal with Molly Ringwald. But I didn't want to rub it in.

NY Jets quarterback Joe Namath was immensely popular with the fans, and with commercial sponsors, by capitalizing on his image as a swinging playboy bachelor. Could Tiger go that route, easier than trying to convince people that he's Mr. Monogamy now?

Would be a real image makeover, wouldn't it? Let's see: "Hi, I'm Tiger Woods. I used to be a wholesome family guy. But let's face it, that stuff is for people who sit around trying to find a good On Demand movie. Me, I like to party! And no one parties heartier than Hooter's!"

Yeah, that could work.

Paul, I know you like to keep to a theme for each discussion but I hope you can squeeze this one in. What is the deal with the NBC4 News Desk? Are they overhauling things for HD? The anchors look really cramped sitting at that small desk and it really isn't too attractive.

Yes, HD's a-coming to News4 in a few weeks, so I assume that set is temporary. It really does look retro, like something out of  "Action News" of the 1960s.

Have you seen/used/reviewed one of these gizmos? After reading the TIME magazine rhapsody to the device and Mr. Jobs, I remain skeptical that this is really something I must have to survive.

I do think the iPhone is cool, and if this is a large-size  iPhone (as has been written endlessly) then it should be kinda neat, too. On the other hand, I don't own an iPhone, and think I could probably survive without an iPad, too. There's so much cultism/look-at-me-ism among Apple folks. Those things are useful tools, yes, but they're also status symbols. Have you ever met ANYONE who owns an iPhone who hasn't told you/shown you his iPhone? I know Apple types are enthusiastic evangelists for the products, but that's at least some of the appeal of those gizmos...

Paul: There was a Simpsons episode where it was determined that Homer had been stupid all those years because a crayon got stuck in his brain in childhood. When it was removed, he became a savant who expressed himself without reserve. He goes to a theater where a Julia Roberts/Richard Gere rom com is playing and, as Julia gets ready to wed the obviously wrong guy, he blurts out, "Oh, come on people, you know she's going to end up with Richard Gere. And this dialogue is just a bunch of stale pop culture references." The rest of the audience turns on Homer in fury, chasing him from the movie.

Haha! Let me update my Grinch-y/Scrooge-y self-description: I feel very Homer-y at times...

Shurely a sholution?

That you would wear all the time? So that everything you see has some kind of depth, or the "illusion" of depth? Um, aren't those called "eyes"?

Betcha someone can make a bundle marketing a special chain for people to wear around their necks with their 3-D glasses attached, sort of like the chain that Tom Selleck wore on "Magnum P.I."

You don't see those chain things much anymore, do you?  Nowadays, the look is to hook the sunglasses to the top button of your shirt, or to put them on top of your baseball cap so it looks like the top of your head has an extra set of eyes.

Mr. F: Verizon works fine for me - their on demand actually has some good stuff. Why did I switch from Comcast to Verizon? Because, when I wanted to consolidate phone/computer/whatever, with Comcast I would have had to get a new phone number, while keeping my email address - with Verizon, the opposite. Easy choice to make, and the glass communications strings under my yard put in by Verizon seem to work just fine. (my terminology is a little old-fashioned)

This is a popular debate on this channel. But I thought you could keep your phone number when you switched carriers, no? Didn't the FCC make a big noise about this a few years ago, when it required carriers to offer "number portability"? I thought so, but as always, I reserve the right to be gravely mistaken.

They are hanging out with the lost Wii controls, wherever THEY are.

I think someone could make a fortune designing a wall "caddy" for all the devices we have now--iPod, TV remote, Wii controller, iPhone/cellphone, car keys, Blackberry, Taser, etc. Keeps 'em all in one place, with built-in recharging station....Well, someone probably already has.

Well, she hasn't made a single movie since 2006, though some of her latter films did poor business. But "Monster-in-Law" (2005) grossed $83M, which has to count as a hit; "Shall We Dance" (2004) did $58M, although it's not really her movie; "Maid in Manhattan" (2002) did $93M which is definitely a hit; and "The Wedding Planner" (2001) did $60M which is a modest hit. So that's four hits out of twelve movies: not great but not bad.

Good fact gathering! Thank you. I admit I haven't seen any of those movies. I am sure, however, that they are available On Demand, so...

You mentioned the skimpiness of TCM's archived selections - been thinking the same thing myself lately. My channel selector practically uses TCM as a default setting - my favorite channel. But didn't Turner get ALL the titles when he bought out the studios' inventories? We devotees need to know!

Turner owns the rights to the MGM library, but not even sure that matters. Not sure why it doesn't archive everything it's showing on the main channel. Since TCM isn't ad-supported, the loss of ad revenue can't be a big deal. This may have something to do with the storage capacity of On Demand (so much bandwidth is alloted to each channel, perhaps, and TCM only gets a few "slots"--possibly.) Anyway, for my money, it would be great to have a wider selection of older stuff...

Spirit Airlines will charge customers $20 to $45 for items placed in overhead bins. The first airline to implement a carry-on bag fee. Each passenger will still able to bring one personal item that fits under a seat for free.

We just got nicked the $25 bag fee on Delta, which seemed unfair because there's no way we could have gotten the bag we checked--full of cosmetics and other liquids and such--through security. So we HAD to check it (for the record, only some of the cosmetics were mine). But this Spirit thing does seem like the next outrage (and by the way, what IS Spirit Airlines, anyway?).

Samsung is out w/ 3-D TVs and 3-D DVD players. The glasses cost $150 a piece and the player is about $400. TVs start at about $2,500 for a 46" which reviewers say is too small for 3-D.  55" being the minimum. Only one movie out in3-D.

The need for extra big TVs could be a big drawback for 3-D TV. On the other hand, people said the same for HD at the beginning. The technology will improve as will the price.

One of the excuses Comcast uses for its sorry HD On Demand lineup is that data storage is expensive for digital video...which hasn't been true cine about '99. But without knowing the details, I have to think that 3-D video will take up even more room on the servers--which means even less choice for even more money.

I don't know the technical details here, as I said (although the storage issue does make some sense, no?). My point is that cable companies are the last to give anything away. If you're getting a new service, you can count on paying extra for it. That's been the history of cable from the beginning.

I watched some of Sarah Palin's one-shot Fox show. I think that she is practicing (and I don't mean that in a bad way) to be a TV professional. This happens at times where someone is given a single program to do to get see how it turns out. I could swear that some people did ABC's This Week for that reason, and sometimes other networks have programs hosted by someone people aren't used to seeing as a program host. Of course, because Mrs. Palin is very well-known for political reasons, some will complain whether she is good or not good, and some will love her just because she is who she is. I think that show was being looked at by network brass to see how professionally she can do in that type of format and spotlight. (How's that for a rare non-partisan comment about the former governor?)

If she doesn't get elected to something relatively soon, I think her future IS in TV. And, yes, this is probably practice for that day. She will get better (she's already much more adept at handling the media than she was 18 months ago). It's not too much of a stretch to imagine her , post-politics, making the transition to a morning-host role. "Regis and Sarah Lee"--that sort of thing.

Paul, I know you like to keep to a theme for each discussion but I hope you can squeeze this one in. What is the deal with the NBC4 News Desk? Are they overhauling things for HD? The anchors look really cramped sitting at that small desk and it really isn't too attractive.

Tried to answer this earlier, but maybe it didn't get through. That set is temporary, I assume, because News4 is going to HD in a few weeks.

I'm no prude (don't know if I watch as much porn as Tiger, but I'm no prude), but his endorsement to me says more about the amoral (not immoral, but amoral) company that chooses to pay him than it does about him. At some point you have to decide that there are better ways to promote your organization.

I'm sympathetic to your point. There's certainly plenty of morality in corporate America, but companies don't do things because they are moral or immoral. They do things because they meet some business goal.  They don't WANT to be perceived as doing something immoral (because that's bad for business), but it's not always a rigid yes-no/moral-immoral test. It's a calculation--is offending SOME people worth it if MOST people like what we're doing.

And on that philosophical(?) note, I'd better call it a chat.  Thanks for tuning in again, folks, and thanks for all your questions and comments. Let's get together next week and try this one more time. Happy Spring, and as always, regards to all!  --Paul.

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Paul Farhi
Pop Culture With Paul Farhi explores the latest in the world of pop culture, trends and daily news.
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