Double Dipping

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about Bud Selig and how he stripped a certain bad owner of his ownership of one of Baseball’s more-storied franchises. Since then, my blog has been, for the most part, rather inactive. I guess I should have never expected I would actually have time to follow-up on that post with the semester coming to a close and major papers coming due. But, I held out hope. I even started a follow-up post a few times, but never got very far. Then as serendipity would have it, one of my classes required me to put together a project that all but begged me to complete what I started with that post.

Usually, I would simply have finished the assignment and moved on. But, I’m in the process of writing a post about The Hobbit which opened locally this weekend. So, for the next few days, while I put my thoughts on the film together, I am going to shamelessly double-dip. That’s right, The blog post that got turned into a major writing assignment is now being turned into further blog posts.

Hrmmm. I guess maybe that’s triple-dipping.

Reading the Instructions

I really should have read the instructions about creating a blog before I actually launched one. Most of it seems very intuitive and user friendly. But then, sometimes, like when I was trying to clean up my blog a bit earlier today, I found myself totally inept. Oh well. The worst-case scenario at this point is starting over from scratch, but with a better understanding now than when I started before – especially after I finish reading the directions.

Irreverently Funny? Or Just Irreverent?

Irreverence is not the same as comedy.

I have a follow-up post to my previous entry about Bud Selig, but it’s not quite complete. However, I find myself needing to get something off my chest before I can really focus on other topics, like school, or baseball, or that short story I have started over sixteen times now because I keep distracting myself.

I’m not a very big television guy. I used to be. Growing up I watched plenty of television and then some. Nowadays however, my television watching is fairly moderate. For one thing I am not much of a fan of the current level of writing that permeates modern television. I’m not very big on being treated like I am stupid. I don’t need writers explaining things to me like I am in a class of kindergarteners. Nor do I care for shows where common sense is simply tossed aside in such a reckless manner that those same kindergarteners are scratching their heads. (Yes, I’m looking at you Eric Kripke of Revolution.) However, there are certain actors that I like, so, when they get a show, I generally tune in to watch. One such actor is Tim Allen.

Last year, Tim Allen made his return to prime time television with his new sitcom, Last Man Standing. The show was a somewhat safe twist on the concept he had guided to success with Home Improvement in the mid-90s. In LMS, Allen plays Mike Baxter, a successful, conservative salesman in suburban Colorado. He lives in a nice house with his successful wife and their three daughters, the eldest of which has a young child, Boyd, from a teenage indiscretion. The wife is smart, witty, good-looking, and strong-willed. She is an independent woman. The eldest daughter, despite the complications of being an unwed mother of only 21 years, is level-headed and also pretty intelligent. She works to provide what she can for Boyd and is intent on bettering herself and also not letting her sisters repeat her mistakes. The middle daughter is a Kardashian groupie, complete with the looks to succeed in following the Kardashian success plan. She’s not overly bright, but she’s very adept at the things she sets her mind to, especially anything dealing with social media. The youngest, and most intelligent, daughter is making the transition from junior high to high school. Along with this change comes a transition from being a sports-minded tomboy to being a young, dress-wearing, boy-conscious woman.

The ingredients for the show were carefully cast, and the show saw some moderate success. The show was not the huge hit that Home Improvement had been, but in all fairness, it’s tough to expect any show to reach that level of success. However, this is network television we are talking about. Moderate success instead of overwhelming success kept the network from making any sort of decision on whether or not to renew the show for a second season until very late into the game. With no decision reached, the last five episodes of season one saw LMS limp across the finish line – still successful, but with ratings that had the network demanding a change. This is where things turned for the worse.

The show replaced the oldest daughter with one that looked 10 years older. They aged Boyd from toddler to kindergartener. They brought back Boyd’s father (but not the actor) to become a constant foil to Tim Allen’s character in the mold of Meathead versus Archie Bunker. They made the second daughter so dumb she didn’t realize she was trying to read a book upside down or that batteries were a source of energy. Even the wife is no longer a strong character. To top it all off, ABC moved the show to the farthest reaches of prime-time civilization – Friday evenings. The majority of the changes were made by a new show-runner, with input from Tim Allen, in hopes that the show could become a modern take on All in the Family.

Now, in his defense, Tim Doyle, the new show-runner, does admit that this show is not as good as All in the Family, but he is still dead-set on hitting what he calls “red meat issues.” He wants to expand the quality of comedy on television to include things that make the audience think instead of simply churning out relationship or parenting stories. I applaud him for wanting to raise general social awareness on hot-topic issues through television, but, as of six episodes into the season, it’s been made fairly clear that, not only is it not working, but the approach is alienating what little audience remains. Yet, Doyle and ABC actually seem surprised.

Really?

Let’s review, a show that started out as sort of a reimaging of a 90s sitcom is changed mid-run to be a modern re-imaging of yet another, completely different show that aired in the late 60s and early 70s. What could possibly go wrong in that scenario? Oh, that’s right – it’s the year 2012.

Even the edgiest network sitcom, pushing the bounds of political correctness to the extreme, will still fall far short of the crass, chauvinistic, racist satire that was All in the Family. The problem is, All in the Family only worked because it was “all-in.” There are people that love All in the Family, and others that hate it. But, regardless of where a person falls in regards to enjoying the show, there is little denying that All in the Family was a cultural icon that redefined network sitcoms forever.

Archie Bunker was hilarious. He was also the sort of character that would have the politically correct pundits calling for modern networks to not only cancel the show, but to issue formal apologies for the offensive nature of the humour. Yet Doyle seems to think that LMS can be a show in the mold of AITF, but simply not go so overboard with the characters. Unfortunately, the humour of AITF does not work at half-speed. Irreverence can be funny, but it must be sincere. I know, that sounds counter-intuitive. But it’s true. Comedies like AITF, or the movies of Mel Brooks worked because they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew they were offensive and brought a comic light to that fact. Comedy was used to increase social awareness of a number of issues while allowing the dominant hegemony to still have something to identify with.

The political correctness police would never allow such irreverence in today’s television. So, in order to appease them, the writers give us a hot-topic issue, or a racist issue and then proceed to make fun of it. But that’s a huge difference from the likes of Mel Brooks and Norman Lear. Those two made the issue part of the actual comedy itself. The issues were the vehicle through which the comedy was delivered. Now, comedy seems to try and heighten awareness by making the issues the focus of the comedy. So instead of the issues being a vehicle for the comedy, the issues become a target for the comedy. This has the effect of coming off as preachy and making the shows uncomfortable to watch for those that might be sensitive to an issue. One approach irreverently embraces a subject and shines a light on how backwards the world can be eliciting laughs and increasing awareness by using the hot topic as a vehicle for the comedy. The other approach is so careful to be sincere that it ends up being both unfunny and irreverent and eventually, driving away the audience.

It’s hard to make a statement is no one is paying attention.

Prejudice, class strife, poverty, political scandals, working poor, racism, sexism, environmental destruction, these are not topics to be made light of. The pain and suffering attached to these sorts of topics is real. Using these topics as a vehicle to express comedy for the purpose of entertainment however, does not make light of the issues. Rather, it raises the awareness of the issues by presenting them in a manner that does not drive the audience away. That is irreverently funny. Making fun of the gay rights movement, or any other hot button issue, on the other hand, is simply irreverent, and has no place in mainstream media.

Bud Selig and “The Best Interests of Baseball” Part I

Last year, after a rather long, drawn-out feud, Bud Selig managed to wrest control of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from owner Frank McCourt using the “Best Interests of Baseball” clause of the powers granted to the Commissioner’s office. The reason McCourt was stripped of his ownership was, he and his wife had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, using the team’s assets as their own personal slush fund/piggy bank. That’s a big no-no. Things got so bad that, for a while, there were questions about whether or not the team would be able to meet its payroll commitments.

Obviously, when fielding a sports team, about the worst thing that could happen is not being able to afford to put players on the field.  This led Bud Selig to invoke the little-used “Best Interests of Baseball” clause to strip Frank McCourt of ownership, putting the Office of the Commissioner in charge of the team. This action was taken to protect the integrity and reputation of one of the most storied franchises in the league. Los Angeles fans rejoiced. The egomaniac McCourt was going to be gone and magically, the Dodgers were going to be a perennial contender again. But therein was the rub. From 2004 through 2012 (the period during which McCourt owned the team), the Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs four times, winning the NL West three times and settling for the NL Wild Card once. Additionally, McCourt managed to find a way to clean up his financial mess by convincing Fox Communications to provide a lucrative $1 Billion television deal to put the Los Angeles Dodgers back on track.

However, Selig was unhappy with McCourt’s solution. By “settling” for $1 Billion, McCourt was devaluing the value of future lucrative television deals for other teams in other markets.(In fairness to the league, this was a deal light in cash – but it was a deal negotiated between one team and one broadcaster in a free market, and both sides were happy.)  So, despite fielding a team that was still winning (even if there were areas for significant improvement) and getting his financials in order, McCourt was stripped of the team. This set a precedent.

Shortly after the league kicked McCourt to the curb, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to a group that included NBA legend Magic Johnson. The new ownership, looking to redefine the team, and to make a bold media statement that a new era had begun then proceeded to make a historic trade of mind-boggling proportions with the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers received Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in the biggest waiver trade in league history. In return, the Red Sox received salary relief, James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan De Jesus, Allen Webster and Jerry Sands. In one fell swoop, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired a stable of star names, and a quarter of a billion dollars in salary commitments. On the other side, Boston shed their commitments, obtained some marginally decent talent, and the financial freedom to rebuild the storied franchise.

The trade took place after the non-waiver trading deadline. No one else was able to offer counter-proposals. And all it took was a phone call on a Saturday afternoon in August. Despite the enormity of the deal, and the dearth of comparable talent going to Boston, the Commissioner’s office signed off on the trade, and it was done. It seems that, in this case, the best interests of baseball were served by allowing the Dodgers to suddenly take the sort of debt and contracts that would render a smaller market team insolvent. This should have been a warning sign. This is where sane minds should have spoken up. But, they didn’t  Apparently, the deal was so mind-boggling that no one ever imagined anything like that might ever happen again.

Question: If an owner fielding a competitive team that finds a way to clean up his own financial messes can be stripped of a team, then how is it an owner repeatedly found to be in violation of the CBA, that fails to regularly field competitive teams, and may have defrauded an entire city still has his team?

What’s Happening to Baseball?

I started out composing a rather lengthy post about the recent trade between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins and how the many warning signs that this sort of thing was coming were ignored; beginning with Commissioner Bud Selig unceremoniously stripping horrible owner Frank McCourt  of ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, followed by the post-deadline trade between the Boston Red Sox. However, I found myself taking forever to get to the point. It’s not a simple subject to discuss by any means. So, instead of one long post about the situation, I’ll be spending the next few days putting up various sections about what happened and, my reaction to it all.

While Baseball may be experiencing unprecedented prosperity, if recent bullshit shenanigans continue, that could change in a heart-beat. If the game as a whole is unable to right the ship quickly, smaller market teams across the country are in a world of trouble.

Thank You

I would like to take this time to offer my heart-felt gratitude to all those that have taken the time to serve this beautiful nation. 

To those who have served, thank you.

To those who are still in harm’s way, thank you as well, and know my thoughts are with you. Stay safe.

 

 

Happy Veteran’s Day!

Upon This Rock of Ages

For my birthday this year, my father sent me and my best friend to see the Broadway production Rock of Ages. I went into the show with an open mind, but only moderate expectations. After all, as much as I love the music of the decade, the concept of a musical built around a smashing together of hits that one would expect to find on an 80’s Rock Gold CD seemed to me to be more than just a little of a stretch. So, it was more than just a pleasant surprise to find out how well the concept worked. In fact, it worked out so well that, although it will by no means go down as a stage classic, Rock of Ages turned out to be one of the four or five most fun and entertaining shows I have ever been to – and I’ve been to more than a few.

So, I was both a bit excited, and also a bit nervous when I saw previews for a movie version of the production, somehow starring Tom Cruise as a rock-god complete with a women’s Christian values group that had no part in the stage production. However, given how pleasantly surprised I was by the stage production, I figured I should really consider giving the movie a try.

Unfortunately, the movie only marginally resembled the rather spectacular stage production.  That isn’t to say that the film version was not entertaining, it was. But it left something to be desired, primarily the raw edginess of the stage show. The film was rated R, so there was really no reason to change things up so much, making the film a sugar-coated version of the rock musical that, quite frankly, exuded sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The story for the stage production was certainly not its selling point, so it was rather disappointing that the movie’s story, with all the various changes, was, if possible, even weaker.

But, despite all that, I think that perhaps the biggest drawback to the film can be summed up in one hyphenated word: auto-tune. This movie is a rock musical. One would think that the very first prerequisite for casting would be to have the voice to carry the part. Alas, a mere two minutes into the movie, artificial voice manipulation is already apparent. I find it hard to believe that with the number of people flocking to Hollywood to become stars (one of the main themes of the film actually) that the casting directors couldn’t find a young, sexy couple with the ability to belt out rock ballads without excessive use of post-production tune-up.

Now, before this post gets mistaken as a poor review of the film, or my criticisms are taken to mean that I disliked the film, let me be clear. Despite not living up to its inspiration, the film is fun and entertaining. The casting of Alec Baldwin as Denis Dupree and Mary J. Blige as Justice was absolutely inspired. Where the casting department missed with casting the romantic leads, they scored doubly by casting those two. And, for any of you ladies out there that are actually reading this blog, if you have not seen this movie, Tom Cruise alone is worth the price of a rental from Red Box. Just do yourself a favour, if you have a significant other, don’t hold it against them if they don’t measure up to Mr. Cruise. It’s quite possible he has not looked this good in 30 years. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that every other scene becomes an excuse for him to strip down and show off his svelte, muscled body while belting out iconic rock.

Despite the fact that the film was entertaining, it still fell short of living up to the musical. Now, come Christmas Day, we get a film adaptation of Les Miserables. Whereas Rock of Ages might have been able to get by with altering the story and relying on technology to clean up the vocals, I certainly hope that the producers don’t try anything similar with Les Miserables.