Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wiper Fluid and Hot Wheels

Once again, sound advice from James Lileks.

I made a Trader Joe’s run, stocked up on all sorts of fine things to eat, bought some enormous flagons of spirits but did not go with the plastic bottles, always a sign that the guests wake the next day feeling poisoned. If you can imagine the same bottle containing windshield wiper fluid, don’t buy it.

Followed later by a memory.

As I said, I had a Hot Wheels version, painted with sparkly metal. I loved those things, even though the tracks invariably broke and became difficult to connect. See, you had these long strips of track connected by flat pieces of plastic that fit into grooves on the bottom. The grooves split. The tracks were not seamless. You sent a car down the track, it hit a groove, flipped. Which was cool because you make explosion sounds and pretend everyone was on fire and screaming – you know, innocent boyhood play. But eventually all the tracks were ruined. This may have happened for everyone who ever had Hot Wheels.

As I recall the tracks made fine weapons, emitting a loud SLAP and leaving a distinctive red mark when applied to skin.

It Depends On Who is Watching

I’ve been periodically checking out the new additions to our cable TV with the hope of finding some reason to watch them, and I‘ve noticed few things.

The durability of film stock – and just as importantly the willingness to hang on to old productions - has apparently come a long way over the years, judging by the number of movies shown on the This channel that I thought would have disappeared a long time ago. To be fair, I must say that at least some of them are as entertaining as some of the junk that gets played repeatedly on other cable channels, and they at least add a little variety.

Bravo and E! (the exclamation point hardly seems justified based on the product) have reminded me that almost anyone with a lack of shame can get a TV show, particularly if they can add some emotional instability.

E! has reminded me of something I’ve thought about in the past, though. I’ve occasionally come across Sex in the City reruns there, and I’ve noticed that their versions are edited differently - with a bit more risqué content left in - than the ones I saw on TBS. I’ve seen this before, most memorably with Caddyshack, which I have seen edited at least 4 distinctly different ways (on at least 6 different channels, which brings up another point: these days any halfway serviceable movie or TV series is distributed so broadly you can find some of them seemingly at any time of the day or night). One of these completely eliminated the candy-bar-in-the-pool scene, which requires a level of prudish thinking that I didn’t think still existed in the television industry.

I wonder who made those decisions? I know the networks have departments that handle it, and I assume cable channels have something similar. It’s also possible with a well-known movie like Caddyshack that they just took what the distributor offered them with a description of the changes that had been made.

On the other hand, I know it can be much less organized at the local station level. At KEVN years ago I was involved a couple of times in checking out a syndicated movie before it was aired. Both times we had to do some editing, and both times it was just two people making the calls, with no guidelines other than our personal tastes and a general knowledge of broadcasting standards.

I’d like to think the big boys have a more sophisticated process, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not much more so, other than the likely involvement of lawyers. It’s never helped that FCC rules have long been “we know what is wrong when we see it”, which leads to a conservative approach, especially at local stations who can’t afford to risk the big fines.

In one case – a topless female corpse - the decision was simple. What to do about a scene in another movie involving a (very brief) shot of a power drill being used on someone’s hand was slightly less clear. We decided to take it out since the movie was to be aired on Thanksgiving afternoon, which shows how arbitrary the process was. It also says something about broadcast TV - boobs bad, torture maybe not – about which I’d best not get started.

Monday, June 6, 2011

McGinley, Movies and Mid-Continent Service

I'm still trying to figure out how the producers of Two and a Half Men are going to make the Ashton Kutcher for Charlie Sheen thing work. Perhaps they should have gone after the master of joining a series in the middle, Ted McGinley, who would at least be right for the role of older brother and has always had a rakish charm similar to Sheen. The show has been going downhill anyway, and McGinley has experience in such situations.

I recently had a brush with peril while channel surfing. On TCM was All Quiet on the Western Front. Three channels over TBS was showing Mamma Mia. For some reason I was compelled for a short time to switch back and forth, which created a mind-altering effect that seemed to radiate from my TV. I had to stop before I did myself an injury. I can only speculate what would have happened if I had a high-definition set.

It's nice to have an experience that goes against a negative stereotype, especially one that is thoroughly ingrained, and I think I should relate mine. Our cable-company-provided Internet has long been a bit sporadic, with burps that required resetting the modem. I had always attributed it to wiring that had been done over time by various people with varying skill levels, and just lived with it as long it wasn't too annoying.Not long ago,though, it seemed to really take a turn for the worse, so I called the cable company. The lady checked the connection and detected enough of a problem that she suggested sending a technician the next Monday. He arrived right on time and did a thorough check of everything. He not only found and fixed the faulty Internet cable but replaced some other sub par connections, eliminated a number of splices, ran a new cable in the living room and generally spruced things up, all with a genial good humor.

It was enough to make me give greater thought to getting telephone service through them, though my general aversion to putting all my communication eggs in one basket will probably keep that from happening. I have some quibbles with the programming end of Mid-Continent Communications (why does the TV Guide Channel rundown only approximate what we actually get?) but their service has been top-notch.

No Argument

It happens to almost all of us at some point, and it recently happened to me. I was sitting quietly on the couch when I heard a knock at the door. Opening it revealed two door-to-door missionaries, in this case Mormons, resplendent in white shirts and dark slacks, looking entirely too happy to be there. It happened that my wife was due home with supper soon, so I used that as an excuse to put them off in the hope that they would forget about returning. But return they did, a few days later. This time I went to the rope-a-dope, being as polite as possible in expressing my satisfaction with my relations with the Almighty while avoiding any specifics that would give them an opening for discussion. Eventually they realized nothing was going to be accomplished, so they moved on.

I’ve given some thought to that encounter, especially my actions. Why didn’t I gird my loins and engage them in lively conversation? After all, I’ve read enough about Mormonism to wonder about some of its more… er…interesting aspects. I could have at least asked them what luck of the draw got them Pierre instead of someplace like Ethiopia, and whether they considered that a good thing. Instead I basically curled up like a hedgehog and waited for them to tire out.

The shallow reason is I wasn’t in the mood. I was enjoying my evening and didn’t want to interrupt it by arguing with a couple of strangers. More to the point, I didn’t feel like engaging in a discussion that had no hope of accomplishing anything other than perhaps determining who had greater patience with the other. I certainly wasn’t going to join the Latter Day Saints, and anyone who has the conviction necessary to cheerfully (at least apparently; if they were faking it they were doing a fine job) engage in missionary work isn’t likely to be swayed by the likes of me. That at best leaves agreeing to disagree, which hardly seems worth the trouble.

As for treating it as an opportunity to learn more about their faith to satisfy intellectual curiosity, that would have violated a basic rule for dealing with people with Conviction: don’t get them started. Had I popped that cork I likely would have had to forcefully replace it. The end result would likely have been general irritation, which would have spoiled everyone’s evening. Perhaps under different circumstances, such as a discussion group or a classroom-type setting, I would be more inclined to pursue an inquiry, but not one (or two) on one in my living room.

I guess it comes down to apathy. As long as they do me no harm, I don’t care enough about their religion to inconvenience myself arguing about it.