Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An Open Letter to the Apple Marketing Department

Dear Apple,

Let me just start out by stating that I am a big fan of the Apple iPod and it's family of portable mp3 players. I myself have a rather outdated, but still reliable 3rd generation iPod, which continues to allow me to carry and listen to, without boundaries, all my Billy Joel albums and everything else that makes up my sizable mp3 library. I bought my mother an iPod shuffle and the engineers over at Palo Alto should take the greatest of pride in the fact that their design was ingeniously simple enough for even my technology challenged mother to operate unaided. The iPod has truly changed the way I, neigh the world consumes media and it's undeniable effect on contemporary culture is a testament to its innovative functionality and ascetics.

With that being said, could you please, in the name of consumer safety, stop or at the very least significantly cut down on playing that FREAKIN' iPOD NANO COMMERCIAL WITH THE FEIST SONG!!!

I understand that the third generation of the iPod Nano is a big deal to the company and when something new like this product is introduced you want as much attention and exposure for it as possible. However, I believe there's only so much the American TV watching public can take. No exaggeration, in the last three weeks that I've watch NFL games on Sundays and Monday nights, I must have averaged at least two dozen viewings of that commercial per game. I don't think more then a single commercial break went by without me hearing the ghostly voice of Leslie Feist counting to four. It has become the stupid John Mellencamp "Our Country" song of this year. However, it's worse since "Our Country" is still playing fairly frequently this year.

Of course this isn't limited to just Sunday football action. The commercial itself is also in fairly heavy rotation on both network and cable TV. It's pretty obvious you're upping the dosage since the new fall season is beginning. Actually it has also existed perversely beyond the world of tv and into the world of not TV since HBO's heavily advertised promos during the summer using the song. Of course the HBO issue is no fault on your part maybe you guys should have looked into it; and it still doesn't take away the fact that I'm muttering the lyrics in my sleep.

I'm sure everyone of in the marketing department took some sort of advertising class in college and many of you might remember the work of advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves, the unique selling proposition guy? As you may recall, Reeves advocated that ads shouldn't entertain, move, educate, enlighten, or basically do anything else but unrelentingly hammer into the brain of the viewer the monotonous single slogan to buy their product. This method initially worked but people eventually refused to tolerate this hyper aggressive, creatively fascist approach to adverting and has been abandoned by most companies. However, in an ironic twist this is exactly what you guys seem to be doing. For all the modern, style, hipness, and chic creativity that Apple supposedly prides itself on, slamming the same, repetitive, unchanging commercial on the TV viewer, over and over again like some sort of advertising Chinese water torture trap is about as modern as McCarthyism.

So in conclusion, as Roberto Duran famously said "No Mas!". You're all highly paid marketing wizards, can't you find a less obtrusive way to get word out on the Nano? I mean, you could start by maybe I dunno...showing ANOTHER SONG? We've all seen how well the Nano can play "1234" by Feist, how about further demonstrations? I'm sure there are plenty of indie songstresses out there with equally intimate sparse, catchy songs; Cat Power or Regina Spektor both have plenty of commercial ready tunes. You don't need an advertising washout like me telling you exactly what to do, but it's just a start, this is America in the most mediated age human history, there are OTHER CHOICES.


Victor Lee

P.S. I'm no design engineer or anything but do you really think people want to watch tiny 2 inch videos? Will we ever be in a situation where we want to watch a music video or an episode of "The Office" that desperately the we can't wait until a TV or a computer screen or even a regular sized iPod is available? I'm just saying...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Supporting the D-War

Do you know what the number four movie in America is? That's right, just behind the modern comedy classic "Mr. Woodcock" is "Dragon Wars" (or "D-War" as it is officially titled) the commercial zenith of Korean movie making. It was the most expensive movie in Korean history, it obliterated opening box records at home, sold out theaters abroad, and it has now finally took on the greatest challenge of all and made it all the way to open in over 2200 screens in the US. As relatively modest as this opening position was, it was seen by many as the triumphant culmination of over fifty post-war years of struggles and efforts in the establishment and cultivation of a unique national cinematic identity, it was the South Korean answer to the gaudy blockbusters of the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, and Bay.

My initial impressions of the film itself completely sucks.

I mean it looks awful. It looks like something the Sci-Fi channel could have just slapped together in a week; just get Ron Pearlman, some clumsy CGI, half a script, a shooting location in Vancouver, mix and serve. To flex their casting budget muscles they used an all English speaking cast including headliners Robert "Remember Jackie Brown?" Forster and Jason "I was the star of Roswell" Behr. The totally irony free, incredulously earnest plot appears to be so confusing that every scathing review I've read had a different interpretation of what was going on, something involving and ancient army of dragons, wizards, lizards with missile launchers tied to their backs, and virgin sacrifices. I've decided the most accurate synopsis is probably the wikipedia plot outline:
As a young boy, Ethan Kendrick (Cody Arens) encounters antiques dealer Jack (Robert Forster), who has a glowing dragon scale in a Korean chest in his shop. Jack tells Ethan that he is the reincarnated spirit of Haram, an ancient warrior apprentice from 500 years ago. This warrior saved his love Narin from Buraki, a 200 meter long Imugi serpent. Jack gives Ethan a powerful pendant and tells him to find the reincarnated version of Narin; for when she turns 20, the pair will be be forced to fight Buraki again. 15 years later, the adult Ethan (Jason Behr) is a television news reporter who coincidentally meets Sarah Daniels (Amanda Brooks), the reincarnation of his love. Together, the duo must fight Buraki who has returned in modern-day Los Angeles along with an army of reptilian monsters.
So yeah, I guess it's kind of like "Transformers" meets "Reign of Fire" or something like that. It currently occupies at 34 on Metacritic, one of the lowest for movies currently in theaters and a 14% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There isn't a single element about this film that I find appealing and I can only take solace in the fact that it mercifully doesn't attempt to back up its absurdly grandiose story with an equally absurdly grandiose run time (a tolerable 100 minutes).

Despite all that I can guarantee you that I'll see it.

There's one lone overriding reason that I'll throw away over an hour and of half of my youth watching this chore of a movie: Korean pride. It's that inescapable part of me that despite a lifetime of living in America and completely immersing myself in American culture that still stubbornly compels me to go. It's a hardwired nationalism within every Korean that has developed from a millennium of defending our barren little rocky peninsula against the surrounding superpowers of the ancient and modern world. It's an inner pride that rises within us every time we see people buying Samsung LCD flat screens, or our national teams racking up worthless gold medals in archery, or Sun and Jin on "Lost" (not so much Sandra Oh people seem split on her). So when an international Korean achievement of this magnitude comes up I have to do my part regardless, it's the very definition of nationalism. My parents are set to go despite the fact that there's technically nothing Korean about it except for the production credits (kind of like a Simpsons episode) and they won't even know half of what's going on.

And don't think the filmmakers aren't counting on national pride for success. Critics in Korea think the movie sucks just as hard. As one Korean reviewer so succinctly put it "they want it to be successful in the US because it's Korean, not because it's good". The way I see it though is if you want see an acclaimed Korean film you can watch Cannes Grand Prix winner "Old Boy" in a tiny arthouse somewhere, if you want to be part of the big, ugly mainstream and help leave its pop culture footprint on the masses you watch "D-War". Apparently the Korean print of the film even ended with a direct message from the director to the audience proclaiming that "D-War and I will succeed in the world market without fail" set to the national folk anthem. Imagine if Michael Bay or Sam Raimi came out like that at the end of a summer blockbuster with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" playing in the background, it'd double the weekend gross!
So as you can see it's more duty than desire that I enlist myself and support this effort and as any true blind nationalist I will march without question, unwaveringly, and full of senseless pride straight into the horrors of "D-War".

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider...Sitcom shows go to college to completely suck.

In his recent review of the season long series run of the not-so-brilliant and canceled "Undeclared" friend and fellow blogger Andrew U. ruminates as to why this sitcom and possibly any future sitcom set in college is inherently destined to fail. It's a position that I tend to agree with, "Undeclared" totally sucked and thus far no show has come to my attention that I would say even remotely captured my college experience (although as ridiculous and caricatured as it was, the MTV animated series "Undergrads" probably came the closest).

I agree that the main element is the complete inability to show the profanity, lewdness, substance abuse, and general immorality that comes from the average college life. Not to say that America's campuses are a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah but most people will find themselves at the end of their four years with at least a handful of memories of something that they'd never be able to tell their parents about or would be inappropriate to be depicted on network television. I also agree somewhat that the dynamics of the friends and people you meet in college is far more fluid and unpredictable than the daily routine of high school where you might become a friend with someone just because you see them at the same time every day of the school week. Not only are these the two main reasons why shows set in college never prosper, they're also the reason why no show has gotten better from entering college.

This whole concept of shows going to college to die really became apparent to me this summer after I spent a good part of it watching TBS and ABC Family reruns of the 90s teen sitcoms I grew up on. I would be watching and enjoying these episodes during my mid afternoon breakfast and then every once in a while they'd air a late series "college episode" that completely turned it into a different, totally unwatchable show.

Three cases in point:

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch

Yes, I used to watch Sabrina back in the halcyon days of mid 90s TGIF (which almost every preteen adolescent was watching on Friday nights). For a show based on an Archie comic, it really wasn't that bad. Melissa Joan Hart (the Mary Tyler Moore of kid's sitcoms) was as charming as ever, frequent Penn Gillette cameos, and what's not to love about a wisecracking Nick Bakay voiced cat? The show had a simple yet effective set up, there was the protagonist, the jocko boyfriend, the best friend, the antagonist bitch, and goofy principal (played by the eternally goofy Martin Mull); every week Sabrina would cast a spell with good intentions that would go horribly wrong with hilarious results and by the end everything was resolved and lessons were learned. For 4 seasons this was the set up and it was good, then she went to college....

The show should have fittingly ended after the 4 seasons on ABC, however in an attempt to milk that TV tween market the show moved to late 90s WB (where good shows when to die and bad shows are born) and thus began the new chapter of Sabrina's life in higher learning. First off on principle, the show couldn't have even been called Sabrina the Teenage Witch after he first year of college right? All the old friends, the bitchy antagonist, her series long love interest, gone; replaced by her new one dimensional roommates including a bitchy grown up Punky Brewster in some gigantic house they all could never afford. Of course, they couldn't make her go totally alone so they make her Aunt Zelda a PROFESSOR IN THE COLLEGE. So for an additional 3 more labored seasons Sabrina drinks soda at parties, works at the campus eatery, and has the same worthless high school problems that now just seem totally immature and out of place in the world of college.

Boy Meets World

"Boy Meets World' was the definitive TGIF show, it owned the 8:30 slot for most of the decade and aside from a strange absence in the Spring of 96 to make room for the ill-fated "Muppets Tonight" it would have tied "Family Matters' in terms for the longest TGIF stretch in one time slot. The generation before me had Fred Savage guiding them through their awkward adolescence, our generation had Ben. The show itself was actually quite well done, the problems and adventures were relatable, it had heart but it didn't get too preachy (yet), Corey had a real every kid appeal to him, and William Daniels as Mr Feeny played the "kind of stern asshole that you still respected" he had been playing since "1776" through "St. Elsewhere" (even KITT was kind of jerk at times). Thus the show prospered, from middle school and making the seamless transition through high school. It should have culminated at the end of high school in season five where the titular "boy" had finally grown to at least a young man to meet the world. Of course it didn't end there...

First off you know there was something seriously wrong when MR FEENY FOLLOWS THEM TO COLLEGE (see Aunt Zelda)! I could see him moving up the administrative ladder in the local school system from middle to high school but come on, he becomes a professor, at the same college? The spirit of "Boy Meets World" has been to capture a sort of realism about growing up, however this fails miserably in college since after all the standard growing up problems of high school all the problems you get in college are sort of unrelateably idiosyncratic and existential. The show's ham fisted attempt to tackle this was making every other episode awkwardly serious from a professor (played by Fred Savage) sexually harassing Topanga, Corey marrying Topanga, Shawn's father dying, Shawn looking for his real mother, Eric adopting a child. Also, in the complete opposite move of Sabrina, everybody goes to the same college: Eric, Feeny, Corey, Topanga, Shawn which makes the whole situation regress back to high school. Of course there's plenty of pop (unless it's a serious episode about drinking) at parties, and everybody lives in fine apartments together. This madness limped on for 2 additional seasons.

Saved By the Bell: The College Years

Of course the Citizen Kane of all college transition sitcoms is the infamous "Saved By the Bell: The College Years". Although it might technically count as an original spin off of Saved By the Bell, there's just too much connected to the original series to not consider this a logical extension of "Saved By the Bell". Just as I count "Good Morning Miss Bliss" prior, I count this afterwards to form a total view of "Saved By the Bell". The original series is a fairly polarizing subject, some people really despise it and critically, aside from an ironic sort of love by Chuck Klosterman, it's as bottom as the barrel as TV gets. The millions of my generation that grew up on it and I find the show hypnotically watchable in its simplicity. Even as adolescents, I think we all sort of knew that the show had little basis in the reality of high school, but we didn't watch it for that, it was all in the campy spectacle (even when we didn't know what camp was). Jocks fought nerds, everybody wanted the cheerleader, after school you shopped or grabbed a burger at the Max, and there was always a plan to pull one over on Mr. Belding. Did anyone ask why nobody went to class? Or why Screech was friends with Zack? Or how Tori disappeared without a trace? No, it all just fun for 5 seasons. Then they had to go to college....

Instead of everybody coming or nobody coming, the show took a literal compromise and had roughly half the cast attend the same school. You would think people as different has Zack, Slater, Screech, and Kelly would have different academic needs and standards that one school could not encompass, of course you'd be wrong. The rest of the "gang" was filled up by one dimensional roommates Leslie and Alex. The show resisted the impulse to inexplicably promote Mr Belding to dean of the college, only using him as a cameo in one episode. They had their Belding-esque figure in tough but gentle ex-football player/RA Mike Rogers, a character type that seems to have been misplaced from another sitcom. Kelly ends up dating a professor which is sort of inappropriate and completely negates 5 years of romance with Zack, Zack tries to get with Leslie for a while, and Slater is lost without a clue. Plenty of soda pop is drunk and despite only 18 episodes, very special ones abound including one about Screech being pressured to steal nitrous oxide and one where Slater gets in touch with his Chicano roots. A season in, the fans say enough and the series is canned. Although the entire series does get a proper send off in grand fashion via the made-for-TV film "Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas".