Monday, January 21, 2013

Picture This!

With the the inauguration of President Obama for a second term, we now look ahead to the many daunting problems facing this country in the next four years. One of the most pressing of issues is the growing polarization within our nation. Partisanship and division in U.S. politics and within the public have grown ever more intense in recent years. Progress is becoming hindered by political deadlock, civility and decorum are fast becoming scarce, and the public continues to lose faith in the effectiveness of their elected officials and the system.

Of course the one image that really sums up the current challenges of our modern divided society is the cover of one hit wonder Joey Scarbury's 1981 hit album "America's Greatest Hero" featuring his #2 hit "Theme from Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)" (and yes, no mention of that song can be complete without a mention of George's answering machine message). How did Mr. Scarbury predict the fractured political climate between red and blue states in 21st century America all the way back in the early 1980s? Alas, no one seems to have bothered to seek him out since then to ask.

One additional observation: someone with absolutely no prior knowledge of Joey Scarbury might assume, just based on looking at the cover, that this was some kind of spoken word album of Mr. Scarbury's political views (it sort of reminds me of Johnny Calhoun's unsuccessful spoken word album of his right-wing political views "These Things I Believe").

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tired of That Annoying Old Ring?

Most of us can agree that life is not easy. However the initial "before" vignettes of infomercials laying out the problems the featured product would solve would have you believe that life is a complete and total nightmare. It's an endless monochromatic purgatory where you're fat and sick; your home, children, and pets are unacceptably filthy and smell; everything costs too much; there's never enough time to cook a healthy, delicious, dinner; and attempting even the simplest of tasks ends in humiliating disaster. At least, before you order the advertised product.

Now I'd like to think we're all savvy enough to realize that there is some exaggeration and puffery going on in these ads and that we shouldn't take them at face value. Still, sometimes the products do come off as pretty awesome and it's tempting to assume they would work just as effectively and as perfectly in our homes as they do in a controlled sound stage being utilized by a trained salesman. I watch that "Slap Chop" video now and it's still amazing how Vince can make it seem like how one cheap plastic chopping utensil will radically transform your life (plus he just throws in the fucking Graty absolutely free!).

No amount of infomercial magic however can spin the utter uselessness of the Jingle Ring. Even as an easily impressionable preadolescent watching this ad in the early 90s, I thought it was ridiculous. Say what you want about As Seen On TV products, at least they claim to tackle common everyday problems most people can relate to. The Jingle Ring attempts to eliminate an issue that about 99.9% of the population couldn't careless about: extreme displeasure with the telephone ring. Has anyone ever found themselves so tired and annoyed with their home telephone ring that, like the lady in the commercial, they find themselves THROWING THEIR PHONE OUT THE WINDOW in abject frustration? Who can relate to this scene? Paranoid schizophrenics? Shell shocked trauma victims? Someone on bath salts?

After having established this all too common affliction of modern living, the Jingle Ring provides a solution that manages to be a hundred times worse. Using "microchip" technology it converts your phone ring into one of a whopping eight pre-recorded jingles, which all come off as way more annoying than a standard phone ring. If providing irritating novelty jingles wasn't bad enough, the Jingle Ring does it in a relatively cumbersome method; to bypass the regular ring you have to run it through this additional device that's about half the size of the phone itself which is there solely to make a different ring.

The family in the spot, who have apparently purchased multiple Jingle Rings to fit everyone member's eclectic taste from classical parody loving dad to Andrew Sisters fan Mom, to the kids with their modern love of cow sounds and "rap" (there has to be at least one hip hop artist out there who can use this for a hyper esoteric sample track); dramatize just how wonderful life can be in a Jingle Ring household. Every call, whether it be from Aunt Margo or the coroner's office, is a smiling occasion for pure joy. What I never quite understood was if they liked the new rings so much, why didn't they just let it ring for as long as possible before picking it up? Or even picking it up at all? The father clearly didn't care to pick up the phone when it had the old ring (which actually would have made prolonged the terrible ringing).

When I recently rediscovered the old Jingle Ring I assumed that such an objectively worthless product would have, along with the commercial, long since faded out into obscurity. With the contemporary obsolescence of the home phone line, the Jingle Ring would somehow manage to be even even more worthless nowadays. However, like some kind of living fossil, brand new Jingle Rings are shockingly available on Amazon (at least the price went down from the original $19.99); I can only assume that there's some poor guy out there with a warehouse full of these, desperately waiting by his Jingle Ring enabled phone, waiting for the moo of a potential new order. So if you or someone you know is trapped in the living hell of conventional land line phone rings, your prayers have been answered.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Seeing Redbox

Every once in a while I'll want to see a fairly new film that's at that brief new release point in its life cycle where it's just out of theaters but not yet seasoned enough to be aired on TV or streamed on Netflix. It is in these situations where I find myself impulsively sparing a buck at the ubiquitous Redbox rental kiosk at a nearby supermarket or drug store. The price and convenience are fine and all but the one fly in the ointment, especially with newer releases' is the bare bones, ad stuffed "rental copy" you get instead of a proper DVD. I know I'm only paying a dollar night and all but shouldn't I be entitled to one night of the full DVD experience rather than this no frills edition that the studio seems to be begrudgingly allowing me to screen? It'd be like renting a car and getting one with no radio, air conditioning, power anything, and plastered with advertising inside and out.

I think all the "rental copies" should include a brief message to the viewer at the beginning of each DVD. It should be given in a stern and direct manner by a gruff looking authority figure, sort of like Stacey Keech or Phillip Baker Hall's Detective Bookman from "Seinfeld".

He would curtly tell the viewer what they're in for with their rental. It would be along the lines of:

"So you thought you were pretty clever renting a movie from a Redbox. You thought 'hey, I can watch a film without having to pay a first run screening price at the picture show, or purchase the DVD, or commit to a monthly rental service. I can just charge a buck in the old Redbox machine, get myself an evening of full DVD enjoyment, and return it the next day. Badabing badaboom.'

Well listen up, big shot. If you think this is a real DVD you're dead wrong. Hell this isn’t even a VHS, you can fast forward and resume from a point on a VHS. No you are going to sit right there and watch a full length trailer for 'The Sessions' and we're going to follow it up with a commercial about Blu-Ray technology (by the way why haven’t you upgraded to Blu-Ray yet? What's the hold up?), and then just for good measure we’re going to throw another trailer in for some forgettable indie something or other with Greta Gerwig at the end just because we can. You make it through all that we’ll finally let you get to the main menu if you still remember you were intending on watching a film.

Think you're gonna go anywhere with that extra features option, kid? Not by a long shot. You want extra features, grow yourself a second nose. We've got one extra feature here, it's called sneak previews. And do you know what makes up the sneak previews? A full length trailer for "The Sessions", a commercial about Blu-Ray technology, and a trailer for some forgettable indie something or other with Greta Gerwig.

You should be thankful that we've given you scene selection, if I had it my way you would have to watch it in one showing like an old nickelodeon. You miss a scene, you either suck it up and let it go or you go all the back to that trailer for 'The Sessions'. For a buck it's amazing that we’re even letting you see the movie more than once and that the DVD doesn’t self destruct after one viewing. Also, as if you haven't been coddled enough, you've even got audio options and subtitles for the hard of hearing, you lucky deaf bastard.

So there you have it. If you find these conditions somewhat lacking then by all means get yourself to your local Walmart and start rooting around the bargain bin or hop on over to that one Blockbuster in Shangr-La that's still in business. This is Redbox and when you pick up a rental from us you should thank your lucky stars that there's picture and sound and that we're not stopping the movie to show you a cereal ad every ten minutes. You made your decision you lazy tightwad and you have to live with the consequences.

Oh and please enjoy 'Ruby Sparks'."

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Victor's Three Random Resolutions for 2013

Another year, another wave of irrationally inflated optimism about personal change. When it comes to my New Year's resolutions I keep things simple: I merely copy the list of resolutions Samuel L. Jackson read off during his monologue when he hosted the first SNL of 1998. For the past 14 years or so it has not steered me wrong. While there have been times where I failed to "give it as good as I get it" or didn't quite "show the man that I mean business", it has been a trusty template to work off of through the years.

In addition I do throw in a few new projects that are more specific to the year. These are more specific, idiosyncratic, personal ambitions. Here are three to look out for in 2013:

  1. Get A Twitter. I've been meaning to get one of these for a while. My initially inadequate understanding of how they work made me feel old (following a line of retweets and twitter correspondences still confuses me). I fear this is just the first example of a new technology passing me by in my inevitable progress towards being a technologically illiterate senior citizen that my grandchildren will one day mock for not understanding how to turn on a holographic mood simulatron. So I figure I should try to keep up a little and get one some time this month. It would seem like a good outlet for a lot of my half formed thoughts that just don't have enough substance for a proper blog (random aside: that SNL sketch where Norm Macdonald as Larry King rattles off a series of silly non sequiturs basically sums up my view of tweets) . Additionally having transit updates from NJ Transit would be quite helpful.
  2. Finally See Every Twilight Zone Episode. Despite my obvious obsession with the series, my years of Twilight Zone Marathon viewing, and the fact that I own the entire series on DVD; I still have not seen every episode of "The Twilight Zone". To my credit I have seen the bulk of the series and have at least read about them in "The Twilight Zone Companion". There are probably about a dozen episodes that I haven't watched or completed watching. I won't lie, most of these are in the 4th and 5th, the final 2 seasons of the show, where the series really ran out of gas. The 4th season went the mostly disastrous route of expanding the already thin episodes to a full hour while the 5th season was filled with tired retreads from an exhausted and depleted writing staff. None of the unwatched episodes are acknowledged classics but who knows, there might be some underrated episodes in the mix. I do owe it to the show to see the whole body of work.
  3. Cash In On The Growing 90's Nostalgia Trend. As this decade progresses, the public hunger for all things 90's grows day by day. Boy bands are reuniting and touring, old sitcoms are being remade, and tumblrs and pinterest boards are filling up with screenshots of Clarissa. It seems the reliable 20 year cycle of public nostalgic interest is turning over. The 80's are now officially too old to reference and the 00's are still too fresh to reminisce. A man can get quite rich in this 90's boom if he plays his cards right. I don't have any specific plans at the moment but I feel I should make some effort to take advantage of this period. Maybe I'll start dealing in out of print editions of "The Bailey School Kids" or write a treatment for a "Hey Dude" reunion movie where the gang returns to help a down and out Mr. Ernst save his ranch, or perhaps design a new line of Nick Toons themed Zubaz pants.