Saturday, May 14, 2005

Good word

"It's the sort of silliness that only a filmmaker who gets to control his vision could create--and it distinguishes The Phantom Menace from most other summer blockbusters, which reek of mixed messages sent out by nervous test marketers and dimwitted cost accountants."

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

Friday, May 13, 2005

Start me up

I watched the infomercial MTV aired last night about the Xbox 360, the Microsoft video game console due out next year. It was a weird program, part pep rally, part music video. Hosted by actor Elijah Wood, it looked a little like the old "Club MTV" show, with throngs of youths who screamed on cue at the sight of the sleek new game unit.

But the infomercial reminded me even more strongly of "Triumph of the Nerds," a 1996 PBS documentary series I recently watched, all about the growth of the personal computer industry. The last episode of the series begins with a giant Microsoft rally to hype the release of the Windows 95 operating system, and the event is eerily similar to the Xbox infomercial: Microsoft product, cheering minions, loud pop music, a celebrity host (Jay Leno, for Windows 95). After Windows 95 is unveiled, Microsoft founder Bill Gates--who in the Xbox infomercial appears for only a nanosecond--addresses the crowd, and he talks about Windows 95 in the same way people in the infomercial talk about the Xbox: Windows 95 is revolutionary, it builds communities, it's hip, it's now. (At one point, someone in the Xbox infomercial screams something like, "It's the holy grail of gaming!")

Taken together, the two events are evidence that on some level, Microsoft still doesn't get the consumer market, which is why it is trying sell entertainment to teenagers with marketing techniques it perfected on operating systems--which, granted, are in part about entertainment, but are as much about using word processors and spreadsheets. Perhaps Gates and company are right to keep employing these techniques; certainly there's no disputing the staggering, near-monopolistic commercial success of their products so far, though that has less to do with Jay Leno endorsements than with the sheer luck of Gates, beneficiary of the greatest business giveaway in history. In video games, though, Microsoft is up against Sony, the Microsoft of gaming. So it may not bode well for the Xbox that its MTV infomercial was, like almost all Microsoft advertising, hokey and feeble--dare I say nerdy, and not nerdy in a good way, like those cute kids on the G4 cable network.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


This is my new favo[u]rite blog. Keep up the excellent work, Bookish Barbara.
Fight night

My Isthmus article about bar time on State Street has struck a chord, so much so that people are writing letters about it to other local publications. Check this out from the May 10 edition of The Capital Times:
Dear Editor: I attended the recent Race and Media Forum, which had representation from your newspaper. I have received notice that another forum is coming soon.

However, your recent coverage of the Mifflin Street block party that focuses on the arrest of one football player tells me that you neither listened nor heeded the concerns of many of us who spoke.

According to news reports, there were more than 300 citations issued during that weekend, with more being planned. Also, anyone observing video coverage could see that whites greatly outnumbered blacks and other people of color during the party. Then why is it that the face of "misbehavior" at the block party is black and that of a UW athlete [running back Booker Stanley]? Is there some other agenda at work here? I ask the question for rhetorical purposes only, because I strongly believe the answer is yes.

It harks back to the "Willie Horton" days of old: If you really want to scare the populace and create animosity, make the bogeyman black.

If you read the recent Isthmus article about night life in Madison, you can see that it is not blacks who are carrying on the tradition of Saturday night as fight night. The Isthmus writer notes that when police arrive at the scene of a public street brawl, they merely observe before leaving. There is no arrest and no photo of a bloodied participant the next day, to be run over and over again on TV news and in the print media.

Your decision to run the story on the young man is rooted in a history of covert racism that some of us see being played out in this community on a daily basis.

At the next Race and Media Forum, I hope you send a representative who takes copious notes and then shares them with the rest of you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Good word

"There's something I've always liked about Led Zeppelin's refusal to exist for even one minute after John Bonham's death. And I'd always felt the opposite about the Who--that they betrayed their audience by carrying on after Keith Moon. And that the saddest single fact about the Beatles' decline was that Paul McCartney played drums on some of the tracks on the White Album. Poor Ringo. I mean, songwriters come and go, but the drummer is the band."

--Jonathan Lethem

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ain't no good life

Hey, look who's front and center on today! My new Isthmus column, "Nightlife," is up on the web, and you can read the stories in it here.

Fun tip: on the main site, refresh your browser to see multiple photographs for my column.
Domestic strife

I'm allergic to my laundry detergent! The other day, facing Hobson's choice, I bought a brand I don't normally use--Gain, to be precise--and now all my clothes make me sneeze violently! I just did four loads! What a pain!

P.S. But man, is it great to be alive.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Hep cat

On Saturday at Madison's Concourse Hotel Bar, I caught a set by Louka Patenaude, the local jazz guitarist. Great stuff: he and his group play original material (rare in jazz shows around here), and his sound leans aggressively, and refreshingly, toward fusion. Best of all, Patenaude does not play a standard hollow-body jazz guitar; no, he plays a bright blue Ibanez Reb Beach Voyager, designed by the guitarist for Winger. Say what you like, but that axe farking rawks.