Tactile Media Lament Part 2: Kindle Fire: The Temperature at Which Books Burn

Just in time for the holidays Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com, apparently not content with their multibillion dollar dominance of book sale monoculture, nor with the recent collapse of Borders Books & Music, are giving their e-readers the nook and the Kindle a facelift, adding color graphics, touch screens, the ability to stream movies, facebook (verb), play games and more.

Kindle and nook are both a few years old, predating the iPad.  Once matte grayish affairs meant for reading alone, they are now joining their glamorous iPad cousin in the push for a multimedia tableted society, in which one tool replaces notebooks, pens, paperbacks, mp3 players and hand-held video players.  They do seem a little bit bulky to replace digital cameras – I mean you have to leave something for your phone to do.

I know that one of the treasured freedoms of our country is that everyone with money or credit has the right to demand as many digital devices as they can keep up with.  But the tableting of America seems a little like overkill, even for the personal electronics pushermen.  When is enough going to be enough?

In the face of all these social media-enabling media platforms, the question remains whether we are actually more social people in the 21st Century.  Twitter, in its brevity and immediacy, has become the de facto place for breaking news.  But anyone who has taken urban public transportation lately can be made to reflect on the the tension whereby gentrification has put many people in the most “diverse” environs of their lives, only to see them retreat into mobile digital devices that enable us to remain cloistered, even in public places.

(It is rumored that during the next Republican Presidential Debate, the candidates will not only answer questions FROM Twitter, they will answer the questions ON Twitter itself.  [The site’s 140-character limit is not predicted to change the content of the debate substantially.])

In these digital pages I have decried the rise of mp3 culture and its sacrificial victims: album art, local CD/record stores, the excitement you feel when you hear your favorite song on the radio and the Columbia House Music Club.  I was admittedly acting the part of a Luddite.  Since that time I have impulse bought more than three albums with the instant gratification of iTunes, and I have spent endless minutes pouring over the PDFs of album art lovingly on the screen of my MacBook Pro.

But this time I have to put my foot down again.  Did anyone mind using books?  Oh, but this will be saving so much paper!  I guess so, but ways of recycling paper have been pretty well established, and I still have no real idea how electronics get recycled, except that it’s dangerous, expensive and involves open fires without facial protection in China.  And will countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bolivia will generate enough coltan and lithium to keep up with our exponential handheld device demands?

I’m not saying that tablets aren’t valuable in some applications.  A recent 60 Minutes episode showed the effectiveness of using iPads to teach autistic children, and filmmaker Danfung Dennis (Hell and Back Again) invented a camera lens that allows you to view over 300 degrees of a filming area on your tablet for a truly immersive documentary experience.  But I bristle that we’re being peer pressured to rush out and buy yet another digital device that will put another nail in the coffin of face to face culture and all of its unsung benefits.  Enjoy the convenience of poring through the sociology section of your nook color tablet; you probably won’t have an impromptu conversation with someone also looking to learn more about humans.

There are so many books already printed that we have been meaning to read.  And we spend so much time already looking at screens that it’s probably better to give them a rest every once in a while.


Stay Gold, Jo Boy

It's Jo!

Lady Gaga hates the truth. Meanwhile, Jo Calderone came to rock. 
Was it a little awkward? Maybe. But Jo Calderone’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday was nothing if not refreshing.

If only, as Jimmy Fallon pointed out Monday, because so many other pop starlets dressed like they thought Lady Gaga would dress, with layers of plastic, fluff and goth, only to be confronted with the plain white-t, uncouth aggro Jersey male charm of a certain MR. Calderone (actually Lady Gaga in male drag!).

The Lady’s pre-requisite pop star thinness on the male frame of Jo made the lad appear like one of the malnourished greaser waifs from the movie of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, specifically Ralph Macchio, who became a trending topic on Twitter during the VMAs.

Watching as a former acting student myself, and as Maura Johnston pointed out in the Village Voice’s hilarious live-blogging of the VMAs, this NYU acting student could have made a few more interesting character choices – maybe modulating into something more nuanced than a shout, and not making the monologue so graphically sexual would have still worked ok. A little subtlety, eh! Jo!

More like he was backstage answering the inane queries of the press.

Reporter: (don’t disturb the crazy artiste-voice) “And how long will Jo be with us?”
Jo: “I dunno, I’m gonna to be here like 5 more minutes.”

As it was, the opening monologue of the performance came off at first blush like an embarrassing rant about how fantastic Lady Gaga is and about how Jo is jealous and her – and how he wants in – get it, in – to her spotlight at all costs  – you know, a dickish man move.

But then it got a little interesting.

“I tell her, I want her to be real! But she says she ain’t real. She says she’s THEATRE!”

Well, okay then.

Backstage, talking to the press – finally warming into the improv of it all, Jo explained earnestly that Gaga had made him attend the awards in her stead, because “she’s just really freaking pissed at me.”

As The Onion pointed out in it’s live-blogging, Lady Gaga so far has been nothing so much as a Rorschach blot for her throngs of fans, who see in her antics whatever they want to see.

But she’s a Rorschach blot with a dark vision, leaving worrying ellipses after all each incident of her habitual line-stepping.

She and Beyonce poisoned Tyrese (Tyrese!) along with a diner full of patrons in the video for Telephone. The clip inexplicably mines the themes of prison, Kill Bill and Thelma and Louise for some vague stylish avant-comedy ends.

The Telephone video currently has over 119 MILLION views on You Tube. Thematically, it fit her previous video for Paparazzi, in which her character must stylistically kill or be killed by a menacing Swedish boyfriend.

2011’s  Best Video With A Message, Gaga’s Born This Way, for which Jo accepted the moon man – is her most uplifting song yet. But it’s jubilant affirmations of focusing on the determinism of birth is not only one-note, it sounds exactly like Express Yourself (Madonna, in her free-thieving from the Drag Ball Queendom era). And “I’m on the right track, baby?” Now you’re earnest, Gaga? You just poisoned a dinerfull of folks, plus a guy whose only crime was crooning on the bus.

She has showed up at an awards shows in a dress made of meat, which was kind of compelling – as well as in a red feather and lace outfit that made her look like a horror movie come to life. As an admittedly over-sensitive kid, I was not entirely comfortable with the grotesque imagery of the movie Harry and the Hendersons. I shudder to think of myself born 20 years later and somehow toddling up to a People magazine, pages splayed open to a photo of the mask of the red death Gaga posing on the red carpet.
Lady Gaga is a lot of things but life-affirming is not one of them.

I know Gaga has justified all of this by screaming ART and THEATRE at all costs, like Jo seemed he might grow hoarse up onstage doing.

But Jo didn’t grow so hoarse screaming at the madness of Lady Gaga that he didn’t still rock the bleep out and alongside Queen guitarist Brian May, no less. The reaction shot of Dave Grohl upon May’s entrance proved that he and Jo were near-about the only famous real rock guys there, a realization that was not lost on him, in his acceptance speech.

For some reason, Jo let loose vocally in a way Gaga never would have, and still Michael Jackson Beat It-kicked with an entourage of mens in a performance the late Freddie Mercury would have likely lost his mind over.

Welcome Jo. Gaga, to me, was beginning to grate. In the midst of her February show at Madison Square Garden, which aired as a concert special at the beginning of the summer, Lady Gaga, in her stripped-down, monologue-y moment, sat up from her writhing and bellowed “I hate the truth!”

Wow, I thought. What does she mean?

Some truths are hate-able. But, which truth was Lady Gaga talking about?

For example, does she hate the truth of what’s happening in Somalia? The truth that what’s happening in Somalia isn’t even on most people’s radar? The truth that Somalia is far from the only globalized location wracked with urgent, ignored tragedy?

The point is, you can hate the truth, but you have to know it. Hating it doesn’t help you handle it. And let’s face it, no one wants to be the guy who can’t handle the truth, getting yelled at like that – or worse. But Gaga was yelling at us too.

Which is why it was a breath of fresh air to see the aristocratic empty-eyed mind fuck of Gaga put on the shelf, and experience this – THIS freakin’ guy, working class Jo Calderone swing for the bleachers and give us an earnest rock-out performance. It was in the magical tradition of what RuPaul, Jujubee, Tyra Sanchez (the New Tyra), Raven and others do on a daily; witness the superior Logo TV reality talent competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race.  But The Artist Sometimes Known as Gaga was gender transgressing the other way, in a direction more alarming to the establishment.

It was also funny to see the rest of the popperazzi clutch their figurative pearls when confronted with Jo’s challenging mug. Justin Bieber looked concerned. One of the night’s honorees, Britney Spears, wearing a sexily safe frock that honored the color palate of her winning video’s apocalyptic theme, looked at first stunned by Jo and later rebuffed his kiss, uncomfortably laughing “I’ve done that already” (when she kissed Madonna. Back when they were honoring Madonna for some reason).

The departed honoree of the night, the late Amy Winehouse, would likely have delighted in the whole Jo Calderone experience.

Perhaps Jo felt the need to crash the awards ceremony because, well, female pop stars are handled strangely – celebrated after they break (Amy), or are somehow still squeezed together and stomping (Britney, celebrating some milestone?) But not mentioned, seemingly, when they are gone exactly 10 years for sudden accidental reasons (Aaliyah), even if they made classic R&B songs, iconic videos and even starred in a Shakespearian martial arts film during a tragically short career.

Beyonce – in the game nearly as long as Brit – planned her own celebration that didn’t require a light cue or a word – just a proud rearrangement of sequins and “Bam!” baby bump – destiny manifest. Jay-Z cheesing like, no, he can’t believe it either! And Kanye bouncing around with glee like a damn sophomore, even after we all had to listen to teachers’ pet Katy Perry chastise him, dripping with Gaga’s leftover cotton candy, and refer to him as “Boo,” with the nasal pronunciation of the native of Santa Barbara, California that she is.

Katy was of course, reminding everybody of Kanye’s much-derided outburst, in which he got suspended for talking about how dope the now with-child Beyonce, (his boss/friend’s girl’s) video was (a single-shot, silver gelatin-ed Bob Fosse routine remixed by a male choreographers Frank Gaston and JaQuel White, with White also appearing in the video as one of the two female backup dancers) as opposed to the winning video in which Taylor Swift portrays a literal interperation of lyrics contrasting the virtues of sneakers and high heels.
I for one hope we see more of Jo. Sounds like Gaga needs a rest. But let’s see what happens. I guess I’m just a believer that Ralph Macchio-looking waters run deep. If MTV lets THIS Jersey Shore synergy opportunity go by, it will really be saying something. Let’s see if Jo can be his own man and actually call bullshit on his girl before all her freakin’ “theatre” saturates us with images too contextless and bleak to be washing over us 119 million times. Come back when you can handle the truth, Gaga – or at least stop being such a hater.

Bad Teachers?

Eighty teachers in Atlanta Public Schools confess to cheating on standardized tests, while Cameron Diaz lazily besmirches the role of educator at the multiplex. When teachers cheat, what do we learn?

Cameron Diaz in the movie Bad Teacher

On Tuesday, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia released a report on a decade-long cheating network for state tests on the part of 178 educators in Atlanta Public School system, including 38 principals, 80 of which have confessed. The culture of cheating is said to have stretched all the way to the top, allegedly implicating former Superintendent Beverly Hall. APS, the report says, manipulated a “data-driven” system in which test-score targets were being set ever higher, and then achieved through falsification. This misleading achievement data led to national accolades and a rush of private funding for APS.

Stretching back to the nascence of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the widespread cheating allegations in Atlanta could draw increased scrutiny of standardized tests, long considered the benchmark of how children are learning, and which schools deserve to stay open.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which broke the story:

“The investigators’ report, officials said, depicts a culture that rewarded cheaters, punished whistle-blowers and covered up improprieties. Strongly contradicting denials of cheating and other irregularities by Hall and other top district executives, the report describes organized wrongdoing that robbed tens of thousands of children — many of whom came from disadvantaged backgrounds and struggled in school — of an honest appraisal of their abilities.”

The report recounts instances in which children who could not read not only passed, but scored highest on the state reading tests. Had they been accurately tested, these struggling children would have received the support they needed to improve their skills, the Journal-Constitution reports. But in the school-funding meritocracy that closes schools with too many kids who don’t test well, it appears that the APS scandal is an ugly result of what can happen when financial support is tied to the black-and-white results of state tests in the sociological gray area of education.

State tests or no, teachers should know whether their students are able to read or not, and the practice of “social promotion” has long advanced students to upper grades who are not ready for the work they encounter there.

Next door in Alabama, one of the 10 poorest states in the U.S., the testing system of No Child Left Behind has drawn criticism. “There’s a fallacy in the law and everybody knows it,” said Alabama State Superintendent Joe Morton in August of last year. According to Morton, the whole system is out of order; the NCLB Act states that by 2014 every child is supposed to test on grade level in reading and math. “That can’t happen,” said Morton. “You have too many variables and you have too many scenarios, and everybody knows that would never happen.” In this context, it appears that the teachers and school leaders in Atlanta might have been acting unethically out of duress.

Are the victims in the Atlanta scandal that poor high school graduating class of 2011, who walked across the stage with a false sense of how their scores had measured up against the rest of the eighth graders in the U.S. back in 2006 – on the dubious “level playing field” of state tests?

Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall displays her 2009 Superintendent of the Year award. Hall's lawyers maintain that she did not know of the widespread cheating among APS educators

Or the bureaurocrats, robbed of the veil of accuracy heretofore signified by the miles of Scantron sheets they determine is the best way to allocate resources?

From how the next few months play out in Atlanta, we will see the consequences of messing with the certainty that in education, data equals destiny.

Depressing accounts from the teacher whistleblowers profiled in the Journal-Constitution say they witnessed other teachers giving kids the answers, allowing them to cheat off of fellow students, or flat-out erasing and correcting wrong answers on the sheets. These whistleblowers say their reports were ignored by school leadership, and allege they were retaliated against for reporting the unethical behavior they witnessed.

In a Journal-Constitution story on the cheating scandal, one teacher accused of feeding fourth graders answers defended herself, saying she was merely walking the aisles to wake up sleeping students so they “wouldn’t salivate on their answer sheets.”

Is there any other way to determine whether these kids in Atlanta were learning all these years? Falsifying federal records is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. For this critical mass of cheating teachers, what will the consequences be?

The Journal-Constitution, again:

“State School Superintendent John Barge and Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Kathleen Mathers said in a statement Tuesday in coming weeks ‘they will be working on a number of key issues, including: 1) student support, 2) accountability, and 3) the financial benefit that some schools may have received as a result of cheating.’”

Will the schools implicated in this cheating scandal (and of the 56 schools investigated, evidence of cheating turned up at 44) be made to pay financially in keeping with the meritocracy of public education policy?

For their part, major private donor the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week said in a statement that they continue to support APS and the work they fund. In 2007 Gates gave the Atlanta Public School System $10.5 million to redesign their high schools, and in 2010, another $10 million to overhaul the city’s teacher recruitment efforts. These latter funds will presumably be needed more than ever now, with the new APS leadership vowing that the cheating teachers will not be back in the classroom.

“The vast majority of the district’s educators, administrators and students have all worked hard to overcome great odds and earn stellar results,” Gates Foundation press secretary Christopher Williams told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As a nation, this might be a good time to ask ourselves, should cheating hold the same moral juice on Wall Street (where tens of millions of adults were robbed of an honest appraisal of their credit abilities with very little systemic accountability) as it does in the Teacher’s Lounge?

The implications of this scandal are that educators acted selfishly to secure their own jobs and financial gain at the expense of their students’ learning. But what if it was to keep the doors of their schools open in a system they believed was wrong-headed?

Selfishness is the order of the day in the comedy Bad Teacher, in which Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a seventh grade English teacher with slacker ways who resorts to ludicrous sexual trickery and extortion to steal the answers to a state test and win a cash incentive. She is nearly caught, but never punished. In the moral code of Hollywood, tellingly, Ms. Halsey steals the answers so she can teach them overtly to her students – and perhaps she gets off Scott free because her kids actually learn.

Ms. Halsey pedagogy involves “really teaching” her kids (through a convenient montage of dubious methods), inter-cut with descending levels of sexual degradation. She needs the incentive money for a breast-enhancement surgery so she can land Justin Timberlake’s fancy watch empire-scion milquetoast not-doing-it-for-the-money substitute teacher.

Diaz delivers probably her most compelling onscreen characterization as a verge-of-burnout beauty cynically snapping on a smile for what feels like one last time, each time. But her keeping-it-realness is not grounded in any social reality other than that of a gold digger fallen from grace, her class populated with stock-character kids fated to be pint-sized echoes of her adult love quadrangle. Ms. Halsey’s story begs the question: not, will her kids learn, but will she learn to live with her own breasts through the love of a humble PE teacher, Jason Segal, a man doing it for the witty repartee, humble state paycheck and, oh yeah, the kids. And after all that, Ms. Halsey’s moment of redemption comes through a small bout of inappropriate, breast-related teacher-student line-stepping during a field trip.

Besides the upper class/middle class tension between Timberlake and Segal, race and class are largely absent from this education satire, with three notable exceptions. Before she becomes an all-business educator, Ms. Halsey screens the teacher-as-savoir movies of the past two generations for her class, from Lean on Me to Dangerous Minds, letting Edward James Olmos and Morgan Freeman to do her inspiring for her mostly Caucasian students. Posing as a Chicago Tribune reporter to lift a copy of the answer key from a hapless Thomas Lennon, the script flips the idea of intrinsic racial bias in the testing material into a queasy punch line referencing “Orientals.” And in the final frames, a middle school named for Malcolm X. gets an unlikely laugh, when it is announced that Ms. Halsey’s painfully corny teacher-nemesis will presumably receive her off-screen come-uppance there.

As for real life, stay tuned for how this all-too-real cheating scandal will play out. The more complicated “selfishness” of Atlanta Public Schools educators has been thrust into the sweat-inducing spotlight, which might release some toxins of what has been left unsaid in our all-important, high profile “national conversation” about education.

What He Could Have Said: Weiner on the Mic

Did I tweet something wrong?

Did anyone else watch the Anthony Weiner emergency press conference?


What He Could (?!) Have Said:

(Welcome to What S(He) Could Have Said, a new feature in which we explore what could have been said at different moments in time)

Last week, Rep. Anthony Weiner admitted to accidentally posting a lewd but clothed photo to Twitter, and then lying about it at an embarrassing press conference. Embarrassing to be sure, but in his abject apology press conference, Weiner perhaps over-compensated, calling it a “terrible” action in a world full of things far more terrible than some suggestive tweeting. He then vowed to focus all his energy on getting right with wife Huma Abedin part of Hilary Clinton’s inner circle, who was not at the press conference.

Weiner, you jerk! But by drawing out this sophomoric story, is the media being jerkier? Here’s what he could have said.

REP ANTHONY WEINER: “Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. I want to take this opportunity to talk about some things that have transpired in the last ten days or so.

Last Friday night, I tweeted a photograph of myself that I intended to send as a direct message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle. Once I realized I had posted it to Twitter, I panicked, I took it down and said I had been hacked.

Some of you are shaking your head right now. Not out of righteous indignation, but because you don’t know what most of the last few sentences meant.

Yes, I got to know you folks. The elderly. You vote. To you, I am sorry. Really, really sorry.

To my wife, I’m deeply sorry. To my wife’s boss, Hilary Clinton, I hope you will still talk to me. And to my wife’s boss’ husband, Bill Clinton, I would like to apologize for a whole other series of reasons. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that my sex scandal is Dirty Dancing to your sex scandal’s Deep Throat.

To the rest of you I would like to re-emphasize that yes, that photo is me. (That’s right, Jon Stewart. It’s me, b****)

it was really, really stupid. Naturally, I regret it. A little tequila and a iPhone 4 have never done worse. Anyone who disagrees with that statement should use #THENEWWEINER

It was the media that first literally aired my dirty laundry. Something called the conservative blogosphere to be exact – no, elderly people, I didn’t know that was a phrase either. But addressing the whole media, I would like to take this opportunity of my public humiliation to draw your attention to a series of other current events. Events that you could, later today if you wanted to, turn your attention to instead of this one.

What about Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Isn’t that politician and head of the International Monetary Fund – an International politician – actually accused of raping a woman in New York City? What’s happening with that guy? Don’t you have some more questions for him? No? Okay, then how about explaining to the American people what the International Monetary Fund is?

Leave me alone at the Sheraton to think about what I did, maybe get a refresher course on new media from my intern. Oh my gosh, why did all those flash bulbs just go off… oh, wait. Come on, you guys that’s not a euphemism for anything. My intern’s name is Stanley. Why do those flash bulbs keep going off?

Did you guys forget that a gallon of gas costs $4 and you’re still not sure what’s happening with all the oil they spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, anyway? Where’s the follow-up to what Sanjay Gupta said on CNN about cell phones killing your brain in a totally trackable way?

Do you think that now that we got Osama Bin-Laden, we can bring the troops home? Or maybe the explanation is more complicated than that. Well, you’re reporters! Get to fact-checking, m**********s.

What about why do a lot of people in your government who now have juice seem to want “real sick” to keep translating to “real broke”?

Sarah Palin, I blame you. I don’t know why, but I just do. You were the one who was just around the most when I noticed the U.S. government turning into an US magazine.

Frankly, gang, if accidentally putting a picture of a some bulging shorts up on internet is the worst thing that your government was doing, then you would be in pretty great shape. But I know how you do. You’re going to Kanye me.

[Editor’s note: Technically speaking, you can only Kanye yourself, no one can Kanye you. To be Kanye-d is to be slung with righteous indignation mud from all sides of the culture after an embarrassing event until you wake up sweating at night thinking that after you’re gone, your most referenced words might MIGHT just be a (possibly inebriated) “Beyonce had the best video of all time!” when it was (already distressingly damsel-like) Taylor Swift’s “turn to talk,” instead of when you stunned all of them, including Wayne from Wayne’s World, with “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”]

But no matter what you do when we all leave this Sheraton, press corps, I am now going to go out there and redeem myself. I’m not going to focus all my energy on trying to get my personal life back together – frankly, I need to cool it with the ego trips.

No, America, I’m bringing it. I’m talking some Jimmy Stewart, man of color on The West Wing, first 80 minutes of Bulworth, Russ FEINGOLD-type action. I’m going to focus my energy on being the representative you want and need me to be. And guess what, America – New York State in particular: your representative sometimes gets into uncomfortable spots in his personal relationships, accidentally posts inappropriate photos of himself and then tells a quick lie about it. Whoops! Believe me, I am so, SO sorry! That’s something you could never, ever do, right, America? Right, New York?

Weiner out!

Conan Rocks Jeggings!

Watch this instant classic at tbs.com

WHY was Conan’s wearing of the resurgent jean-looking stretch-pants known as jeggings the funniest thing ever?

When I was eight, I HAD some jeggings. You see, my youthful self found real jeans uncomfortable for some odd reason, and this seemed like a nice compromise.

But even back then, the jeggings didn’t seem ready for the world. I looked at those things through my Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and said to myself, “these’ll never come back.”

I didn’t anticipate our current moment.

Maybe it’s the fact that, at the end of the day, what you’re actually wearing is an artist’s rendering of jeans.

Maybe it’s that jeans were invented for men to work building the freaking railroad back in the day.

Maybe it’s that you look like you’re watching coverage of the first Persian Gulf War on a TV inside a wooden piece of furniture instead of the second Gulf War on a small notebook-sized slabs of metal and minerals. What do we wear when we’re watching this one? Unfortunately, we don’t know.

Maybe it’s the fact that they are like a parody of an iconic pant, American blue jeans took the rest of the world by storm like that syrupy carbonated Kola nut (Africa?) and Cocoa (South America?) drink (the secret ingredient of which isn’t even public knowledge, reports John Pilger):

Maybe its because Conan wore them with a Little Lord Faunteleroy strut like he knew it all.

When Tim Gunn informed Conan that, yes, some men were “out there” who wore jeggings, this prompted total disbelief from Conan.

He was curious about stretch pants like a sociologist. He was going to expose them. And possibly himself.

It brings us to the question: what do stretch pants mean?

If you wanted to get all Harvard semiotics major about it you could also interpret stretch pants as pants that stretch across the globe – as so much of commercial clothing is these days, produced for Americans, by others in countries with lower income, but perhaps in cultural ways, maybe a higher standard of living. And the thing is with figurative and literal stretch jeans, its so hard to hide who you truly are.

Conan said, America: take a good look. At yourself. It’s me in jeggings right now.



“My Loneliness Calls” I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston

Part 2 in a series that over-analyzes music videos. Go to Part 1

Wow, even Whitney’s early videos had her tormented by fame a la The Bodyguard and the later more abstract signs of “get-me-outta-here” distress. In this clip from 1987, beginning with black and white footage, Whitney finishes up a performance to a crowd of adoring white people (European tour?), and then can escape into a Day-glow world of wacky male chorus dancers and blonde hair extensions and a poppy beat that chews itself like relentlessly cheery bubble gum and visuals that rip off Prince, vaudeville, Tina Turner, and a Disney channel version of Wild Style.

Somewhat ironically, even in her fantasy, she never actually gets to dance with anybody. Oh, sure, the male dancers dance for her, and some even get close enough for her to attack through jest. But “somebody who loves [her]”? I don’t think so.

She even dances with DISEMBODIED SHOES! If that isn’t the OPPOSITE of somebody, I don’t know what is.

But the end is the saddest part. She finally decides to run across the street to the Euro club where there might be somebody who loves her. But then we get one more still shot of mopey Whitney leaning on the doorjamb back at the venue, once more fame’s black and white prisoner. How can she get back to all those colors?

Soap.com Slings Mud at Corner Stores, Talking to People, Carrying Things

by Lauren Pabst, Your Eye on the Street (you better pick it up)

New Yorkers can’t get their own toiletries either or they don’t have to anymore.

Several cars of the L train are now brought to you by Soap.com – apparently for people who love Fresh Direct, but don’t love their selection of Neutrogena acne cleansers. The folks at Soap.com will deliver your drug store needs (presumably not prescriptions, but perhaps) like, according to an advertised goodie box, toilet paper, makeup, laundry soap and you know, etc. This service is also for people who have a doorman or someone to receive these packages as it is probably a new level of indignity to have to chase down a missed-delivery box of toilet paper for your fifth floor walk-up apartment.

No word on whether they will have the seasonal candy selection, surprise inventory of $5.99 Ed Hardy-esque tank tops, linger-worthy slow jams (Luther Vandross? Brian McKnight, anyone? Is that Lisa Stansfield??) and impulse-bought Snickers bars of my local Walgreens in Brooklyn, but my guess would be not.

This reporter finds herself yet again reminiscing about an already devolved chain store experience, like when I wistfully recall my time working at Blockbuster Video during the VHS-DVD changeover (ca. 2001). In my old neighborhood of Morningside Heights, (which is in Manhattan and thus eligible for same-day delivery from Soap.com) I used to frequent Claremont Chemists, which is visible from the elevated 1 train on Broadway (the skeletal trestle of which serves as one of the establishing shots in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, or at least in Wayne Brady’s um, reinterpretation) and is an independent business. No, they didn’t have Tom’s of Maine natural $5.00 toothpaste, which my fluoride-Googling self was seeking, but they had plenty. I felt good ringing the tiny bell strapped to their door. And I bet that maybe if I brought up the whole Tom’s of Maine thing to them, they might have considered stocking it (but I didn’t want to be that person, as I eggshell-walked over there feeling like a gentrification, personified. All that fluoride-Googling had gotten me paranoid).

Of course, like the future customers of Soap.com, convenience is what draws me away from patronizing the tiny drugstore located further down Union Ave – they’re usually closed by the time I am walking home from the train, and the comparatively massive Walgreen’s, open ‘til midnight, with its luxuriant parking lot is just there, looming, lit up like a giant bug zapper, only advertising fridge packs of Coca-Cola, 2 for $5.

Claremont Chemist, Broadway & Claremont, New York, NY

Looking down on Claremont Chemist, while looking out for #1

Maybe it’s dumb to miss consumer-culture interactions and it doesn’t matter how we get our soap, but this seems like a dangerous moment of cyber laziness. First we got our books online – sure, a big selection! – then, our music – ditto, as well as instant (often gratis) gratification – then in a bit of an only-in-New York leap, our groceries via the launch of the still-successful FreshDirect in 2002 – for those who have no time or no desire to feel their own grapefruits, prior to selection.

As Tom Robbins of the Village Voice reported in 2007, FreshDirect, the go-to fresh food delivery service for New Yorkers, whose lumbering trucks could be seen idling outside of posh neighborhoods all over the city, and whose witty ads stirred new layers of convenience and distance from the chores associated with food and eating, this happy green and orange company, may have been behind calling ICE on its workforce (undocumented workers from Mexico and other nations preparing and serving the food of Americans, immensely wealthy companies making cash off their labor and then turning their backs on them: surprise, surprise) when the employees began to talk of unionization with the Teamsters instead of the union that capped their salaries at $18/hour.

Anyway. Soap.com could just be the savior of people who have embarrassing body fungi requiring over-the-counter ointment.  And lazy-ass people who don’t like the non-stop barrage of (usually earned) attitude that some Duane Reade employees are serving up, perhaps a side-effect of so many customers treating them with the same amount of human interaction as a vending machine.

But perhaps we need a little coaxing, still. According to a profile of the campaign in the Campaign Spotlight Advertising column of the New York Times, e-commerce company and Soap.com helmer Quidsi, which also runs Diapers.com (okay, that one seems more intuitive), has dedicated half a million dollars to pushing Soap.com in the New York City market alone. And the L train is just the first stop on their courting of the “hipster” public, or those who delight in wackiness:

“…there is a grass-roots element to the campaign, handled by an agency named Bandwidth, featuring 30 people dressed as a character, Box Boy, meant to represent the packages that Soap.com delivers to customers.

“Box Boy is turning up in locations like Bryant Park and Times Square and can be glimpsed riding the subway.”

Indeed. With ads proclaiming “Less Schlep, More Shop,” and (my personal favorite) “The end of an errand,” as well as “We carry it all so you don’t have to,” and the literal-minded “Next stop: home (not the store). “Why rush to the store when you can rush to the door?” Whoa there. Not too fast in your socks on the hardwood floors – did you remember to add band-aids to that electronic basket? (wink)  But the most head-scratching and juvenile: “Life without Soap.com stinks!”

They’re selling another drug: hard-core convenience for customers whose drug store needs (or wants) out-strip their upper arm strength:

“’The convenience of shopping from home means you don’t have to schlep heavy things,’ [Soap.com marketing director David] Zhang says, and the selection on Soap.com gives a customer ‘the ability to have access to products you wouldn’t find at the corner drugstore,’ bodega or the kind of scaled-down grocery store in many city neighborhoods.”

The article continues:

“Christina Carbonell, vice president for marketing at Quidsi, notes the prevalence in New York of the “incredibly busy families” that are “among our core audience” for Soap.com.

“‘Versus spending hours in a store, they can spend time doing things that are fun,’ she says.”

Note that they’re targeting busy families, not people who for whatever reason can’t carry their own stuff who, presumably, that rincon-situated bodega can arrange delivery for in the event that it’s needed. These jet-set New York families, so incredible in their business, they don’t have time to stop at the store to get the most personal things they require to keep those bodies running smoothly. Ahem.

“Ms. Carbonell likens Soap.com to a spate of businesses offering convenience, among them FreshDirect, Netflix and Zipcar.

“The message is that ‘it doesn’t have to be hard to get basic essentials,’ she says.”

Yikes. It’s already not hard for their target audience “to get the basic essentials,” strictly speaking. I mean, what kinds of images would that phrase call up in many, many other parts of the world, where boxes of medical and sanitary supplies are another matter entirely?

I, for one, am not going to be using Soap.com. But I don’t think that my life is going to “stink.” I have grown too accustomed to the charms of these  “corner drugstores” being derided by Soap.com’s pushers (Claremont Chemist is literally on the corner. And it’s the best one) and also their bigger, convenience stakes-raising, national but still local job-providing mutant chain cousins. I’m not telling you what to do. But I, for one, need to see what a given hair color actually might look like via dozens of attractively looped locks glued to a sales shelf in an alluring hair rainbow. Okay? Can I do that? No offense to anyone dealing with fungus.