Monday, August 30, 2010


Now, I am a person who has a firm grip on reality. Sure, I may have fevered hallucinations of German Rivers and ways of defending Peyton Manning's honor and I may occasionally pit denominations of currency against each other in a tournament, but I am a pretty down to earth guy. It takes a lot to shake me. But, lo, I was shaken. Troy Polamalu, safety extraordinaire and Madden Curse victim, has his hair insured by Lloyd's of London for... ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

Behold! The hair that is worth more than your house!

How exactly does he collect on that insurance? Will he have to file for damages if someone tackles him by it? Will the barber be held liable if he cuts it too short? How do you quantify the damage to the hair if it is dyed orange by a squad of covert Bengals fans? Little known fact, the Cincinnati Bengals have a spec ops division. Also, if his hair is damaged beyond repair or destroyed, will he have to use the money to get a replacement hairstyle? If so, I strongly recommend growing that hair style if you can. It could be your ticket to a million dollar payday.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Timely Post!

Okay, so I did have a crazy explanation worked out for why I haven't posted in nearly seven weeks, but I'll save that for next time. The important thing is I am blogging about something while it is still news. And that something is my former love: the Daily Show. I was a huge Daily Show fan back in 2003-2005, but the show ultimately became a victim of its own success. Specifically, what made the old Daily Show Great was the plethora of talent that would later move on to have very successful careers of their own (Steve Carell, Ed Helms, and Stephen Colbert most notably). On any given night, there would be a number of well written, succinct comedy reports and it made the show the best paced half hour on television. The problem today is the Daily Show could not even retain the meager talents of Rob Corddry and has to rely on Jon Stewart to carry the program more and more. This means that funny ideas have to be stretched further and further and the show had to rely more and more upon ideological preaching rather than comedy. As a result, the Daily Show became less about comedy and more about reinforcing the beliefs of the Huffington Post. But I digress.

The real issue is Murfreesboro made it on the Daily Show last night. For those interested, the Murfreesboro segment begins at the 4:45 mark

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Tennessee No Evil

Have you watched it? Good! First things first, I must give them kudos for avoiding stereotypes themselves. It would have been too easy to get a few ignorant man on the street interviews (which, as Leno has shown us, are easy to do in any gathering of people) and run with the angle of "Tennessee is full of illiterate morons". But the rest of the segment leaves much to be desired. There were a few great moments such as "Ahmed, she knows about the training camps! You idiot!" and "The only thing stopping the Muslim takeover of middle Tennessee is the Muslims of middle Tennessee". However, the rest of the jokes are stretched so thinly that it actually turns the segment into a one dimensional object.

First, the interview with the mosque opposition founder abuses jump cuts more than my cats abuse a three legged, overweight mouse. It's not only bad comedy (since you can take most anything out of context), but it is devoid of journalistic integrity. When Stephen Colbert does his interviews, they are always shown in chronological order and you always see Stephen ask the questions. You always have context. Now, before I go on, that does not justify every crazy thing the leader of the group said, but it does raise several legitimate questions such as "Why don't we hear the context of the craziness?", "Shouldn't that only emphasize how much she is overreacting?" and "What was the question again?". You don't even need to look closely to tell it had been substantially re-edited, you just have to listen to what is said. The first words out of her mouth in the video are "your beliefs are...", so clearly she knows that Mandvi is a Muslim by that point (because who else could "you" be). But then it ends with the reporter mentioning his beliefs and she acts like it's some type of big surprise (which I'm sure it was when it happened, but it isn't in the context it's presented). I guess the joke relies on you having a very selective memory that forgets silly little things like jump cuts and the subject of the sentence. The sad part is I think that the entire jump cut fiasco was set up to make the joke about "and pork is not allowed as an entree" at the end of the crazy list. But the joke loses its impact because it was edited to be that way. I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but for all I know the question was "What are some requirements of being a Muslim?". You could answer (and be 100% correct) that "You have to pray five times and pork is not allowed as an entree." By the end of the interview, you can infer that Mandvi must have been extremely condescending when she tells him "we aren't fools". It seems very hostile in the context it's presented, but then again, we almost never hear what the reporter says to her.

Also, I saw the line "Nobody's perfect" got a few laughs, but upon thinking a bit more about it, I don't think she could have given a better answer. Now before I go on, let me clarify what I just said. There are better answers to that question such as "So?" and "What's your point?" and "Good for you". But you have to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewee, who clearly views radical Islam as a prevalent problem in the Muslim community. By her own "numbers", admitting to being Muslim means having a 3 in 10 chance of being a terrorist so she couldn't act like its nothing (because clearly she doesn't feel that way). The worst thing would have been to say nothing and look shocked (which is what Mandvi was hoping for, I'm sure) because there are any number of insults you can run with from there. If she had said something like "I'm not surprised", it would be perceived as racial profiling. If she ended the interview there (if she thought that the interview would consist of loaded questions), she would be skewered for refusing to be interviewed by a Muslim So when I say "best answer", I really mean "Not the worst".

Now, all that defending aside, you really have to question her judgment in agreeing to be interviewed by the Daily Show. I mean really, has she not paid attention to what they've been doing for the past ten years? Did she not think for one moment to check her beloved Google and see that the show airs on Comedy Central and was not drawn to her because of their great respect for the issue?

Next, they jump over and interview the PR department of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Now, what happens next is nothing short of extremely mundane. Of course the head of the public outreach isn't going to conform to the stereotype. That's the entire point of a spokesperson! It would be like going up to RNC chairman Michael Steele and saying "Wait? You're a Republican? You don't look like an old white man to me!" But no one would do that because kissing up to someone IS NOT FUNNY! At this point, Mandvi realizes he is on Comedy Central and better include some jokes. So he rips off Abbot and Costello's "Who's On First" joke. For those of you who have lived in a cave on Mars for the past 73 years and don't know what I'm talking about, here is what you've missed (N.B. The first 1:10 is set up for the joke):

The problem with the way Mandvi does the joke is two-fold. First, he does not properly cite the source of the joke. I don't know why they cut to footage of the Three Stooges. Maybe Mandvi didn't think the joke was written by the Three Stooges and wanted to make a reaction like Moe or Curly, but he couldn't because that would require skill at comedy. It would've been better if they had done the bit and ended with footage of "Who's On First!", "That's what I'm asking you!". The next problem is THE JOKE MAKES NO SENSE! I mean seriously, they are really, really stretching with this one. If they stretched the setup any further, their shoulders would unhinge. Yes, "a mom" sounds a little bit like "imam", but the structure of the sentence makes it completely unravel. First and foremost, you would never say "I am imam" like you would say "I am a mom". You would either call yourself "an imam" or "the imam". Next, the woman describes herself "I am a stay at home mom," which sounds nothing like imam.... and wouldn't make sense if you were to put "imam" in the sentence. Look, the key to this faux-news comedy is that you either have to set up your jokes perfectly or quickly adapt to what the interviewee is saying. You can't just shoe horn jokes in the segment because you feel like it. Also, it's a bit of a stretch to call Middle Tennessee Blvd (the address of the Islamic Center) a "busy road", especially beyond the Church St intersection, but that would require an attention to detail that the Daily Show clearly isn't interested in.

Now I am rapidly approaching 1500 words and I haven't finished this 6 minute segment, so I will wrap things up. I think that approaching Ben Leming is telling about just how little the Daily Show cares. They approached Leming because he is 1. a Democrat (note how Jim Tracy, a Republican who supports the mosque, is completely ignored), 2. served in the military and 3. would say what they wanted to hear and 4. most importantly, direct the expendable money of the Daily Show audience to Ben Leming's coffers. I'm not making this up (coincidentally, my friend Lema likes this post). The problem is that the primaries that Leming ran (and lost) in were nearly three weeks ago. Now I admit I may have been nitpicking when I said every other nearby stretch of road was busier than the "busy road" the Islamic Center, but come on! Could you at least pay close enough attention to figure out if the guy you're interviewing has campaigned at any point in the last three weeks?

In conclusion, the story about the Islamic Center has as much to do with Murfreesboro as it does Toronto. The show clearly couldn't care less about the situation in Murfreesboro and just wanted to make it an example for why there should be a Ground Zero Mosque. More importantly, it spends more time preaching than it does making jokes, which seems to defeat the purpose of comedy news. More and more, it seems that the comedy label is only used to excuse the show of accountability than to account for laughter.

Also, I think we're getting a rare glimpse of how to rebrand an issue. Supporters of the mosque or religious freedom or of offending those affected by 9/11 (take your ideological pick) want to call it the "Park 51 Islamic Community Center". Honestly, I'm sure they wish they could drop the "Islamic" from it and completely chastise the other side. But that is a terrible title. Not for reasons of Political Correctness, but because it tells you nothing about the issue. Before anyone complains, yes, I know the proposed mosque is two blocks away from Ground Zero, but you're missing the pointThe title "Ground Zero Mosque" stuck because it immediately tells you everything you need to know about the issue in the title. To oversimplify a complicated issue, the conflict is basically over the right of Religious Freedom versus Being Sensitive to those Affected 9/11 Terrorist Attack. Most everyone knows what a mosque is and most everyone knows what you mean by Ground Zero. "Park51 Islamic Community Center" does nothing to explain anything. Not many people know what "Park51" is at a glance (my guess would be it's the day care for Area 51). And what does a community center have to do with anything? It's a weak title that is patronizing at best and misleading at worst.

P.S. I have come dangerously to expressing a political opinion. I humbly apologize. If it is any consolation, my next posts have to do with dinosaurs, football, and Halo.

P.P.S. Much love, Lema!

P.P.S. I'm just shy of two thousand words on this one. Wow. I take ranting seriously.

P.P.P.S. I crossed over two thousand words with the last update. I honestly don't expect anyone to finish this update in a timely fashion.

P.P.P.P.S. I also would like to add that there's a difference between using rearranged jump cuts for the entire interview and using it to make a sound bite fit in a story. Most legitimate news stories, called packages in the industry, only run about 90 seconds. As a result, you sometimes have to edit what a person says so that all the relevant information is given to the viewer in a timely fashion. So, editing the chronology of an interview is not bad or lacking in journalistic integrity, but using that technique to make someone look like an idiot is. Especially when that person did not need your help to do so.