Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stephen Colbert replacing David Letterman and the Generation Gap

There is a shift going on in America right now – specifically on late night television. Within quick succession, the old guard of talk show television is bowing out of prime time and giving it to a younger, fitter generation of host. It’s a shift that we will soon be seeing in other professions and workplaces, with the generational torch finally being passed from the Baby Boomers to Generation X. It’s happening whether the Baby Boomers want to or not.

A well-earned retirement.

It was announced this week that David Letterman, the man who reinvented late night in 1982 and has been a fixture ever since, is finally retiring from the Late Show desk and is handing it over to none other than Stephen Colbert. It’s an exciting choice for Millennials such as I, who have turned Colbert from a talking head into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.

And a New York Times bestselling author.

As the host of the Colbert Report since 2005, Colbert has been a fixture of satire, political pugilism and honest-to-goodness education at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. By assuming the character of, well, Stephen Colbert, he has brilliantly been able to skewer politicians and gain a loyal following while doing it. That’s just on Comedy Central though, a channel that has a very specific viewership. Moving him to CBS opposite the Tonight Show is more than just a promotion but a validation of his type of humor and the people who laugh with him.

 Laugh with him and give him awards.

Colbert also brings with him the youth, a demographic that can sniff our pandering in a second and throw it out even quicker. The Colbert Show audience wasn’t given to him but was instead earned tweet by tweet (even if that tweet offends people even though he wasn’t the one to write it). The networks have finally begun to embrace social media and the Internet as a whole by its choice of late night hosts.
A similar occurrence happened on the Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon took over for Jay Leno last February. It was more than just a new boss being the same as the old boss. Instead it was a paradigm shift that’s been a generation in the making.

 Who would have thought that late-night television would make for a perfect sociology lesson.

Letterman was born in 1947 and Leno was born in 1950 – sticking them smack dab in the Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomers are a gargantuan generation of victory babies created by returning World War II veterans. They were hippies in the 60s, yuppies in the 80s and now, in the new millennium, they’re nothing but old. Through sheer strength in numbers, the Baby Boomers have been catered to for decades and have been in power for my entire lifetime. They are our bosses, politicians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, parents and anyone else in authority that makes the rules we follow. But something is happening with the Baby Boomer generation. They’re getting old.

 Leno needs his diaper changed.

There is a huge shift coming in the generation gap. The Baby Boomers and their gray hair are finally beginning to reach retirement age and will have to give the reigns to dreaded Generation X. The incestuous swapping of talk shows as of late is nothing more than a symbol of that changing in demographic. Instead of Baby Boomer Leno, Generation X member Fallon is now on the longest-running talk show in history. With that he brings his toolbox of viral videos, references that engender him to his contemporaries and a social media presence.

 And no, network television, forcing hashtags on us isn't engagement.

In the short time that Fallon has taken over the Tonight Show, it’s become a whole different beast creating a buzz that hasn’t been felt in a long time. Watching Leno on stage toward the end of his era was tantamount of seeing our dad fumble through the newspaper and complain about the modern world. Watching Fallon, instead, is a conversation that has a contagious energy to it that would be impossible for Leno to pull off.

Don't feel bad for Leno, he finally has time to spend with his cars.

And now, with Leno off the air, Letterman has announced his own departure. One can only imagine that Letterman was waiting for his arch nemesis Leno to bow out first out of spite, but it’s a similar generational shift as the Tonight Show. Throwing my whole theory in the bin, Colbert is debatably not a member of Generation X. He was born in 1964, which is just about near the dividing line of a generation timeline that nobody has ever really agreed on. But whether he is a young Baby Boomer or an old member of Generation X, his audience and sensibilities skew heavily toward the latter.

Similar shifts are occurring on Generation X member Jimmy Kimmel still making jokes every night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Saturday Night Live alum/Generation X member Seth Meyers taking over on Late Night.

 All the while, Josh Meyers continues to be irrelevant.

Conan O’Brien, who was a fatality of the 2010 Tonight Show war with Leno, is still making people laugh on TBS and, like Colbert, straddles that line between Baby Boomer and Generation X. All that leaves in the late night arena is Craig Ferguson, the scrappy host of the Late Late Show who continues to get good rating through sheer force of Scottish charisma.

 With some help from his robot friend...

It’s a changing of the guard on television and, soon enough, the modern day workplace will follow suit. Baby Boomers are getting older and, the longer they hold up progress by refusing to hand over the keys, the harder that transition is going to be. Nobody thought that Leno or Letterman was ever going to leave their respective shows. They were icons simply because they’ve been there a long time. But now a younger, savvier and hungrier generation is coming to the forefront. The best thing that Baby Boomers can do now to save the world is step out of the way.

It's a tale as old as time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My problem with the Batman vs. Superman casting (It's not what you think)

Batman has, and will always be, my favorite character in all of pop culture.

The once and future Bat-fan

Being both a movie and comic book fan, I consider myself more than adequate to discuss the recent casting for Batman vs. Superman. Like any good pop-culture snob, each bit of news has both piqued my interest and befuddled me. However, while I may have some issue with the certain actors playing these comic book characters, my problem has nothing to do with Ben Affleck’s ability to play the Dark Knight.

 Internet trolls are a superstitious, cowardly lot.

Affleck became a punch line in the early 2000s for such duds as Gigli, Surviving Christmas and Daredevil (which doesn’t deserve half of the flack it gets). Despite his fall from grace, though, he has more than made up for it in recent years by finally falling into his niche as a director. You see, dear reader, while Affleck may not have had the biggest presence on screen, he has proven himself behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo.

Suck it, everybody.

Fresh off an Academy Award for Best Picture, Affleck has been the most on fire that he’s ever been. Against all odds he has become a critical darling and that is what makes his next movie choice so important. Momentum is a very fickle thing. It can die in an instant. With that being said, no matter how well he does as Bruce Wayne, taking a role in Batman vs. Superman may be a career mistake.

Like I said before, I love Batman. Batman is arguably one of the most important members of America’s pop culture pantheon. He has endured as a character and as a symbol for decades upon decades through comic books, film, video games and television. The power in Batman, though, is the ability for the reader to live through his adventure. The biggest personal trait for Bruce Wayne while he is wearing the cowl is his lantern jaw and nothing else.

If people weren't so hung up on race, Idris Elba would be the perfect choice.

Batman is a vessel where we can project ourselves as an ubermensch. He stands toe-to-toe with figurative and literal gods and holds his own through sheer ingenuity and training. That projection, however, is the reason why there has never really been a defining Batman in film. Adam West, while enjoyable, was its own character. Michael Keaton, while insane, couldn’t fill out a suit. Val Kilmer, while vulnerable, was rather bland. George Clooney, while possessing a magnificent chin, smiled too much. And Christian Bale, while an incredible actor, was hardly memorable past a few memes.

 No comment.
The man who has represented Batman to most people is a man who never even donned a cowl. Kevin Conroy, through voice alone, has defined the voice, gravitas and pathos of a man that dresses up like a Bat despite only voicing him in the phenomenal animated series. While Conroy alone is legendary, part of the reason why it worked so well is because he was still a drawing. That sense of projection was still possible because Bruce Timm and Paul Dini made the design both iconic and abstract enough to be truly powerful and long-lasting.

 He does have the chin for it though...

The deck is so stacked against Affleck that he will be blamed for any shortcoming in the movie. He can’t win, even if he puts the performance of a lifetime. This makes me worry because, although I think he is a good actor, he has proven himself as a magnificent director and I don’t want to see that tank like his acting career once did.

My true trepidation toward Batman vs. Superman comes from unsubstantiated reports that Bryan Cranston could possibly play Lex Luthor. Now, don’t get me wrong, Cranston is possibly one of the greatest actors around right now and I have no doubt he would do an amazing job as Luthor. My problem is that the casting of Cranston is itself unimaginative.

 I've always kind of hoped for Billy Zane as Luthor.

One can almost imagine the casting conversation, where somebody says they need somebody bald and evil. Cranston, being bald and villainous on Breaking Bad, would fit that very limited viewpoint perfectly. The problem is that Luthor could be so much more than those two traits.

 Here's the part where I admit to being a Breaking Bad hipster.

One needs only to look as far as the two actors that have portrayed Luthor in film: Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Both are amazing actors that have proven themselves in roles that I won’t even bother to list here because this post is already long enough. The people making the movies, however, had a very one-dimensional vision of the character. They only saw Luthor as an unscrupulous businessman, which leaves him nothing to do but cackle, collect kryptonite and plan elaborate real estate schemes.

Both Superman and Superman Returns hinged on horrible real estate schemes. 

The villain's plans are unimaginative and downright stupid but the writers needed to come up with the most despicable way that capitalism-incarnate can make money. Money isn’t Luthor’s motivation though. What Luthor wants is to be the most powerful person on the planet and Lexcorp is only one field where he exercises his control. He doesn't want to have to compensate for himself against Superman just because he is human. His biggest strength and weakness is his pride and what he fears most is being thought of as weak.

It's hard not to feel inadequate when you compete against Superman.

All great villains see themselves as a hero and Luthor is the biggest example of all. His biggest desire, when boiled down to it, is to be Superman. He wants to be this awe-inspiring presence that the human race should strive for. He wants to be the poster-boy for mankind’s evolution and potential as a species. All of those dreams, though, were dashed away the second the big, blue boy scout flew on the scene.

 Does it really sound any different from any politician you've met?

What Luthor wants the most in this world is power and control. He truly believes that the world would be better off under his megalomaniac rule and Superman, who isn’t even from this planet, is his biggest obstacle. Michael Rosenbaum, from the television show Smallville, was the only live action depiction of the character that realized Luthor could be both charming and menacing at the same time. In comic books, the depth of Lex Luthor can be found in stories like Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, Brian Azzarello’s Luthor: Man of Steel and Action Comics #890 to #900 by Paul Cornell.

 Read this story!
If Cranston becomes Luthor, which he himself laughed off on Twitter, he would probably do a good job. The decision to name Cranston as Luthor, though, proves to me that the people making this movie may not be as imaginative as I hope (with a name like Batman vs. Superman, how imaginative can I expect them to be?). We still have plenty of time until the movie even starts being made but, I admit, I’m not holding my hopes out for it.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In honor of Ray Bradbury

I first became aware of Ray Bradbury in high school. I was going through a dystopia phase, as a melodramatic teenager the idea fascinated me. Making my way through the dystopia holy trinity (1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451) I had my first taste of Bradbury. Although his world wasn't as grand as Huxley's or as overarching as Orwell's, it was his voice that I became interested in. Since then I've read his short stories and, after immersing myself in it, I can't help but see Bradbury as one of the best science fiction writers of all time. With his passing today, I decided to honor him the only way I know how: by writing a blog about him.

It was the least I could do.

You see, Bradbury was the science fiction writer that spoke to me the best. Kurt Vonnegut maybe my favorite author, but he was not strictly science fiction. Bradbury on the other hand wrote exclusively in the genre. What set him apart, however, from his contemporaries was his focus. You have writers like Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein that made science fiction these grand stories, constrained only by whatever dogma they were interested in writing about (and, for Philip K. Dick, whatever drugs he was on at the time). Bradbury was different though. No matter how fantastic the settings were or how many times he mentioned rocket ships, he was more concerned with the human aspect of things. Even when aliens were involved.

Old sci-fi covers are always really cool.

While the future and technology are always important in the genre, Bradbury was more of a soft science fiction. He used the future and technology to not astound us or warn us of the dangers of the atomic age, but instead to give us a look into the soul of the protagonist or a beautiful image. Bradbury understood that the final frontier wasn't in space but instead the emotional landscape inside a person. It is just as foreign a frontier as space and even harder to navigate.

Whoops, got a little too emo there for a second.

Without a human element, science fiction is just as mechanical as the robots that populate its worlds. Bradbury was different though. He never lost sight of the fact that, while science leads to many wonders, it is humanity that has to deal with the fallout. And no matter how marvelous man's ingenuity is, he still falls prey to the same foibles that have plagued him throughout history. Through the prism of science fiction, Bradbury told stories about the vulnerability of man, racism, religion and why you should never keep a lion in a children's room. Stories that penetrated the reader and truly made them think about human nature.

And lion nature.

This is why I enjoy science fiction. When done right, it's not about the technology. Instead it's a statement about contemporary human society, yet told with freedom from the contemporary world's constraints. This is why Bradbury was a master. Because he could do all of that and make it look so damn easy. So, with his passing, I mourn one of the great authors of the 20th century.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Comparing the two Doctor Whos by their Christmas specials

It's a good time to be a Doctor Who fan. In 1963 a character was created that erupted onto Britain's pop culture map. He started out as a wily grandfather but, with each incarnation, Doctor Who becomes a markedly different show. In his first incarnation, the Doctor was a wily grandfather type. Then he became more of a wacky uncle. Eleven incarnations and almost 40 years later (minus the hiatus in late 80s through to the 90s), the Doctor has been there on British television screens to whisk his audience away on adventure. But for some reason, it has taken Doctor Who almost 40 years to really build an American audience. Sure the old series used to run on PBS, but it was only during the most recent regeneration that the show has really gained a foothold in the states. Maybe it's Eleven's bow tie that finally made him mainstream in America.

Bow ties certainly helped Tucker Carlson's popularity.

With eleven incarnations, everybody has their own Doctor. I admit, it was during David Tennant's run that I originally started watching Doctor Who. I have always been a fan of time travel stories since I was little (I once tried to make my own time machine out of waffle blocks, a skateboard and a clock taped to my vehicle). And while I was aware of the older Doctor Who series, it wasn't until the new series premiering in 2005 that I really had a chance to watch it. Produced by Russel T. Davies and starring Christopher Eccleston, the revamped Doctor Who proved popular enough to continue past the first series. But it wasn't until Tennant took over the role that it really found its voice.

Tennant really was wonderful in the role.

And so the show continued, with Davies showrunning and Tennant starring. Doctor Who continued to be a success, but it was very campy and pulpy. Yes the series has always been tongue-in-cheek, however Doctor Who as a series never seemed to live up to its potential. With limitless storytelling opportunities at their disposal, having all of time and space to work with, series two, three and four just seemed to tell the same stories repeatedly. Let's look at the Christmas specials for simplicities sake.

Consider this my late Christmas post.

You see, Doctor Who has a tradition of running a special, a mostly standalone, extended episode around Christmas. During the Davies years, they have all been defined by giant invasions of tragedies. Just like most of the normal episodes, there was high stakes and high drama to be had by all. Whether it's an alien invasion, Victorian Cybermen or a futuristic Titanic disaster, Davies always struggled to tell huge stories with lots of sacrifice and action. These qualities define Davies' time as showrunner, with the world always in peril every week and the Doctor always there to save it. The Doctor became a messianic figure under Davies, and there is nothing fun about a messianic figure.

Sorry Jesus, happy birthday though.

When Davies left and Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, the show gained a new life and, with it a new following. Moffat infused a new sense of adventure that was lost in the RTD era. With Matthew Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, there was an energy to the show that has allowed it to finally become popular in America. While yes there was a niche audience of American fans before, now the ratings have never been better. Moffat brings a level of maturity to what is basically considered a kids program. For Moffat, the world doesn't need to be at peril every Christmas. Yes he has only produced two specials so far, but those two specials are head and shoulders above all the ones by Davies.

Series five and six feel completely different from the previous series, in a good way.

Both this year and last year, Moffat has crafted personal little tales about individuals in need to help. And not just sonic screwdriver help, but emotional help. The Doctor doesn't just save them from peril, but helps them become better people. The Earth being in danger is played out in science fiction, leaving the threat hollow, especially for a show like Doctor Who. But for the past few years it wasn't the Earth on the line, but instead the soul of a grumpy old man or the strength of a wounded mother. By focusing on real people instead of abstract threats of doomsday weapons, Moffat has allowed for real emotion to seep into the series. We are no longer told to follow our imagination and go on adventure, we are instead wrapped up in it.

Sidebar: Imagine if Terry Gilliam ever got his hands on Doctor Who? It would be awesome.

Davies used Doctor Who to play off our fears as children of monsters in our closet. But we needn't worry, because David Tennant will than show up in his blue box and save us all. Moffat instead humanizes those monsters. It's really quite funny, the past few series have been the darkest Who has been, but it still carries with it this childlike wonderment that you can't force or fake. Between Moffat's writing and Smith's acting, we have a Doctor that is both relatable and alien. The show is really a strange amalgam of themes but oddly it works brilliantly. Doctor Who could never gestate anywhere else but England. If Doctor Who was developed in America it could of never grown into its weirdness (for other weird but charming British shows, just check out Mighty Boosh), it would of instead compromised itself and been cancelled after a season. But instead we have a completely charming series that I enjoy watching. So, while I started watching with Tennant, I have no problem saying that Smith is my Doctor. He does a damn fine job.

Ignore the giant eyeball and just listen to the speech.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quadrophenia: The greatest album ever made

Don Woods (Mr. Jim): One of my favorite party tricks involves my friend Tom. You see, I become a bit out of depth when the subject of music comes up in party conversation. As I've admitted before, I've always appreciated music but to call myself a music-person would seem obscene to those that make it their life. But during these conversations I try and steer the direction of discussion to great albums. I state my case as to the best album of all time, get met with disbelief, and instantly grab a random member of the party to back me up. Grabbing my friend Tom (he is tall, you can't miss him in a room), we immediately babble on about the greatest album of all time: Quadrophenia. Then me and Tom get wrapped up talking about The Who and forget there is a party around us. With last week's re-release of Quadrophenia, it seemed a good time to finally talk about it on here.

It's not an album, it's an experience.

(Aforementioned friend) Tom Henry (Dr. Jimmy): Every year Guitar World releases a review of the best concept album of all time and year in and year out the winner is The Who’s Tommy. All I have to say to that is: bollocks. Tommy revolutionized rock n’ roll when it came out in 1969 and became The Who’s first commercially successful album. Until that point, The Who was an immensely popular Mod band trying to make it big. Most of the money they made on album sales and touring was spent to pay for damages the band made to concert venues and hotel rooms.

Keith Moon taking a break between wrecking hotel rooms.

Tommy eventually led to a movie and Broadway play which made the band economically viable, thus allowing them to explore further into rock. What followed are four of the greatest albums of all time: The Who by Numbers, Who’s Next, Who Are You and of course the single greatest album of all time, Quadrophenia.

DW: It's a completely lazy comparison, but I see Quadrophenia as being like an album version of Catcher in the Rye. It's a violent, seedy, coming of age story. Jimmy, the protagonist of the rock opera, represents all of us frustrated with life. Thank god Pete Townshend has such a large nose, or else the frustration that sells the album would never be there. The sound and fury of Townshend's guitar and Roger Daltrey's wail speak out for generations of disillusioned kids. By listening to this album we know that we are not as lost as we think we are. And though we maybe stuck on a rock, we can still find redemption in the rain.

Here is the soundtrack of the film based on an album.

I found Quadrophenia in my senior year of high school. Senior year is obviously trying for any adolescent, and my existential crisis seemed more severe than most. Through my lows during that year and summer, I knew I could always turn to The Who. And though I'm sure it's trite to say, I owe a lot to Quadrophenia. That album consoled me more than anything else.

It's not emo if you kick ass at the same time.

TH: While I have never been particularly plagued with angst, Quadrophenia has struck a cord with me ever since I first heard it. My uncle is responsible to introducing me to my Who-obsession. While I have always been a big Who fan (the first album I bought was a greatest hits album) I was a little late in discovering Quadrophenia. What can I say, I was a traditionalist. I believed in the Tommy/Who’s Next paradigm. What could be better? Then a rude awakening came in the way of the songs 5:15 and Love Reign o’er Me. Over the last four years my liking of Quadrophenia has blossomed into love. And not just fleeting infatuation as happens with modern Top 40 songs. Real, full on love.

Tom's favorite song.

This album is perfect. It features the flawless writing of Townshend and one of the greatest hard rock vocalists of all time in the form of Daltrey. John Entwistle is the little appreciated hero, who competes year in and year out for the greatest bassist of all time [only competition being Flea and JPJ (DW: and Les Claypool)]. And, of course, the greatest drummer of all time in Keith Moon.

Bassist never get much love.

DW: I admit The Who aren't as great as they once were. Bad Super Bowl shows and reliance on CSI royalties have showed that they aren't the hard rocking band they once were. But that's fine because the albums from their prime still live up to this day. It means a lot for an album to still have relevance this far down the road. Quadrophenia, however, is not just an album. For me, Quadrophenia was a lifeboat during turbulent times. And I know I'm not the only one that feels that way. My general taste in music might lean more towards the garage-rock revival of the double-0's and Radiohead, but my favorite album will always be Quadrophenia.

Donny's favorite Quadrophenia song.

TH: While I am unabashedly in love with this album I am not the only one nor am I its biggest fan. That proud honor belongs to Eddie Vedder. Yes, the Golden Baritone himself (DW: I'm not the biggest Vedder fan). Vedder covered Love, Reign O’ver Me for the 2007 film Reign Over Me; however he needed Daltry to coax him into recording it. Vedder initially turned down Adam Sandler’s request because Vedder, like me, believes that you can’t outdo perfection. On multiple occasions Vedder has spoken about the role that the Who played in his life and, specifically, how Quadrophenia influenced his work. Like Donny and I, Quadriophenia played an important role in his life. Pearl Jam really did a nice job of paying tribute to those that came before them and it was really special to see them pay tribute to the Who at VH1’s 2008 Rock Honors performing songs off of Quadrophenia.

Pearl Jams are the only other people that can ever do Love Reign O'er Me justice.

All in all, Quadrophenia is a tour de force. It's not so much music as much as it's pure raw emotion. You can feel it. Even after the music stops it resonates with you. It really is a masterpiece of writing that you just do not expect from a rock band. With Quadrophenia, The Who transcend the hard rock genre. They give us something real. Quadrophenia is a culmination of everything The Who stands for. If the band was judged solely on this album, than they should be so lucky.

The Who?