Reality TV Has Replaced Good Old Fashioned Gossip
Published on September 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

I hate reality TV, which is why I hardly ever write about it.

But I still found this New York magazine piece, in which urban studies theorist Richard Florida discusses his theory of reality TV, pretty interesting. And I think I agree with his theory, which suggests that people used to rely on gossip for the sort of entertainment that reality TV provides. Having grown up in small towns, attended a small college and worked at fairly small companies, I view gossip as a pretty natural thing, and if you lack a social circle and sense of community I can see how you would get your gossiping fix from people like the Kardashians and Snooki and Jon and Kate or whatever.

Here's an excerpt from the piece:

"There are reality shows set in foreign deserts and on the decks of Alaskan frigates and amid the industrial mixers of gourmet cupcakeries, but over time, the series have taken on a predominant backdrop. You can probably picture it: The identikit mini-manses and the vast living rooms and gleaming kitchens within. The multiple garages housing SUVs that carry our heroes on their strip-mall errands. The empty strip-mall restaurants that become extravagantly air-­conditioned OK Corrals when producer-mandated clear-the-air lunches degenerate into Chardonnay-powered tirade-exchanges.

Though this shrieking sprawlscape is not his preferred haunt, the celebrity urbanist Richard Florida will admit to occasionally cruising reality TV’s endless subdevelopments. Also, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Great ­Reset watches the Today show while he’s working out, and “when it changes over to Hoda and Kathie Lee, it’s suddenly all about these people on reality shows, so I hear about it there.” What he’s seen has led him to develop a working theory about the genre. It’s not just that a lot of the shows are set in suburbia—suburban life actually creates the appetite for them. 'Reality TV (from the Kardashians to the Jersey Shore) is the product of isolation & sprawl' is how he put it when floating the notion via Twitter (tweets being the new white paper)."

Amanda Marcotte's reaction to Florida's thoughts on reality TV is also pretty interesting, particularly her theory that gossip can sometimes make people more empathetic. This comes as music to my ears, because I spend a lot of time gossiping.

NFL Picks, Week 2
Published on September 15, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 2 NFL Picks.

An excerpt:

"Oakland Raider at BUFFALO BILLS — I wouldn’t say I’m on the Bills’ bandwagon, exactly, but I think they can beat a surprisingly tough Oakland team at home.

Chicago Bears at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — The Bears looked very good during week 1, and QB Jay Cutler appears to be playing with a big giant chip on his shoulder. (I would, too, if I tore my MCL and everyone mocked me and called me a gutless wimp.) But I think the Saints can beat them at home, where they’ve been very good these past few years.

Cleveland Browns at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS — This should be a pretty scrappy game, and the Browns are technically the better team, because they have a quarterback, but I expect the Colts to scrape together a victory.

Kansas City Chiefs at DETROIT LIONS — I expect the Lions to destroy the Chiefs on Sunday. It isn’t a question of whether they’ll win so much as a question of by how much."

Click here for more.

On Being Single
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at The Awl, Joe Berkowitz has written a very funny and very insightful piece about being single and the culture of online dating titled "My Superpower Is Being Alone Forever."

Here's an excerpt:

"With infinite choice comes infinite opportunities to judge. The more options that exist, the pickier you become. Scrolling through profile after profile, I am transformed into an imperial king, surveying his goodly townsfolk from a balcony on high. Those with minor perceived flaws are summarily dismissed ('Next!') because surely someone closer to the Hellenic ideal is just around the corner. Anyone cute might be cast aside for the smallest breach of taste: a penchant for saying things like 'I love life and I love to laugh' or self-identifying as 'witty.' Yet even when I genuinely find myself attracted to someone, I'll still react with skepticism. What’s the catch? What dark and terrible secret causes her to resort to this thing I am also doing? After scanning closely for red flags and finally deigning her regally worthy, I dispatch a message. But then the truth reveals itself: the king is not her type and also he is not really a king.

Messaging strangers on a dating site is a great way to dabble in Glengarry Glen Ross-style competitive salesmanship. Every hot lead is sure to have already attracted a multitudinous horde of Al Pacinos and Jack Lemmons offering the same bill of goods. You’re all sharing space together in an overstuffed inbox, so words need to be chosen wisely. Asking questions about a prospect’s profile is one way to go—except she probably wrote it months ago and so mentioning her affinity for Frank’s Red Hot now seems as dopey as it probably should. Another option is asking nonsense questions, like who’d win in a fight between Matt Lauer and Brian Williams. (Advantage: Williams.) Since such questions aren’t specific to each lady, though, she’ll probably assume you’re cutting and pasting, and let’s face it—you probably are. When an opening salvo goes sour in person, you can always keep talking. Online, you just get ignored forever. You can send a follow-up later on ('Do you HATE having an awesome time with handsome gentlemen?') but that smacks of Jack Lemmon-level desperation."

The essay also comes with cool illustrations by Joanna Neborsky. And I suspect that anyone who has ever dabbled in online dating will find something to relate to.

College Sports Need to Change
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've long been of the mindset that there's something wrong with college sports, and the NCAA in particular. Stories about college athletes accepting bribes and gifts tend to cast the students as greedy villains, without stopping to ponder the widespread corruption of the system.

What I find most fascinating is the shock and dismay that inevitably greets these stories, because it's not as if they ever contain anything new; the most recent example of the genre, the scandal involving the Miami Hurricanes, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone over the age of six.

For a while, a vocal minority has dared to defend the athletes and lambaste the NCAA, and now civil rights attorney Taylor Branch has authored a piece, titled "The Shame of College Sports," suggesting that college athletes should be paid.

Here's an excerpt:

The list of scandals goes on. With each revelation, there is much wringing of hands. Critics scold schools for breaking faith with their educational mission, and for failing to enforce the sanctity of “amateurism.” Sportswriters denounce the NCAA for both tyranny and impotence in its quest to “clean up” college sports. Observers on all sides express jumbled emotions about youth and innocence, venting against professional mores or greedy amateurs.

For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.

Don Curtis, a UNC trustee, told me that impoverished football players cannot afford movie tickets or bus fare home. Curtis is a rarity among those in higher education today, in that he dares to violate the signal taboo: 'I think we should pay these guys something.'

Fans and educators alike recoil from this proposal as though from original sin. Amateurism is the whole point, they say. Paid athletes would destroy the integrity and appeal of college sports. Many former college athletes object that money would have spoiled the sanctity of the bond they enjoyed with their teammates. I, too, once shuddered instinctively at the notion of paid college athletes.

But after an inquiry that took me into locker rooms and ivory towers across the country, I have come to believe that sentiment blinds us to what’s before our eyes. Big-time college sports are fully commercialized. Billions of dollars flow through them each year. The NCAA makes money, and enables universities and corporations to make money, from the unpaid labor of young athletes.

Slavery analogies should be used carefully. College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene—corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as “student-athletes” deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution—is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation. Perhaps a more apt metaphor is colonialism: college sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with hoary sentiments about caring for the well-being of the colonized. But it is, nonetheless, unjust. The NCAA, in its zealous defense of bogus principles, sometimes destroys the dreams of innocent young athletes.

The NCAA today is in many ways a classic cartel. Efforts to reform it—most notably by the three Knight Commissions over the course of 20 years—have, while making changes around the edges, been largely fruitless. The time has come for a major overhaul. And whether the powers that be like it or not, big changes are coming. Threats loom on multiple fronts: in Congress, the courts, breakaway athletic conferences, student rebellion, and public disgust. Swaddled in gauzy clichés, the NCAA presides over a vast, teetering glory."


Virgin Islands Traveler
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

My friend Susanna, who lives on the island of Tortolla in the British Virgin Islands, has started a travel blog for the Virgin Islands. Among other things, she addresses bike trips, sustainable and local food and hurricane season. Check it out here.

Fall Concerts
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Today at the DG, I compiled my list of fall concerts to look forward to. The list includes Primus, Josh Ritter and John Wesley Harding and TV on the Radio.

Wild Flag
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

The new band Wild Flag, which features two former members of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, the Minders' Rebecca Cole and Mary Timony of Helium, Autoclave and the Mary Timony Band, has been getting a lot of attention.

The band's debut album comes out next week, and has been getting rave reviews. Click here to read an interview with Timony on Slate, and here to read a review of the album in Slant magazine. And here's a video of the band performing their song "Future Crimes."


Our Long National Nightmare is Over
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

It wasn't pretty, but Tim Wakefield finally won his 200th game.

Celeste Boursier-Mougenot at EMPC
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at his blog Get Visual, photographer and DG colleague David Brickman reviews a two-part sound installation by French composer Céleste Boursier-Mougenot.

On Iraq
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

One of the more problematic consequences of Sept. 11 was the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses. Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, as we were told, nor was the country involved with 9/11. Recently, prominent pundits who supported the war have started trying to explain themselves, such as Bill Keller, who earlier this month stepped down as executive editor of the New York Times.

Keller writes:

"But my prudent punditry soon felt inadequate. I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism. By the time of Alice’s birth I had already turned my attention to Iraq, a place that had, in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11, but which would be its most contentious consequence. And I was no longer preaching 'the real-world vigilance of intelligence and law enforcement.'

During the months of public argument about how to deal with Saddam Hussein, I christened an imaginary association of pundits the I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club, made up of liberals for whom 9/11 had stirred a fresh willingness to employ American might. It was a large and estimable group of writers and affiliations, including, among others, Thomas Friedman of The Times; Fareed Zakaria, of Newsweek; George Packer and Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker; Richard Cohen of The Washington Post; the blogger Andrew Sullivan; Paul Berman of Dissent; Christopher Hitchens of just about everywhere; and Kenneth Pollack, the former C.I.A. analyst whose book, 'The Threatening Storm,' became the liberal manual on the Iraqi threat. (Yes, it is surely relevant that this is exclusively a boys’ club.)"

Media critic Eric Alterman is less than sympathetic to Keller's explanation. In a recent column, he chastises Keller and the other "liberal" war supporters, writing:


"The Sound of Silence" at Ground Zero
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

I have not felt compelled to write a single word about the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I don't feel like I have anything to add to the conversation. Or anything I want to add to the conversation. What happened that day still fills me with an immense sadness, and I still find it a little painful to talk about. But I thought I'd share this video of Paul Simon singing a haunting version of the "Sound of Silence" at the 9/11 memorial on Sunday.

Flood Donations
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

My colleague at the DG, Margaret Hartley, writes about some relatively cost-free ways to aid with flood relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in her column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"When Hurricane Irene flooded the towns around where my brother lives in northern New Jersey, he immediately updated his Facebook status with a list of items he had available for any family in need.

A microwave oven, a television set, a window air conditioner, two baby strollers — those were just the first things he noticed his family had that another family might need.

By the next day, a friend had made plans to pick up my brother’s stuff, and deliver it too.

With so many of our own neighbors in need — in Rotterdam, Schoharie, Middleburgh, Scotia, Waterford and elsewhere — people lucky enough to escape the flooding are examining their excess household goods to see what they have available for donation.

Those items — bedding, decent furniture, appliances, dishes, rugs and curtains — will be needed once people whose homes have been destroyed or damaged get relocated. It’s a good time for the rest of us to take stock of our basements and attics, to see whether that bureau or child’s desk we’ve been storing for years might be useful to someone else, and soon. Spare school supplies? Bring them to a school or donation center in a flooded town. Extra canned goods in your pantry? There’s a food pantry that can take that, and get it to those in need.

We are a nation of hoarders and shoppers, and most people have far more than they need or can use, even in these recessionary times. Even people who try to live simply often wind up with extra tables, pots and pans, or bed frames — items collected over a lifetime, or brought into a household when families merged or parents died."

Film Capsules
Published on September 12, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write briefly about some of the films I've recently watched on DVD. The list includes "Black Dynamite" and "Tender Mercies." Good stuff!

David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer
Published on September 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

The supremely talented novelist David Foster Wallace knew a lot about tennis, as anyone who's read "Infinite Jest" can attest.

Now Grantland has posted Wallace's 2006 essay on tennis great Roger Federer, which ran in the short-lived New York Times sports magazine Play. Here's an excerpt:

"Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men's tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you're O.K.

The Moments are more intense if you've played enough tennis to understand the impossibility of what you just saw him do. We've all got our examples. Here is one. It's the finals of the 2005 U.S. Open, Federer serving to Andre Agassi early in the fourth set. There's a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes, one with the distinctive butterfly shape of today's power-baseline game, Federer and Agassi yanking each other from side to side, each trying to set up the baseline winner…until suddenly Agassi hits a hard heavy cross-court backhand that pulls Federer way out wide to his ad (=left) side, and Federer gets to it but slices the stretch backhand short, a couple feet past the service line, which of course is the sort of thing Agassi dines out on, and as Federer's scrambling to reverse and get back to center, Agassi's moving in to take the short ball on the rise, and he smacks it hard right back into the same ad corner, trying to wrong-foot Federer, which in fact he does — Federer's still near the corner but running toward the centerline, and the ball's heading to a point behind him now, where he just was, and there's no time to turn his body around, and Agassi's following the shot in to the net at an angle from the backhand side…and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi at net, who lunges for it but the ball's past him, and it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi's side, a winner — Federer's still dancing backward as it lands. And there's that familiar little second of shocked silence from the New York crowd before it erupts, and John McEnroe with his color man's headset on TV says (mostly to himself, it sounds like), "How do you hit a winner from that position?" And he's right: given Agassi's position and world-class quickness, Federer had to send that ball down a two-inch pipe of space in order to pass him, which he did, moving backwards, with no setup time and none of his weight behind the shot. It was impossible. It was like something out of "The Matrix." I don't know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.

Anyway, that's one example of a Federer Moment, and that was merely on TV — and the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love."

On Being Bullied
Published on September 11, 2011 by Sara Foss

After learning of the 2010 suicide of Phoebe Prince, a bullying victim in Massachusetts, young adult fiction writer Carrie Jones began reaching out to other writers to share their own bullying stories. The result is a new anthology, titled "Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories."

Bullying is an interesting subject, and one close to my heart. Some time back, I decided to mention the fact that I had been bullied in school in one of my columns, and I feel like the world would be a better place if more adults spoke honestly about what it was like to be bullied as children. There's no shame in being bullied, but bullying victims often do feel shamed, and if more people "came out" as bullying victims, it might go a long way toward destigmitazing the issue. Because what you usually get is a bunch of adults blathering away about creating an anti-bullying culture, which is a great idea, but seldom discussed in a way that acknowledges actual experience.

Anyway, here's a link to an NPR interview with Jones and anthology contributors Eric Luper and Carolyn Mackler.

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