Friday, April 27, 2007

Mommy, Shrek wants me to exercise!

So, instead of doing my homework this evening, I've been spending some quality time doing the usual net-surfing, which led me to this article on MSNBC. For those of you too lazy to click the link (I see you there), it's talking about this advocacy group that opposes the use of characters from the Shrek movies in PSA announcements like this one that try to combat childhood obesity. The main gist of their argument is that the Shrek characters are also used to promote junk like Pop-Tarts, Sierra Mist, and McDonald's Happy Meals, so how can they possibly be believable spokesmen (or spokescreatures, I suppose) for an active, healthy lifestyle?

On the one hand, I can kind of see their point. It does strike me as a little hypocritical when I see Shrek and Donkey grinning at me from the huge display of Kellogg's Shrek Cereal (with marshmallows!) at the local supermarket, and then go home to see them on TV telling me to go out and play "an hour a day." How can McDonald's' latest merchandise monkey possibly be an effective deterrent to obesity among our nation's youth?

However, I see that. Somehow, I don't think a child would. Kids don't care about what's healthy; they care about what's new and cool and fun. Using characters they see as possessing these qualities in effective advertisements creates the idea on some level that the thing being advertised also possesses them. What that thing happens to be is fairly irrelevant. Young kids for the most part do not have the preconceived notion that McDonald's food is bad for you; they see it as they have experienced it, and as it is portrayed on TV: a yummy treat with a fun toy! Hooray! Therefore, they notice nothing hypocritical about a character scarfing down a Happy Meal one minute, then talking about how fun it is to be active and play outside the next.

(And honestly, if I may go off on a slight tangent for a moment here, is it really all that hypocritical? I mean sure, junk food is bad for you, but is there some law saying that people who eat junk food aren't allowed to exercise, or that they are guaranteed to be obese? I know lots of skinny people, and people who are fairly conscious of their diets, who indulge in the occasional Pop-Tart or bowl of Cheezits—isn't the rule supposed to be "everything in moderation"?)

Children also generally don't yet have the idea that exercise is a horrible task to be avoided—why, playing outside is fun! However, if Shrek is promoting junk food while weird, 70s-style cartoon kids are promoting an "active lifestyle" (or worse, those awful kids who fail miserably in trying to "act cool"), then the child starts to think that junk food is really the fun stuff, while exercise must be something adults want you to do "for your own good," and should therefore be avoided.

I agree with the advocacy people that advertising aimed at children is unfair and often despicable in its tactics, but they're going at this issue bass-ackwards. The deals between the Shrek people and the junk food people are already in place; they're not going anywhere soon. To say that the Ad Council can't use the characters in their PSAs would be to give the junk food even more of an advantage. Shrek is exactly what the PSAs need; instead of protesting them, the advocacy groups should be protesting his appearance in the junk food ads. Or, better yet, focus on limiting the advertisement of unhealthy products aimed at children in general. That would be something to accomplish.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

a long ramble on music and nostalgia

When I was little, the great majority of the music at my house consisted of my parents' (mostly my dad's) record collection: one whole shelf, probably six or seven feet long, packed solid with 33 rpm records that covered a rather astounding variety of music from the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, with a few things older and newer sprinkled in here and there for good measure. It was great for at home, but the options were rather limited when it came to portable music. We didn't have CDs; the first CD player in the house was the clunky Discman I got for my eleventh birthday, and even for a long time after that, I only had three CDs for it. My mother had a modest stash of 8-tracks, but sadly, our family's use of automotive technology did not lag nearly as far behind the times as our home entertainment appliances, so they too were rendered stationary. No, when we traveled, we had cassettes. Not very many, mind you; there were perhaps fifty or so between the three of us, of which maybe a dozen consistently traveled with us and ever got much play-time. Most of these were my mother's; she's nine years younger than my dad, and while he was still hanging on to the end of the vinyl age, she was right there for the advent of cassettes.

I remember the tapes clearly, because on every family vacation, we'd end up discussing at great length whose turn it was to pick the music, and exactly why we didn't need to listen to my Dr. Seuss books on tape again. My mother was a big fan of Dire Straits, a totally kickass band from the 80s, and four of the cassettes were their albums. Two more were from an easy-listening series to which she'd taken a shine, entitled "Nature Quest." There was one that my dad never wanted to listen to: it had an rather hideous 80s seafoam-green cover with pastel polka dots, and was entitled Experience the Divine Bette Midler. There was a copy of Queen's Night at the Opera, which I always vehemently opposed because I thought it was actual opera music, never associating "Queen" with my dad's record that had "that cool stomp-stomp-clap song" on it.

My father's contribution to the stash consisted of The Everly Brothers' Greatest Hits and Simon and Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park, both of which were fairly catchy and made for excellent singing along. For awhile (long enough that I actually thought it was ours), he also had a friend's copy of an Arlo Guthrie hits compilation. This was one of my particular favorites, mostly because of the 18-minute-long "Alice's Restaurant," a song whose references I mostly didn't understand (I'm pretty sure I didn't even know what the draft was at that point) but loved nonetheless. It rarely got played though, because my mother quickly tired of that particular song.

When I was nine or so, I got four cassettes of my own. They were greatest hits collections from the Monkees and the Beach Boys, the Backstreet Boys' first album, and Hanson's single flash of mid-90s fame, Middle of Nowhere. My parents would occasionally consent to play these for me in the car, but they weren't their particular favorites (especially the last two), so it was rare. Given that and the fact that they came into my realm of consciousness significantly later than the other tapes, none of these albums really features prominently in my childhood travel memories.

I mention all this because I'm listening to Simon and Garfunkel right now. It's The Concert in Central Park, one of the albums we'd listen to in the car all those years ago, and I can still feel the sunshine hot on my face, smell the backseat of our old Ford Taurus, and see the scenery sliding past in my memory: the Great Smoky Mountains, the Mackinac Bridge, Brown County State Park. We went places when I was little.

And we'd sing. At least, Dad and I would. I don't remember Mom ever really joining in much, except once in awhile at our friendly cajoling, but I remember Dad and me singing. He'd be in the driver's seat, stretching his deep baritone voice up to match Paul Simon, adding his own characteristic country twang to whatever was being sung. I'd warble along from the back seat with whatever the melody happened to be, or as I got a little older, I'd start purposefully picking out Art Garfunkel's harmonies and singing along with those. My earliest experiences with part-singing were in the "family Ford" with my dad.

As I got older, the family trips lessened, then stopped altogether. Mom's work got more demanding, money got tighter, and life moved on. We sold the Ford. My parents divorced when I was twelve, and I feel kind of sad that my brother, who was two at the time, won't have those same family vacation experiences to remember. He'll have his own memories, I suppose, and won't particularly understand my attachment to thrice-patched cassette tapes and 1986 Ford Tauruses, and that is, I realize, how it should be.

***

And now it's getting on past 5 a.m. and here I sit on my computer. Again. You'd think I'd have more sense. But I've got my headphones on and the lights down low and sitting here in my bed, I must say, it's not a particularly unpleasant state of being. My homework, or at least the portion I planned on finishing tonight, is finished, and while I have to be up at nine for work tomorrow, I don't actually have class (read: the need to be fully coherent) until 1:20 p.m., so I'm not too worried.

Still, tomorrow's gonna be another working day, and I'm trying to get some rest./That's all I'm trying, to get some rest.

So said my pals S&G just now, and I think they're trying to tell me something here. So I think I'll go to bed now, and dream of my childhood.

Friday, April 20, 2007

badger badger badger badger MUSHROOM MUSHROOM

Click.

I am enjoying that far more than is strictly warranted.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Have I told you lately that I HATE this song?

The radio station they play in the caf and kitchen (where I work five days a week) has played "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" three out of the last four days I've worked, during my shift. I've also heard it at least twice on the same station when I'm NOT working. It's a truly awful song. The version they're playing is Rod Stewart's, and while I don't know if that's the original or a cover, it's simply not good. The vocals are breathy and bland, and the lyrics themselves are insipid. I mean, it rhymes "gladness" with "sadness." Somebody please, get the man a thesaurus!

Keeping in the same vein here, they've also been repeatedly playing Cher's cover of "It's in His Kiss (the Shoop Shoop Song)," (popularized in the sixties by one Betty Everett), as well as a decidedly horrid remake of CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." I'm not sure who does it, but it's some guy with a weird, kinda raspy voice. A quick Google search reveals that many people have done covers of this song, Rod Stewart among them. It could well be him; I have no idea.

Now don't get me wrong—I'm all for a good cover. It's a win-win situation: the original artist gets some fees (or at least a possible boost in popularity), the new artist gets some publicity with a song that's already known and liked, and the public gets a fresh perspective on an old song. Some recent acceptable covers would include the Goo Goo Dolls' catchy take on Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit" and Uncle Kracker's remake of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away." (That one gets an extra star for including the original artist in the new recording. It's like having James Garner in the 1994 Maverick movie—props to the source. That's cool.) Hell, I'll even go so far as to admit that I rather enjoyed Lenny Kravitz's cover of "American Woman," originally by the Guess Who (although the strange electronic effects toward the end kind of turned me off on that one after awhile).

I really don't know what the difference is here. I'm not a huge Rod Stewart fan, but he has his moments. (For what it's worth, I really like "Maggie May.") But I can't think of a single cover he's done that actually sounds good. And it seems like that's all he does anymore—pity. And I really like some of Cher's older stuff, though I don't know too very much beyond the Sonny & Cher days (with the exception of "Believe," one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure songs). But she really has no business singing doo-wop (or "shoop shoop," as the case may be). I think the common theme among the songs I listed as "acceptable" is that they managed to bring something new and fresh to the song, while still maintaining its original feel. Beyond that though, I can't really explain what it is that makes a good cover. It's like porn: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. Or hear it, in this case.

But yeah, in conclusion, I think a hostile takeover of the caf radio is in order here. But then again, it could be worse; they could be playing Batesville-style country.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Where there's smoke...

...there's fire! Specifically, prairie fire. As in, last weekend's annual burning of the prairie. That's right. There's an environmental purpose to it, and it's all very controlled and such, but that's not the point. The point is, we got to go BURN STUFF. The students are mainly there to help keep things in hand, make sure the fire goes where it's supposed to, etc., but it was fairly damp out, so there wasn't too much danger of things getting out of control, so we also got to light some parts. Some people got to use the drip torches, and then some others of us (i.e. Chrissy and I) used improvised torches made of grass and got some major flame-age going on. Kick. Ass.

I would post pictures, but a) I didn't have my camera along, and b) my memory stick is apparently on the fritz. The stick itself I *think* is okay, but the adaptor to plug it into the computer makes my computer do bad, buggy things. So no further photos until I get a new one.

In other news, the weather needs to chill the fuck out. And by that I mean WARM UP, DAMMIT! WTF? A couple days ago it was all happywarmyayspring and now it's windy as all get-out and I swear I saw snow this morning. And of course, I can't wear my proper jacket, because I wore it to the fire Sunday and it still reeks of smoke. And I foresee no time to do laundry within the next two weeks. I'll be lucky if I manage to get my room looking presentable before my family comes to visit this weekend. Christ on a cracker, where is my time going?!