Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pop Culture Rewind: Stand By Me, River Phoenix

When I think of films that completely defined the 80s for me, several come to mind. It’s a sign that I’m getting old when I mentioned one of my favorite films, Stand By Me, to a couple different students last week who stared at me blankly. Then to say, “you know, with River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton?” and hear, “Who’s River Phoenix?” – it sort of just makes me cringe. Granted, I shouldn’t hold this against them. After all, several of them weren’t even born when the film came out. Sailor hadn’t even seen it, so we dialed it up this weekend while I was couch-bound with a stomach bug. I love coming back to pop culture at different moments in your life – it almost always retains some of the original impact, offers a sort of nostalgia for the past, and can shed light on what you’re experiencing now.

Quick recap for those not in the know – Stand By Me is a film released in 1986 based on the Stephen King short story “The Body.” Directed by Rob Reiner (who most recently directed The Bucket List, and whose credits include other classics like Misery, A Few Good Men and The Princess Bride), it’s a coming of age drama about four boys growing up in a small town in Oregon. The main characters are played by River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell with other significant roles played by Kiefer Sutherland in his hoodlum/punk phase pre-Jack Bauer awesomeness and John Cusack back when his career wasn’t a farce that needed a time machine. When the boys learn the location of a dead body, they embark on a two-day journey that helps them learn about life and death.

What I remember about the film from my first experience is that a) I was in love with River Phoenix, b) the dead body was a lot scarier, and c) I felt kind of sad that I was a girl, because boy bonding looked way cooler than girl bonding. I guess that makes sense if I’m watching this in middle school. What interests me about it now in retrospect, after years of critically analyzing media, is how timeless the story is – the trials and tribulations of growing up, defining identity from adolescence to adulthood, and the pain of loss that never goes away. We also have a kind of cultural obsession with childhood friends, though this nostalgia may be tempered by today’s technological ability to remain “in touch” with so many from our pasts. The performances turned in by Phoenix and Wheaton fill the screen and perfectly capture tortured youth searching for ways to define existence. Phoenix explained his experience on the film saying, “I realized that what I was creating was going to live on far longer than anything of me as a person. The characters are more powerful than the person that creates them.”

Also, revisiting River Phoenix is spooky. He spoke to a lot of people, and saw things about culture that went largely unnoticed at the time (check out this interview where he claims the celebrity culture of Hollywood is out of control). Halloween of 1993 was crazy. The news of Phoenix’s death surprised a lot of people, but I distinctly remember feeling numb – numb from the shock and from the eerie sense that it made sense at the same time. From everything that surfaced both before and after his death, it’s a strong possibility that Phoenix was bisexual – or if not, at least sexually experimental in ways several youth didn’t have language for in the 80s – and in several public appearances in the early 90s, it was clear he was into drugs. And maybe that’s why I always had this strong affinity for him – seeing something behind the eyes that produced riveting performances, knowing that something darker was underneath.

Substance abuse, suicide and depression are rampant among LGBT youth, and the prevalence of drug or alcohol use among bisexual youth is 340% greater than the rate among straight teens. Though rates of addiction and depression have decreased for LGBT youth in recent years (which I firmly believe is linked to increased media representation and language to talk about sexuality), those youth growing up in the United States obviously still live in a cultural climate that is hostile to any non-heterosexual identity. It’s hard. It’s a terribly hard existence, and it’s little wonder that Phoenix (or any other young person living in that time period) would look for ways to escape. Everyone does stupid things in their teens or 20s, but for youth struggling with depression, substance abuse or self-abusive behavior, there are a series of double-binds in place that make it hard for things to ever feel any better. I lost a family member, a friend, and saw many other people I knew go through these issues. It’s a constant barrage of wanting to help, feeling helpless, hoping for understanding, and encountering judgment in return. It affects your life every day, even after those people aren’t part of it any more.

So, I never KNEW River Phoenix – this is entirely my speculation/narration as to what his presence meant to me and how I make sense of it in retrospect. And I do feel the absence of his presence a little bit each day, the same way I feel the absence of so many other wonderful people who touched the world in ways they probably never knew. It’s fitting that Phoenix’s character’s death is what prompts the retelling of the story in the film – that those stories will always “stand by” us as part of a cultural legacy, a legacy I hope youth can learn from to make their lives better today.

(Because I touch on some pretty weighty issues here, I wanted to make sure the following information was available – if you are (or someone you know is) struggling with depression, addiction, or other self-abusive behaviors, please check out the resources available through organizations like Hopeline or TWLOHA.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reading Old Navy and Verizon Commercials

I don’t generally talk much about advertising because it’s not really my area, but in my recent run of catching up on TIVO, I noticed two commercials that really got under my skin as a critic for very different reasons.

The first was actually brought to my attention by a feminist media critic, who in passing asked if I’d seen the latest Old Navy commercial (I hadn't seen it at the time, and just now caught it). They’ve been doing these commercials with “modelquins” which have bothered me on and off.

Not that Old Navy’s advertising has ever been a model of ethical responsibility, but this particular ad is REALLY disturbing. I understand it’s a spoof on America’s Next Top Model or whatever. I get it. But what is really being represented here? A “real” girl wants to be judged and accepted by the “fake” modelquins? And told she’s not good enough? Given the barrage of images shown to women advocating that they look like supermodels, is it any wonder we went one step further to say, “we really don’t want you to look real at all – please figure out how to pose and stand like a mannequin.” The biggest “secret” among most tween and teen girls is that they are all on diets of some sort, many of which lead to full blown eating disorders as a result of the way media continually makes women feel as if their bodies are unworthy of occupying social space. So, Old Navy. Not funny.

The second commercial that’s really irking me is this Verizon commercial. The point of the commercial is to highlight Verizon’s coverage AND your ability to stalk people! It shows a mom who is “letting her daughter go shopping alone” for the first time, only to then show that her daughter is not actually alone because the mother can use the Verizon network to track her. Now, I’m not entirely against having such a feature for an emergency, like if your daughter doesn’t come home that evening – but the image presents woman as being a good mother by micro-managing her daughter, and implies that if you don’t track your children, you’re probably not being a good parent. I hate how this dovetails into a culture of helicopter parenting where kids are taught that they don’t need to be responsible in a sense because parents are always going to be there to bail them out. At the same time, any parent who tells their kid to explore the world without this micro-management is a lunatic for allowing their child that much freedom. If you’ve done your job teaching your child to make good decisions, is shopping at a mall (especially the clearly upscale, suburban mall represented in the ad) really a situation where you’d need to stalk your daughter? And what's more, it's not used for a son. It's used to track a daughter, implying the patriarchal notion that women need to be hovered over and cared for (and perhaps that we can't make good decisions).

Yes, these are the things I think about when watching television. Sometimes I wish I could turn my brain off!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sam Tsui & College Musical

Well now. This blog did more traffic with my random pop culture tidbit than any other entry, and it took significantly less time to develop than other posts. This is either because Sara Ramirez is hot, or I need to use pictures more often. From now on, I’ll be cribbing more images from the net.

In a completely unrelated follow up, I wanted to bring some attention to a talented guy I discovered randomly on the Internet: Sam Tsui!

Actually, Sailor discovered him when bored at work and looking for something that would make me laugh. Given my interest in pop culture, my obsession with Glee, and general love of all things college, he found this little gem – HYSTERICAL! A great blend of the High School Musical narrative codes with satirical college humor. I was so impressed with Tsui’s voice that I decided to find out more about him (read, research/stalk him on Google, which is how all good pop culture junkies do it).

Apparently, Sam is a student at Yale, and his musical exploits are chronicled by his friend Kurt Schneider. This interview gives a bit of background on the guys – basically, they were messing around like most college students do, but given that both are ridiculously talented, their musical covers of popular songs have gone viral. Part of what makes them awesome is that Sam sings a number of parts – often times five or six harmonies – and Kurt layers them together in video montages that are really quite well done. Some of my favorites include the Glee version of “Don’t Stop Believing,” an awesome rendition of “Fireflies” (that I actually enjoy much more than the original), and a wicked fun melody of Michael Jackson songs. The guys recently released an album on iTunes (which I downloaded the first week it went live) that includes all of these tracks and more.

Their work is definitely a Broadway/theatrical style of singing/production, but it has solid pop appeal. Its success is most likely related to its ability to capitalize on a cultural moment where traditionally campy, theatrical representations are anchored to kid's culture and youth movements. But that's as far as my theoretical read is going today, so, if you’re looking for a fun distraction, check them out!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pop Culture Tidbit: Sara Ramirez Before Grey's

A funny thing happened this morning, and it made me decide to start another mini-feature of this blog in addition to the Rewind section: Tidbit of the Day. Sometimes I notice random pop culture things that aren’t really worth me delving into an entire post about, these Tidbits will simply present an observation without (too) much of the critical long form you’ve come to expect from Popademic.

So, this morning I caught a few scenes from You’ve Got Mail. Beyond the dated (1998) painfully obvious “What happened to you AOL?” irony, I was shocked to see one Sara Ramirez playing the (Indian?) cashier Rose! Would I have remembered this casting choice? No way!

Oh, how your career has improved since joining the crew of Seattle Grace – instead of playing the cashier with the thick accent, you’re now cast as a beautiful Latina doctor/lesbian whose girlfriend recently surprised her with the news that she doesn’t want children!

I <3 Pop Culture!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ask Me Anything! The Rise of Formspring

For the last several weeks, I’ve been posting random updates on Facebook and Twitter soliciting people to “Ask Me Anything!” For those not in the know, Formspring is one of the latest Internet fads floating around. Several of my students started accounts, so I thought I’d check it out. The premise is this – a platform where people can ask whatever question they want, and you can choose to respond. They can ask anonymously or with their user information, and given the platform, most opt to ask anonymously. I thought it might be a fun experiment to see what types of things would be asked and see whether or not the platform had anything interesting to offer in terms of pop-culture value.

After several weeks and 30+ questions, I don’t think it’s valuable for the most part. Sure, if you are interested in asking someone something but you’re intimidated by them or you aren’t sure how to ask, it helps you out. But I find the system a way to passive-aggressively deal with issues that would be better dealt with in person. I didn't get a whole lot of that in terms of questions asked of me (sans bitch question), but I did find myself thinking, “Oh! I should ask so-and-so this question!” only to start to type it into the box and then think, “Why ask it here when I’m going to see him/her in an hour and I can ask them then?” So, I think there’s potential in this being a useful tool if people are geographically estranged or aren’t entirely familiar enough to ask what they perceive to be sensitive questions. But more often than not, I found myself staring at a blank screen thinking, “What if I have nothing to ask you?” Which, ironically, was one of my favorite questions asked of me. :o)

BUT, I’m not entirely ready to scrap the system. I think a lot of people use technology as a social buffer – we used to ask friends to do recon for us if we thought someone was interesting or wanted to know if they had a problem with us, and now we use these public forums as a way to screen individuals to see whether or not they are interpersonally interesting to us. So, in that sense, I think the platform offers quite a bit – but it has to be matched to the audience, and for the most part, Formspring only works for people asking questions to those who are friends enough to know the person in some kind of technological context (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to get the link to Formspring. So perhaps I’ll leave it open a bit longer as this blog has a different kind of traffic and see if any interesting questions pop up. If not, I’ll probably scrap this and move on to some new pop culture fad – all those who want to know things about me will just have to figure out how to ask without the veil of anonymity!

So if you feel like saving it, “Ask Me Anything!”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The One Where I'm a Luddite (or Music and Technology Meet)

In grad school, I read a book on diffusion theory and quite enjoyed its discussion of how new ideas and technologies infiltrate culture(s). Even at the time, I was the first to admit that I’m not an early adopter. Early adopters are defined as those who want to be in on something before everyone else – so, in terms of my life, I’m typically an early adopter when it comes to music, but nothing else. I love finding new artists before anyone else, camping out for concerts when people aren't massively popular, and getting that one-on-one kind of relationship feel with particular bands/artists. Technology – I’d rather people work the bugs out before I have to deal with it since I really just want things to WORK if they are essential to my productivity. So, it’s no great surprise that I’m not entirely on-board with the tech revolution so to speak. I find myself participating in it and seeing great potential, but also wary of some of the consequences of technological saturation. To illustrate, I’d like to blend my love of music with the newest changes in technology.

I am a complete and total concert junkie. Every year when spring turns around, I get excited about the potential concerts I can attend – scouring Ticketmaster and following updates on iTunes about what albums are being released. Usually, concert season doesn’t get into full force until May or so, but this year, I had the opportunity to go to three concerts so far to kick off this year’s season, and I have to say, this year has really tuned me in to the different realities of concerts than even ten years ago. Ten years ago, you couldn’t bring a cell phone, camera or other recording device to a concert venue. Now, this is sort of expected. And while this gives us awesome You-Tube footage of the concert, it also means that half the people at the concert don’t actually EXPERIENCE the concert. They spend it recording through a camera lens rather than actually engaging.

For example, at one of the concerts I attended recently, the lead singer went crowd surfing at the end of the concert. It was perhaps one of the most awesome moments I’ve experienced in a concert venue – it evolved from his connection to this particular crowd, this place, and the vibe of the evening. When he announced that he was going to do it, I screamed like a little fan girl and got myself in prime position to help the surf (and yes, got to touch him in the process – so cool!). I was amazed that half the people around me backed away from the opportunity to engage this and instead turned on cameras to record it. On one level, I feel bad that they were there – experiencing yet not experiencing something at the same time – but on another level, I LOVE that I can look up that video on You Tube and relive the moment for myself. At another concert, several of the people around me spent more time texting about the concert than actually engaging in the performance and the music. I get it – sharing the experience with people who cannot be there – but on another level, isn’t the experience worth containing in a sense? I like being able to say, “this was my experience, this is mine. I own this.” Certainly, I’ve texted at concerts, so I’m not totally un-implicated in this technological change  – but I don’t send more than a couple, and usually during breaks in the concert rather than during the performances.

So, I guess I’ve been interrogating what it means to be part of a concert experience. It certainly seems to have changed to me in even my short span of life. A lot of scholars have been talking about how this new generation of teens/twentysomethings is so used to technology that to them it is transparent – where to me it might seem intrusive or obstructive, to most people, it's just another aspect of experience. Perhaps my love of being “in” a moment keeps me from really understanding the benefits and pleasures of being connected relationally through technology at all moments. Perhaps there is a social distance perpetuated by technology under the guise of being more relationally connected, we’re actually disengaging with day-to-day realities in a way that constitutes experience differently.

Nothing all that crazy theoretical here – just some thoughts I’ve been pondering during a very busy week. Looking forward to some more concert goodness in the near future! Feel free to leave a favorite concert story – particularly if it deals with the intersection of concert experiences and technology use.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pop Culture Rewind: Aviator

Ah, this is terrible. I totally meant to move on from film at this point and into other pop culture terrain, but I can’t help it! Here’s the thing. I LOVE Leo…not surprising as a child of the 90s Growing Pains, Gilbert Grape thing. But, for real. And, I’m now grown up enough to be skeptical of his twists, especially since he really just attaches himself to directors he thinks are good vs. scripts that are good for him. Fine line there, and I’m one of the few who can see it, but I do. So, anyway.

I meant to see this film three times before now. The first time, I was on my way to the theatre and told that my partner’s mother had cancer, so…we didn’t go. The next time, I was on my way to the theatre and was in a car accident. The third time, I tried to rent it and the disc was messed up. If I try to see a film three times and some higher power seems to think this is not a good idea three times, I give up and say it wasn’t meant to be.

But tonight, I finally watched this film and I can say, it was brilliant. I know that Hollywood has undertaken the OCD kind of character a lot, but this was SO real. The thing I really enjoyed about the film was that, despite the whole history behind it, the OCD issue was kind of downplayed. Which really, if you watch it, it doesn’t seem like it’s downplayed. But I enjoyed the tension between the OCD and reality – that the best moments of an OCD persons’ life are when they are ON with other people, but the majority of those around them don’t know what’s going on underneath.

So, although this is YEARS late – I feel bad that Leo didn’t take the Oscar for this role. I saw Foxx in Ray, and I thought it was good, but not THIS good. Which is sort of a change I guess in how we expect media bio-pics to be…Foxx was good at being Ray – the exact replica of an image we have seen in a variety of forums, but Leo was creative in bringing something to Hughes that made it REAL beyond the media pictures. There’s a book (Speaking Into the Air by John Durham Peters) that interrogates the notion of “speaking to the dead” – that media, in a way, have made it possible for us to live/relive the experiences of those long gone, ghosts in a sense, in ways that make it relevant and timely for ourselves. I think about that theory a lot when watching this kind of film, because my impulse is to ask “is this real?” – did Hughes really go through this? – as opposed to “how am I supposed to understand this person?” – which is a creative question, rather than a realistic question. And it makes me sad that we ultimately rewarded the actor with the closest representation to the original rather than the one who pulled something from the original and made it into something creative and translatable.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Valentine's Day the film (a bit late)

I am WAY behind on writing about this, so I'm posting it today and then will move on to more recent issues in the near future. I try to avoid Valentine’s Day like the plague. I don’t like it’s cultural place as the heteronormative reinforcement of traditional conceptualizations of relationships AT ALL. That being said, I am also an utterly unapologetic romantic, so I love any excuse to express feelings that might not be kosher in a day to day kind of setting.

I mentioned to Sailor I might want to see this film, but only as a date kind of thing. He took this as a sign that, although he thought it would be terrible (he expressed this on at least three separate occasions), he should take me anyway. Thus, I was kidnapped from working on Valentine’s Day to go see this crappy, terrible film. And, here’s the thing. I really wanted to like it. I wanted it to be like a Love Actually kind of thing that I could pull out every year and enjoy. But, in reality, it is not that kind of classic. Certainly entertaining for the short term, but longevity it does not have. And it was clear the writers KNEW that going into to it.

My big issues were the following – this kind of film works when you anchor it to a singular storyline with solid leads. Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner were NOT that. Their “we’re friends but more” storyline was so undercut by other lines that it didn’t even make sense. How did he encourage her to fly to San Francisco, from LA, after she gets done teaching classes (like 3 p.m. for most schools), stop her at the airport but she goes anyway, finds out her boyfriend is married and a cheating liar, to then show up in LA for dinner reservations he has at 6 p.m.? Is that even possible? Time-wise, that’s insane. Totally shot for the dramatic airport scene, followed by the dramatic restaurant scene (which really was the kind of scene any woman with a cheating partner dreams of enacting).

Then, the terrible, terrible role of George Lopez as the “Magical Latino.” I had a student several years back who was convinced that there was a “Magical Negro” role in film, where the African American character existed only to serve the white protagonist’s quest to become whatever…and I was skeptical at first, until he made me re-watch The Legend of Baggar Vance and I was like, okay, you’re on to something. Well, Hollywood totally recycled that stereotype and now we have the magical Latino who knows anything and everything about love – ironic given that we have a cultural conceptualization of the Latin Lover? I think not.

And here is my big sticking point – several critics got all in a twitter about the “de-gaying” of the film’s advertisements, saying Eric Dane’s character was denied equal promotion time in the posters and trailers. And normally, I’d be all over that saying “dude, you can’t do that!” but then I saw the film, and seriously, he’s in like 10 minutes of the film. The “gay” story line is only a brief suggestion. It’s not the purpose of the film, and omitting it from the advertising was not a misalignment of resources given the narrative of the film. If they had a serious storyline that wasn’t mentioned, yeah, but it was superfluous at best. As a media critic devoted to issues of sexuality, I would be the first to jump on this bandwagon if I felt this claim had any merit AT ALL. But really, it’s people getting their panties in a bunch over something that is not important. Sure, it’s a story line. But if you want to be incensed about it, why not be mad that the main story couldn’t be about a gay couple navigating Valentine’s Day? Seriously. It probably would have been a better plot!

Sappy Romantic, 0 – Culture Industry, 1

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And the Winner IS...

Well, tonight’s the Oscars! I look forward to this every year, but not nearly with the fervor of my youth. I used to be SO on top of this stuff that I would have seen every single film nominated in every single category prior to the awards just so I could make my own judgments about who should win. Of course, that was in the days of having a valid student ID and living in rural Midwest America where tickets to films in the theatre were $3 a pop and there really wasn’t anything better to do on a weekend night if it seemed too early to hit the bars.

Then I went and started studying film for a living, and I can now safely say, some days the LAST thing in the world I want to do is see another film. I’ve gotten to the point that I can tell, regardless of accolades, whether or not I will like something from trailers and buzz, and I simply just don’t care to see things that I’m not going to like. For example, Sailor was shocked that I had never seen No Country For Old Men, to which I replied, “Why would I? I saw Fargo. I didn’t like it. It’s like Fargo, with Tommy Lee Jones.” After months of arguments about the cultural value of this film, its amazing direction, etc., I finally sat down to watch it and guess what? Yes, I get it. Yes, I appreciate the acting. The directing is pretty much what I expected (kind of a slower more methodical version of Tarantino), which is fairly over-indulgent and gory for the sake of proving the point that mankind is vicious and that death is meaningless. Fine. I GET IT.

So, I have not seen all the films up for Oscars this year, but I have seen most of the ones I actually want to see. Inglorious Basterds? No thank you. See above. And yes, I understand that Quentin Tarantino did Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction and I still think his directorial style can be compared to that of an over-eager puppy. Precious? A film about incest and abuse involving a 16 year old? I’d rather sleep through the night. I almost passed on The Hurt Locker simply because I’m not a big fan of war films, but decided to give it a shot since I’ve liked Kathryn Bigelow’s work (Point Break is amazing, and I really liked K-19 even though it didn’t get the greatest of reviews). And it’s REALLY good. Like, wicked good. Better than Avatar good. And that’s from someone who’s not really into war films. My guess is that it will win tonight, if only because people are still a little miffed at the year that was Oscars 1997 and this film is sort of like the Platoon of our generation. But then again, the Oscars of 1997 DID happen, so it's anybody's game.

But what I’m really dreading is the AFTER…especially if it’s anything like the lead up has been. How many times have media outlets referred to Bigelow as James Cameron’s ex-wife? Why aren’t they calling James Cameron Bigelow’s ex-husband? Don't believe me? Type "James Cameron's ex-wife" into Google News and see just how many times the term is used (it's over 1000 stories, try the reverse and you get only 500 hits, most of which aren't even about Bigelow).  It really irks me. As if she wasn’t anything before marrying Cameron, and now that she’s not married, she’s defined by it – like, the reason you’re a good film-maker now is that you had time to sit at the hand of a god like Cameron, so really in a way, The Hurt Locker is kind of Cameron’s film and it’s a win-win for him. But the reverse is not assumed. She gets no implied credit for Avatar. That’s just Cameron being brilliant. So, if the film wins tonight, all the stories tomorrow (or even later tonight) are going to be about how Cameron’s ex-wife nabbed the Oscar from his awesome film that made way more money, and there will be quotes about how he’s “so happy” for her and “always knew she had amazing potential.” If Cameron wins, watch the war metaphors that will appear...clash of the spouses, humble deference, requests for peace.

This is the kind of stuff that frustrates me when I hear students and even colleagues say they are not feminist because women are equal and we don’t need to be political about this stuff any more. If that’s the case, why is it that a woman directing an amazingly brilliant war movie is constantly referred as an ex-wife? Her ex-husband and her relationship to him define her accomplishment. And even in the places where the press isn’t fixated on her former relationship with Cameron, they laud how “humanized” the film is, implying that a woman’s view of war is more empathetic and caring. I could link to a ton of stories using this kind of rhetoric and they all make me sick. Not to say that there isn’t value in a standpoint – or that standpoints aren’t essential to understanding gendered experience – but when the standpoint is defined by sex and marginalization and then used in a way to uphold traditional patriarchal values (it IS a war movie after all), it crosses the line into this complex grey area that Americans are easily willing to dismiss as apolitical, thus, reifying their beliefs that feminism is no longer really useful or necessary.

Phew! That was a lot to get off my chest on a Sunday morning! Feel free to comment my few dozen readers. Also, feel free to chime in with your Oscar favorites since that’s what the purpose of the post was to begin with before I got all worked up about media.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Industry & Idol (and all the things people should already know when auditioning for this show!!)

It’s March, and while for most that means basketball madness, for me it means weeding out the losers on American Idol! The making of the top 24 this year was an interesting process to watch. First, there was such a backlash the past couple years about picking talent that wasn’t “raw” – more seasoned performers were making the cut, and as a result, we started to see some very polished performances. Next, FOX was charged with favoritism by promoting some contestants strongly in the audition rounds while ignoring others – and then when put to the American vote, it was SO shocking that people voted for the those who had the most previous air-time!

This season it seems that AI has taken this into account, because the performances so far have been…pretty pathetic. Raw talent it IS – and we’ve gotten stories on most of them (though still some more than others). The more that I watch this show, the more I’m surprised at how the contestants don’t seem to GET it. Like, the largish, emo African American guy didn’t understand why he didn’t make the top 24? I was yelling at the TV, “Dude! You’re a large black guy, and they already took the guy whose wife had a baby during Hollywood week! There’s a quota!” And that continued. White girls lamenting that they are awesome and why didn’t they get picked? Because there are four other blonde girls that look just like you! That’s why! And you were like #5, we can’t put in another cute blonde girl or America won’t be able to differentiate between them!

Another issue I have with contestants is how they do NOT seem to get, no matter the YEARS of footage available to them, that this show is about BEING A BOX. America wants you to be something standard, packaged and easily digested every week. Until we get bored with you. Then we want you to do something "daring" and "creative" and "original." Seriously. I really think people who to be on American Idol should hire me as their coach on what to do with the package and whatnot. I know they have people there to coach you, but they are all supposed to be impartial and crap. I'll support whoever wants me to represent them.

What we learned from round one – the Hispanic community does not watch American Idol. Pour Joe. He was actually pretty good. Probably my second favorite of the night, and alas, no one voted for him (perhaps because he spoke in Spanish at the end of his montage?). I felt less bad about Latino girl, who really DID suck, so that’s not America’s fault, but you’re gorgeous and you should have given us a reason to keep you around. My read – girls, it’s a toss up and mainly a popularity contest at this point unless you're Crystal. Guys, it’s a clear top half/bottom half scenario and I don’t expect too many surprises there, other than the young awkward guys will probably put themselves in a position to be the Elliot or the Chris R. of this season.

Let’s see who goes home tonight…my guess is Haeley, Lacey (who both deserve it) or Michelle (who I don’t think deserves it…just what I think America will do…) and one the guy’s side, I’m pretty sure John and Jermaine are gone, though it could also be Tim since he got the reverse Simon mojo this week.

And what’s with all the weird sexual innuendo this season? Ellen comparing a male contestant to an unripe banana, and Simon saying a performance was limp and unmemorable, kind of like our host? It’s a new level of catty. Bring it on! Plus, this whole cougar thing with Kara kind of disturbs me in ways I can't yet put my finger on, but more on that later.