Saturday, February 29, 2020

Wine and Blues Appropriation

A few months ago I wrote a post here about how yoga moms had appropriated hip-hop without paying respect to the culture from which it came. While this is still a problem, there is a bigger cultural appropriation of African-American culture in white society.

For years, white people have taken over the blues. What started as a tribute from Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, has turned into exploitation and a performances that have completely lost the meaning of the genre.

The blues was born in the poor cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. The blues is low income lament music. They are songs about not having or losing. Unfortunately, white America has taken the blues to places it should never be and forgetting those who are still struggling.

Just like hip-hop loving yoga moms.

For example, I saw an ad recently for the Lakeridge Winery Blues and BBQ Festival. While blues and BBQ go together like peanut butter and jelly, how are you going to have a blues festival at a winery? The blues is for juke joints and dive bars. Wineries are for the high class. In previous generations, wineries would be for the plantation owners while the slaves and servants would play in the shacks in the field.

Does this look like the type of place where people would understand low-income struggle music?

For a traditionally African-American music, there are only two African-Americans in the video and one is the warehouse taking bottles off the line and putting them in boxes. I bet he has the blues more than anyone else in the video.

Not to only pick on the Lakewood Winery, there is also the Dunedin Wines the Blues 2020 coming in November 2020. 

The blues should be a group catharsis, a way for people to forget their problems and celebrate getting together. The blues works amongst people of similar social status. Having authentic blues singers play for wine connoisseurs is exploitative.

This is not to say white people can't have the blues. Not at all. But integral to the blues is the struggle. Whether socio-economic, race, or dependency, there are problems that hit us all. But they should not be played in front of the wine-tasting bourgeois.

On the other hand, there is an organization called Music Maker Recordings out of Hillsborough, North Carolina helping preserve the culture of the blues. They are finding old blues players in small towns, recording them, and helping them make money from their art. This is an amazing venture as there aren't many old blues players left. According to NPR, "Over its 25-year history, Music Maker has helped more than 400 artists, most of them in the latter stages of life."

That's fantastic and much more representative of blues culture than wine festivals.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Spy TV: the threat of interactive television

(I found this article on the Wayback Machine on the website TurnOffYourTV. That website is no longer active, so I don't know if this article exists anywhere else. Now it is here for historical purposes.

Articles like this are incredibly interesting to me. They are both warnings and predictive. Society in 2020 is so much more connected than people in 2000 could have ever imagined. Is that a good thing?)

SpyTV: The Threat of Interactive Television

By Ron Kaufman, 2000

"Television's message has always been that the need for truth, wisdom and world peace pales by comparison with the need for a toothpaste that offers whiter teeth and fresher breath."
-- Syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry

Interactive television (iTV) is coming to living room near you! No need to run out to the store to pick up a Snickers candy bar or box of Frosted Flakes cereal, you can order them through your television right after you watch the commercials. In fact, by ordering certain things, the interactive television will show commercials for other products of a similar nature. So soon, you'll be ordering Milky Way bars and Fruit Loops cereal with ease. Smart television is an advertisers dream: capitalism millennium style.

"Everything on interactive TV will be designed to get you involved like this, for as many hours as possible, and advertising will become indistinguishable from other programming. Microsoft, for example, has finished an interactive prototype of Baywatch which combines product placement with online shopping. When characters on the show win a Princess Cruise Lines holiday, viewers can hit a button and try to win their own," explains David Burke in a great new book called Spy TV.

Microsoft is positioning itself as a pioneer in the newly emerging interactive TV market. In March, 2000, Microsoft formed an alliance with NDS Group Plc, a British digital TV technology firm and subsidiary of News Corp. (owner of the Fox network). The pair of companies hope to introduce a digital set-top box to control the flow if data into your television. America Online is also going to push the iTV market with its introduction of AOL-TV sometime in 2000.

Forrester Research is predicting that interactive TV services could generate as much as $7 billion in revenue through e-commerce by 2004. The company also predicts that by 2004, interactive TV may account for $20 billion in combined advertising, commerce and subscription revenue. Another research firm, Jupiter Communications, predicts that 30 million U.S. households will have iTV capabilities by 2004.

Interactive TV is a lot more than just TV with Internet-World Wide Web-style buttons and links. It is television than monitors and tracks what consumers watch and purchase. Interactive TV firms will keep demographic databases full of information for potential advertisers and corporations wishing to peddle their wares on television. "It's like [advertisers] died and went to heaven," Maggie Wildrotter, CEO of iTV pioneer Wink Communications told ZDNet news. "It's finally an opportunity for them to measure the effectiveness and pay for performance and have direct connectivity to customers."

The key to iTV is the invention of electronic programming guides (EPGs). The viewer will create a personalized EPG and control the TV set to only show the programs you want or suggest ones you may like. The EPG can auto-program your VCR so you don't miss anything (heaven forbid?!?) or set off alarms about when certain shows will be presented. The EPG is similar to network "push" technology which automatically loads software updates into your local hardware.

Interactive TV is truly the embodiment of the modern television experience. Burke explains in Spy TV that "the purpose of television is to make you watch television, and here is what makes good television: It keeps you watching. It gets you hooked, gets you to cancel appointments and rush home from meetings with friends. It gets everyone in the room to stop talking and listen to what is on the screen, so they won't miss anything, especially the commercials."

"Interactive TV is not about communication," explains Burke. "It may offer email, but the primary goal is escapism, just like ordinary TV. And the only interaction most viewers will have is with the software. Like a video game, or a coin operated gambling machine, an interactive TV is designed to get you deeply involved with a machine."

Spy TV points out that advertisers will be able to track changing channels, selecting certain programs, viewing habits, browsing through interactive sites, and purchasing habits. In other words, "every click" can be tracked and recorded in a computer database. Broadcasters and advertisers will be able to target audiences with products like never before.

"The most important feature of digital interactive TV is not that you can push different buttons, but that any button you push can be recorded," says Burke. "Even if you never 'play along' with what is on the screen, just turning it on and changing the channels will produce meaningful data that somebody can use."

Advertising will be directed to only some people based on demographics and viewing habits. The television will customize itself to fit your profile. Everything you do on the iTV will cause the unit to react and respond. "Your TV will customize and personalize itself to your desires," explains Burke. "It will learn to anticipate them and help you choose hours of programming. As you sit in your living room, relaxing, letting go, a world of information and convenience is going to open."

Spy TV is book ahead of its time. The book points out the advantages of iTV such as advanced E-commerce and fast picture-based access. There is also, however, issues surrounding a loss of personal privacy and the intense targeting of children with iTV techniques. Your child's favorite TV characters could start personally selling corporate products or speak during the commercial break: "Gosh [insert child's name here], I sure like watching TV with you." Interactive TV opens up your home to the constant intrusion of corporate sponsors and broadcast networks.

"TV has always sought to keep its audience living in a small, artificial world, no more than ten feet from their sets. We have all been encouraged to spend evenings, weekends and family holidays with simulated friends and their vicarious thrills," states Burke.

There is no doubt that television is a powerful advertising tool, now, without any interactivity. With the new waves of technology flowing in with iTV, the television may become more influential than ever in our households. Interactive TV will be a global phenomenon. North America, Europe, Australia, South America, Africa, and Asia are all potential markets for this new "revolution." As Spy TV states in its title page, if this is a "digital revolution," just who or what is being overthrown?

A modern idiom states that "the revolution will be televised." Although maybe this revolution should be boycotted.

Copyright 2000 by Ron Kaufman.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Reflections on not being a dad

This post is reflective and personal and inspirational.

The death of Kobe Bryant was hard on the sports world. Kobe Bryant was a superstar athlete and one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. In a moment, he was gone.

Among the recollections of Kobe, besides the stats and accolades, were pictures of Kobe and his family. The fact that he was with his daughter on their way to a youth basketball game made his death even more poignant and heartbreaking from a family perspective.

In the days since, tributes to Kobe have been profound. Pictures, articles, and videos have circulated throughout social media. They have helped connect people to Kobe and help them heal in the midst of tragedy.

One of the tributes that arose was the hashtag #GirlDad on social media. To show their camaraderie with Kobe Bryant, the father of four girls, men on social media posted pictures with their daughters - showing how they too support everything their daughters want to do or be. It is a powerful statement and heartwarming.

But to me, it was awkward. #GirlDad is something I can't relate to, although for no reason I can explain other than I don't have any kids. I am 42 years old and single with no kids. From what I can gather, that's rare. I am in good health, well educated, make decent money, and live near people. There is little to say that I shouldn't have a family and kids.

Friends have families. My brother has a kid. That phase of life just hasn't happened for me.

But I don't regret anything I've done. I can't point to any particular decision where I turned down the possibility to be a dad. I could point to a family tragedy in my teens as setting me back socially a bit. Maybe being in an all-male military unit in my early 20s didn't help.

But that was years ago. I am much more familiar in social situations now.

Regardless, I can't wallow in the past. Because that leads to stressing over situational minutia. What if I asked that girl on a date a few years ago? What if I smiled back at that other girl in 6th grade? Would I be a dad now?

Over-analyzing the past is a bad idea. What's done is done.

A few months ago, I was driving with two friends who have been long married with families. They stated that they could not imagine not being married with kids. To me, there has been no other lifestyle. This is all I know. That's not a bad thing. It's just what has happened.

But what if I wanted to change that? The strange thing about being a #GirlDad or even being a dad at all is a man really doesn't have a choice. A man has a choice about the type of dad he is, but he has little choice about being a dad in the first place. The birthing of a human being is up to a woman.

Even if a man has unprotected sex, a woman can have an abortion - whatever your thoughts are on that. Fatherhood is entirely a woman's decision. A man has no control of that.

That lack of control of being a dad is the weird thing. If you look at what Kobe Bryant could control, he could control his basketball playing. He could control his drive, his confidence, his work ethic, his intelligence, his leadership, his personality, everything about him. Those traits could fill up pages on basketball and they could make him a basketball legend, but they could not make him a dad.

Kobe Bryant was 41 years old and had four children.

Likewise, I could control my career. I could get a good job. find a stable place to live, win awards, get degrees, work hard, read more, learn, get in better shape, eat well, run a marathon, be nice, rescue kittens, and help little old ladies across the street. I could be an expert in my field. But yet none of those things would get me any close to being a dad. And guys who do none of those have kids.

I am 42 with no kids.

I can't set a goal of being a dad. That's not feasible. A woman can say she wants to have children before 25, 30, 35, or whatever age. A man can't do that.

So what should I do?

If you think about it, most of us are the result of a woman saying "yes" to spending time with a man. Not even in a sexual way - that comes eventually. But every future mother agreed to be in the company of a future father. That's the absolute step 1 to being a father.

My first step may be dating more. Unless I want to be the father with a random bar hook-up or a Russian bride, knowing someone well might be recommended. Dating, going out, or spending time with a good woman might be good things in the quest for fatherhood. Even if children are not in the picture for this woman, I get to connect with someone I like. That's a good thing.

Maybe I should create a dating profile with the heading "I want to be good dad someday".

Do I tell women out there that I want to be a dad at some point in my life? I think so, but I don't think that should be a subject on the first date. Being a new dad is part of the reason I am rarely interested in women older than I am. I want to start being a dad from scratch. Deal with all those things other guys I know have dealt with, albeit a bit later in life than they have.

Some people say you should have kids when you are young so you can enjoy them into your middle age and be a grandparent, great grandparent, etc. But those people don't realize that men can't control that. Personally, I can't turn back time. Being a 20-something or 30-something dad is something I will never be.

I am optimistic. I have a lot going for me. But as I said, I can't work or study myself into being a dad, no less a good dad.

This post is a look back, but not in guilt. Do not misunderstand. Despite some occasional career struggles, my life has been amazing. I have had fun and seen the world and worked, hung out, and met awesome people. I have performed on stage, written a book, and learned amazing things. And I still have goals to get a great job, get a PhD, teach, retire well, travel, etc.

But if you notice, my goals are things I can mostly control. Things I can do to get where I want to be.

I am happy.

But I wonder what life as a dad is like. The reflections and camaraderie among #GirlDads has me wondering what that part of Kobe Bryant's life was like. I wonder what relating to my friends and family who have kids is like.

Most of all, I wonder if I can do anything different to make that happen.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Smoothies at the Movies

(This post is from 2010, but I am republishing it again because it is still relevant.)

This past weekend, besides seeing Rodrigo Y Gabriela, I also caught a film at the Gasparilla International Film Festival. The Gasparilla International Film Festival was held at Tampa's CineBistro, a small, up-scale theater that also features a gourmet restaurant. Customers order food or drinks prior to the film and the waitstaff brings it out before the movie starts. A bit high-priced and not something I would do all the time, but a fun experience nonetheless.

CineBistro is not the only place in Tampa that does the food-movie thing. Other theaters in town feature full bars, pizza, and of course, the normal array of candy, popcorn, and soda.

What I have yet to see, however, is any food offered for the health conscious among us. Those who don't want to nosh on nougat or munch on Milkduds are out of luck at the theater. With our health food craze entering its second or third decade, I am flabbergasted as to why no one has done this yet.

I don't think it would be too difficult to for a smoothie place to affiliate themselves with a local cinema. Instead of candy, why not offer protein bars or trail mix? Even the head of Sony Pictures, Michael Lynton, recently suggested theaters should offer a healther menu, with items such as "fruit cups, vegetables with dip, yogurt, granola bars, baked chips and unbuttered, air-popped popcorn".

As writer Rosecrans Baldwin writes in his recent commentary about the evils of popcorn, "a medium popcorn at a Regal-chain movie theater contains 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat" . That's preposterous.

Yet no one has offered an alternative. It should not be that difficult. If I can get a margarita, I should be able to get a strawberry-banana smoothie with a heaping scoop of ginseng, ginko biloba, amino acids, protein, or whatever else I want in there.

Come on movie theater people, I want smoothies at my movies.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Living in the Budweiser Building

We live in a world of advertising. There are ads everywhere. You can't leave your house without seeing some kind of advertisement for something, whether it be on billboards or banners, in newspapers or programs. According to this site, we see somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand ads a day.

Yet there is one place I've never seen "sell out". I've lived in apartments for a little over a decade and never have I seen apartment buildings called anything but "Building A-Z" or "Building 1-99".

Why don't apartment complexes rent out the name of their buildings to companies? This seems like a match made in capitalistic nirvana.

The apartment complex wins because they get free income for renaming areas that are not really attached to their name. Bonus points if they keep the advertisers in the alphabetical order as the apartment buildings.

For example:

  • Building A: The Albertsons Building

  • Building B: The Best Buy Building

  • Building C: The Costco Building

  • Building D: The Dominos Building

  • Building H: The Home Depot Building

  • Building M: The McDonalds Building

  • Etc, etc
Notice the type of companies there. There are all places or products apartment residents would frequent or purchase. Therein lies the benefit for the companies buying the space. The residents are a captive audience to the ad. They have to say the product name, because it is where they live.

For example, imagine this casual conversation:

"Hey Bob, why don't we watch the game at your place?"

"Sure, you know my complex, right? I am in the Budweiser Building."

"Whoa, speaking of, do you want me to pick up a case?"

"Sure, sounds good. Just make sure you make it here before kickoff."

Did you see how the Budweiser brand automatically inserted itself into the conversation? It was almost like magic.

If high rise, downtown, skyskraping condominium buildings can sell their naming rights, why can't apartment complexes? They could even package the advertising real estate on the side of the building to the company buying the name. That would cost extra, of course.

Although I don't think apartment complexes would be so kind, this may be a way to help control rent inflation. I've never lived in a complex that didn't raise their rent every year. However, if a potential annual rent increase drove most of the resident to consider moving, the complex could nix the increase to residents but still making their money by upping the cost of advertising, shifting the cost from the resident to the advertiser.

How could this not work? I think it is foolproof. Unfortunately, I don't own an apartment complex.