Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Save the Boobs

Sort of NSFW

The above ad, and several similarly low-brow ads just like it, has recently generated some serious controversy, and feminists are outraged that this organization, Rethink Breast Cancer, would have the gall to release it. Media Curves conducted a survey which concluded that 62% of women found the ad offensive; one woman claimed "It looks like it's a Victoria's Secret or a bathing suit ad. Not an ad about women's health." Meanwhile, Rethink Breast Cancer's founder, MJ Decoteau, defended the ad, claiming, "had to find a way to reach young people who believe they're invincible to a disease that, in reality, is the leading cause of cancer deaths in young women...Young people are picking up pamphlets with a 65-year-old woman on the cover and probably tossing them out."

The jokes have all been made that the only way you could be offended by this if you are pro-breast cancer, but obviously it's very easy to see how this ad is making their point through objectifying women. Personally, I'd agree, but I, and I hope I don't just sound like a horny bastard here, think this is one of those times where it's an 'the ends justifies the means' sort of thing. Breast cancer has a twenty percent mortality rate in the United States, and it will strike about one out of 230 women by the time they're thirty years old. That's one out of forty-six women dead before their life is half over. Information has to be delivered to the younger generation, and this is the sort of thing that will catch their attention. And even though this commercial is "geared" towards men (Media Curves reports only 40% found it offensive), it doesn't seem to have created a spark of interest compelling them to look into the subject matter, but what it HAS done is create a lot of media buzz which has spread the word about the infamous ad. Remember, there's no such thing as bad publicity. To me, this is a far cry from a soaking wet Paris Hilton writhing on the hood of a car to sell burgers. For what it's worth, that Media Curves survey found that 82% felt that it was an effective PSA.

This ad is nothing new from Rethink Breast Cancer, who's currently gearing up for their second annual Breast Fest in Toronto, and support an extensive research grant referred to as "The Boobyball". Another ad refers to breasts as "hooters" and "tatas". This trend of "objectification" seems to be their gimmick, and for better or for worse, has set them apart from the rest of the pack. Now, I really can't see too many more breast cancer organizations attempting this path of advertising, but I'd imagine Rethink Breast Cancer probably has a few more gags to pull in the name of women's health.

ABC News
Media Curves Survey
Imaginis Statistics

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

H1N1: Pandemic or Paranoia?

A few weeks ago, I woke up and noticed that my throat was scratchy. Assuming that maybe I smoked one too many cigarettes while shooting the shit with some friends the night before, I chugged some water and went on about my day. However, twenty minutes later I noticed it had gotten even worse, and I realized what was happening. A scratchy throat is always my first sign that I was coming down with a cold. While the never-ending sneezing, not being able to breathe, and swinging back and forth from uncontrollable shivering to pouring sweat suck, I knew this one was going to come with a whole new annoyance: people seeing I was sick and going on ad nauseam about the swine flu/H1N1.

H1N1 was first recorded in January 2009 in Mexico, and didn't reach the United States until late March. In a few months, the number of reported cases had surpassed that of Mexico, and every news outlet in the country was on top of it. The majority of the public was terrified, and it wasn't abnormal to see people walking around wearing surgical masks over their mouths and noses. Panic hit an all new high when the first death was reported, and people fearfully watched the news 24/7, waiting for new developments, carefully monitoring themselves for the onset of H1N1's symptoms: fever, sore throat, congestion, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea and lack of appetite. Hold on, aren't those the same symptoms as the regular flu that makes it rounds every Winter? Sure is, and what was usually cause for exasperation was suddenly cause for panic; but far be it from these news stations to give up that sudden ratings spike. So what is the difference between the H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu? In truth, about the same difference between a Ford Taurus and a Mercury Sable.

Thus far, there has been 55,774 known cases of H1N1 infection, of which 982 has been fatal. At first glance that's quite a large figure (I'm going to apologize right here if it seems like I'm trivializing these deaths, it's not my intention) but crunch the numbers on that. This deadly virus that has people living in fear has a mere 1.76% mortality rate. Still not convinced? The United States had it's first known case of H1N1 in March, so these 982 deaths are spread out over about an eight month period. Meanwhile, an April CNN article states that the regular flu has killed thousands since January (four months time), and that it averages about thirty-six thousand deaths a year. So, given 982 deaths in eight months, let's extrapolate to about 1,500 deaths a year from H1N1, and on average, you'll see that the regular flu we bitch and whine about every year will kill twenty-four times as many people as the dreaded H1N1.

This isn't the first time the media has blown something like this completely out of proportion. My grandmother is one of those who is scared to death of H1N1 and is extremely adamant about getting right in line when the vaccine comes out. Last time the conversation came up, I asked, "Remember SARS?" She didn't. And why should she, it didn't pose a semblance of a threat to the United States, yet in 2003, the media carried on like it was the Angel of Death merely biding its time before laying waste to the country. In truth, there was a grand total of eight cases of SARS in the States, all of them brought from visiting abroad, and no fatalities. Worldwide, the SARS "pandemic" resulted in less than eight hundred deaths. Same with Anthrax in the mail two years before that. A terrorist attack aimed at high ranking politicians left five dead and seventeen infected; noteworthy news indeed, however the stories came out that there would be letters sent to every mailbox in America. Once again, needless fear and panic ensues.

So thank you news teams for spreading terror throughout America over something that in no way warranted it. Well done getting millions to tune in and waste their time learning all about this irrelevant disease. It's not like we didn't have enough things to worry about without you springing the plague on the panicky masses.

Google vs. Microsoft

Pick an industry, any industry, and you'll find two or more rival companies going at it. Pepsi vs. Coke. X-box vs. Playstation. McDonalds vs. Burger King. The common theme here is that all these competitions are offering the same service; however, as of late there's been a new rivalry: Google vs. Microsoft. Now, Google is mostly known for its eponymous search engine, arguably THE most popular search engine worldwide, while Microsoft rose to prominence with its Windows operating system. However, they've both began branching out into alternate realms of the digital world, and as two of, if not the, biggest companies, they've begun clashing head-on.

In June of 2009, Microsoft launched Bing, a search engine that features an extensive ad campaign implying that Google's search results were often nonsensical and related to the original query by mere tangent. Now as a long time Google user I've never found this to be a problem, especially with the application of Boolean operators that take less than two seconds to learn. This seemed to be the general consensus in class; Brian even went as far as claiming that he's had more problems of that nature with Bing. Personally, after a few brief test searches I wasn't too distracted by any irrelevant results, although I will say that Google usually had what I was looking for a result or two before Bing displayed it. So while we disagree on the severity, it's pretty much agreed all around that Google is the superior search engine. But even if they were equally matched, I'd still say Microsoft was fighting a losing battle by entering the search engine world. People are a creature of habit, and after using Google for years, it's going to take something special to make them jump ship. Sure, at first, curiosity brought browsers in, but curiosity wears off quickly. The sudden spike Bing enjoyed right after launch was already on the decline by September.* Even aesthetically, I find Google's simplicity much more refreshing than Bing's daily detailed background image.

Now much more involved, but just as futile in my opinion, is the upcoming release of Chrome, Google's operating system currently slated for a late 2010 release. Notice it's sharing it's name with the browser Google released in 2008. That's no accident, as the two are going to be closely linked; in fact, the current plan is to take the user interface off of the desktop and move it to the web. I was talking to my friend Mike about this, and being a computer science major, he's definitely more computer savvy than I am. Basically, he has no idea how they can go about making that system work. In fact, he was very adamant that it probably couldn't, and was kind enough to break it down for me. In order to run your computer, every thing you do would be inputted not into your computer, but directly into the internet, where Google would receive it, translate it using a collection of computers, and send it back to your computer. First of all, there's a five page paper of privacy problems with this system, but let's ignore that for now. That system is inherently, and needlessly, slower than hell. Why go through the internet and back again to perform an operation that could be done directly on the computer? Even with Google's proposed WiFi 2.0** (which uses all the white space Google purchased after television dropped their analog signal) easing the congestion of bandwidth, Google's server would be hard pressed to handle the load of every single Chrome user at once. And if they can't handle it and the server crashes, suddenly there's a large collection of users who can't log on to their computers. Its hard to keep customers happy when something like that happens. Plus, Chrome isn't going to get the curiosity traffic that Bing received. Switching operating systems in and out is, technically speaking, a royal pain the ass, and most casual computer users wouldn't even know where to start with that. The more savvy users are going to take one look at that system, roll their eyes, and go on about their day on Linux. That leaves the middle ground, e.g. me. I can change an operating system if I wanted to, but I'm not good enough to look at their system and understand the technical jargon and it's ramifications. So what are the chances of me giving Chrome a shot? Somewhere between none and zero; just because I CAN switch over and don't know that I shouldn't, doesn't mean I'm in any way motivated to. It's going to take a lot of incentive to get me to take the four to five plus hours out of my day to fire it up just to take it on a test drive. Especially knowing that if I don't like it, I'm just going to have to start all over again reinstalling Windows. I'm predicting Chrome is going to crash, and hard.

It's going to be interesting to see how this competition between digital giants plays out. For all intents and purposes, it's a war with no battleground, and I don't see either one gaining a proper foothold in the other's playground anytime soon.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Pendulum That is Mainstream Counter Culture

Any time a stable culture is established, there's bound to be some form of counter culture to go with it. While most true counter cultures remain stable and unknown by the public at large, there has always been a (excuse the somewhat oxymoronic phrase here) mainstream counter culture as well, usually centered around a certain genre of music. A lot of people have written these off as fads that kids in their teens and early twenties go through to blow off steam, and I whole-heartedly agree, but what I would disagree on is that these cultures are completely unrelated. By noticing certain trends in these cultures, I think that there's somewhat of a pendulum effect taking place. That is, each culture is almost the polar opposite of the one before it. I'm going to start in the 80's simply because I don't know very much about the music of the decades before it, but I'm willing to bet the same arguments hold true.

Hair Metal

Twisted Sister - I Wanna Rock
Note: Explicit stage banter

The 80s have always held the reputation of being big, loud, and excessive, and it's corresponding fad is no exception. As you can see, there was a lot of show to go along with the band's music. Besides the hair, which bands can thank for the genre's namesake, brightly colored spandex and explosive pyrotechnics were the norm. Concerts were high energy affairs, complete with members running every which way around the stage and shouting at their audiences, in between songs about booze, sex and rock and roll.


Nirvana - Jesus Don't Want Me For a Sunbeam

In Seattle, Washington, in the late 80s, bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains were forming. Then, in 1991, Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album came out, lead by the single 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' and grunge was officially thrust into the mainstream, with Nirvana singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain unwillingly placed in the captains' seat. Perhaps the most noticeable swing of the pendulum, grunge truly was everything hair metal wasn't. Gone was the flash of their performance, instead you merely had a group of guys playing on stage. No explosions, no props, no costumes. Sure, people will point to torn jeans, flannel shirts and poor hygiene as the "uniform" of grunge, but that wasn't a conscious choice, it was just what these guys wore. The lyrics had also undergone a significant change, however, unlike most other counter cultures, there was no set lyrical themes from band to band, although drugs and despair tended to pop up pretty frequently. The stage banter had also been radically toned down, as the rock star screaming had been replaced with calm dialogue, often cracking jokes with the crowd.

Nu Metal

Mudvayne - Death Blooms

Note: Explicit lyrics/stage banter
In the mid 1990s, grunge was winding down. Like hair metal before it, the scene had become so flooded that the genre had become a mere parody, and it was time for something new to take its place. That something was nu-metal. Arguably pioneered by the band, Korn, one of the most popular bands in the genre, it was also known for bands such as Slipknot, Linkin Park and Mudvayne. The low key approach that grunge took was replaced by the same high energy, visual based approach that hair metal took, except nu metal was much darker, often taking the stage in horror themed get-ups, complete with masks and face paint, and the fans followed suit, popularizing the 'goth' style. Long or spiked hair, extremely baggy pants, trenchcoats, light makeup (all of which was black), adorned ninety five percent of crowds at any given show. The music itself had become extremely aggressive. Riffs made almost entirely of power chords were the norm, and complimented the vocal approach, which were now a mix of both clean and harsh (a guttural roar that most non-fans simply call 'screaming') styles, perfectly. Most lyrics stemmed from relationships gone awry, with anger being the most common emotion. Even songs not explicitly about relationships were mostly angry.


My Chemical Romance - Helena

About the time I graduated high school, nu metal was already being phased out, and emo was taking hold. This shift might be the smallest swing of the pendulum yet, however, it's still noticeable. At first glance, fashion hasn't changed too much, black is still the dominant color, but it has taken on more of a feminine/vaudeville theme to it. Indeed, most guys in the emo scene started wearing girls clothes and heavy makeup. The true pendulum swing comes in the music. While anger, the heart of nu metal, is an emotion that can rally a person into action, albeit possibly irrationally, the opposite would be despair, which is a crippling emotion. Songs were devoted to the misery of freshly broken hearts, the depression that results in individuals locking themselves away in their rooms feeling nobody understands their pain. Likewise, the aggression and "screaming" in the music was replaced with an almost wailing vocal approach, which suited the lyrical content quite well, and on stage performances have been radically calmed from the organized chaos that made up nu metal concerts. An interesting thing about the emo culture is that while the argument could be made that each genre had shifted back and forth from left to right, this is the first time it had gone to this extreme. Indeed, emo tends to be extremely liberal, especially in its views of homosexuality and militarism.

So what does the future hold? Well, I'm guessing that there will be a return to a more aggressive lyrical themes. Songs about relationships will no longer be about heartbreak; but will they return to the anger of nu metal or the sexual conquest themes of the 80s? Maybe it will go a less extreme route and simply be about the recovery itself. Rock group Three Days Grace already has quite a songs about moving on after failed relationships. This would be my best hypothesis, especially since it lines up with my prediction for the future culture's fashion. Considering such a heavy emphasis has been put on fashion for the last two swings, I'm predicting that an almost grunge-esque non-fashion will accompany it. As it turns out, about the time I'm guessing this next swing makes it big, my youngest brother will be right about that age; guess I found my guinea pig.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

One More Post on Letterman

I'm one of those people who couldn't care less about most current events, especially those revolving around "celebrity gossip", yet even I couldn't help but hear about the attempted blackmailing of David Letterman, so I'm sure everyone else well versed on the subject. For the three of you who don't know what's going on, Letterman went out to his car one September day and found a letter stating that unless he forked over two million dollars, his frequent sexual forays with his female employees would be made public. After consulting with local law enforcement, Letterman gave his blackmailer a phony check and the man, CBS producer Joe Halderman, was arrested when he tried to cash it. When all was said and done, Letterman, a married man, publicly admitted his numerous infidelities on the October 1st episode of his talk show, Late Night with Dave Letterman.

You can go on all night and day about how Letterman could be such an immoral bastard. About how could he do such a thing to his family. Legally, however, he seems to be in the clear. CBS's policy states that sexual relationships between employees are not forbidden, as long as it's not providing incentive for advancement; which is the story we're being handed, despite the near unanimous eyerolling from the public. But nevermind all that. I mean, let's be honest here, horny old men being horny old men and celebrities using their status to get into women's pants is nothing new in the world, so I'd like to focus more on the ramifications this is going to have on his career.

Now, Courtney kind of got the jump on this story, and she feels that a) this is Letterman's problem and none of the public's business, and b) this scandal isn't going to have much of an effect on his career. While I agree wholeheartedly with the former, there's been a lot of differing opinions on the latter. Scanning her comments, Brian actually thinks this will give him a sizable boost in the ratings, especially with his competitors unintentionally pointing viewers in his direction. I'll concede this whole mess will give him a sudden spike, but it's only going to last as long as the buzz does. I'm thinking the longterm consequences aren't going to be too good for Letterman.

Obviously, when it comes to these matters, public opinion is split between men and women. While women are disgusted at the man's cheating nature and the irony that anyone can try to sell that there was no unfair working advantage inherent within, men are more preoccupied with how a trusted colleague could betray him. And of course, Letterman's main audience is young males right? Actually, no. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Letterman's biggest market is women in their mid fifties, they're close to sixty percent as a matter of fact. Now combine this with his ill received joke alleging that Sarah Palin's fourteen year old daughter had gotten knocked up by Yankee third basemen A-Rod (Audio here) about four months ago, and suddenly there's a trend of Letterman pissing off women, a.k.a. his core audience. An audience he could realistically lose with this new womanizing image.

Reference: Chicago Tribune