Lauren Mayer: Pet Rocks, Puka Shells and Pop Stars – Going Viral, Then & Now

Every generation in modern history has had its cultural, sartorial or entertainment fads ‘du jour’ – in the 1920s, it was flagpole sitting and Charleston contests, in the 1950s it was Davy Crockett caps and bobby soxers squealing for Frank Sinatra, the 70s had lava lamps and David Cassidy.  These trends became popularized first by word of mouth, as a few adventurous souls made things look cool.  Then it would take weeks or months for a fad to catch on, and months or years before it became so popular it was no longer cool.   (I remember the first puka shell necklace I saw – worn by a 13-year-old at summer camp who was rumored to be so fast, she let boys French kiss her. So anything she wore was bound to be cool and a little dangerous – until about a year later when you could buy plastic puka shell necklaces at Woolworth’s . . . .but I digress)

However, these days trends can start, flare up and die out much more quickly, whether it’s a longer-lasting fad, such as Lululemon yoga pants, or a quick meme, like Mitt Romney’s unfortunate choice of the phrase “binders full of women.”

So it’s probably not surprising that the Oscars weren’t even over before someone created a ‘Travoltify-Your-Name’ app, in honor of John Travolta’s now-legendary mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name.  Add in a generation of teen girls who feel empowered by the characters Ms. Menzel has played, as well as the tendency of girl-power-anthems to sound alike, and I may have come up with the ultimate trend-driven, flash-in-the pan pop song.


John Y’s Musings from the Middle: An ad I wonder if we’ll ever see…

Announcer’s voice:

“Is your real life making you depressed because your virtual life is so much more awesome–and only getting awesomer?

(Screen: Image of a “virtual life” making fun of an image of a despondent “actual life”)

Then you may want to consider asking your doctor about ProzacFB.

ProzacFB is a new drug that blocks the brain receptor identified by neurologists called 5HC2-FB (that creates pleasure from receiving “likes” on Facebook).

jyb_musingsOnce this pleasure receptor is blocked, patients will again be able to return to activities like reading books, exercise, manual hobbies, and interacting more frequently with live human beings.

It doesn’t mean that your virtual life will be ending…..only that your real life life won’t be so darned jealous of it.”

(Screen: Image of an “actual life” staring down image of a “virtual life”)

Lauren Mayer: It’s Not Nice To Tease (But It’s So Fun!)

The Oscars weren’t even over before the internet was buzzing with critical comments about celebrities’ appearance & wardrobe, and with critical comments about those critical comments.  Can’t they just enjoy their intimate little industry awards ceremony (televised to millions and millions of watchers) in peace?

When celebrities and politicians put themselves in the public eye, they’re fair game, since they achieved their status through public attention.  I do agree that it’s not nice to hit below the belt (although when Joan Rivers does it, it’s pretty entertaining).  But it is perfectly appropriate to criticize public figures for the choices they make, whether it’s to dress like a swan, complete with an egg purse (no one will ever top Bjork’s outfit!), or to disregard the one name you’re supposed to introduce (which has already launched apps that will ‘John Travolta’ your name into something unintelligible).

Likewise, when politicians say or do ridiculous things, it is understandable when we mock them, whether it’s John Oliver’s iconic ‘Carlos Danger’ dance when he was subbing on The Daily Show, or all the humor that was prompted by Sarah Palin’s insistence that she could see Russia from her house.  (Although even Ms. Palin could be overshadowed by some neighborhoods – during the ’08 election, I had been a runner-up in a Palin impersonation contest, and thus was invited to come in costume to the Castro, San Francisco’s colorful gay neighborhood, to introduce a local news feature on Halloween.  I walked several blocks in a red suit & her signature hairstyle and glasses, carrying a larger-than-lifesized stuffed fake moosehead, and no one even stopped to look at me.  But I digress . . . )

So sure, sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt at making fun of politicians in these weekly songs.  But hey, I can take it as well as dish it out – I know that by posting my videos on youTube, I will get insulted and called a variety of names (which are usually spelled wrong).  And if politicians like Ted Cruz do things like urging their supporters to pray for more anti-gay discrimination laws, or insist that if people listen to Ted Nugent, it’s Obama’s fault, then they can’t expect me to resist material like that!

My Response to the Death of One of My Childhood Favorite Comedians? Son of Beach, Sheet!


Rest in Peace, Zichro Livracha, Harold Ramis

h/t Brad Gendell

John Y. Brown, III: Why I Was Disappointed by Episode 1 of House of Cards

After reading my RP colleagues, Jonathan Miller (Why I Hated Episode 1) and Jeff Smith (Why I Enjoyed Episode 1) reviews on House of Cards first episode of season two, I couldn’t resist saying “Deal me in, too”

For starters, I am a fan. And after season one, a devoted and complete fan.

I love the series’ metaphoric title almost as much as the brazenly brilliant first season. Our government’s structure, the series seems to be saying, is at once both as fragile as a figurative “house of cards” while also being carefully upheld by unnerving stratagems on par with a figurative card game of brutal skill and exacting chance.

But if Season 2 had a subtitle, it might be “Still Not Collapsed—Yet.” Of course, my opinion is only based on one episode and may change. I hope it does. And to keep disappointment minimized to the reader of this post, I will not include any spoiler revelations beyond letdown.

I can’t recall if I first heard of the “Most Improved Player Award” being offered in Major League Baseball or in the NBA. But I do recall thinking it is a worthy recognition to bestow on the deserving recipient who progresses the most from the season before. And that noteworthy distinction is true in every field of endeavor.

Awarding the opposite credential (we’ll call it “Most Diminished Player of the Year”), for falling the farthest from the prior year’s loftier perch, would seem mean-spirited and unhelpful. But if such an award existed in the the intensely competitive industry of television, House of Cards, season two, seems to be a strong favorite to win based on the second season’s initial episode.

jyb_musingsWhy do I say this? The first episode of season two reminds me of so many original breakthrough series that start off taking our breath away but eventually cashing in by lazily falling back on easy formulaic routines. It may be season two or three or four before there is an episode when we realize the series is trying to recreate surprise and unique drama more by clever camera angles and pounding background music than by a refreshingly original story line that seems to be writing itself.

Sometimes the series recovers after a single episode lapse. But the lapse is usually a sign of creative fatigue. Or at least lassitude. And signals we should start to lower our expectations of what’s to come.

Tonight at dinner a song came on in the restaurant and my daughter said, “I am so sick of this song. This band started off so great and now all their songs sound alike.” Without knowing the band, I offered, “Yeah, I suspect the band either got lazy or played it safe instead of staying true to themselves.” I got the same feeling later tonight as I watched the opening show of season two House of Cards.

The cover for season one had no tag line. Just the protagonist, Kevin Spacey, sitting cockily and inexplicably in place of President Lincoln in a faux Lincoln Memorial. How could you not wonder what it was about? Season two has the protagonist sitting with a confused but plotting look on his face with his wife’s back to him and has the tagline, “There are two kinds of pain.” How could you not assume that one of them is disappointment?

Does it mean the series isn’t worth watching in season two? Not at all. Especially if a series was as spectacularly well-written and crafted a show previously as was House of Cards first season. The series first episode is still catchy and clever. But not much else. I’m still going to watch all of season two. But not because episode one of season two laid out such a suspenseful and promising narrative. But rather because season one was so good I have to believe their will be some inspired nuggets to be found in season two, even if it ends up as the most diminished series of the year.


Follow up: After watching episodes 2, 3 and 4, I have become a re-convert to House of Cards. Not a series grounded in the realm of the possible  But one grounded in brilliant dramatic writing and suspenseful theater. And that’s good enough for me.

Jeff Smith: Why I Enjoyed Episode 1 of House of Cards, Season 2: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

(Check out Jonathan Miller’s “Why I Hated the Episode 1 of House of Cards.”)

I’m only one episode into Season 2 of House of Cards – unlike Jonathan, whose daughters are nearly grown, I don’t have any six hour chunks of time these days.

Also unlike Jonathan, I didn’t hate the first episode. Maybe I’ll change my mind after more episodes, but I quite enjoyed Episode 1. Sure, the Frank-Zoe (Kevin Spacey-Kata Mara) storyline infused Season 1 with some sexy tension – not to mention a scene that will forever haunt every father with an adult daughter who calls to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. But Mara is not irreplaceable on the show; I fully expect the emergence of another character who bring an erotic charge to the show. And frankly, I didn’t find Mara’s frequent coital disinterest – be it with Spacey or boyfriend Sebastian Arcelus (playing journalist Lucas Goodwin) – to be particularly sexy.

Jeff SmithJonathan’s other critique – that Frank’s murder of Zoe was gratuitous and unbelievable – strikes me as more legitimate. But still, it’s understandable. As someone who compounded a ticky-tack crime (approving a meeting between two former campaign aides and a consultant who planned to send out a postcard about one of my opponents) with a much more serious one (lying to the feds about whether I was aware of said meeting), I totally get how things can escalate as one’s grip on power is threatened, whether by a federal investigation or a sharp, ambitious young journalist whose knowledge of your MO has become more intimate than you originally planned.

Did Frank set out to be a murderer? Of course not. At first he just wanted to put Peter Russo in a position of power where he could leverage him for his own use. However, when Russo became a serious threat to Frank’s ambition, he had to be dealt with. Perhaps not so brutally, but once it became clear that Russo had no interest in playing ball, Frank needed a solution. Was the murder of Zoe – in a crowded subway station –riskier than Russo’s murder? Undoubtedly. But once you get away with something once, it becomes much easier to believe you can get away with it again. (That said, Frank really should’ve worn gloves.)

Aside from the Mara debate, Episode 1’s final scene left me confident that showrunner Beau Willimon’s writing chops are intact. “Every kitten grows up to be a cat,” intones Frank, after greeting the viewer for one of the show’s trademark soliloquys.

They seem so harmless at first – small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk.  But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood….sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt, or be hunted.

And he is right. For most real-life politicians, this mercilessness takes a different form – cutting off a preacher who has made incendiary comments, or a prison-bound friend and colleague – but hey, this is television, and so to some degree we suspend reality. But the thought processes that cause Frank to desperately cling to power by any means necessary are as real as they get. Trust me.

Why I Hated Episode 1 of House of Cards, Season 2 — HUGE SPOILER ALERT

Last year at this time, I enjoyed the full glory of my looming empty nest by binging on the first season of House of Cards in one setting.  My wife at a conference, my teenage daughters occupied with teenage occupations, I laid down in bed with my trusty mutt, Apple, to catch the first six hours of the 12 episode program.  I started at 6 PM, with the hope that this early bird could make it to midnight.

By the time the new day arrived, I turned off the TV to catch some shuteye before finishing the show in the morning.  But I couldn’t fall asleep  Not even close.  The show had so mesmerized and enchanted me that I had to turn on a few more episodes to get the show out of my system.  Again, after episode nine, I tried to sleep.  No luck — I endured the true House of Cards all-nighter, finally coming up for air around 7 AM.

The show was terrific.  Not Breaking Bad or The Sopranos terrific, but it certainly made my second-tier of all-time favorite shows — on a par with The West Wing and Homeland and Mad Men.  Certainly, it wasn’t perfect — as someone who’s been immersed in the political life for decades, I found several elements implausible — and my fellow RP Jeff Smith did a brilliant job here outlining what was true and what rang false about Season One.

But it was less the politics that was hypnotizing, and more the brilliant, albeit over-cynical view of interpersonal dynamics.  I loved the business partnership marriage of the lead characters, the Underwoods (played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright Penn), particularly how the program showed a deep love and respect underneath their highly unusual hyper-ambitious pairing.

But the most powerful dynamic of Season One came from the extraordinarily tense and exhilarating relationship between Spacey’s Francis Underwood and the reporter Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara.  Their interactions were at times creepy and deeply disturbing, and other times filled with passionate, revelatory moments of shedding masks and dripping true emotion.  Their interaction literally kept me up all night.

So when my dog and I reached the end of the first episode of Season Two, and — HUGE SPOILER ALERT, I REALLY MEAN IT — Francis pushes Zoe to her death in front of a speeding subway car, I was disturbed — but in a bad way this time.

The murder was completely implausible — it was unnecessary to protect Francis’ reputation, and it was way, way too risky for such a careful politician.  His murder of Congressman Russo in Season One was carefully managed, meticulously avoiding any fingerprints.  It was a complete fluke that this time he didn’t get caught — for such a rash, impulsive action.

Worse, it killed off the best narrative element and the most watchable character.  I’ve suffered through 4 episodes so far, and frankly I’m bored.  The politics are still there (a lot less interesting, I’m afraid), but without the Zoe/Francis interplay, the sexy tension that was so vital in Season One has completely disappeared.

Unless Zoe’s demise was necessary for practical, contractual reasons — Was Kata Mara too busy on another project? Was she asking for too much money? — I think this was a very unwise decision on the part of House of Cards producers.  It certainly was shocking — but shock for shock value is emotionally empty.  Unlike the well-reviewed killing off of major characters in say Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey, Zoe’s death serves no purpose other than its shock.  And at least through four episodes, it’s left a narrative gap that has not be adequately filled.

John Y. Brown, III: In Defense of a Woody Allen Fan

As a young boy my list of grown-ups I idolized included a long list of what you’d expect with any typical boy—athletes, political figures, a few movie stars (the character more than the actor, of course).

But when I was about 12 years old I was in a hotel room with a friend watching a movie that we were able to get through the hotel. It was Love and Death by Woody Allen. It played in the background while I played with my friend. But I kept trying to watch it. The humor was quirky and absurd. And when there was the scene of the view of a battlefield from the perspective of the generals (which was a pack of stampeding sheep instead of men fighting for their lives on the battlefield), I started laughing uncontrollably. I guess I thought it was brilliant and silly at the same time but it hit my funny bone from an angle and with a velocity I had never experienced before –and I stopped my playing with my friend altogether to watch this unusual and hilarious movie. And watched again a second and a third time before I stopped ordering it for fear my parents would get angry when they saw the bill.

A few years later I asked my mom to drive me to see the movie Manhattan. I heard Woody Allen had written it and starred in it. The same guy who wrote and starred in that hilarious movie I saw at the hotel when I was 12.
I didn’t like Manhattan as much as Love and Death, but left the theater a bona fide Woody Allen fan.

In high school, there were no VCR’s yet, but Louisville did have The Vogue and The Uptown art theaters which often played older and less commercially popular films, and I got to see many of the older Allen movies—Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and of course, Annie Hall, which I adored.

I wouldn’t let other kids in high school know about my Woody Allen fetish but I felt like he “got me.” Or at least, “I got him.” I was a smallish and philosophical kid that didn’t fit into any of the traditional groups or cliques in high school. Woody Allen’s humor provided a refuge for me. A sanctuary where I didn’t feel like as much of an oddity—and the pressure to be like everyone else would temporarily evaporate as long as the movie played, and I could even feel a surge of pride for being a humorous oddball who saw the world through a neurotic lens. Woody Allen helped me feel I wasn’t alone…and wasn’t defective or inferior.

As a college student living in Los Angeles for a year and a half and majoring in philosophy at USC — and still a smallish and slightly neurotic guy— I purchased a VCR and depended even more on Woody Allen’s worldview. I watched all of his movies at least several times. Some probably 10 or 12 times. They continued to provide me comfort in a world that wasn’t receptive to self-questioning, nervous, guys like me.

I also read his books: Without Feathers and Side Effects and Getting Even. And actually read each all the way through. Something I rarely did with any book even though I was a college student at the time. And I didn’t even get college credit for reading Allen’s books! And I bought a rare cassette of his early stand-up routines. Which I also found uproariously funny as well as finding a kinship with the humor. It wasn’t just comic relief any more but absorbing chunks of Woody Allen’s philosophy at life by this juncture of my fanhood.

I saw Woody Allen once at about this time in my life. My stepmother, Phyllis, was working for CBS news and living in New York. I visited her one weekend and we went to Elaine’s restaurant. Phyllis kept trying to introduce me at our noisy table to Pat O’Brien who was a sports colleague at CBS. But I couldn’t take my eyes of the two gentlemen seated quietly in the corner talking thoughtfully between themselves, Woody Allen and Dick Cavett.

Again, I was too self-conscious to mention—especially to a sports loving crowd at our table—I wanted nothing more than to meet Woody Allen. Inside I felt like one of those screaming teenage girls you see as the Beatles get off the plane for their first trip to the US. But outside I tried to pretend I was listening to a funny sports story I couldn’t care less about and laugh along with everyone else.

That same weekend in NY after everyone in my family was asleep I played a Woody Allen movie I had rented. My father woke up and got some ice cream and sat down with me and asked what I was watching. I told him and hoped he’d watch a few minutes and find the scene we were watching as hilarious as I did. He chuckled awkwardly as he had before when I tried a Woody Allen joke on him. I asked him why he didn’t like him more. He said, “Woody Allen reminds me of eating cauliflower. It just didn’t look very good and I never bothered trying it.”

In his defense, my father was never a very self-conscious person who would appreciate Allen’s humor and we just had very different taste in film. The night before I took my father to see the movie “The Gods Must be Crazy.” But we left after about 25 minutes when my father said it was too slow and he couldn’t figure out what it was about.

By the time I reached my 20s, I started coming into my own as a person and began to feel it was safer to acknowledge my Woody Allen infatuation. I read a piece—maybe in the New Yorker—about a young woman who secretly wanted to be Woody Allen, only a female version, who snarkily and with wry and sophisticated humor poked fun at others around her for being shallow. It was safe to come out of the Woody Allen closet.

Until recently.

When Allen was awarded the Cecile B Demille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globe awards last month. Of course, as always, he didn’t attend to receive his award. I felt like I had been vindicated in my adoration of Woody Allen’s work. But moments later I read about a series of Tweets from Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow bringing up old accusations about child molestation charges about Woody molesting Farrow and his adopted daughter, Dylan, when she was 7 years old.

Initially, I am disappointed to report, I thought, “Oh, please. Enough already. Let the man receive this well-deserved award for his art without going there…..”

The next few days and weeks became a full-blown rehash of a shocking episode in Allen’s career that had stayed publicly buried for nearly 20 years where he and Farrow broke up after Woody fell in love with their then adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn and later married her. It was an ugly public battle and shook my worship of Allen to its core at the time. But I somehow mustered the denial and distinction between one’s art and personal life give him the benefit of the doubt to eventually continue my admiration for Woody Allen, although it would never quite be the same as before.

But this time –over the past few days—sifting through the sordid accusations and factual details again as an older and wiser man, I can’t deny that something outrageous and wholly inappropriate happened between Woody Allen and his young adopted daughter over 20 years ago.

I acknowledge that fact and am saddened to learn that you are never too old to become disillusioned with those you place on a pedestal. Or even find part of their life—which is inextricably part of who they are—despicable. And that is true even if you are a 50 year old fan and moved on from hero worship many years ago. But it still stings…and still hurts, too.

So, no, I won’t defend Woody Allen art or try to distinguish it from his personal life. But please don’t expect me –just yet anyway– to line up behind his ex-wife and adopted daughter and pile on Allen either. I would like to say that I won’t be doing that because it is a personal matter and should be handled in private. But the real reason is there is still a part of denial in me that my childhood hero was capable of doing such inexplicable things. And since I am only a fan—and not a direct player in this drama—in my defense and in defense of all similarly situated Woody Allen fans, I ask that you understand it is not the grieving of the public death of a man’s reputation that makes us unable to be objective right now. It is the grieving of the private death of part of ourselves.

John Y. Brown, III: R.I.P. Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Phillip Seymour Hoffman mesmerized me every time his character walked onto the screen.

He was, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors in my lifetime, and I am sad he is gone from us.

He died of a drug overdose with a needle stuck in his arm at the young age of 46.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in addition to being one of our greatest artists was also a garden variety drug addict who got help in his early 20s and stayed clean for 23 years before falling of the wagon last year.

He thought he could pull off the performance of a lifetime by using drugs again even though he was an addict.

All addicts are actors, of course. They have to be to juggle their double-life until they get help or time runs out.

And that applies to even one of the very greatest actors among us. And today time ran out on him.

I am sad Phillip Seymour Hoffman died. I never got to meet him but he meant something to me. My heart went out to him every time he appeared on screen. His presence would remind me of something missing in me and I would be reassured that I would be alright since he seemed to be.

But that scary something missing in him –and missing in so many of us–can sometimes get the best of us. If we don’t know what to try to fill that void with.


My favorite role ever for Phillip Seymour Hoffman was, ironically, Owning Mahowny, based on a true story about a mild-mannered banker who is a gambling addict who stealthily gambles away $22M he embezzles.

He gets clean in the end and in the final scene with a therapist is asked, “How would you rate the thrill you got from gambling on a scale of 1-100?”  Mahowny (Hoffman’s character) answers, “100.”

Then the therapist asks “And what about the biggest thrill you’ve had outside of gambling?” Mahowny answers “20.”

The therapist then asks the deadeningly piercing question all addicts, I believe, have to ask themselves, “How do you feel about living the rest of your life with a max of 20?” Hoffman answers resignedly, “OK. 20 is OK.”

Apparently, Hoffman answered his own version of that question with an “OK” for 23 years. Until “20” –or whatever the number was for him– was no longer enough.

I felt Hoffman’s performance as a gambling addict was Oscar-worthy. Better than even James Caan in The Gambler, which I thought was impossible to ever top.

Perhaps because Hoffman knew his character too well.

Here is the movie trailer followed below by the final scene:

LAST CHANCE to Invest in THIS IS NOT GRAFFITI: A Film on Revolutionary Graffiti & Art by Mark Nickolas

Click here to learn more and invest now!

With less than 16 hours left, we’re 90% of the way there. But we still need one last push to secure the remaining $1,900 to successfully cross the finish line by 11:59pm ET tonight.

If you haven’t pledged and have considered doing so, I would be so very grateful for you joining us on this journey. And if you are already supporting and can afford to increase your pledge by just a few dollars, it would mean a great deal. We’ve had 60 new backers (and another 15 who increased their pledge) over the past 4 days, but I still have more work to do.

Thank you so much for getting this project in such a strong position in the final day, and I am so excited to begin production on this film. We’re almost at the summit…just one last push!

Best, Mark

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