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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Director, The Fascist, The Videos and the song, Harlem Shake

The Internet's current phenomenon of Harlem Shake videos is interesting to explore. 

Maybe one way to understand the role the videos serve is to think of Pedro Almodovar, the wild and wonderful Spanish director of films such as "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and a long line of films that break boundaries like children break pinatas.

The end of the control of Spain's dictator, Francisco Franco unleashed the artist Almodovar's pent up frustration and fury, and we, Almodovar's fans worldwide are the grateful, if exhausted, beneficiaries.

The song, "Harlem Shake" has simple lyrics, "con los terroristas"--  which lead me to think that since 9-11-2001, Americans have had an unelected dictator of their own, terrorism. 

The way Harlem Shake has caught on makes me wonder if the song allows people--mostly young men-- to break free from the serious drone-at-work world that has been largely defined by terrorism.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Media See-Saw

Recess time in grade school meant children raced to the merry-go-round, swings and see-saws to secure a spot to ride and play on during our short time out in the fresh air and warmth of the sun before returning to the confines of our wooden desks, our crayons and pencils, Big Chief tablets and the smell of Old Colonial oil and sawdust on wooden floors.

It was important to rush out and grab a spot because there weren't enough spaces on the playground equipment for every single kid. 

Media fifty years ago and media today can be seen and understood in playground terms.

When media choices were few, advertisements paid for all content, by easily, although expensively, reaching mass audiences. We school kids rushed out the door after school to watch one of three television networks or to listen to one of two or three AM stations that played the Beatles or Rolling Stones.

With the arrival of the Internet, media choices exploded and there are not enough advertising dollars  to pay for all content or to reach mass audiences, which are dispersed among the new multitude of choices. 

Advertisers now target selected audiences, the 18-35 year-olds, the golfers, the investors, the arts and crafts crowd, the vampire or zombie set, etc.

Mass content supported by ads becomes few in number, such as tonight's Oscar awards, the Super Bowl earlier this month, last summer's Olympics, the Presidential debates this fall,  and the few dominating the mass market on TV, such as CSI, Glee, etc. 

Specialized program content increases: subscription programs like Boardwalk Empire, Girls, Downton Abbey, which we receive through grants, donations and ads, stand side by side with open-source content like Wikipedia, You-Tube and blogs and Internet sites on music, film or any one of a thousand subjects of limited interest, sometimes but usually not supported by ads, now added to the pool of special-market, but-not-mass content.

Quality of entertainment on the playground was determined by the scarcity of our choices. We raced for spots because there were many of us who wanted to ride. When our choices for entertainment, news and information are numerous, it is important to notice what these changes might mean: We can slow down and decide more carefully where to spend our time, based on our interests at the moment.This is a sea-change in our role. We are the decider, as a former president would say.

The up-side to scarcity of content is that ad dollars once paid for quality mass appeal programming. We shared a national conversation about the episode of Bonanza or the film that aired on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies.

The downside to scarcity of of content is that left-handed tennis players were left out in the cold without their own magazine and Americans who were not mainstream were largely unseen, or possibly worse, only in stereotyped portrayals.

The upside of abundance of content is that any of us now have a place in the marketplace of ideas, it is up to us to raise and hold the interest of an audience.

The downside of abundance is our teachers are not on duty, and it is we consumers who are in charge of the playground, while many of us may be unaware or unwilling to step into our new roles as 'the decider'.
Ad dollars cannot support it all, so mass content quality can decline even as our specialized content increases.

What happens to the content is important. In the early days of the computer era, it was common to hear the equalizing explanation of the power of computers: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

A great post by Seth Godin helps to flesh out this sea-change in media and our roles in the marketplace of ideas. Seth Godin

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wandering in Natural Wonders

There's a gathering of energy in the hills around Bandera, the stillness of Winter is awakening to the shy shudders of the on-coming Spring. 

It's in the warm air and the buds of the mesquite. The hints are mounting and even though the calendar says it's mid February, it's really clear it may be time to hit the Ace's Hardware store garden area and buy some plants for the gardens.  

We walked with friends at the Bandera Natural State Area today. We hiked an easy path, chatting and letting the dogs stop and smell every exciting news item they wanted along the way. It was dryer than I remembered it from a year or two ago when we were last there. That will change, just hope it's sooner than later. 

We wore sweaters and hats and lots of sunscreen, but soon took our sweaters off as the hike and the sun's heat warmed us. 

There were people on horseback and a large group of volunteers working on repairing trails.The oak and cedar stood nearby, all along the way, guarding our passage as we ambled along in no particular hurry.  

We tipped our hats to each other, me and the trees. Another season behind us all on the planet, and here we found ourselves again, greeting each other as the sun waved overhead.

Our outing was just what I needed to remember that walking in nature is my favorite way to spend an hour or two. What beats shopping, watching television, surfing the Net or Social Media? What is so much richer in information and surprises than all those wonderful devices: natural wonders, naturally.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ouch! Ouch! Ow!

Crawling on bare knees over sharp, hot caliche rocks.

That's what progress feels like at times. Ouch, ow!

The job of a leader is to study then propose an idea, fly it up the flagpole, and look poker faced when  people send arrows ripping through the fabric of the flag of your inspiration.  Ouch, ow!

Yesterday was my day for crawling and looking poker faced, both not easy to do, least of all at the same time

At the college where I teach, I am advocating a plan for maintaining a film and video competition we have hosted for 13 years and which may end this semester for lack of institutional support

At KLRN where I've worked on and off since 1988,  I am establishing my role on a team of creative people producing ARTS, the weekly series we began October 4. 

There are days when you need to remember that doing your part is the only part you have any control over. Telling your story, selling its worth and recruiting support can follow, but there are other variables, such as budgets, priorities and even the possibility you are off course in your proposal. 

Yesterday's long string of meetings starring me as pitcher also showed me there are other answers in addition to "yes, I love your idea and will support it" or "no, your proposal stinks." This is where the sharp, hot caliche comes in: There is pain and discomfort in being out of your comfort zone and having discourse with someone else while really listening and hearing another view

The surprising part is that new, better ideas emerged--coming each time from other persons-- from those uncomfortable conversations. Instead of focusing on the progress made, I tend to focus on the crawling and the hot, sharp caliche biting into my bare knees. But that's part of the puzzle of what makes up progress.

At the end of the day, back home,  I had a relaxing supper with some neighbors, then fell hard asleep. I awoke sometime in the night with a tape of instant re-plays flashing before my mind's eye: my department chair, my colleagues, my co-producer, and my executive producer, the conversations, the give and takes, the slow moving forward of ideas.   Ouch, ow is all I remembered at first, until I reminded myself that yes, I had moved each idea forward, which is what I ask of myself and am proud to say was accomplished. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

23,040 times a day

As I grow older I seem to ask this with more regularity; it may be time to actually start buying lottery tickets: What are the chances???
Last night I awoke in the middle of the night and picked up a great read, Anam Cara, which I received years ago as a gift from a dear friend who's moved away to Las Vegas and who I miss a lot, Pilar Malo de Wellbaum. In the book I learned that we inhale and exhale 23,040 times a day. I have become interested in breathing as a technique to calm and comfort myself when I get a little anxious or overly tired.

I got to my desk at Northwest Vista College and opened my email. One of the first emails I opened was from Delancey Place, a great source for interesting books. 

Delancey Place includes brief excerpts, and though I have never purchased a book yet due to the site, I rarely miss the opportunity to read it. Today the first thing I read about was how we breathe 23,040 times every day. OK, if not the lottery, at least I'm ready for the TV Quiz shows tonight.