Monday, September 8, 2014

Week of 09/08/2014



The Two-Beverage Dilemma
A travelling businessman passes through the oversized fictional county of Americana and stops in the equally fictional town of Republica; population 1776.  He is somewhat disappointed by the size of the town and the lack of any meaningful development.  It had one car dealership with a service station, one grocery store, a post office, one realty agency, one gas station, one church (Baptist, of course), one hotel with the only restaurant, and an incredibly small Wal-Mart. 
But he was also surprised – and somewhat disgusted – at the overinflated sense of self-promotion in the town through store signs and billboards.  Not only did this small town classify itself as being a “metropolitan city”, but it arrogantly proclaimed itself to be the best city in the whole United States, if not the world.  Everything was considered “World Class” and “America’s Best” and “The Finest”.  The police department boasted through a cheap lighted sign that it had “The Best Crime-Rate in America”.  The lone realty agency proclaimed itself to having “The Most Successful Realtors In American History”.  The lone gas station claimed it had “the cheapest and cleanest gasoline anyone could ever get in the world”.  And, of course, the Wal-Mart store claimed it was the biggest and best store you could ever find… but then again we are talking about Wal-Mart, so for them it is pretty much par for the course.
Still, the businessman was getting tired and he needed to stop for the night, so he pulled his car into the lone hotel – the “largest and most luxurious hotel one could ever find” – and gets a room.  He’s immediately upgraded to the “Executive Suite”… meaning that the room had a small refrigerator and a working TV set.  Since it’s late in the night, he doesn’t bother with getting dinner and simply turns on the TV to one of two channels (the one that doesn’t have televangelists) and soon drifts off to sleep.
The next morning he gets up, takes his shower, gets dressed, and heads on over to the lone restaurant – the “five-star Grade-A restaurant in the world” – for breakfast.  He is surprised, though, when the lone waitress hands him a postcard for a menu.  He could choose between eggs-and-sausage or eggs-and-toast and could have either coffee or “juice” to drink.
“What’s the juice?” he asked the waitress, who fashioned a button that said “America’s Greatest” on her apron.
The waitress shrugged.  “I think it’s tomato.  I don’t really know because every so often, we change it up.”
“I’ll just have the coffee,” he said, “with two creams and sugar.”
The waitress soured her face.  “Nobody drinks coffee with cream and sugar,” she snidely said.
“I do,” he said.
“Well… nobody does!  That’s just the way it is!”
At this point the hotel manager shows up, asking what the uproar is about.  The businessman tries to explain that he simply wanted to drink his coffee with cream and sugar, but the manager simply brushes it off and says that “nobody” drinks coffee any way but black.  The businessman then asks if he could have some orange juice instead.
“Oh, nobody drinks orange juice ‘round here,” came the reply.
The businessman points to the jug of orange juice in the display case behind the bar, along with several other beverages, and asks why they’re on display there if “nobody drinks it”.
The manager shrugs and says “that’s just the way that it is.  People either drink coffee or they drink juice… although some folks will have tea.”
That catches the businessman’s attention.  “Tea?  How can you say that people drink either coffee or juice if you then say that some of them will have tea?”
The manager again shrugs.  “Well, they call it ‘tea’, but really it’s just coffee in a different bag sitting in a cup of hot water.  They want to pretend it’s something different when it’s really just coffee.  Hell, we sometimes don’t even use fresh coffee.  Sometimes it’s just the grounds from the last pot put in a tea bag.  But people think it’s something different.”
“And people actually drink it?” the businessman asks incredulously. 
“Sure,” the manager says with pride.  “Sometimes they’ll even ask for a second cup!  Best in the nation.”
Just then the waitress returned with a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs and sausages.  The scrambled eggs were runny and half-cooked.  The sausages were dried out and re-heated shriveled links that looked like they came out of a box and then thrown in a microwave.
“I’m sure you’ll enjoy our first-class meal,” the manager said with a smile.  “After all, it’s the…”
“Best in the nation,” finished the businessman in defeat. “I’m sure it will be.  Thank you.”
Of course the businessman’s concerns were right about his breakfast.  It was just as deplorable as it looked.  The food was bland and lukewarm.  The coffee was even worse.  It was half-heated and very bitter.  He could even taste the grounds.  Cream and sugar could have made it palatable, but obviously that wasn’t going to happen because “folks just don’t do that ‘round here.”
He was getting ready to leave when a burly gun-toting detective from Illinois asked him about wanting something other than the two choices of drinks.  He simply stated his case about seeing other beverages in the display case and wondered why nobody can have any of them.  The gun-toting detective said that the businessman simply “made a mistake” in thinking there were more than two options. 
The businessman simply shrugged and said “yeah, I guess I did.”
Now obviously the story is fictional, but let’s get brutally honest here… this is precisely what we have in terms of our political system today.  An abysmal self-delusional narcissistic oligarchy that is borderline kleptocratic that we pretend is the “best in the world” simply because we say that it is.  No other reason than that.  Simply because “we said so”.
People “claim” they want change, but even when given that change and is put on display, they supposedly don’t choose it.  They would rather choose between the two tepid and stale options they are told to pick from simply because “that’s just the way that it is.”
Imagine what your own neighborhood would be like if we lived like we voted.
Oh, and while the story is hypothetical, the gun-toting detective from Illinois is apparently very much true.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Week of 09/01/2014



Hollywood’s Box Office Crisis
Hollywood has a wonderful way of blurring the lines of fact and fiction.
They know how to make the impossible possible.  Thanks to special effects and computers and stunt doubles, they can make a man fly, turn straw into gold, change time, and take us to the ends of the universe.
But what they seemingly cannot do is be honest about themselves, especially when it comes to money.
Box Office attendance is supposedly down this year.  Fifteen percent fewer people showed up at the theaters to watch a movie according to some analysts.  It’s supposedly the lowest summer attendance in eight years.  Some even claim it’s the worst ever and a sign of the cinematic apocalypse. 
Yeah, some of these Hollywood people can go over-the-top on the hysterics.
And it’s all our fault, don’t-cha know?
Yeah, apparently it’s our fault that we are not sustaining the wealth of the big studios by showing up at the theaters when their big blockbuster movies come out.  We’re not doing our part by parting with our money and sitting down for these movies when they come out.  They make the movies and we’re expected to watch them mindlessly.
Hey, I did my bit this year!  I went to see “X-Men: Days of Futures Past” in the theaters when it opened that weekend.  I didn’t wait for it to come out on DVD like I have had to do for all of the other movies I wanted to see.  I bought the tickets, got the popcorn and soda, sat through all of the commercials and trailers before the movie started, and I stayed until the end credits for that little teaser that Hollywood has been throwing in.  And I even enjoyed the movie and told folks so!  So don’t blame me for not helping out Hollywood!
Of course Hollywood also seems to think that piracy is to blame for box office failures.  That’s what some folks are saying when “The Expendables 3” failed to perform.  They blamed a leaked version on the Internet for people not showing up in the theaters to see the movie.
I’m sorry Hollywood, but you’re barking up the wrong tree with that one.  The vast majority of people out there – in other words your customer base – are not that computer skilled to search the BitTorrent streams for a movie that will be out on DVD and Video-on-Demand eventually.  They may use it to look for movies that are impossible-to-find, but not for the ones they can get by going to the local Best Buy store.
But, you know, it is my most recent trip to the movie theater that points to a more realistic reason why box office returns aren’t that great.
Let’s get brutally honest here… the reason why Hollywood’s box office returns are not doing so great has more to do with the movie experience than with piracy or the fickleness of the audience.
Let’s start with my personal pet peeve that really needs to die a horrible movie-style death.
3-D BS!  Say it with me please…
3-D is an overrated and outdated gimmick!
One more time…
3-D is an overrated and outdated gimmick!
You listening, Hollywood?
3-D is an overrated and outdated gimmick!
3-D movies had their day… in the 1950’s, right along with Smell-O-Rama and Duo-Vision.  But the fact that Hollywood is still grasping for this old and outdated gimmick shows nothing but desperation and sheer greed.  After all, theaters can charge people double for a cheap gimmick that still requires glasses in order to enjoy.
And the fact that they have translated this into the world of Blu-Ray DVDs and High-Definition TVs really makes this commentator sick, and not just from having to wear the glasses.
Yes, you still need to wear those stupid glasses!  If this was really state-of-the-art 3-D, then you would not need special glasses to view it.  It is that simple!
You want to know what is better than 3-D?  Go to your local Best Buy store and check out the Ultra-High-Definition TVs with the curved screens.  You get the same effect without glasses!  And now wait until the prices go down.
But that’s only part of the problem.  You’re not forced to watch your movie in 3-D, never mind be forced to pay double for it.  You can still watch your blockbuster movies in “plain old” 2-D.
These other two things, though, are things that the customers have no control over, other than to not go to the theaters.  These are the things that Hollywood and the movie theatres can do on their own to improve things with the very patrons they need to make their box office monies.
Commercials!  Okay, this one is a mixed bag, and what you see depends greatly on the movie theater itself.
First, I think it is great when the theater starts playing some commercials and non-trailer promotional material prior to the scheduled start time of the movie.  It beats sitting in the theater with the lights up and a blank screen in front of you and you’re just watching your watch to see how much time you have left while you drink down your oversized soda and munching on your half-barrel of over-buttered popcorn.
But when I went to see that aforementioned “X-Men” movie earlier this year, I showed up thirty minutes prior to the start of the movie and was mildly entertained by their little commercial and non-trailer promotional stuff.  But then it was the schedule show time and they never stopped airing the commercials.  By the time the movie actually started, it was thirty minutes after the scheduled start!  And, yes, I did check my watch to see how long it took.
What’s worse is that this extra delay in my movie experience were mostly commercials.  There were maybe one or two trailers, which used to be the benefit of not seeing the movie when it is scheduled.  Remember that?  There used to be maybe ten or fifteen minutes before the movie actually started when you got to see trailers for upcoming movies, which would keep you coming back to see those movies.  Now there’s a thirty-minute delay for upcoming TV programs, public service announcements, soda, cars, home improvement… everything except reasons for you to come back to the theaters.
And I need to point out to Hollywood and the theaters that people are paying for this!  You expect your audience to actually pay to sit through commercials!  Is it any wonder why they’re not so prone to come back?
And here’s the other thing that kills the whole movie experience…
The High Price Of Snacks!  Excuse me?  Seven dollars for a bag – not a bucket but a bag – of popcorn?  Five dollars for a medium soda?  You know I can go to the nearby grocery store and buy a full bag of movie theater popcorn for three bucks and a two-liter bottle of soda for less than two dollars!
I realize that this is supposedly how the theaters themselves make their money, but there comes a point where the price just isn’t worth the experience.  If I’m paying more for snacks than I am for the movie, then I’m going to wait for the movie to come out on Blu-Ray so I can watch it on my HDTV with my not-so-recent Bose home theater system with my own snacks and drinks.
Besides, showing a movie is a whole lot different today than it was back when I was a kid.  There are no projectionists skilled in on-the-spot film splicing and threading.  Everything is digital now.  You have server farms instead of film reels.  The curtains and lights are all automated and programmed.  You just need someone who knows how to play with computers in order to get the movie started.  There is more skill needed to run the cash register than there is to start the movie that people are paying to see.
While some have tried to sue the movie theaters over the intentional price-gouging, the only real remedy is what I’ve just mentioned… which is to stay home and wait until the movie comes out on Video-on-Demand or Blu-Ray and enjoy it on your HDTV with your own home theater system and your own snacks.  And that’s something that Hollywood and the movie theater people need to deal with.
And, by the way, maybe Hollywood needs to revise their need-for-greed when it comes to the movies.  Maybe they need to give up some of their fiscal largesse to support those theaters.  After all, their financial futures supposedly depend on people showing up in the theaters.  That’s what the big corporate script says, and they wouldn’t lie about their own script, would they?
You want us in the theaters, Hollywood?  Give us a reason to other than to merely support your own bottom line.
Hollywood can do a lot with special effects.  But while they can seemingly defy the laws of physics, the one thing they cannot defy is the law of supply and demand.  They may have the supply, but they really need to work on the demand.