Jonathan Downard photograph

Praise and Malaise

by Jonathan Downard
July 2005

Praise to Morgan Spurlock's new show, "30 Days." His work in his documentary Supersize Me continues in the smartest bit of television in years. In the first episode, he and his fiancee eshew all their money and connections and attempt to live for 30 days on minimum wage. Their experiences clearly showed that minimum wage, which hasn't been raised in over eight years, is not enough for people with one or two income households to survive. The cost of living, however, has risen dramatically. This puny five-and-change-an-hour leaves no disposable income, and, with dependents or a surprise hospital visit, going into debt to survive is inevitable.

The second episode involved a man taking "anti-aging treatment," which includes hormone therapy, steroids, micronutrients, a diet, and an exercise regime. The test subject actually felt he had to cease the experiment before the end of his 30 day period, as his liver functions became rather abnormal and a visit to the sperm bank showed a massive decrease in live sperm production.

In the third episode, a practicing Christian from West Virginia goes to live with a Muslim family in the most densely populated Muslim community in the U.S, in Dearborn, Michigan. It takes our hero more than half the month to loosen up and realize that Allah is just another name for God, but in the end he redeems himself, coming to terms with the truth about Islam: It is a respectful, disciplined, and nonviolent religious conviction. Malaise to all of the Americans that Spurlock interviewed between segments that believe that Muslims are terrorists, and vice versa. The fact is that Middle-Eastern terrorists are actually going against the princibles of the Muslim faith, just as a Christian who committed such acts would be. I also found it appalling that the white boy from WV, when going through the airport, was stopped and searched simply because he wore the robe and skull-cap of a devotee to Islam.

We need to learn first, America. Take a cue from this show and try walking in someone else's shoes.

Super Malaise on The Weekly World News for calling a victim of severe burns "ugly." Or anyone, for that matter. The tabloid, owned by American Media Inc., ran a list of the "top 10 ugliest people" in its Feb. 7 issue. Firstly, such hurtful public shaming of people in the interest of revenue may be deplorable, but to include victims such as Officer Jason Schechterle is beyond bad taste. Schechterle suffered fourth-degree burns to his hands and face when his patrol car was hit from behind by a taxi and exploded in flames in 2001. This guy didn't ask or apply for this kind of attention. Schechterle took the rag to court and obtained a settlement requiring the magazine to make a sizeable donation to the Foundation for Burns and Trauma. American Media - which owns the tabloid featuring articles on UFOs and the whereabouts of Elvis - fired the employees responsible for the inclusion of Schecterle's photo in the "ugly" list, said Stuart Zakim, senior vice president for American Media. He said the tabloid was "incredibly happy" to make the donation. They ought to be damned happy to get off so easy. I can't tell them what to print, but I can print here what I think: you miserable bastards! Leave people alone! Stick to the bullshit about Judgement Day and miracle cures that you normally try to pass off as news!

Praise to Beauty and the Geek for being the most laughable "reality" show in a long time. The comicly clueless "beauties" and "geeks" provide laughs and tears at how incapable the people on this show are. With that said...

Malaise on Beauty and the Geek for not living up to the claim in its title. With the exception of Richard, none of the geeks live up to geek expectations. None are unreasonably unattractive, although a bit socially awkward, and I feel they could all get laid with only a minor bit of coaching. The level of intelligence comparable to the I.Q. numbers they regurgitate seems absent. Sure, some of them are a bit doofy, but they all seem like the geeks that someone found to be pretty enough to put on camera. Where are the hardcore nerds that I knew growing up? It can't be that difficult to pay some REAL dweebs to go on television.

The beauties are a disappointment as well. The only thing that unites these girls is their shitty, snobby attitude. The hilarity of their inability to answer the question, "Which is farther south, North Carolina or South Dakota?" seemed to be meant only to suggest that pretty girls are stupid. It is obvious, however, that these girls think that they are beautiful, and that this frees them from the burden of applying themselves in any other areas of life. I've personally known many physically amazing girls that are turned on more by intellect than physique, but even I am forced to agree that this isn't necessarily the norm. The problem with this show is that the geeks aren't all that geeky, and the beauties aren't tremendously beautiful, either. I suppose I just being unfair applying my standards to someone else's beauty or lack thereof. I will say the same thing about this show that a friend of mine once said about Playboy Magazine: "They only have to find twelve of these people a year. Can't they dig up anyone better than this?"

Praise to Hit Me Baby One More Time for taking the title of Britney Spears vocal defecation and making something actually entertaining. The show features music acts who had a hit or two ten or more years ago. Five bands per episode each play their biggest hit, and then they come back and cover a hit song from recent years. With more than half of these acts, I didn't even remember who they were until I heard the hit they're associated with. It's very engrossing to see the "Where are they now?" clips and hear them performing live. These has-beens' cover versions of new songs are often surprisingly good, and, in some cases, better than the original recording. My favorites so far were the Knack doing their hit, "My Sharona," and then Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl;" and P.M. Dawn's version of a Puddle of Mudd song.

Malaise on their choice of "Popular UK personality Vernon Kay" for host. This guy is painfully annoying, and if he weren't there, I couldn't find much to complain about. Perhaps it should be said that some of the acts should be choosing bigger, better-known "hits" for their covers, as well.

Praise to Comedy Central's Stella for being exactly as advertised: funny, dumb comedy dressed up in a suit. Cute interludes, comedy a la Dumb and Dumber, and no pretenses make it an entertaining show for an effortless half-hour.

Malaise to Comedy Central for running the ads for Stella at nearly every possible commercial break, ad nauseum. I hope I'm not the only one who sees that wearing something out like that can actually hurt enthusiasm for the show?

And, finally, Super-Duper, Triple-Scooped Shit-Tons of Malaise on Donald Rumsfeld's appearance on Meet the Press. Rumsfeld claimed that "all people" in Iraq are "participating" in the processes of elected government, sovereignty, and economic progress there. Can this be? We don't have that here! Does anyone remember Bush losing the popular vote, but getting elected anyway? I don't get to participate in our government, whether I vote or not, because the popular vote-- that is you and me and everyone else-- doesn't matter anymore. The whole political climate in this country would be different if "all people," were actually involved in these choices. The truth is that if you're not rich and connected enough, your vote doesn't count.

Rumsfeld also made several shady denials about hard numbers and actual events we've witnessed. He denied that a larger American military force was needed to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq than were actually used in the major military invasion. The truth is that 148,000 U.S. soldiers were used to invade and oust Saddam, but close to 160,000 troops were present and active during the Iraqi elections. When confronted about the $208 billion cost of our presence in Iraq thus far, he stated that he had never made any estimations. He also said he did not believe that former economic advisor to the President, Lawrence Lindsay, was fired for divulging his own estimate that the occupation would cost at least $150 billion. Here's a quote from The Washingon Post on July 1, 2004:

"An additional emergency supplement of $25 billion dollars was appropriated by the administration in June (2004), bringing the total bill to date to $151 billion. Congress has also promised another supplemental appropriation after the election. This figure, (director of IPS, John) Cavanagh notes, stands square in the $100-200 billion projection that White House economic advisor Lawrence Lindsay was fired for giving as the likely cost of the Iraq War in 2002."

He could give no actual numbers of soldiers reenlisting, and when asked about military recruitment falling short of its goals, he said that it's because the goals are higher than they've ever been. There was no question or comment about the recent lowering of recruitment standards to include criminals and drug offenders.

So far, there have been over 1700 Americans killed in Iraq, over 13,000 wounded, and over $208 billion spent. There are still 135,000 American troops in Iraq in a conflict that has gone on for more than 800 days. No WMD's have been found, and the "Liberation of the Iraqi People" seems to be an afterthought tacked on to the capture of Saddam and/or the search for these weapons. Rumsfeld said that "the reality of war" is that it's "violent, tough, and terrible... that's why it's a last choice." Was it really? Are you comfortable that it was truly a last resort? Are you comfortable with our continued presence there? Write your newspapers, congressmen, the President, me, and anyone else you can. Learn the facts and tell everyone what you think about them. Your vote may not count, but at least you can voice your opinion... unless that right disappears.

copyright 2005, Jonathan Downard

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