Big, Rich Texas on the Style Network

Now this is “must see TV.”  Big, Rich Texas, a new Reality TV show on the Style Network just launched on July 17.  It’s spectacular summer trash.  Set in Dallas (natch) this new series features mother/daughter teams navigating the world of country-club society.  Just to be sure we’re rooted in Texas, the second episode is  Beauty Queen Drop-Out.  From the Style network web site I can deduce that six blonde women and two brunettes are the “stars” of the program. I guess the Longhorn cow in front of them is just a prop.  We really don’t have Longhorns hanging around in major cities like Dallas. They prefer pasture land in the Texas Hill Country where there are blue bonnets to pose in.

It’s frightfully hard to differentiate the Moms from the Daughters.  That’s why the tab on the program web site, Meet the Cast, comes in handy as you acquaint yourselves with these Texas beauties.  The content of Beauty Queen Drop-Out included a Mom and Daughter duo at a bar, perhaps the Country Club bar, asking random patrons if the daughter needed a ‘boob job.”  Those Dallas girls may use language like that, but here in Houston we refer to it as “breast enhancement.” You know, it’s a little more classy.  Other visual nuggests included a beauty pageant where the girls received tiaras for dubious achievements the height of the speculators worn during the recent wedding of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  There’s a old Texas saying, ” the higher the hair, the closer to God,” and apparently this applies to tiaras as well.

It’s a train wreck, one I  just can’t stop watching.  I have to DVR the first episode, Welcome to the Club, so I can understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of belonging to a “posh” Country Club.   That way I can be fully prepared for the third episode in the series, Brawling Beauty Queens, which sadly doesn’t premiere until July 31.

To paraphrase a famous saying, “Texas, we have a problem.” Gosh, everyone is going to think that Barbie dolls escaped from the doll house and relocated to Dallas. But for gravitas several of the cast bios assures the sensible viewer that many of the Moms are professional women pursuing such career paths as “global marketing executive,” “pageant coach,” “boutique owner” and  “professional model.”  What? No petroleum engineers?

I for one am on the chuck-wagon.  I liked the BRT Facebook page and the Twitter account – and you should too.   I’ll be taping this beauty of a show and reveling in the sheer stupidity of good old fashioned Reality TV –  Texas style. We do everything bigger and better in Texas.

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Context Matters. The”N”Word

Words are powerful.  In a specific context we can find words exhilarating, polarizing or inspiring. In 2011 here’s a twist on a 19th century classic: this month NewSouth Inc. will release an edited version of two of Mark Twain’s novels: the Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)  and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) in which the word “slave” is substituted for the word “nigger.” For the record, there are 219 uses of the word nigger in Huck Finn and nine in Tom Sawyer.  Most American’s collectively shun the use of the word “nigger” regardless of their ethnicity or race.  Therein lies the reasoning for the NewSouth version of Twain’s classic novels.The revised editions have been edited by Dr. Alan Gribben, a Twain scholar and University of Auburn Montgomery English professor.  Several years ago, Dr. Gribben traveled across Alabama reading Twain’s novels to audiences as part of  The Big Read, an initiative of  the National Endowment for the Arts.  The goal: to inspire people to pick up a good book.  At these sessions Gribben read the Twain novels and  substituted the word “nigger” for “slave.”  He found his audiences were relieved at the elimination of the “n” word and were able to experience the novels anew.  Talks after the sessions with educators convinced him there was a need for a version of the Twain novels that eliminated these words. So Gribben edited out the words “nigger,” “Injun” and “half-breed” in the NewSouth version of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  His hope is that school districts across America will include these classics on their reading lists.Twain wrote his novels in the 19th century describing life and its dialect along the Mississippi River.  His characters weren’t racist – they were expressing the beliefs and attitudes widely held among the white ruling class.  To me, removing these words from Twain’s novels destroys the context in which the novels are set.  It eliminates an opportunity for educators to discuss with students the evolution of language.  Thoughtful discussions could center on the student’s views of race, identity and social mores of today contrasted with those of Twain’s Mississippians. America needs critical thinkers – and these American classics could be part of the catalyst for thinking beyond the e-notes.Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.  NewSouth’s edition launches this month and it will take time to see if the edited version of the novel gains traction in classrooms across America.  If so, I consider it a lost opportunity for educators to teach context and contrast social mores and acceptable expression in 19th century America to today.

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Jerseylicious? I’m dubious.

Tanorexia. Disco Fries.  The Glam Fairy.  Yes dear friends it’s Jerseylicious, another stultifying reality television show set in my fair state, New Jersey.  After a $2 million dollar make-over, the Gatsby Salon opens it’s doors in Central Jersey to inflict 1980s style on residents of The Garden State.  “Jerseylicious” features a dizzying array of humanoids from stereotype central casting including an Italian princess; the tan party girl/make-up artist; The Glam Fairy, who orbits her own planet; and the salon’s principals, a mother/daughter team that need to make the salon hum.

Here’s a clip from the show:

The most appalling individual: Tracey, a shell of a woman who lives to make the life of her “rival” Olivia miserable. Tracy needs a daily standing appointment with one of Jersey’s best psychiatrists. And to lay off the hair spray – it’s probably affecting the firing of her neurons which may account for her psychotic behavior.

I love New Jersey. It’s unfortunate it’s become the epicenter of trashy reality tv shows, but at least these programs provide a dent in the state’s 9.9% unemployment rate. Watch the program on the Style network on Sunday nights. Then let me know what you think about the show.

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Career Builder’s Super Bowl Bomb

Part of the fun of the Super Bowl is watching and critiquing the television commercials.  This year an estimated audience of 106 million viewers tuned into the Big Game.  At a reported $3.1 million per :30 second commercial this is my selection for advertising bomb of Super Sunday: the sophomoric Casual Friday commercial for Career Builder. So if you were up getting more gumbo while it aired here it is:

To select this dazzler, Career Builder, a job search site, asked its users to select among several spots created to air for the Super Bowl through their Hire My TV Ad competition.  The “winner” is the work of videographer Matt Gahan.

I can’t imagine what marketing communications objective this fulfilled for Career Builder.  Yes, it’s memorable – but what does it communicate about the value of using Career Builder to find a new work situation?  The spot is juvenile and undoubtedly does not connect with talented individuals seeking top-level management positions.  Pereversly, this commercial has been voted one of the “Top Three 2010 Super Bowl commercials.” But did it transform viewers of the commercial into users of the site? I doubt it. Monster.com anyone?

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Life without Oprah

Thank goodness the reigning queen of talk show television, Oprah Winfrey, has given her audience almost two years to prepare for her departure from daytime television. With her relentless drive  for perfection Oprah’s daily talk show blended her quasi-religious blending of self-reliance, inspiration and mysticism with hard core topics such as child safety; pornography; personal finance; dysfunctional relationships; and mental health issues of every spectrum.  On daily for more than 23 years, Oprah, has redefined popular culture. She became a star-maker as she selected authors for her Oprah Book Club; endorsed products she loved on “Her Favorite Things”; and anointed the next generation of talk show hosts including Dr. Phil (please save us from him); Suze Orman; Dr. Oz and others.  What will life like without Oprah daily when she “retires” from day-time television on September 23, 2011? Well, different.  Oprah goes on to guide the Oprah Winfrey Network in partnership with the Discovery Channel and I’m sure she will bring us in-depth programs on topics which she is passionate about and lead her audience into new directions.   And who is the late afternoon successor? The jockeying has begun as Dr. Phil; Suze Orman; Ellen DeGeneres; Tyra Banks; Bonnie Hunt; and others position themselves to be the successor to Oprah’s 5 p.m. EST time-slot.  Oprah’s departure could negatively impact the lead-in to CBS News, which hasn’t had out of the park success with Katie Couric as their 5 p.m anchor. Ah, it will be a brave new world on September 23, 2011 and I for one can’t wait to see what the next two years will bring in daytime talk show programming.  There’s only one Oprah.  The others are just pretenders.

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Julie & Julia: The Joy of Relationships

Butter, butter, and more butter melts it’s way into the luscious dishes cooked by the two main characters, Julia Child and Julie Powell in Nora Ephron’s new movie, Julie & Julia.  Ephron expertly blends two books: My Life in France by Julie Child and Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen Apartment by Julie Powell into a most satisfying movie. Food – the buying, creating and sharing of it are central to the movie but relationships are the backbone of the story.  The movie  traces the lives of both women as they find their purpose in life.  Julia Child found her bliss during  a diplomatic  posting in France with her devoted husband Paul: the pleasure of cooking and eating delicious food.   She began a 6-month course of study at the Cordon Bleu cooking school,  supplementing this instruction with private lessons from master chef Max Bugnard.  Her passion and commitement to teaching American women how to cook authentic French food – those without servants – lead her to open a cooking school with two colleagues and then to collaborate with them on the definitive cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Beside her during this journey is her intelligent, delightful husband Paul who encourages and inspires her undertaking.  It’s the same for Julie Powell, but not quite as idealized – her marriage feels more “real” to me.   Eric sets up Julie’s blog, enthusiastically eats all of her dishes at 10 p.m (or later) every evening and even gives her a dose of reality when Powell needs it most.  On the Powell side of the movie there are melt-downs in her tiny Queens kitchen, arguments, and accusations of narcissim from said husband, but in the end Eric is there to celebrate with Julie the conclusion of The Julie/Julia project and her development as a writer.    

I have read Julie Powell’s memoir and found it completely enjoyable.  I’m from Jersey and cursing is a birthright in the Garden State.  However, if you don’t relish profanities ladled into every other sentence be forewarned – Julie Powell enjoys a choicely placed curse word.   It’s a hilarious, yet captivating read about a married woman with a full-time job, committed to making her way through each of these elaborate 524 recipes.  Yes, it’s insane, but interesting – and that’s why The Project spawned a book and a movie. 

Julie & Julia is sublime.  Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep and by that I mean she is effortless.  She embodies Julia Child and is fearless and charming as she joins the all-male Cordon Bleu classes; and poignant as she longs for the child she and Paul never conceive.  But the way their love for one another is portrayed leaves me breathless.  Amy Adam portrays Julie Powell as a woman on the verge of 30, who is searching for a direction in life. She is confused, passionate and a little on the edge – which of course, makes her character captivating to watch.  She isn’t an adorable woman (so unlike other Amy Adam roles)  and her movie best friend lovingly tells her she is a “bitch.”  It’s a fun, intelligent movie (it’s Ephron for goodness sake), and I highly recommend you take your best friend to go see it with you.  Bon Appetit.

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