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The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the 1970s American Cult Film

This past December (Fall 2014 semester), I took a film studies course entitled “Cultural Perspectives in Film” (FILM 2117). The concentration for the course this semester was American cinema of the 1970s, so we spent our weeks screening all kinds of films from the decade and discussing them in class. From Putney Swope (1969) and The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973) to An Unmarried Woman (1978) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), our class watched films of all genres and analyzed them under the lens of the counterculture audience of the ’70s.

Aside from the in-class screenings, students had to choose one film from a group of four or five selected by Professor Paula Massood to screen at home and answer five questions. This assignment was given three separate times during the semester, and the final assignment had students answer the same questions, but allowed them to choose their own film. The only criteria was that utmost be an American-made film produced in the ’70s.

Since I had asked the professor if she wouldn’t mine me designating this course as an honors course in the beginning of the semester, she allowed me some leeway in choosing a film for my final assignment. After some discussion, I chose to screen and analyze The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) for my final writing piece. Professor Massood and I agreed that I would answer an extra question about the American cult film during the ’70s. Below is a selection of questions and answers from the paper. I hope you enjoy reading a “Rocky Horror virgin’s” first-time experience with the film and its rich cult history!

Questions 4 and 6 have been removed since they were pertinent to class discussions and readings. 

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1Q) Please identify the film and provide some production history.

1A) Few spectacles of cinema have gained as much cult popularity as the The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS for short). A British musical comedy film released in 1975, RHPS was produced by 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. Made on a budget of $1.2 million, the film became the second highest grossing film on 1975, grossing nearly $140 million across theater rentals and box office sales (IMDb). Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was the film that beat it in the box office, but clever RHPS advertisers used this to the film’s advantage; posters and merchandise were branded with the RHPS mascot, a red set of lips, and a tagline which read, “A different set of jaws” (Wikipedia).

Despite its overseas origins as a 1973 musical stage show, the film adaptation is perhaps the greatest example of a film “made” in America. “Made” here meaning that it only started profiting and gaining notoriety and popularity in the states. After its initial box office flop at its London and Los Angeles releases, the film was put on the midnight screening circuit in major cities across the United States by Fox executive Tim Deegan (Wikipedia). The idea was to hop on the growing popularity of midnight screenings of strange, low-budget films such as Reefer Madness (1936) and Pink Flamingos (1972) in college towns. RHPS skyrocketed into pop culture stardom when audiences at New York City’s Waverly Theater turned it into what it is now: a cult film that relies almost entirely on a mixture of audience participation and stage play accompaniment.

2Q) Briefly summarize the film’s plot.

2A) RHPS notoriously follows a very strange narrative. The film is based on the 1973 stage production and book, both written by Richard O’Brien. O’Brien would go on to co-write the screenplay with director Jim Sharman, as well as star in the film adaptation as Riff Raff. A love letter to the golden age of science fiction films and B movies (mainly horror), RHPS pays tribute to the films, music and social mentality of the 1940s and 50s, as well as defining the counterculture generation of the 1960s and 70s.

The film follows the story of Janet and Brad, a newly engaged couple living in Denton, Ohio. As they travel through a storm to meet an ex-tutor and friend, Dr. Scott, they experience an auto-breakdown near the residence of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played by Tim Curry). When they approach his gigantic castle in search of a phone, Riff Raff, a house servant, invites them inside. They meet Frank-N-Furter’s other servant, Magenta (Riff Raff’s sister and lover), and eventually the doctor himself. After Janet and Brad realize that they’ve stumbled upon the Annual Transylvanian Convention, Frank-N-Furter sings about how he’s a transsexual transvestite from Transylvania. This begins the couple’s nightlong journey through the castle and a sexual, emotional, and mental transformation.

Frank-N-Furter promises that he’ll help the couple, but first invites the two up to his lab to “see what’s on the slab.” It turns out that Frank-N-Furter has discovered the secret to life itself, and he creates a Greek god-like human being of physical perfection (a reference to Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein and the monster that he creates). This creature, named Rocky Horror, is the newest one in Frank-N-Furter’s line of creations. The doctor says that other beings he brought to life never turned out as perfectly as he’d hoped for, but Rocky is different. One of his past creations/captives, a motorcycle-riding, saxophone-toting rock-and-roller, Eddie (played by Meat Loaf) accidentally escapes from the castle’s deep freezer and causes a ruckus at the convention. Frank-N-Furter silences him by murdering him with an ice axe, horrifying Rocky, Janet, Brad, and the rest of the convention visitors. Realizing his actions have startled the guests, Frank-N-Furter makes up for it by celebrating with his guests the fact that he’s going to “make Rocky a man.”

As he and Rocky retire to the master bedroom, the rest of his guests retire to their own quarters. Frank-N-Furter has his way with Rocky and then disguises himself as Brad and Janet, respectively. He sneaks into Janet and Brad’s bedrooms, one after the other, seducing them both into giving up their virginity. They know they made a commitment to the other to save themselves for after marriage, but Frank-N-Furter’s alien powers of seduction and sensual pleasure prove too much to handle. Rocky’s escape from the master bedroom is what eventually forces Frank-N-Futer to leave Janet and Brad alone. While Frank-N-Furter punishes Riff Raff for doing a poor job of supervising Rocky, Janet finds the “creature of the night” hiding in the lab where he was born. She and Rocky share an intimate moment during which Janet realizes that giving into her carnal desires and sensual pleasures is what she’s always wanted. Her experience with Frank-N-Furter is what made her realize she should be more open to exploring them.

Frank-N-Furter, his servants, Rocky, Janet and Brad all reunite back in the lab. They realize that the man Janet and Brad were going to visit in the beginning of the film, Dr. Scott, has come searching for Eddie, the ex-delivery boy who was being held captive in the deep freezer. Dr. Scott enters the castle and confronts Frank-N-Furter and his servants over dinner, calling them aliens. Frank-N-Furter reveals that dinner was actually meat from Eddie’s corpse, and that they are all transsexual aliens from the galaxy of Transylvania. He “Medusas” all of his guests (a process which freezes them into Greek statues) and transports them all to his final floorshow.

During the show, Frank-N-Furter sings about his ideology to be whatever you want and not just dream of being it. Still in a hypnotic, Medusa-induced state, the rest of his guests sing along with him. Riff Raff and Magenta break up the show, stating that they’re taking over because of Frank-N-Furter excessive decadence and uncontrollable lust on earth. They murder Frank-N-Furter and Rocky, transport the castle and all inside it back to their galaxy, and leave Janet, Brad and Dr. Scott permanently altered and scarred by the experiences of the night.

3Q) Does the film follow any genre conventions?

3A) RHPS follows many genre conventions while also creating an entirely new one. The main genres that the film pays homage to are movie musicals and science fiction, although there are also aspects of horror (through set design and gore), drama (during romantic encounters between leading ladies and male heroes), and comedy (in crisp, stinging dialogue and satirical views of marriage, chastity and concern over physical appearance). As far as movie musicals go, RHPS is fairly conventional. The characters express their feelings and ideas through song and dance, the plot is advanced with each song, and as Tim Curry says, “it’s very much a musical [because] a lot of the energy of the whole event is in the music” (RHPS BTS Featurette). Where the film breaks movie musical conventions is in the content of the song and dance, and how it’s all portrayed visually on-screen. Everything is highly sexualized and sensational, with bare-naked bodies, men in women’s clothing (corsets, fishnet stockings, heels), and sexual acts all shown throughout the film. These subjects were very taboo prior to the Counterculture Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. When American youth lost trust in their government during the Vietnam War and scandals of President Nixon, their generation formed a niche audience that yearned for any and everything that was against what their parents had raised them to believe. Sex, violence and rock-n-roll music are just a few of the things that make RHPS so appealing to this audience.

The science fiction side of the film also followed a lot of conventions while starting new ones. The way that Rocky Horror is born is almost identical to the creation of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster (from Universal’s 1931 Frankenstein film). The powers of giving life, aliens from another galaxy visiting earth, and the setting of a castle on a dark, stormy night have always been traditions of the sci-fi genre. The story of RHPS being narrated from the perspective of a knowledgeable narrator (in this case, a criminologist) is another genre tradition the film kept alive. Many of the sci-fi films from the 1940’s and 50s featured the bringing in of a professional, some detective or physic or specialist who could explain to the rest of the characters what was going on. What RHPS changes is the idea of the classic version of Dr. Frankenstein dressing in drag and having sexual relations with the townspeople rather than fleeing from them. The film takes a lot of pre-used plot points and characters and then sensualizes are fetishizes them.

Director Jim Sharman called his film a “1970s version of The Wizard of Oz” (RHPS BTS Featurette). Like The Wiz (1978), which truly was a ‘70s version of The Wizard of Oz (1939), RHPS took the idea of a group of characters exploring a fantastical, magical world led by an eccentric ringmaster and made it raunchy, gothic, and infectiously good fun for audiences to listen to. Meat Loaf being featured in the film is a clear sign the music was written specifically to please younger fans of rock and roll. Sharman also commented that he was excited for the piece because “for once there wasn’t something that was created by a very small group of people to be turned over to a [studio] to be pulped out, but in fact the people that originally created it and the actors had a lot to do with it.” The independent, low budget nature of RHPS shines through in obvious technical ways (i.e., boom microphone shadows and stunt wires in shots), but also in very meaningful musical and narrative ways. The story being unlike anything before it is of integral importance to its cult popularity.

5Q) Can you compare the film with any of the titles we’ve screened in class?

5A) In a 1975 interview with STOIC (Student Television Of Imperial College), Curry remarked “he was hesitant [to take the role] in that if it worked, it might be a difficult image to shake off” (STOIC Interview). Acting generally is a high-risk business, in that the actor is the thing that everyone working on a film crew or going to see a movie focuses on. The lighting, camera work, directing, makeup, art and costumes are all there, but it’s the performance that people immediately look at. Curry’s portrayal of Dr. Frank-N-Furter is certainly no exception: it was a high-energy role which required him to dress in drag, act as a bisexual alien, and strip down in front of the camera. This is immediately comparable to Duane Jones’ portrayal of Ben in Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Robert La Tourneaux’s portrayal of Cowboy Tex in The Boys in the Band (1970). Both roles required a great deal of commitment to jump into the unknown. Ben slapped a white woman and took charge of a fully white team of survivors in a time when racism and segregation were boiling in the United States. Cowboy Tex sold himself off as a male stripper and homosexual callboy in New York City, a place where the LGBT scene was often heavily discriminated against. Risqué roles are never easy for an actor to play, but the subsequent performances are usually worth their weight in gold (the emotions and feelings are often all the more real when actors have personal stakes involved).

Putney Swope (1969) is another film that can be juxtaposed with RHPS. Aside from the obvious difference that the former focuses on racial tension on the latter on sci-fi sexuality, both share one very big similarity: the main character, whom the film was named after, is completely dubbed over. In Putney Swope, the title character’s dialogue was dubbed by director Robert Downey Sr. He stated in an interview that it was because the actor couldn’t remember his lines, but it’s hard to believe that Downey’s interest in French New Wave films and his desire to play off of conventions in a white and black relationship didn’t influence the decision (Massood Lecture 1). In RHPS, Peter Hinwood played Rocky Horror, and was selected primarily for his physical features. “He was an underwear model with no acting experience; all of his speaking lines were cut, and his singing voice was dubbed by singer Trevor White” (Broadway). With each film, the director made a major decision during post-production to alter the main character of the film. The result in both films is a character that looks and sounds like a puppet. Swope is an African American man who restructures a predominantly white business into a black one, but he ends up running it into the ground. Did Swope really ever have control of the situation? Rocky starts out as a creation of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and is killed as a creation of the Transylvanian race. Did he ever have a say over his own fate, or was he doomed from birth?

Lastly, Days of Heaven (1978) also strikes a very familiar chord with RHPS. Terrence Malick crafted a storybook-style auteur film about a family trying to make it (Massood Lecture 2). The picture’s setting is the Texas panhandle during the 1910s, but it’s a timeless film in that it could really happen during any time at any place. The film isn’t necessarily set in the moment, and RHPS is very similar. The director did lock the film in the 70s by having a car radio play a news broadcast about President Nixon, but the idea of aliens from another planet visiting the earth to explore and spread their ideas is timeless. The science fiction genre is generally about questioning reality and our human understanding of the world we live in, so who knows: maybe there is a galaxy full of transsexuals somewhere in our universe. Days of Heaven may explore a different genre and its corresponding conventions, but the parable of The Farmer getting entrapped in a love triangle alongside Abby and Bill juxtaposes well with Dr. Frank-N-Furter getting involved with Rocky and a newly engaged couple.

Honors Question: What contributions did The Rocky Horror Picture Show make to the midnight movie? Are there any cult film genre conventions it paved the way for?

HQA) As a continuation from the previous question, the most important reason I’d replace Putney Swope with RHPS is because it kick started an American film genre: audience participation-based cult films. Beginning in NYC’s Waverly Theater (called by theatergoers a “mecca for midnight movies,” holding midnight screenings of films like Night of the Living Dead on a regular basis), a small group of audience members who went to see RHPS started dressing like the film’s characters, shouting back dialogue at the screen, and performing bits of the film on the stage in front of the projection screen. These traditions would spread to other theaters in NYC and catch on like wildfire, eventually becoming a nationwide phenomenon.

It should be noted that midnight movies “were far from being an exclusively American phenomenon,” with theater exhibitionists holding midnight screenings across the United States, Britain and France for years prior (Midnight Movies, 3). RHPS even pays homage to this fact in the opening song, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” which is about late night B science fiction films being screened for cheap, good times. Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s floorshow is another tribute to theater activities of the past, mixing live burlesque and carnival performance (dressing in costume, wearing makeup and masks, pretending to be someone one isn’t) with classic Hollywood movie musical ideas and themes (the RKO Pictures logo towers over the stage, harkening back to upbeat song and dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals).

The moment that RHPS became the American phenomenon that it did was on Labor Day weekend of 1976, when “Louis Farese, a kindergarten teacher form Staten Island, felt compelled to speak to the [Waverly Theater] screen. He is credited as the first person to yell lines at the movie” (RHPS Official Fan Site) He coined the term “counterpoint dialogue,” using it to express his joy in having off-screen conversations with the onscreen characters. More theatergoers began reserving weekly seats in the Waverly Theater balconies, and joined Farese in shouting at the screen and dancing to the film’s soundtrack. Around Halloween of that same year, some came in dressed as their favorite leather and lace-toting characters. These traditions caught on and continued well past Halloween. Live performance was mixed into the RHPS experience when audience members got up for the “Time Warp” dance sequence. Others began to walk to the front of the theater to perform as the characters onscreen, and eventually a full floorshow version of the film would be performed live on the stage in front of the projection screen as RHPS played (RHPS Official Fan Site).

By 1977, “newspapers, magazines, you name it, had begun to pick up on what was going on at the Waverly” (RHPS Official Fan Site). Word spread across the country as NYC residents who had been part of the Waverly phenomenon moved out. Many of them carried their RHPS traditions over to new theaters around the country, and the film became what it is today: a cult film experience relying on audience participation. In a 1990 review of the film, Roger Ebert wrote that RHPS “is not so much a movie as more of a long-running social phenomenon” (RogerEbert.com). Midnight audiences of the 1970s didn’t just want to sit back and watch another Hollywood film with clear heroes and villains. They clearly wanted to have their own unique experience, where they were really paying for their own show. They wouldn’t go into a theater to sit down, watch a film, and discuss it afterwards. They would dress up, act out, sing and dance, and reinterpret scenes from RHPS in their own unique way, creating their own special kind of blockbuster film.

Other films have carried on the audience participation cinema torch. For example, interest in The Sound of Music (1965, considered by many to be the last successful Hollywood movie musical) was rekindled after the success of RHPS. In 2005, the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater began hosting live sing-along screenings to the movie musical. Many audience members and critics have referred to the experience as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Prozac.” The greatest modern example of audience participation cinema is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003). This was another film that bombed upon its initial release, but was reinterpreted by college students on the midnight movie circuit. Actions like throwing spoons at the projection screen, playing football, dressing in tuxedos, and quoting lines from the film as they’re screened live have all become time-honored traditions of The Room experience.

O’Brien mentioned that “there was a surreal dreamlike quality to the movie that was never present in the stage show” (RHPS BTS Featurette). This surreal quality is the main convention for audience-participation cinema that RHPS was the first to capture. Contemporary audience participation cinema and cult films such as The Room, Eraserhead (1977), Re-Animator (1985), Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), Sharknado (2013), and many others all share in this same surreal feeling: you can’t really believe it’s happening as you watch it. Whether it’s because of poorly designed or decorated sets, terrible acting, strange and non-sensical stories, etc. Maybe Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s call to “[not] dream it, [but] be it” is what made RHPS the longest running theatrical release in history (it’s still screened nationwide today). Despite it being a British-born film, this is an American-made movie in every sense that forever changed the midnight movie culture and the audience participation cult film.

 

References:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Dir. Jim Sharman. Perf. Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick. 1975. 20th Century Fox, 2002. DVD.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).” IMDb. Web. 11 December 2014.
< http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073629/?ref_=nv_sr_1 >

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Wikipedia. Web. 11 December 2014.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rocky_Horror_Picture_Show >

“Rocky Horror Picture Show – Behind The Scenes Featurette (Remastered).” YouTube. Web. 15 December 2014.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfL98tLN1t8 >

Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff. 1931. Universal Pictures, 2009. DVD.

The Wiz. Dir. Sidney Lumet. Perf. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor. 1978. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 1999. DVD.

Wood, Robin. The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s. 1979. 25 – 32.

“STOIC Interview – Time Curry Talks About The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).” Student Television of Imperial College. 1975. YouTube. Web. 16 December 2014.
< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5sTIGLo79g >

Night of the Living Dead. Dir, George Romero. Perf. Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea. 1968. American Pop Classics: The Archive Collection, 2012. DVD.

The Boys in the Band. Dir. William Friedkin. Perf. Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Leonard Fray. Paramount, 2008. DVD.

Putney Swope. Dir. Robert Downey Sr. Perf. Arnold Johnson. 1969. Homevision, 2006. DVD.

Massood, Paula. Massood Lecture 1, “Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr., 1969).” Film 2117, American Cinema of the 1970’s. W.E.B., CUNY Brooklyn College. 3 September 2014. Lecture.

Champion, Lindsay. “Happy Birthday, Dear Rocky! 38 Freaky Facts About The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” August 2013. Broadway. Web. 16 December 2014
http://www.broadway.com/buzz/171159/happy-birthday-dear-rocky-38-freaky-facts-about-the-rocky-horror-picture-show/ >

Days of Heaven. Dir. Terrence Malick. Perf. Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard. 1978. Criterion, 2007. DVD.

Massood, Paula. Massood Lecture 2, “Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978).” Film 2117, American Cinema of the 1970’s. W.E.B., CUNY Brooklyn College. 10 December 2014. Lecture.

Hoberman, J, and Rosenbaum, Jonathan. Midnight Movies. Boston: HarperCollins & DaCapo Press, 1983. Print.

Piro, Sal. “How it Began.” The Rocky Horror Picture Show Official Fan Site. Web. 16 December 2014.
http://www.rockyhorror.com/history/howapbegan.php >

Ebert, Roger. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show Movie Review (1975).” Roger Ebert Website 1975. Web. 15 December 2014.
< http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-rocky-horror-picture-show-1975 >

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Klaus – A Christmas Thriller Short Film

To all of my friends at The Utopia of Daniel: the IndieGoGo campaign for my undergraduate thesis film has officially arrived!

This is one of the most humbling moments of my filmmaking life. It goes without saying (hopefully, haha) that a lot of time and effort went into making this campaign unique, informative and rewarding. I’d very much appreciate if any and all readers would take a look at the campaign.

So click on the link, learn about the project, see the rewards, and contribute what you can (sharing the project counts)! 

http://igg.me/at/klaus

The Klaus cover art was designed by my friend and Macaulay Brooklyn colleague, Sarah Allam.

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Stingingly Successful Satire on the World Wide Web–An Analysis of the Nostalgia Critic’s Satire

This past May (Spring 2014 semester), I took a course entitled Satire and Mass Media at CUNY Brooklyn College. Professor Brian Dunphy taught the course, and both he and his lessons were nothing short of amazingly mind-opening and altering. Together with the students, Prof. Dunphy dissected satire in the modern world and analyzed why it sometimes works so well and other times fails so miserably. At the end of the semester, each student was tasked with selecting a satirical topic and analyzing not only if it works as satire, but why.

For my paper I chose to discuss the Nostalgia Critic, a highly popular internet personality/critic played by Doug Walker. The goal was to determine if Walker’s character and work could be considered satire, and if so, figure out just how successful 21st century online satire is in comparison to more traditional means of satirical expression (newspapers, magazines, cartoons, books, on-air TV shows, etc.).

Below is the paper in its entirety.Please take a few moments to read why the Nostalgia Critic is not only a satirist, but why Doug Walker is one of the forces on the forefront of modern digital satire. Also, after you read, feel free to watch a tribute I made to the critiquing style of Walker last year by clicking here.

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 Stingingly Successful Satire on the World Wide Web

Daniel Scarpati, University and Rudin Scholar, CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College

A quick search of “satire” on the web will return dozens of fake news sites, phony television news clips, and bogus political blogs. Among the most highly visited sites of these types are The Onion, SatireWire and The Daily Currant. Most socially-connected people online have long-since realized these are purely satirical and illegitimate. What doesn’t come up in the search are other sources of web satire, such as series’ like the Nostalgia Critic and Between Two Ferns. This begs the question: is web content focused on non-political, non-news related media effective satire? And if so, how effective is it in comparison to what it’s satirizing?

Our class defines satire as having four primary components: it develops out of frustration, it can’t only be spiteful, there’s a clear desire to either cure or destroy the world, and it captures the zeitgeist.[1] In no case are these components more visible than with the Nostalgia Critic (NC for short). This internet personality was created by Doug Walker, a 33 year-old Chicago native, in 2007. Prior to the character’s inception, Walker worked as a night janitor at an automotive electronics factory. This was a job he hated so much that he felt compelled to quit by ripping his shirt off to reveal the phrase, “I QUIT,” painted on his chest while dancing to the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.[2] The quitting ended up getting him featured in a segment on ABC’s 20/20, Extreme Quitters. “Sometimes the best way to quit a job is also the best way to find a job,” Walker said as he recounted his experience.[3] The millions of hits his quitting video garnered on YouTube inspired him to take advantage of the popularity and upload videos of him criticizing films, television shows and other forms of video content that he felt deserved it.

The web character, film critic and career path that followed (Walker now makes his living through his internet production company, Channel Awesome) were wholly based out of frustration. Walker was fed up with his lot in life and decided to do what he really wanted, which just so happened to be showing others how fed up he was with films. Since before college, he wanted to be like Siskel and Ebert, two of his idols and “teachers.”[4] One of the best traits he found in them, which is a trait he has passed onto the NC, is that they’re never just spiteful or hate-filled. All three critics believe that there’s a real magic to cinema. Regardless of whether or not the film works for whatever reason, every person has a “unique and meaningful reaction” to the final product.[5]

Focusing on the NC, the content he produces always wants to cure the world. Although his main trait is ridiculous amounts of comical verbal and physical aggressiveness, the NC rarely fails to find some redeeming quality of the media he’s reviewing. In the episode, Are Superheroes Whiny Bitches, he discusses the reception of the latest Superman film, Man of Steel. Although “audiences enjoy defending it” and “critics love obliterating it,” the NC can’t fully side with either party.[6] Instead of arguing for or against the film’s unrelenting use of self-reflection scenes and Jesus imagery, the NC offers a third approach: understanding how much we cheer on superheroes has to do with how much we associate with them and their feelings. “If superheroes want to represent who we want to be, they must first understand who we are.”[7] Superheroes need drama (both interpersonal and intrapersonal) in order for audiences to connect to and support them. Yes, the balance between drama and “superheroey stuff” seems to be thrown off all too often (other controversial films in a similar light include The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Superman Returns, Hulk, and Thor), but it must exist for any superhero film to work.[8] If filmmakers can rework scripts and plots to have an effective balance and goal to connect with audiences, superhero movies can and will work much better.

There’s always a clear goal to save the media genre the NC is tackling. In his review of Batman and Robin, a film that has a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the NC lays out the stark differences between the fourth film in the series and the movies before it.[9] Whereas the past films “moved forward with [their] dark storyline[s] and complex character development,” Batman and Robin “has instead gone back to the campy, bright and colorful style of the original Adam West TV show.”[10] The NC lays out why this doesn’t work very clearly: it lacks interesting characters who audiences can sympathize with, it’s full of over the top effects and one-liners, and as the fourth film in the series, the action sequences and “superheroey” acts are just getting old. The NC states that he enjoyed where the first films in the saga (Batman and Batman Returns) took the superhero and tailored the childish cartoon and comics into something much more dark and adult, so he wants to save this saga.[11]

The final component of what defines satire as effective is the most important in regards to the NC. Prior to 2013, the year the NC came back from a brief break, the show only focused on nostalgic things. By Walker’s definition, nostalgic things like television shows, cartoons, web series and commercials had to be at least 10 years old.[12] Reviewing this content was like a double-edged sword. It worked because the NC was looking at the content from the perspective of someone from the future, someone who had already lived at least 10 years past the content. Determining if it held up a decade after it was produced was a true testament to its quality, plus it helped to determine what worked and what didn’t work. It’s been said that a person can’t judge a presidency until at least two terms pass, and the NC proves that in some cases the same logic applies to media.

As for the other side of the blade, this reviewing style didn’t work because it technically had all been done before. Yes, the critic and time period had changed, but the content being judged had been the same. For ten years, others had been reviewing, criticizing and/or praising it, so it sometimes added a sense of staleness. The NC’s review of The Room is a perfect example of this flaw in his early review style. In this episode, three other web critics featured on Channel Awesome’s website were featured trying to stop the NC from doing his review. They believe that too many other critics reviewed it and there was “no need for [the NC] to sacrifice [his] sanity as well.”[13] Granted, this only added to the humor of the episode, but it proved his content prior to 2013 couldn’t all be classified as effective satire on the web.

When fans voiced their desire for reviews of more recent media, the NC reworked his reviews to focus on anything that’s not currently in theaters.[14] With this new criteria for nostalgic content, the NC enters a new realm as a web series and internet critic. He’s finally able to review new, untouched material, and to become much more like Siskel and Ebert than he had ever been before. Focusing on the critique of newly-released content and not joking about how well older content holds up years later, makes way for a more editorial and professional voice that parallels some of the more established and published critics today, such as Richard Roeper, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, or the Hollywood Reporter’s Justin Lowe to name a few.

Looking at the first episode after this revamping, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the NC reviews and analyzes why the reasoning/thought process of the film’s melodramatic family is so terribly off. In the opening scene of the film, a couple is applying for adoption and filling out forms at an orphanage. As two social workers review the forms, they notice that the couple failed to answer the question about why they’re qualified for an orphan. In response, the family states that “they just had too much to say.”[15] The NC smacks his palm to his face and says, “If your reasoning wouldn’t work on your second grade teacher, chances are it wouldn’t work on the United States adoption services.”[16] The episode then cuts to a skit where the NC is dressed as a college student addressing his teacher, Mrs. Travers:

NC: Here’s my test, Mrs. Travers! [slams down an exam on a desk]

Mrs. Travers: Um, you failed to answer every single question listed.

NC: I know. I just had so much information I could put down for all of them I decided not to!

Mrs. Travers: I’m sorry, that means you get an F.

NC: As in fantastic?

Mrs. Travers: No, as in failed!

NC: As in failed to not be fantastic?

Mrs. Travers: No, as in you failed the test!

NC: As in I failed the test of not failing the exam you so currently gave to me?

Mrs. Travers: Why are you still here?

NC: I need a mommy.

In this separate skit portion of the show, the NC is able to not only perfectly capture what’s not working with The Odd Life (people say and do things that are so tremendously ridiculous and would simply never happen in real life), but also show it not working in practice. This method of reviewing media is something that’s wholly unique to the internet. Published reviewers in print news, magazines, journals or televised shows can only go as far as to critique the film and find its failures and successes. They’re not able to go the extra step by creating audiovisual examples to entertained and educate audiences while mocking source material, which is where the NC stands out.

Other new episodes of the NC follow this same pattern. Walker and his creative team sit down, find flaws in the media they’re reviewing, and then write skits to show it all in practice. These skits don’t only drive home the point of the critic—they present a visual that’s easier to remember than regular conversations between two critics, words on paper, or people speaking to a camera. Now the NC is doing more than being a critic; he’s creating his own topical material, born out of deep frustration with a film or TV show, with the intention to lay out what works and what doesn’t work in order to ensure it works next time.

What about other internet celebrities? There definitely exist other web series that do things the same as their off-the-internet versions, but in a different way. Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis is an example of a similar web series based out of frustration of a job gone wrong. Galifianakis stated in an interview, “the sycophantic way that the Hollywood machine runs [is] fun to make fun of it.”[17] All of the episodes involve an intentionally low-budget, poorly shot look and non-scripted interview between a celebrity and Galifianakis. They’re intended to be a jab at cable access interviews being scripted, mundane and all-around fake. Here, Galifianakis has created an alternative to shows like Inside Access and Inside the Actors Studio and has gained millions of fans. The latest episode featuring President Barack Obama has over 22 million views on YouTube.

Similar ideas for satirical, unscripted web content have spawned other series such as Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Tom Hanks’ post-apocalyptic drama Electric City, and soon, Steve Buscemi’s Park Bench. The view counts for each show make it clear that although there will always be an audience for the traditional television drama, newspaper article or comic film review, the audiences for web satire are growing everyday. The main reason this new wave of digital content isn’t as effective as it will be in the future most likely has to do with people not being aware the content is there. For the most part, you have to be on the web to know what’s available on the web—there are no TV commercials or previews in movie theaters for these online series. At most, they’ll be promoted through video advertisements on various websites and have an article or two written about them in the papers. The more people that become aware of the rich web satire that exists, the less people the traditional, non-satirical, and in some cases, less-effective media forms may have in their audiences. In the Nostalgia Critic’s case, the words spoken by Jay Sherman in the ‘90s cartoon, The Critic, have never been more meaningful:[18]

Jay: “It’s very simple: if you stop going to bad movies, they’ll stop making bad movies.”

Hollywood Producer: “Uh-oh. The jig is up.” [he dives out of a high-rise window]

Just apply the same logic to the TV shows, news articles, novels, film and other media outlets that are being effectively satirized online everyday.

– – –

Bibliography:

[1] Dunphy, Brian. “Presidential Satire.” Satire and Mass Media. Brooklyn College, NY. 23 April 2014. Lecture.

[2] “How I Quit My Job.” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 7 April 2008. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/sketches/64-how-i-quit-my-job>

[3] “Extreme Quitters: Leaving a Job and Making an Impression.” ABC News. 20/20, 17 May 2013. Web. 25 May 2014.

<http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/extreme-quitters-leaving-job-making-impression-19206343>

[4] “Siskel and Ebert.” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 9 November 2009. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/13453-sande>

[5] “Farewell to Roger Ebert.” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 5 April 2013. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/38839-nostalgia-critic-farewell-to-roger-ebert>

[6] “Are Superheroes Whiny Little Bitches?” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 2 July 2013. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/39783-nostalgia-critic-are-superheroes-whiny-little-bitches>

[7] “Are Superheroes Whiny Little Bitches?” Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome.

[8] “Are Superheroes Whiny Little Bitches?” Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome.

[9] “Batman and Robin (1997).” Rotten Tomatoes. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2014.

<http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1077027-batman_and_robin/>

[10] “Batman and Robin” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 23 May 2008. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/nostalgia-critic/34-nostalgia-critic/234-batman-and-robin>

[11] “Batman and Robin” Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome.

[12] “The Review Must Go On.” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 22 January 2013. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 25 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/38009-the-review-must-go-on>

[13] “The Room” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 13 July 2010. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/25743-the-room>

[14] “The Review Must Go On.” Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome.

[15] The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Dir. Peter Hedges. Monsterfoot Productions, Scott Sanders Productions, Walt Disney Pictures, 2012. Film.

[16] “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” Prod. Doug Walker, et al. Nostalgia Critic, Channel Awesome. 5 February 2013. ThatGuyWithTheGlasses. Web. 20 May 2014.

<http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/38168-nostalgia-critic-the-odd-life-of-timothy-green>

[17] Marikar, Sheila. “Zach Galifianakis :Comedy’s Sensitive, Sarcastic Sensation.” ABC News. ABC News, 6 October 2010. Web. 24 May 2014.

<http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/zach-galifianakis-ferns-hangover-kind-funny-story/story?id=11807074&singlePage=true#.T4rmFbNabAw>

[18] “Eyes on the Prize.” The Critic. ABC. WABC-TV, New York, New York. 2 March. 1994. Television.

29

External Hard Drives for Video Editing 101

As a double major in Film Production and TV/Radio, I constantly witness peers questioning the concept of video editing off of external hard drives. Most post-production courses that I’ve taken don’t focus all that much time on this aspect of the digital filmmaking process, which I hope to remedy with this blog post. Since I’m a double-certified computer technician and an aspiring video professional who already records and edits corporate video content and narrative films through external drives, I believe that I’m a very useful first-hand source for all of the basics. Friends, colleagues and co-workers who’ve ever questioned the subject: this is for you.

If you don’t care about the specifics and just want to know which drive I recommend for PC and Mac platforms: the LaCie Rugged 500GB External Hard Drive (1x USB 3.0, 2x Firewire 800, 7200RPM) is the absolute best portable external video editing hard drive that money can buy.

If you don’t care about specifics AND want to spend as little money as possible, go for the G-Drive Mini 320GB Portable for Mac or the Western Digital My Passport 500GB External for the PC.

*I highly recommend you check the connections on your computer before purchasing to ensure that your drive will actually connect! Take the time to read below if you have no idea what I mean.*

THE 3 ASPECTS THAT MATTER:

1) Drive Speeds and Types:

There are two main types of external hard drives that people use today: Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and Solid State Drives (SSDs). Simply put, HDDs are made up of platters (silverish circular discs) that store information on them. In order to read from or write to an HDD, an arm inside the drive has to move back and forth and make contact with different parts of the spinning disc. Because they have these moving parts, HDDs are more prone to break and slower when compared to SSD counterparts.

Still talking about HDDs, these types of drives come in two speeds: 5400RPM (rotations per minute) and 7200RPM. Typically 5400RPM is for reading and writing data–this is the kind of drive that someone who just wants to back up files would get. When you start getting into video editing, the platters need to be spinning as fast as the possibly can to access different parts of the HD video, audio, pictures and other medial files you’ll no doubt be editing with.

The last thing to know about HDDs is that they’re inexpensive. Since most only last a few years before experiencing technical issues, people buy these with the knowledge that they’re only temporary. Plus new drives come out all the time. So to summarize: HDDs have moving parts, break easier than other drive types, can spin at 5400 or 7200RPM, and are cheap.

HDD on the left, SSD on the right. Even a quick glance and you’ll see the difference.

 

SSDs are fairly new in the world of computing. These drive types have no moving parts–they instead access memory from NAND Flash Memory, which is what smartphones use. Without going into technical details, the main things to know about these drives is that they’re much faster since there are no moving parts and no discs to be spun and accessed, and they’re physically smaller than HDDs.

The only two cons to SSDs are that they’re only available in smaller sizes (512GB seems to be the limit nowadays) and they’re very expensive. Whereas you would generally spend $0.15 per GB in HDDs, you spend $0.90 per GB in SSDs.

2) Connections and Ports:

There are a lot of different connections out there nowadays, but there are two main ones that almost all video editors use: Firewire 800 and USB 3.0. Both of these connections transfer enough data per second to be used as efficient external editing drives.

In short, USB 2.0 is what everyone commonly refers to as “USB” (which stands for Universal Serial Bus, just for your information). This connection type allows for data transfer rates up to 480 megabits per second (not to be confuse with megaBYTES). Most flash drives are USB 2.0, because this connection is not only perfect for general file transfer, but it’s the most common connection type around.

Firewire 800 is the next level up, allow for transfer speeds of 800mbps (hence the name). A Firewire 400 connection exists that transfer at 400mbps, but it’s rarely used anymore. USB 3.0 was introduced in 2008 as the new ultra fast alternative to file transferring, clocking speeds of 5 gigabits per second, or 10 times faster than USB 2.0. That fact alone should help you understand why USB 3.0 is great for video editing: it’s really, really fast–faster than most would ever need.

There’s another port called Thunderbolt made by Intel for Macs, but it’s really not an interface you should consider for purchase. Why? Thunderbolt does boast a 10gbps transfer rate, but you’ll never need that much speed, guaranteed. It’s also used exclusively on Mac in terms of coming stock with the computer (PC users add on Thunderbolt ports after manufacturer purchase). Plus it’s expensive and limits you to connecting it to Mac products made after 2011 (which came with this port), or any high end video editing computers you may have access to. Unless the drive you’re looking at has other connection types, I wouldn’t recommend Thunderbolt.

A quick reference picture showing how long it takes to copy one HD video file to an external drive over four different connections. The less time it takes, the faster it is, and the more useful it is for video editing.

 

Now although a drive may have a Firewire 800 or USB 3.0 connection, that doesn’t mean that your computer will be able to connect. You need to look at your computer and make sure that you have a port to plug the device into. Firewire 800 ports look like rectangles and USB 3.0 ports are usually coated blue and have a small “SS” mark next to them, standing for SuperSpeed. The graphic below shows you what to look for.

USB 3.0 ports are blue and have “SS” marked next to them.

Firewire 800 ports are square in shape and have a three-pronged mark next to them. USB 2.0 ports don’t say “SS” and are generally black, and Thunderbolt ports appropriately enough have thunderbolts next to them.

 

3) Formatting and Partitioning:

Lastly, after you purchase a drive, you need to format it and/or partition it. This is the most complicated aspect of external drives, and also the most complex to explain. To keep it simple:

External hard drives generally come in two main file formats (meaning the way the drive is formatted–this formatting is intangible coding and affects the way computers recognize the drive when plugged in): NTFS for Windows and Mac OS Extended for Mac. NTFS can be read by both PCs and Macs, but Macs are not able to write any files to it. Mac OS Extended can only be read by Macs. Why is each format useful/important: because if you know you’re going to be working solely on a PC or Mac, you want the format to reflect that. It’s important for an external drive’s format to match that of the internal drive’s format on any given computer, PC or Mac, if you want it to function properly.

Regardless, there are ways for PCs to read Mac-formatted drives and vice versa. Programs like NTFS-3G and HFS Explorer can be purchased and downloaded on PCs and Macs, respectively, to access files from drives with counterpart formats.

An alternative to paying for programs like this and having an external drive that can be read from and written to cross platform is drive partitioning. In its most basic definition, partition involves taking two pieces of a drive and formatting them differently (for example, if you have a 500GB HDD, 250GB would be made to work with Windows and the other half with Mac). The main pro is that you now technically have two hard drives, however the big con is that portioning a drive generally slows its overall performance (and you’d never want to copy files from one drive’s partition to its other partition–think about it and you’d realize this means the arms accessing two parts of a HDD platter at the same time).

Another more common way to have a drive that can be read by and written to Macs AND PCs is to use the FAT 32 Format System. This is what I format a majority of my drives in because of the fact that it can be read across PCs and Macs without any major short-term performance issues. Just like everything else, it has a big downside: file sizes can only be 4GB large. This can sometimes be tricky depending on what kind of files your camera records (if you’re editing with HD video files), but there are ways around it.

If I did a poor job explaining this third section or you still don’t fully understand formatting, have a look at this blog post on CNet. They summarized things pretty well.

In Conclusion…

You have to ask yourself a lot of questions before purchasing a drive. Are you a Mac or PC person, or do you work across both platforms? Do you want to spend extra money for a faster SSD, or save money on a cheaper but larger HDD? Does your computer support any connection type fast than USB 2.0, or do you need to edit on a different computer? And on that different computer (whether it be at school, the library, etc.), is there USB 3.0 or Firewire 800?

All of these things should lead you to a clear choice about which drive is best for you. As I said before, the LaCie 500GB External USB 3.0 and Firewire 800 is my personal favorite and the drive I most recommend. It’s highly durable, extremely fast, easy to format and maintain, and relatively inexpensive.

This post is dedicated to my Single Camera Production Spring 2014 class and Professor Patkanian. Hello everyone! Hope this helped.

3

More Than Great Legs – Sloan Sabbith Character Study

If there’s one character that really stands out to me on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, it’s Sloan Sabbith. Played by the devilishly gorgeous Olivia Munn, Sloan is the only female character that has a truly complete character arc in the first season. As she transitions from a shy, socially awkward college girl to a dominating force and true student of honest news and investigative journalism, the audience has the chance to learn, grow and experience News Night alongside her.

A stunningly beautiful actress, comedian and Atlantis Cable News personality!

A stunningly beautiful actress, comedian and Atlantis Cable News personality!

 

When The Newsroom began, Sloan really wasn’t an integral part of any single story. At first, I assumed that she was a lower-level staffer on the News Night team, someone who was there to fact check and work out statistics and data. Since she was thrown in the corner and wasn’t given any real screen time, I didn’t think anything else was possible. Don even called her his “fourth and only choice”  when he needed her to fill in another newscaster’s time slot in one of the first episodes. As the season progressed however, people like McAvoy and MacKenzie started letting the audience know how smart she really was–who knew that she received a PhD in Economics at Duke University and studied under some of the country’s greatest economic minds!?

After being acknowledged as News Night’s Senior Financial Reporter, Sloan was given five minutes every night to “tell us where we are and how we got here” by MacKenzie. At this point in the show, the audience really started getting to know Sloan as a female professional in the American broadcast television workplace. Compassionate, quirky and knowledgable, Sloan captured the attention of a lot of ACN people very quickly. She was given more tasks to discuss the state of the economy and was asked to cover more stories, occasionally being allowed to fill in for missing reporters.

The most notable instance where she filled in for someone else was during the Fukushima power plant meltdown.At this point in the show, Sloan had really only focused on financial stories and helping MacKenzie try to better understand economics for a speech she had to give. Always helpful and always eager to learn, Sloan didn’t back down–she accepted the story and made the egregious mistake of using off-the-record information on live television. This is one of the parts of the show that I remember the most, specifically because it’s such an honest human error. When I worked for the Queens Chronicle newspaper, I spoke to assemblymen and local politicians off the record multiple times, and it was always hard to hear them say things to me that they didn’t necessarily say in public. No matter how much journalists would like to publish or broadcast everything they hear off-the-record, they simply can’t–it’s a matter of not only ethics and principle, but legal responsibility and overal believability.

In Sloan’s case, she caused panic in Japan based on information that hadn’t been formally released yet. Although she thought she would save lives and prove that the nuclear plant and government was not being truthful in their assessments of the meltdown level at the plant, she caused more problems than fixed them. It’s moments like this that remind the audience that everyone makes mistakes. Sloan was still learning how to do the news and do it well, and it’s safe to say that she learned a lot from that experience. Thankfully for her, McAvoy and Skinner loved her too much to let her get fired, so they had her lie (one of the only times they allowed a blatant lie to be aired) to save her job and the honor of the Japanese spokesperson she quoted.

In a video interview with Munn, she said that newsworthy is defined as something that the people “need to know.” Even during and after het worst mistake, Sloan was only thinking about the people and what they needed to know.

 

By the end of the show, Sloan had become extremely comfortable with live reporting. So much so that we would often only catch the ending of her segments on the economy and finances today. When it reached that point that MacKenzie, McAvoy and Skinner were confident that she knew what she was doing and how to get it done right, they didn’t have to watch her do it anymore.

As for Sloan’s social life, she also stood out to me as a character that went from a state of total social awkwardness to emotional understanding and bravery. In the first half of season one, she was always trying to help McAvoy, Don and MacKenzie with emotional issues and problems. Even though she didn’t have a boyfriend herself (or any real relationship experience at all, for that matter), she did her best to answer the questions of her coworkers and friends. I can really connect to this, because I’ve been helping friends with relationship problems and dating issues ever since the start of high school even though I’ve never really been involved in a relationship myself. Most people would think that this would limit the amount of help you can give, but I find that when you listen to everyone else’s problems and experiences, you’re able to form a database of knowledge that you can access to help others–and I definitely see Sloan accessing hers.

Always watching and always learning, Sloan has carried herself through one hectic season of work for News Night.

Always watching and always learning, Sloan has carried herself through one hectic season of work for News Night.

 

Towards the second half of the season, Sloan began standing up for what she thought was right. She began telling people like McAvoy, Neal and Don how she felt about them and what they should really think of themselves. In Don’s case, Sloan was courageous enough to say that she was “only single because [Don] never asked [her] out,” which was no doubt a hugh emotional boundary for her to jump. Although this did finalize her character’s emotional arc and bring her into a new stage of bravery and honesty, I did find it odd that she admitted this when she never really displayed any feelings or affection towards Don throughout the show. Don had asked her questions about problems with Maggie before, but Sloan only helped him as much as she did everyone else. Since she never gave Don any special attention or praise, it makes the audience wonder why she feels the way she does for a guy that really isn’t all that great.

Since she admitted to turning down an annual salary of four million dollars with a financial firm to serve the country and the News Night team, Sloan has clearly grown attached to the people involved in the News Night team. If I were her, I would stay with the News Night 2.0 team, too. Through the bonds she’s developed and trust she’s gained as the Senior Financial Reporter, Sloan is definitely learning that some things in life mean more than money and notoriety (cliche, sure, but Sloan absolutely displays this level of understanding by the final episode). Compared to other women on the show like Maggie and MacKenzie, Sloan comes off as smarter, sexier and more dominating (both physically and verbally) than anyone else. Getting thrown up against the wall by Sloan after calling her butt big must’ve been some experience, Neal!

For Sloan’s character in season two, I really hope to see her continuously becoming a more important, dominating force on the News Night team. As she takes on more stories and projects and continues to work under and alongside McAvoy and MacKenzie, I’m fairly confident that she’s on the straight path to success. Even if News Night were to fail or be cancelled, I don’t think there’s any doubt that a financial company (investing, marketing, actuarial services, etc.) would hire her in a heart beat.

Ms. Sabbith, you’re one strong women. If there’s anything I have to say to you, it’s keep your eyes clear and your heart open. You’re smart enough to know (on book-smart and street-smart levels) when someone or something is good for you and when that same person or thing is bad for you, and that kind of knowledge mixed with a PhD from Duke and McAvoy’s tutelage will take you places. Stay beautiful, sistah.

 

References:

HBO’s The Newsroom – Sloan Sabbith, HBO Website

@SloanSabbithACN, Twitter

The Newsroom Season One, Episodes One – Ten

0

“We Told the News” – The Newsroom Season One Reflection

I worked in a newsroom once. Only it was called “The War Room” in my case. It wasn’t for a televised news show like Atlantis Cable News, but for the Queens Chronicle, the most widely read and distributed print newspaper in Queens.

During my time at the QC, I leaned a lot about print journalism, advertising, marketing and bureaucracy. I got to experience all different kinds of events and occurrences, from the Wiener scandals and Queens-based political campaigns to NYPD raids and health care festivals. All the while, I was meeting new people, both journalists I worked with at the QC and reporters from other papers.

Despite all of the aforementioned benefits of working on a very popular and widely-read newspaper, there are a few things that I never saw or heard take place: in-office relationships, verbal wars with publishers/the media gatekeepers, and scandalous choices to publish controversial news stories, just to list a few examples. Others who have worked in newsrooms (and even other workplaces) have experienced one or two of these things here and there, but I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who saw them all pile up together.

This all leads me to pretty much the main thing I dislike about The Newsroom: its unrealistic nature. Despite its accurate representation of various people, politicians and corporate bigwigs, Aaron Sorkin’s show has proven time and time again that all it is is a fictional television show meant to draw in an audience and entertain. For any television show this is pretty much necessary for survival, and I completely understand that. But for a show that goes to great lengths to convey messages about the current state of investigative journalism and the US fourth estate as well as the nation’s interpretation of what purpose television serves in society today, I wonder why so much of it stands out as unreal.

The Newsroom perfectly portrays life in a bustling news room. Go figure!

The Newsroom perfectly portrays life in a bustling news room.

 

Take for example the way characters talk to one another. There’s not enough fumbling with words! There’s never a loss for some great emotional revelation or realization about why we humans do what we do (why we love who we love, hate who we hate, side with who we side with, etc). Even in the cases of the love triangles (McAvoy and MacKenzie, and Maggie, Jim, Don and Sloan) there’s never a point where things stop and nothing is said. There’s always something going on, and the rapid pace of these relationships almost never slows.

These relationships are also the only other thing that I think works against the show. In real life, love triangles and quadrangles like the ones portrayed on The Newsroom are simply too perfect. Throughout the first season, I always had issues in believing that Maggie continuously wanted to stay with Don even though Jim offered her so much more love and respect. Granted, Jim continuously chose to stay with Lisa, so it wouldn’t have really mattered what Maggie chose anyway.

These kinds of crazy triangles not only draw attention to the way The Newsroom tries to appeal to viewers of soap operas, but it detracts from the intelligence these women are supposed to have. They’re all double and triple major college and graduate school scholars who, despite all of their collective knowledge, continuously make such ridiculous relationship and emotional choices. I can understand that they’re socially awkward and even inept at times, but being lulled into a false sense of security and love by a room full of flowers and light candles just wouldn’t work after going through countless stand-ups, multiple missed dinners with parents, continuos verbal abuse and overall emotional stress (this particular example is taken from the final episode, where Maggie and Don have one final make-up session).

Some other plot points like McAvoy smoking pot before going on air and Jim having sing-along music sessions with coworkers outside of the always-heated office space just add to the ridiculousness of certain aspects of the show. Critics like Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal, Mary MacNamara of the L.A. Times and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker all seem to agree that The Newsroom has tremendous potential, but due to its often silly dialouge and plot points, plus a semi-unrealistic nature, it falters on multiple levels.

A Newsroom bingo card with just about every cliche/pun/repetitious act the show uses.

A Newsroom bingo card with just about every cliche/pun/repetitious act the show uses.

 

Regardless, let’s look at The Newsroom from the scope of it being a drama television show and nothing more. It does a fantastic job of telling the story of a team of investigative journalists who want nothing more than to tell the news. Many characters were written well and had a very clear and serious arc (even if the arc wasn’t integral to the core story, like Neal going from being a shy office nerd to standing up for what he believes in and taking chances with the News Night producers).

Even with debatable arcs and sub-plots like Don transitioning from a “bad guy” to a “good guy” throughout the first season (I personally think he went from a “bad guy” to a “self-aware bad guy,” but to each his/her own), I still found the show very enjoyable. Viewers were able to relive important events in the US’ past few years in a new way, looking at them from the eyes of reporters who attempt to report as objectively as possible. We were transported directly into an American workplace where things didn’t always go as planned, people sometimes got hurt, and there was always a new issue to deal with.

Watching a show like a television show should be was also refreshing–meaning that I only watched The Newsroom once a week for the ten weeks. Nowadays, everything is about instant gratification and being able to do anything you want whenever you want. So to be able to relax and take the time to really critique and review the show has been a positive media experience to say the least.

The news desk is left open for a whole series of sub-plots and stories in the show's second season. Here's hoping it takes the best of the first season and only makes it better!

The news desk is left open for a whole series of sub-plots and stories in the show’s second season. Here’s hoping it takes the best of the first season and only makes it better!

 

To complete the ‘fan service package,’ I’m a massive fan of how perfectly The Newsroom ended its first season: just enough was revealed to satiate, but just enough was left open to keep viewers coming back for more. As I think more and more about what I’d like to see during the second season (which I intend to try and watch online since my family doesn’t own cable–ironic, since it’s to watch a show about a cable news network), I keep coming back to my desire to see the show develop into less of a romantic dramedy and more of a well-balanced personal and interpersonal exploration of the media and its influence in everyday life.

Besides that, hopefully Don and Sloan will get together (a really unexpected plot twist, might I add), McAvoy and MacKenzie will become the perfect news duo and couple, Skinner will continue to fight for justice in the ranks of William Paley (and avenge the self-inflicted death of his newfound friend, Hancock), Leona will agree to work with Skinner and McAvoy (or at least allow them to survive), Sorkin will learn how to better write women in screenplays, and the show will do one heck of a job at representing the honest and true viewpoints behind Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections (a topic I’m very excited to see analyzed and discussed).

My overall Newsroom season one rating: 7.5 out of 10 Dunphys. Well done, Mr. Sorkin. =u)

And thank you for the experience, Professor Dunphy! This last clip is for you (it describes how I felt after finishing my blog posts):

 

References:

The Newsroom Season One Reviews Collection, MetaCritic (full online collection)

The Newsroom Season One WSJ Preview, Dorothy Rabinowitz

The Newsroom Season One LA Times Review, Mary McNamara

The Newsroom Season One New Yorker Review, Emily Nussbaum

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Who’s Sponsoring What, and Why?

In January 2009, BioShock 2 released for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Both a sequel and prequel to the original BioShock in a single player story and multiplayer story, respectively, fans across the globe rushed to stores to pickup their copies. After a few short months of offline single player campaign and online multiplayer gameplay, a downloadable content package (DLC, for short) was released on the consoles’ marketplaces. As fans downloaded the DLC, they realized that the size of the file they were downloading was 128.00 KB.

You don’t have to be a Computer Science major to know that anything in KBs is pretty small. Usually, Text Edit and Notepad notes are only 10KB or so. How could a full DLC package for a fifth-generation console game (complete with high-definition video and audio) only equate to 128.00 KB? It can’t. What the fans discovered was that they were downloading a virtual key of sorts that would unlock the DLC content which came pre-installed on the original game disc.

This sparked a large debate over what constituted “DLC” and what people were really paying for when they purchased a game. On one side, the content was already on the disc, and since people paid $59.99 for that disc, shouldn’t they have been allowed to access all of it? On the other side, the content was not pertinent to the single player or multiplayer experiences and only added to the overall experience, so didn’t the developers, 2K Games, have a right to moderate when the unlock code for extra content was released? In the end, no true verdict was reached, and people eventually just moved on to the next problems life threw at them.

Many were felt bothered and betrayed by the realization that they already owned the "new content" they were purchasing.

Many were felt bothered and betrayed by the realization that they already owned the “new content” they were purchasing.

 

In the case of the recent announcement of Sony’s PS4, a similar thing happened. People noticed that of the two posts published on BuzzFeed, one was “sponsored” by PlayStation while the other was not. Both appeared to be identical posts, minus a sponsor acknowledgment and off-white background color. The problem that arises from these two posts is that readers can’t be certain what is the true, objective opinion of the reviewer, or what is the information sponsored and written in by PlayStation’s own marketing team. Like with 2K Games, fans are left with a feeling of distrust towards the company.

Andrew Sullivan of The Dish writes that what’s not being respected here is the ” divide between editorial and advertizing,” a sort of unspoken boundary that exists, much like the separation of church and state. As times have changed and the line between journalism/criticism and industry advertising has widened and dissipated, it’s no longer clear what constitutes a totally unbiased piece of writing.

The infamous PS4 announcement was where the new PS4 controller was unveiled. Will we be able to navigate true journalism and editorial criticism with it? Or just loads of sponsored, influenced content?

The infamous PS4 announcement was where the new PS4 controller was unveiled. Will we be able to navigate true journalism and editorial criticism with it? Or just loads of sponsored, influenced content?

 

Editorial writing and media advertising need one another for both to survive, so sponsored content must continue to exist–without it, many companies wouldn’t be able to continue operating due to lack of funds. However when the two things become indistinguishable, “aren’t we in danger of destroying the village in order to save it?”

The Dish blog post can be read here.

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S1E10, The Greater Fool – Good Night, And Hire Her

In the finale of it’s first season, The Newsroom’s two sides come full circle. The first side of the show revolves around the emotional, mental and physical relationships between office couples (mainly McAvoy and MacKenzie, Maggie and Jim, and Maggie and Don). The second side of the show revolves around what the word “news” really means, and how it’s constantly influenced by people, power and politics (not only in the government, but in the corporations and networks that run the news shows).

In past episodes, Aaron Sorkin (creator of The Newsroom) has clearly had a hard time balancing the two sides out. Sometimes, an episode would focus almost entirely on the relationship side and not pay any attention to the actual ACN News Night newsroom. “News Night 2.0” and “The 112th Congress” are two examples. These were the episodes that I had the hardest time paying attention to, as well as the ones that I found most critics and reviewers calling more of a romantic comedy sitcom than a fictional narrative about news in our non-fictional world.

On the other hand, some episodes focused much more on the news and the powers that are always influencing it. Episodes like “Amen” and “We Got Him” did this, and I definitely preferred them to episodes that focused mainly on relationships. Despite that fact, I found myself having a hard time connecting to the characters and getting into their mindset, or becoming emotionally involved with them. So it was clear to me from early on that Sorkin’s biggest challenge would be balancing these two sides out.

“The Greater Fool” accomplishes this perfectly. I was admittedly a little confused about where the episode was headed in the beginning, mainly while we were jumping between McAvoy reporting on air and McAvoy in his apartment bathroom, bleeding out. However as the gap between the two places in time decreased, motives behind this story structure became more clear.

Will McAvoy: The Greater Fool. The seasone one finale investigates just what that caption really means.

Will McAvoy: The Greater Fool. The seasone one finale investigates just what that caption really means.

 

One critic, Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter, said that the biggest reveals of this episode were on the relationship side. On her list of the top six reveals of the episode, she included McAvoy’s message about him still loving MacKenzie, Jim and Maggie finally kissing, Maggie and Don moving in together, and Don figuring out that Sloan is still single because he never asked her out. (The Hollywood Reporter Six Biggest Reveals List) These were definitely the emotional high points of the show, but I’m more interested in the news-related high points.

For one thing, the article about McAvoy and the News Night team written by MacKenzie’s old boyfriend was finally released. In it, McAvoy was called “the greater fool,” which he originally thought of as an insult. After fighting to not only keep an honest news show afloat in the middle of a world filled with TMZ and The Real Housewives of New Jersey look-alikes, but attempting to change the Republican primary debate format, alter the way that ACN operates, and going on a “mission to civilize,” McAvoy thinks that maybe he is just a fool.

Sloan eventually steps in and explains that “the greater fool” is an economic term used to described people who think outside the box and break free of the popular norm. It’s “someone with the perfect blend of self delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.” After that, McAvoy not only has a renewed feeling for himself and what the entire News Night team is doing, but he’s proud of Sloan and the person that she’s become after having worked there.

Another big news-related high point of the episode was the confrontation of the gatekeepers of ACN. After Skinner’s newfound friend Solomon commits suicide, Skinner knows that what he was telling him about was 100% truthful (the illegal hacking of cell phones by Leona’s son). Armed with that knowledge, he led McAvoy and MacKenzie on a mission to put Leona and her son in their place while trying their best to get them to work with the News Night team and “start producing the news again.” Instead of focusing on lying, celebrity slander stories and making more money than anyone would ever need, all the three want to do is provide the American people with the news, the whole news, and nothing but the news.

McAvoy, MacKenzie and Skinner appear to have succeeded in keeping those pesky gatekeepers at bay. Will it stay the same way next season?

McAvoy, MacKenzie and Skinner appear to have succeeded in keeping those pesky gatekeepers at bay. Will it stay the same way next season?

 

The one other plot point that needs to be discussed is the reintroduction of “sorority girl” into the show. Since The Newsroom quite literally began with her being assaulted by McAvoy, it’s fantastic to see it end (the first season) with her wanting to work for/alongside him. The best way to be a fool is to learn from one, and that’s the reasoning she uses to get McAvoy to hire her on the spot. In a review on the media criticism site Zap2It, Carina MacKenzie writes that “[‘sorority girl’s’] obviously got some cojones, and her arrival at ACN is definitely a sign that despite his struggles, Will has made a difference in the time since he first met her.” (Zap2It Newsroom Finale Review) It’s going to be very interesting to see what influence she’ll have on McAvoy and the rest of the team.

It’s season finales like this that really prove to me that great television show writing still exists. Many problems were solved and their solutions revealed, but there are still plenty of things left unsaid. Will McAvoy and MacKenzie ever get back together? Will Sloan stay with the network and become the next McAvoy (or will “sorority girl” take her place)? Will ACN clean up its act and become the leading force in the Fourth Estate? All of these and more will hopefully be answered in season two, but this finale holds up extremely well regardless. The combination of relationships reaching their emotional and mental climaxes with the News Night team telling the true stories of Americans like Dorothy Cooper and kicking some gatekeeper ass while doing it works extremely well.

Enough has happened that us viewers would be content if the show were to end here, and at the same time enough has been left unsaid that we would come back for a second season. Getting an ending so, so right is enough for me to give any show’s season finale episode a 6/5 (yep, 6/5) rating.

Here’s to season two!

 

References:

The Hollywood Reporter Six Biggest Reveals List, Lesley Goldberg

Zap2It Newsroom Finale Review, Carina MacKenzie

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TV Journalism In Its Prime, Filmmaking Not So Much – Good Night, And Good Luck Review

I’d like to make this clarification right off the bat: as a historically accurate representation of broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow’s quest to expose Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communism insanity, Good Night, And Good Luck is a fantastic movie. Life if the 1950s wasn’t easy–especially when you were someone known and seen by a very large part of the nation on a regular basis. Although I feel this aspect of the movie stands strong, I do believe that Good Night, And Good Luck is not as successful in the aspect of filmmaking.

In terms of story,  Good Night, And Good Luck focuses in one a small part of Murrow’s life–the time when he fought against the government (mainly Senator Joseph McCarthy) after hearing of the dismissal of Air Force Pilot Milo Radulovich. Senator McCarthy accused him of being a communist, which in turn led the Air Force and government to fire him without a fair trial or hearing. This gained the interest of Murrow and the rest of the CBS News team. In one of Murrow’s shows, See It Now, an air wave battle took place as both men traded blows on who was the real communist infiltrating our nation’s soil. In the end, Radulovich was reinstated and McCarthy defeated (in a sense, at least), but Murrow paid the price through his show being moved to a very bad time slot and the suppressing of his presence on the network.

Murrow and his friend and CBS co-worker, Fred Friendly.

Murrow and his friend and CBS co-worker, Fred Friendly.

 

As a film, there are very clear pros and cons. Regardless of what I have to say here, the film was nominated for six oscars and won 40 other miscellaneous awards when released in 2005, so it must have done something right. The first real noticable thing about it is that is’s presented in full black and white. This serves the story well considering it’s representing a time when television was on the rise and the world could really only see it in black and white. The world had color, but print and television journalism was colorless.

The other main thing the film does is constantly use real footage from the original Murrow broadcasts, television commercials, McCarthy announcements and trials/hearings of the time. This, I believe, has the opposite effect on the film in some cases. While the audience is trying to connect with the vast amount of characters that are being presented to them (another problem with the film–the fact that there’s so many characters and no real time given to form emotional connections with each and every one), they’re constantly given full-length original television clips to watch. Although this helps tell the story because, well, it IS the story, I didn’t like how frequently these clips were shown. If the film had focused only on the actors it was using to portray the real-life characters, audiences would have been able to connect to them more.

Another issue putting characters back to back with the real people brings about is that audiences will tend to start to look for similarities and differences among actors and who is supposed to be playing who. Now for the most part, this is a good thing–historical films should encourage viewers to focus on the real people behind the stories and compare them with the actors portraying them in the film, but since it happens so frequently here, I feel that it has an opposite effect. I found myself focusing more on the production design of the sets and the makeup and accuracy of the actors and their historically-accurate counterparts more than I did any of the stories presented throughout the film.

Besides focusing on the technical aspects of the film rather than focusing on its story and the messages and meanings behind the real-life events it was recounting, I also had a hard time waiting for the main conflicts to arise. When you get right down to it, this film is about a very really and potentially life-threatening battle between Murrow and McCarthy. There were other prominent sub-plots revolving around the extent of government and network censorship as well as dealing with the stress and emotionally-tasking nature of broadcast journalism during a time when there were very few faces traveling across the airwaves, but none of them were as focused on. Going back to what I was commenting on before, the large amount of characters played by prominent, well-known actors in this film didn’t help me to get inside the heads of the characters at all.

One of Murrow's trusted and faithful cohorts in the CBS News network, Don Hollenbeck.

One of Murrow’s trusted and faithful cohorts in the CBS News network, Don Hollenbeck.

 

This argument is especially clear in the sub-plot regarding one of Murrow’s fellow CBS newscasters, Don Hollenbeck. Without giving any major plot points away, Hollenbeck has a very hard time dealing with the aggressive comments and criticisms printed in the newspapers and recounted by other television reporters. This is an age old issue (being open to criticism, but drawing a fine line between what’s constructive and what’s insulting), something that truly began in Hollenbeck’s era, but is much more prominent today. In The Insider, a film that investigates choices made during on of the United States largest cases regarding tobacco companies and investigative journalism’s role in the assault on those companies, television newscasters have to constantly deal with whatever is said about them by whomever–whether or not it’s true.

A character like Lowell Bergman (the main protagonist of The Insider) has a full film almost exclusively to himself to investigate how he feels about what people around him do and say, and the audience forms a strong connection with him over the two hour movie. In Hollenbeck’s case, the story feels very rushed, and it’s not as clear why he feels so strongly about the criticisms thrown against him. Again, it’s important to understand that in the 1950s, any hint of opressive verbal violence or slander could lead someone to worry for countless hours that they would be marked as a communist, but Good Night, And Good Luck never really helps the audience to form that connection.

Just as stated in the beginning of this post, I feel that Good Night, And Good Luck has some serious pros as well as some serious cons. The production value and A-List actors who worked on this project add a lot of realism, believability and integrity to the recreation of one of the nation’s turning points (at least for the fields of television broadcasting and investigative journalism). At the same time, the amount of information and characters mixed with the lack of clarity for certain motives as well as the constant use of original source material makes the film a little hard to sit through. I have a strong feeling that with the same artistic and storytelling formula and less characters, this movie could work extremely well as a long short (around 50 minutes long or so). I give it a 3/5 rating.

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99% Certainty Is Not Foolproof

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are two super sly newscasters. They know exactly how the American people feel and what they want, they can play to just about any group or audience while basing statements exclusively off the facts (for the most part), and they’re just all-around funny guys. Who better to represent our country that these guys?

In an interview with Jim Cramer, the official commentator of Mad Money, a show about making easy money quickly, Stewart brings up key arguments against Cramer’s work and what he says his purpose is. Cramer says that he tries his best to expose and call out the people in high places (mainly, financial industry leaders and mavens) in order to get them noticed and held responsible for any illegal or distrustful actions. Stewart argues that while Cramer says this is what he’s doing, there is a serious second agenda that he and his show have (as well as the financial network that airs the show), which revolves around creating an entertainment show that tells some of the facts and acts like they care about the state of the economy and serious monetary decisions when they really don’t.

Stewart told Cramer that the money and finances that he's always talking about are very serious parts of our nation--"they're not a f***ing game." (Jon Stewart Interview)

Stewart told Cramer that the money and finances that he’s always talking about are very serious parts of our nation–“they’re not a f***ing game.” (Jon Stewart Interview)

 

Stewart uses clips from another interview with Cramer where he’s caught discussing financial decisions and practices that he seems to be against on his own show as an incentive to try and get him to speak freely. As Stewart attacked Cramer and the people he represented, I realized that he’s a heck of a lot like Will McAvoy from The Newsroom, a show which our Mass Media class is watching this semester. Like McAvoy, Stewart gets straight to the point and interrupts the interviewee every single time s/he goes off topic. It’s a form of questioning and investigative journalism that is almost completely unseen on regular news channels. On Fifth Estate shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, this kind of questioning is not only possible, it’s heavily desired.

This two-part interview with Jim Cramer can be viewed here.

As for Stephen Colbert, he interviewed Julian Assange, creator of WikiLeaks, a site devoted to releasing corporate and government secret documents and media to the United States public. Assange believes that what he’s doing is something that is and always has been a part of the flow of information to the people. By providing them with information that would otherwise be denied from them, the people have a freedom to know who did what when.

In a very similar manner to that of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert gets straight to the point with his statements and questions and allows no time to dance around the straight, hard answer, whatever it may be.

In a very similar manner to that of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert gets straight to the point with his statements and questions and allows no time to dance around the straight, hard answer, whatever it may be.

 

Colbert counters what Assange believes with some humor, but true humor at that. “Governments are elected based on what the people know about the government…if we don’t know what the government’s doing, we can’t be sad about it.” It seems funny at first, but there is some truth to this statement, especially in the fact that many people have a policy of ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Assange doesn’t believe in this kind of thinking, and feels that by reveling secrets to the public, he and the site can 1) provide the source of the leak with the maximum possible political impact, and 2) provide the public with the full, uncensored source material.

In the case that Colbert brings up involving a secret video of an Apache helicopter attack on innocent people in Baghdad, Assange makes it clear that he titled the video “Collateral Murder” to achieve maximum political effect for the source. “That’s not leaking. That’s a pure editorial,” Colbert responded.

The extended interview with Julian Assange can be viewed here.

These two video interviews lead to very serious questions about who has the right to edit what the public sees. Even though both appear to have only the best intentions for the American people, there are clear underlying motives to persuade and influence decision-making processes and opinions. As Dr. Alan Grant said in Jurassic Park III, “some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”