Archive for January, 2019

January 30, 2019

#147) When it’s OK for sex to sell part 2: No Anti-Sinematism from this blogger!

“SEX! Now that I’ve got your attention…” may be the oldest marketing ploy out there, but sometimes it works.

Like many people, I did a double take when I saw photos of a woman standing on the U.S. Senate floor wearing over the knee boots and a short dress. I may be a happily married man but I am not above the occasional ogle. Once I realized that her presence among the more conservatively dressed men and women was not a Photoshop gag, I did what many Britons did the day after voting for Brexit: I went straight to Google. When I was in high school, a sexy album cover made me a jazz geek overnight. Will senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and her boots make a political pundit out of me – or at least inspire me to become a little less ignorant? Before I saw the photo, I had no idea that Sinema is Arizona’s first female senator, that she is the country’s first openly bisexual senator and that she was once homeless. Had she been wearing a pantsuit, I still would have no idea.

Love her outfit or hate it, Sinema has a chance to become a new, galvanizing voice for the Democrats while also daring the conservatives to get grumpy and look like the dowdy GOP of old. It’s telling that Alabama auditor Jim Ziegler got defensive about his Sinema comments. Now that she knows what kind of a response she can get by the length of her footwear, what will Sinema do about it? Will she become a latter day Sarah Palin/Michele Bachmann or will her story grow legs as long as those that strode across the Senate floor?

I leave those questions to better minds than mine to debate. What I do know is that I can’t be the only political ignoramus whose interest was piqued by Sinema and her fashion statement. Right or wrong, sex sells – and in this case, it might just increase voter turnout in the bargain.

January 15, 2019

#146) You can’t give it away #4: “I’ll catch the next one” (Why we don’t give a #*@! about discounts)

couponsPhoto: BessieSpin

Limited Time! Act Now! Offer Expires Soon!

It’s been done.

Recently I was offered a 20% discount on an annual membership renewal. Since my membership wasn’t ready to expire for another four months, I started an email to the company to ask if, since the coupon code was only valid for two days, I could apply the discount to my future renewal. When I saw that the email was sent from a “do not reply” rather than go online and research the correct address for such inquiries, I decided it would be more fun to write a blog post about why I decided to leave my 20% discount on the table.

A friend of mine whose father is on his fourth marriage quipped that when her dad asked her if she was going to come to the wedding, she said, “Nah, I’ll just catch the next one.” The same can be said of discounts. How many times have we received an email or seen an ad with a “you can’t afford to miss this” offer, only to see some variation of the same promotion the next week? With all of the competition for our time, attention and money, are we going to drop everything and buy a unicorn horn for our cat because it’s 15% off Today Only? As this article notes, “[It] becomes increasingly difficult to convince consumers they need to make a purchase right then and there when they are offered countless limited time bargains day after day, many of which resemble one another.”

That’s not to say discounts don’t have their place, if done effectively. The website WebFX suggests offering discounts to show appreciation, not to retain customers: “Have some clients left you for a cheaper service provider? Are you afraid you might get rejected if you ask for what you’re worth? These sorts of reasons [for offering a discount] can greatly undervalue your skill, time or effort.” This article about discounting suggests doing 4 major promotions per year and not to show the same ad to everyone: “Someone who already bought your product doesn’t need to be notified you are running a discount.”

My response is a variation to this last point: since I was planning on renewing my membership anyways, the discount was moot. However, a customized email – I have been with this company for close to a decade – sent from an address to which I could respond directly might have made me want to engage more with them instead of running to my blog. The company in question provides a service that I want, regardless of the price. Would a 20% discount have been nice? Sure. But I’ll just catch the next one.


January 3, 2019

#145) “The Disaster Artist”: book vs. movie

Everyone loves a good train wreck, and train wrecks don’t come much bigger than “The Room”, a 2003 film that has often been cited as the worst movie ever made.

That said, train wrecks aren’t always created equal or, more accurately, aren’t always remembered equally. Fifteen years after its release, “The Room” enjoys a cult following and celebrity status. Like “Rocky Horror Picture Show” it is often given midnight screenings with audience participation; like Ed Wood, director/star/writer Tommy Wiseau has become a cult figure who is laughed both at and with. As Greg Sestero writes, “‘The Room’ became every bit the blockbuster Tommy had envisioned, though not, of course, in the way he envisioned.”

“The Disaster Artist” was published in 2013 and made into a movie in 2017. The film is directed by James Franco, who stars as Wiseau. Franco’s brother Dave plays Sestero, who starred in “The Room” and also served as a line producer. (“When we began, I had no idea what a line producer was. Neither did Tommy.”)

Sestero and Wiseau met four years before production on “The Room” started. During this time they developed a bond. While they were an odd pair – Sestero a clean cut kid from the ‘burbs; Wiseau an eastern European eccentric who wore his heart on his sleeve but also was very secretive about his origins – they both felt like outsiders and shared a dream of making it big in Hollywood. The time they spent together made Sestero qualified to give a well-rounded portrait of Wiseau and his work.

The brothers Franco do a good job capturing the dynamic. James, whose accent of undetermined origin is fairly consistent, is by turns sympathetic and cringe-worthy. He is your older brother who didn’t get enough oxygen at birth. When he tries to woo an agent at a Hollywood restaurant by bellowing Shakespeare, you genuinely don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Dave may be Wozniak to James’ Steve Jobs (there are some parallels in the idiosyncrasies and heavy handed communication style of Wiseau and those of the Apple mogul) but his Greg is not afraid to call out Tommy’s inappropriate behavior. At the same time, when he applauds after Tommy finally nails a line after having mangled it every way possible, he comes across as genuinely happy for Tommy, not just glad to be done with the scene.

In the latter half of the film, Seth Rogen gives an effective straight performance as beleaguered script supervisor Sandy Schklar. Paul Scheer, known as whipping boy Andre on “The League” goes toe-to-toe with Franco as photography director Raphael Smadja. Another “League” veteran, Jason Mantzoukas, is Peter Anway, a go-between for Wiseau and the venue where he is shooting. Those who remember Mantzoukas from “The League” as the psychopath Rafi may find it amusing to see him playing a fairly sane character. June Diane Raphael, known for “Grace and Frankie” and as an occasional guest star on “The League” (no wonder I was drawn to this movie!) plays the actress Robyn Paris, whose role is more about quality than quantity as her few lines provide insight into Tommy and the script. Ari Gaynor brings positivity to Juliette Danielle, the actress who played the thankless role of Lisa, Tommy’s love interest. Zac Efron has an unlikely stint as Dan Janjigian, who plays the violent drug dealer Chris-R. Because we don’t see much of Dan Janjigian out of character in the film, by proxy, the wholesome Efron becomes the dealer and pulls it off.

If the film has one shortcoming, it’s the narrative structure. The book alternates between flashbacks and the present; having multiple storylines helps keep interest. For the first half of the film, we see little besides James and Dave. While the constant shifts in time of the book might not have translated well on screen, breaking up the timeline a few times would have helped the pacing. The film doesn’t make much of a side plot about Greg’s girlfriend Amber (Alison Brie) and their breakup (although the book doesn’t get much into this either); this is a storyline that should either have been developed further or dropped.

The book ends as “The Room” is about to screen for the first time. Sestero knows that we know what happens and opts to conclude by celebrating Tommy’s fulfilment of his dream and ignoring the inevitable ridicule and eventual redemption that would follow: “Although I knew Tommy’s film wasn’t going to be received the way he wanted it to be that night, I hoped he’d be able to recognize how incredible this experience really was.”

The film shows Tommy getting more and more upset as the audience laughs their way through the premiere. Greg has to talk him off the ledge: “Look at how much fun they’re having. They fucking love it, man! How often do you think Hitchcock got a response like this?” The last scene feels rushed as Franco compresses “The Room”‘s journey from bomb to cult classic and Tommy’s transformation from reject to folk hero. With a run time of 104 minutes, there would have been some room to elaborate on the aftermath of the film without belaboring the point.

These critiques aside, both the book and movie are worthwhile and entertaining, celebrating misfits and unlikely dreams. As Adam Scott says in the film’s introduction, “People are still watching a movie and talking about a movie. People aren’t doing that about whatever won the Oscar for Best Picture ten years ago.”

During the closing credits, there is a side-by-side comparison between “The Room” and the cast of “The Disaster Artist” reproducing some of the film’s most infamous scenes. Franco and company are clearly having fun but are also respectful; perhaps they see themselves in the struggles their characters felt trying to survive Hollywood, Tommy Wiseau and “The Room.”

January 1, 2019

#144) Language court 2019: the D-Theory verdicts on the LSSU 44th annual list of banished words

It’s been difficult to wrap my head around the optics of this year’s list of banished words. I dare say, I’ve had to grapple to see why the crusty thought leaders at Lake Superior State University importantly feel that we should eschew some words while ghosting others (how did “_____ for days” dodge this year’s list?) Maybe they’re legally drunk or maybe it’s a collusion. Either way I can’t help feeling as if they’ve abused their platform.

Nevertheless, it’s time to litigate this year’s accoutrements.


Charges: “Irritating, has become a cliché…awkward word to use in the 21st century. Most people have never seen a wheelhouse.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Maybe I was just more anti-social than usual this year but I didn’t notice any particular overuse of this word.

In the books

Charges: “It seems as if everyone’s party is in the books…and…there for friends to view on social media.”

Verdict: Not guilty. The phrase may be somewhat cliché, but overuse of it didn’t come to a boiling point in 2018, at least not that I saw.

Wrap my head around

Charges: “Impossible to do and makes no sense.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Wrap your head around that, Linda of Bloomington, MN.


Charges: “People use it as an excuse to rant…step down from the platform already.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). Indeed, the term “platform” does tend to glorify or legitimize crazy people and their rants. Not that I would know anything about ranting.


Charges: “We all need to collude on getting rid of this word.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). Like the Rosa Parks card, people tend to play this one too easily when confronted with an outcome not to their liking.

OTUS family of acronyms such as POTUS, FLOTUS and SCOTUS

Charges: “Overused, useless word for the President…”

Verdict: Guilty (felony). Maybe I’m just tired of political drama, but I’d be happy to see this acronym go. When I talk about the Supreme Court, I shouldn’t have to add “OTUS” to clarify that I’m not referring to the Seychelles. I also have to ask, am I the only one who can’t hear the words FLOTUS and SCOTUS without thinking of fetus and scrotum respectively? I am? Oh well, guess I didn’t mature as much as I thought I did in ’18.


Charges: “No need to bring the paranormal into the equation.”

Verdict: Not guilty. This word badly wants to become trendy but in the context of this court, “Ghosting” is the delinquent who dabbles in petty crime to impress the older kids but really just needs to go back home to the suburbs and let Mom and Dad ground him. (Or her – I shouldn’t assume gender.)


Charges: Vigorously throw or toss (possible origins in onomatopoeia as a sound made either by the thrower or the throw-ee?) “If I hear one more freshman say ‘yeet’ I might just yeet myself out a window.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). This could be argued as entrapment – “yeet” is a word that one is likely to find only when shamelessly wasting time on the internet or hunting for memes, as my, uh…friends…do. Still, entrapment or not, the verdict stands and will not be yeeted out.


Charges: “Appropriated by politicians and journalists for any manner of controversy in the public sphere.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Personally I’d rather have seen “appropriated” get banished.


Charges: “People who struggle with ideas and issues now grapple with them.”

Verdict: Not guilty.


Charges: “Nobody ever actually says this word out loud, they just write it for filler.”

Verdict: Gesundheit! Not guilty.


Charges: “This has become a popular insult. It’s disgusting and it’s weird.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). Oh, it’s disgusting and weird all right, but not pouplar enough to merit a felonious conviction.


Charges: “The trendy way to say appearance.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). Like “Giving me life” and “Nothingburger” from years past, a slap on the wrist will probably fix this.

Legally drunk

Charges: “People who are ticketed for drunk driving are actually “illegally drunk.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Save this one for the real courts to figure out.

Thought leader

Charges: “How can someone hold a thought-lead, much less even lead by thought?”

Verdict: Not guilty. While the term smacks of self-importance, it was not used widely enough to be prohibitively annoying.


Charges: “Totally unnecessary when ‘important’ is sufficient.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). Mark Twain supposedly said, “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” Technically “importantly” is an adverb, but I’m sure Twain would be happy to see it go.


Charges: “Hard to spell…anachronistic.”

Verdict: Not guilty. With spelling pretty much a lost art these days, having a few words that require people to think when their guess is out of the range of auto-correct might not be a bad thing.

Most important election of our time

Charges: “Not that we haven’t had six or seven back to back most important elections of our time.”

Verdict: Guilty (felony). To use another quote attributed to Twain: “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” Whether one is a political junkie or a proud ignoramus such as myself, it’s simply physically impossible for every election to be the most important of our time. Yes, it’s understandable to get emotionally caught up in elections, especially as they become more and more acrimonious. Deep breaths, folks.

Well, now that this year’s verdicts are in the books, what say you?