Monday, April 30, 2007

Smoke Screens

A couple of commercials are currently battling for the title of Most Awesome Ad Campaign Ever.

In this corner, ComEd. Electric companies are a hard sell, especially ones that have just jacked up their rates. But ComEd really, really wants us to like them—or at least to stop sending them hate mail. So they had their CEO tape an ad announcing a $64 million assistance plan for people who can no longer afford things like light and heat (or air conditioning, now that spring might have sprung) under the new rate plan. Which immediately begs the question: Instead of giving away $64 million, why doesn’t ComEd just charge us all less? And how did the company get its hands on such a fat pile of cash in the first place? Because I’m pretty sure they told the state legislature they would go bankrupt if lawmakers kept a rate freeze in place. The moral of the story is this: The assistance plan is a smoke screen. ComEd is still evil—keep the hate mail coming.

In this corner, the challenger, BP, aka British Petroleum. If there’s a group of corporations currently more reviled than those belonging to the oil industry, I’m hard-pressed to identify the topper. Hence BP’s new series of animated “A Little Better” commercials, set in a world where apparently 4-year-olds can drive, as long as they’re cartoon characters, and pumping gas passes for entertainment. BP knows that paying 3 bucks a gallon sucks, big time, they just want us to feel “a little better” about being bilked at their stations instead of Mobil’s. Sort of like a cardiologist hoping you feel “a little better” after triple-bypass surgery instead of quadruple. I’m waiting for competitors to devise their counterattacks. Conoco will buy the rights to “don’t worry, be happy.” Shell will encourage customers to “turn that frown upside down.”

And the winner is: BP. ComEd has to publicize its assistance plan, sham though it may be. BP’s ads are utterly superfluous (though their jingle is devilishly catchy) and their claim is just plain stupid. If the tank is on “Empty” and I have a choice between making a right-hand turn into an Exxon or a left into a BP, I’m going with Exxon. Reverse the situation and BP wins. It doesn’t matter because, here’s the key, gas stations are all the same. Until one of them finds a way to make their nozzles smell like chocolate, no one’s even a teeny bit better than the other.

Monday, April 23, 2007

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I’m fine with celebrities promoting causes, as long as they know what the hell they’re talking about. This caveat clearly does not extend to singer Sheryl Crow, the latest to jump on the environmental bandwagon.

Don’t get me wrong, in general I think it’s a good idea to use fewer fossil fuels and kill fewer trees. But Ms. Crow, in perhaps one of the nuttiest statements ever, would like us all to limit ourselves to a single square of toilet paper. I don’t know if she means per day or per bathroom break. In either case, in the words of the inimitable Rosie O’Donnell: “Has she seen the size of my ass?”

Crow’s pronouncement has me scratching my head. I’ll try to be delicate here, but in certain situations, a square will not get the job done. Which leads me to wonder, how does Ms. Crow not know this? Especially given the amount of time her head has clearly spent up her ass.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Defending Alec Baldwin

What to make of Alec Baldwin’s tirade against his pre-teen daughter, calling her, among other things, “a rude, thoughtless little pig”? Is he a complete narcissistic ass? Despicable human being? Desperately in need of anger management therapy?

Or maybe just a dad who lost his cool.

I’m willing to give Baldwin the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because I’m a daughter—and I used to be really good at pissing off my dad.

I spent my entire teenage years making our family late for Sunday mass. Actually, not late, just not as early as Dad wanted us to be. I didn’t get why we were in such a hurry; he didn’t get why my hair had to look absolutely perfect for a church full of geriatrics. It was a classic battle of wills, one that I typically won. No matter how many times he threatened to leave without me, I knew he never would. Better late than an incomplete family unit.

I typically slid into the backseat just as he started pulling the car out of the garage. And that’s when the verbal barrage would begin. Mostly I remember him calling me a “goddamn prima donna,” part of a steady rant that went from boil to simmer back to boil. Just when I thought he had exhausted the subject of what a, and I paraphrase here, “rude, thoughtless little pig” I was, his anger would resurface and he’d start in on me all over again. (Because this always happened on the way to church, I mistakenly interpreted his signature phrase as “goddamn pre-Madonna” and thought it was some sort of reference to the Virgin Mary. For years, I wondered what horrible sin the mother of Christ had committed before she became The Madonna.)

I bring this up because my dad was and is an awesome father. I bring this up because I was, and sometimes still am, a rude and thoughtless daughter. It never occurred to me that Dad wanted to get to church early because he knew his own father would be there even earlier, making a note of our arrival time. It never occurred to me that Dad didn’t want to go to church anymore than I did; that his old man was still controlling him in a way that, as a father himself, he’s never tried to control his own adult children.

It’s almost embarrassing to think of this now, but I used to stand in front of my bedroom mirror and practice “the glare.” I took great pains to get it just right. This was the dead-eyed, stone-faced look I affected whenever confronted by my father. It was meant to convey an emotion just short of pure hatred. We would stand in the hallway, him venting his frustration with my behavior, me staring straight through him. I wanted him to feel like he didn’t exist. That’s how cruel daughters can be to their fathers.

I don’t know what goes on between Alec Baldwin and his daughter. And neither do any of the other individuals who feel compelled or qualified to comment on this latest celebrity “scandal.”

What I do know is that relationships between fathers and daughters are complicated. Daughters are, after all, women, and fathers are, after all, men. It’s a situation ripe for misunderstanding, hurt feelings and lost tempers. Famous fathers are not exempt from these foibles, they just have their moments of weakness posted on the Internet for the rest of us to judge.

So I’m willing to cut Alec Baldwin some slack. I wish, in my youth, I had treated my own father with the same respect.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Guilty As Charged

Rolling Stone just posted its list of the 25 Undisputed Guilty Pleasure Bands. Pretty much every band that was wildly popular during my youth seems to have made the cut. Oh, Casey Kasem, you devil’s pawn, what evil hath you wrought?

But seriously, Rolling Stone, why pick on the ‘70s and early ‘80s? It’s bad enough that those of us who survived the period have to live with photographic evidence of how ridiculous we looked in plaid pants and shag haircuts, now you have to make us feel bad about the music that we loved? As if Matchbox Twenty or Train is any better? And whither The Backstreet Boys?

Well, to borrow from a song that I’m sure is on another Rolling Stone list, if loving these bands is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

1. Rush
2. E.L.O.
3. Journey—Guilty. When I was a sophomore in high school, I briefly dated a senior, who I thought was cool until I realized he wasn’t (kind of like Journey, come to think of it). “Separate Ways” became our theme song.
4. ABBA—Guilty
5. Chicago—Guilty. Unless they mean the Peter Cetera years. In that case, not guilty.
6. Boston
7. Foreigner—Guilty. Curse Olivia Newton-John, whose insipid, aerobics-inspired “Physical” kept the vastly superior “Waiting for a Girl Like You” out of the #1 spot nine—nine!—weeks in a row.
8. Bread
9. Bon Jovi
10. New Edition—Guilty. Including the post-Bobby Brown era.
11. The Monkees
12. Motley Crue
13. Styx—Guilty. Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lad.
14. Eddie Money—Guilty
15. Simply Red—Guilty. Really? Now this is embarrassing—I thought they were cool.
16. Kelly Clarkson
17. America—Guilty
18. Wham!
19. R.E.O. Speedwagon—Guilty. I defy anyone to resist the opening chords of “Keep on Lovin’ You.”
20. Poison
21. Lionel Richie—Guilty. Though, in my defense, I was a fan of The Commodores first.
22. Kansas—Guilty
23. Air Supply—Guilty Squared. Just the other day, I was riding in the car when “All out of Love” popped up on the radio and I thought to myself, “You know, Air Supply really isn’t that bad.” For some reason, whenever I hear this band, it makes me think of “The Love Boat.”
24. Hall & Oates—Guilty. Really? Just because “your kiss, your kiss” is on my list doesn’t mean this band belongs here. Oates, maybe; their lame material, probably (“Maneater,” for sure); but Darryl Hall and that voice of his, definitely not.
25. Britney Spears

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Eh, Whatever

So what have we learned from the Don Imus dust-up? That it’s not OK to call black women “nappy-headed ho’s.” If you’re a white man. If you’re a black man—have at it.

I’m not defending Imus. But I’m also not wildly impressed with his critics. Racism has no place on the public airwaves, shout the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson. But sexism? Eh, whatever. It’s not the “ho” that troubles them (I don’t recall Jackson threatening to picket 50 Cent), but the “nappy-headed.”

Imus has used any number of viciously derogatory terms when referring to Hillary Clinton. No one seems to mind. Sunday night, hours before the Imus situation exploded into full-blown scandal, a white male contestant on CBS’s “The Amazing Race” referred to white female competitors as “hookers.” I think he thought he was being funny; Imus used the same defense. (And maybe black women find “ho” amusing when uttered by black men. Speaking as a white woman, “hooker” is never taken as a compliment.) Last I checked, the Amazing contestant was still in the running for the show’s $1 million final prize. The message seems clear: racially offensive comments are taboo; sexist comments are acceptable. Statements that demean a person based on the color of their skin will earn you a suspension; statements that demean a person based on their gender won’t merit so much as a timeout.

I’ve been watching the coverage of Barack vs. Hillary with keen interest. I wonder what’s so appealing about the one and what makes the other so “un-electable”? It’s a charisma gap, people say. Hillary is cold, calculating, arrogant, ambitious. All of which has nothing to do with her politics or capabilities as a leader, I would argue, and everything to do with traditional notions of desirable female behavior. We will never forgive her for not staying home and baking chocolate chip cookies. We will never forgive for not being content with First Lady.

I maintain that U.S. voters will elect a black male president before a white ho, oops, female. Because we’re not allowed to be racist. But sexist? Eh, whatever.