lovehate: The Week of Lists

For many years, growing up, the week between Xmas and New Year's was simply a week to exhaust every minute of playing time with every new toy I'd received and do my best to avoid wearing any of the new clothes until they were incorporated into my wardrobe when school restarted.

As I got older, the week became an opportunity to hang out with friends, maybe indulge in a few beverages, and count down the days until the real world would descend upon us once again. This also became the time that I developed an affectation for college bowl games where I had no history, no idea, or no stake in the teams, but I simply appreciated the fact there was a game that seemed to mean something on every night. I have since learned that games like the "San Diego County Credit Union Bowl" probably don't mean anything at all except to the teams, their fans, and the execs of the San Diego County Credit Union. This is also the time I learned to appreciate a uniquely Canadian pastime of watching the early round games World Junior Hockey Championships in what was usually some remote Finnish city spelled with six Ks, 14 Ms, and the occasional I or E thrown in for good measure.

As I moved into the phase of my life where pop culture and media became omnipresent in all non-working moments, I came to a new understanding of what this week meant for media outlets: "The Top Ten Best of Worst of Most Interesting Fill in the Blanks of the Year"

So as we move into the Week of Lists, I turn to my new favorite medium, the web, to provide me with further validation for dubbing this week with such a moniker.

The venerable Time magazine has deemed GasBuddy as a best "Advice and Facts" website of the year. While some may think the address leads to a fetish site for flatulence, the page actually allows you to track where the cheapest gasoline prices are across the United States. I can already tell, by using the site, that the next time I fill up, I should drive to Texas. What I really want to know is how "groundbreaking" are they considering themselves with their 10 Essential Websites: Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, Craigslist, ESPN, Yelp, Facebook, Digg, Google, TMZ and Flickr? Do we really need a list like this? The only site on this list that may even remotely be a stretch of knowledge to people living outside a large urban area is Yelp, and, in many cases, even if they went there, they might not find much local information anyway.

Time's Top Gadget is the Peek Email Browser that's only $99, but has a $20/month fee to do nothing but email. Here's an idea. Take the $240 you'll spend on the Peek subscription next year and buy an iPod Touch that'll let you do email anywhere there's Wi-Fi.

Amazon's Book of the Year is The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher. Other than sounding like a Robert Ludlum title gone wrong, I can't say I know anything about this book, and, as it possibly may be the next American classic, maybe I should find out... hmmm... "The Northern Clemency begins at the perimeter of a late-summer party, amidst a din of neighbors gossiping one moment and navigating awkward silences the next. But once you encounter the Glover family--in particular, their languidly handsome teenage son Daniel--there's no turning back." Hell, if there's no turning back, I'd better not begin. I'm not too keen on reading about the "languidly handsome". Apparently neither is the Library Journal who's list contained a couple of dozen books with Hensher's nowhere to be found.

Lifehacker has taken the "Best of" list to its deconstructionist next step with The Most Popular Top Ten Lists of 2008 that have to do with all things Life2.0. Of course, for some reason, they chose 20 Top Ten Lists... and that just doesn't jive with my Top Ten sensibilities. I do, however, heartily recommend the Top Ten Conversation Hacks from August. It is rich with ways to feign interest and blow people off. has declared MGMT as their artist of the year based on user "scrobbles" and their number one album is Coldplay's Viva La Vida. NME names MGMT's Oracular Spectacular as the best CD. Amazon's 2008 album is Only by the Night from Kings of Leon. Blender and New York Magazine pimp L'il Wayne's Tha Carter Ill. The LA Times, the NY Times, The Onion and Rolling Stone pump Dear Science by TV On The Radio. And Fleet Foxes self-titled release takes number one from Mojo, Pitchfork and Under the Rader.

But my 2008 number one for useless lists goes to People magazine. And so, put on your helmets for some of the most useless, subjective choices of irrelevant celebrity topics (because celebrities really are people too):

  • Most Talked About Star: Britney Spears
  • Most Intriguing Hookup: John Mayer and Jennifer Aniston
  • Couple Most Likely to make it to 2018: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner
  • Best Baby Style: Kingston Rossdale (for those who care, Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani's kid ((for those who really care, Gavin Rossdale used to be popular as an emo singer in the band Bush)))
  • Best Body After Baby: Halle Barry
  • Best Boyfriend: Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Best Chest: Mario Lopez
  • Best Bikini Body: Jessica Alba
  • Best Celeb Smackdown: Charlie (Sheen) v. Denise (Richards)
  • Best Baby Name: Harlow Winter Kate Madden (Nicole Ritchie's kid)
  • Funniest Celeb on the Web: Sarah Silverman and Matt Damon

I feel dirty.

But shouldn't one feel at least a bit wrong in summing up people's lives, work, artistic endeavors, and business into incomprehensible selections that often defy logic and scream for validation. Shouldn't there be a nagging, twitching fear that in reading these lists I'm giving credence to an exercise that can serve no purpose but to perplex and infuriate? Can there possibly be a reason to sustain the media-frenzy madness that is "Best of" week? I suppose I could go back to watching bowl games or playing with toys. Instead, I will chum the shark-infested waters of list making with some choices of my own.
  • Best Movie: WALL-E
  • Best CD: Bend Sinister - Stories of Brothers, Tales of Lovers
  • Best Concert I Attended: Martin Tielli (Casbah, Hamilton ON)
  • Best Internet Radio - CBC Radio 3
  • Best Sci-fi TV: Doctor Who (BBC)
  • Best Variety TV: The Daily Show
  • Best Drama TV: Dexter
  • Best Comedy TV: Big Bang Theory
  • Best BitTorrent Search Engine: isoHunt
  • Best Twitter App: Tweetdeck
  • Best New Blogging Site:
  • Best New Microblogging Tool:
  • Best Free App Download: Chrome
  • Best Daily Podcast (Tech):
  • Best Weekly Podcast (Tech): This Week in Tech
  • Best Weekly Video Podcast (Pop Culture): Totally Rad Show
  • Best Decision I Made: Starting to Blog and Podcast at
Happy Week of Lists all! Hopefully we can all share in each other's pain as we endure the memories and suppositions of pop culture pundits for the next week until life begins anew in 2009. Until then, go rent WALL-E and catch up on Dexter and Doctor Who. You won't be sorry.


lovehate: a childhood in cereal form


I've always been a sucker for nostalgia. Never has any period in time so inspired me to reveries of childhood bliss as thinking back on 70s Saturday mornings. I spent my formative years engrossed by the idiot box to become a pre-pubescent afficionado of cartoons. From Bugs Bunny to Hong Kong Phooey to the Superfriends to the Flintstones and the Jetsons to Scooby Doo, the Laff-a-lympics and Yogi Bear and Roger Ramjet for good measure, there was never a cartoon that didn't fit into a Saturday morning. And there was never a morning that wasn't supplemented by cereal. From as early an age as I can remember, cereal WAS breakfast. But that's to be expected when I woke up an hour before everyone else in the house to catch the last five minutes of the pre-dawn Agriculture USA before pouring some milk and watching Bugs Bunny and Friends.

And while there were different cereals that represent different times in my life, the constant droning of the cereal company jingles and mascots turned me into a veritable jukebox of commercial hits. The Post family had its big three of course: Alpha Bits, Honey Comb and Sugar Crisp. The wizard, the Honeycomb Kid and Sugar Bear peering out from those primary-colored triumvirate of blue, red and yellow boxes almost daring you not to pour a second bowl. Sure they were sugar-laden, but hell, the Honeycomb Kid had just run Big Zeke out of town "when he kinda missed his horse on the way down and he never did make his get away 'cause the Honeycomb Kid saved the day." That was from memory folks and while I'm not proud about it, I am not unrepentant in my nostalgic haze. I remember years of Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles commercials that teased this young Canadian boy, but alas they were not be found (at that time) north of the border. Post did run into a logic wall in the mind of this 8 year old with Grape Nuts... I still haven't figured that one out.

And while Post relied on its big three, Kellogg's stepped it up a notch. They were the kings of the cereal mascot game. Forget about Marvel and DC comic superheroes, I had Tusk the Elephant, Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop, and Dig'em the Frog. Sure, trying to secure one of these cereals was a bit of a harder task as the sugar level shot up... well, not so much for Rice Krispies, but that could be resolved by a generous spoonful of the white stuff that often left the remnant milk at the bottom of the bowl resemble more of a tooth-cringing sludge than anything else - but damn tasty! I remember the Kellogg's line-up most of all from their Snack Pack selections that would often accompany the family on camping trips. The challenge of perforating the mini box along the line and then peeling back the wax paper so that one could pour milk right into the box and eat out of the cardboard coffin was so satisfying. There was always a race between me and my sister to see who could leave other with the 40% Bran at the end of the weekend. Bran's not kid friendly at the best of times much less on a camping trip with a creepy outhouse 100 yards away.

But the sugar content of Kellogg's and their merry mascots were doomed when placed up against the monsters of General Mills. And I do mean monsters quite literally. The monster cereals were the Holy Grail of sugar delivery breakfast foods. Not only were there crispy colored bits made up of mostly sugar, but they were laced with tiny marshmallows that Mills called "marbits" that were made of 100% food-colored, densely-packed sugary goodness. These so-called "marbits" would only even soften up after being saturated in milk for three and a half weeks under a heat lamp - unfortunately, I didn't have time for that so I crunched away. The monster posse was led by one Count Chocula with his Luca Brasi-like strong arm Frankenberry backing him up while the deadly trio of Boo Berry, Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy mopped up. I had to put together a pretty cogent argument as a 7 year old to convince mom to buy one of the monster cereals. She would try to pitch me on one of the boring Mills cereals like Wheaties or Cheerios. Usually, after a tough negotiation, we ended up at Cocoa Puffs or Trix's silly Rabbit. On a better day I may get Lucky Charms with its own "marbits" of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers. Yes, I was a bit disappointed when they added Blue Diamond to the mix, but I was willing to forgive. And while I was past the point of caring when Purple Horseshoe was introduced, I'd felt they'd already jumped the shark.

The Quaker family was infrequent at the table due to the tasty, yet deadly, temptations of the Cap'n Crunch line which tempted young children with its sweet and, admittedly, crunchy goodness. Many was the time that a youngster would mercilessly lacerate the top of his mouth when reaching in for a handful of Cap'n, Choco, Cinnamon, Peanut Butter, Punch or Vanilly Crunch cereals. You can't accuse Quaker of not riding a good thing to death. Hell, I didn't mention Crunchberries in that list.

As I was sidling out the era of way-to-early Saturday mornings the Chex brand of cereals took the whole game too far. Sure, we'd been lulled to sleep by the Chex brands for years. What sugar-loving kid ever wanted Corn, Wheat, or Rice Chex. In 1977, things took a turn with the end of innocence for cereal lovers everywhere. Oh, we didn't realize it at the time, but Chex dropped a nuke on children with Cookie Crisp. Every kid wanted Cookie Crisp. Shit, they were mini chocolate chip cookies for christ's sake! But there was the rub. While you could, with best efforts and earnestness, try to convince your mother that any cereal, no matter how sugar-laden, was just cereal and still a viable breakfast option, Cookie Crisp blew that template off the map. There was no way she was going to buy me cookies for breakfast. Hell, decades later I would never buy myself Cookie Crisp for breakfast, but at the time, it was kiddie crack. They even pitched it with freaky Santa Claus-looking wizard named Cookie Jarvis... Cookie Jarvis... what kind of mascot name is Jarvis? It sounds like the creepy guy down the street that everyone thinks molests kids. But he was the pusher. 

I don't know if it was because my mother read the ingredients of Cookie Crisp and figured out that same crap that was in there was also in every other cereal I'd ever wanted and, by logical inference, if I wanted Cookie Crisp (which was bad), all other like cereals must be bad. From that year forward came the age of Shreddies, Muffets and Harvest Crunch. Don't get me wrong. I grew to have a great respect for the cereal of my burgeoning youth. I started to actually look forward to the 237 seconds it took for every Shreddie in a bowl to turn to mush. I found solace in the artificial sweetener that I carefully dispensed from the paper packet in circular precision over my bird's nest Muffet. I even learned, after several weeks, that a correct portion of Harvest Crunch is not the normal bowlful of other cereals - and that my jaw would hurt for the rest of the day if I over-indulged. I did not know, at the time, that my childhood was running away from me like so much mottled milky sugar remnants, upturned in the kitchen sink of life, waiting for the hot water to baptize the bowl anew.

And from that point on, cereal was dead to me.

Fuck you Jarvis.

lovehate: how it begins

Fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

I can appreciate how television writers and filmmakers hate being stuck to linear plot lines but I think I had just about enough of screenplays that have me sit through a big dramatic scene in the first five minutes only to be subjected to a FTB followed by some new-fangled font chromakey of "24 hours earlier". The technique has been done over and over again. I'm tired of sitting through it, especially when its a show I generally enjoy and want to keep up on the story arc. If a television pilot started with this technique, I would probably give it up ASAP.

Why does the conspiracy theorist in me think that there is one director who makes a living off of this stuff. The producers think... "You know what? We really need one of them time shifty episodes to really mix things up! Call in that guy we worked with for the time shifty episodes on the other 12 series we've done." And the cycle continues.

When one thinks of a movie like Memento, it's easy to see that playing with timelines can be done in a unique way that is not only central to the plot, but also to the theme, characters, and atmosphere of the piece. When it's simply used as a cool plot devicem it's boring, it's meandering, and, more often than not, just plain sucks. I'm craving well told linear stories. When I see reruns of All in the Family and watch 10 minutes of an unbroken scene that takes place in a living room, I don't condemn the pace and crave the music video phrenetic cuts of most of today's action films. I enjoy the teleplay, the acting, the ability to tell a story that takes place in one place at one time.

For years of teaching drama students it would be the biggest challenge to get them to construct a 3 minute scene that took place in a single location. The idea would arise that the scene would be about a bank robbery (because a 14 year old can't do a scene that doesn't have guns or violence) and the planning would start that would (in three minutes mind you) take you from 15 seconds about not having money, to a 10 second decision to rob a bank, to a 30 second exercise about planning the hold up, 20 seconds of the actual bank job, 1 minute of mindless shootout, and the final half minute of one or more crooks getting away. Have we lost our ability to follow a story in (while maybe not real time) something at least close to it?

We have one hour action television shows that tell a story that rambles over days, weeks, or months. Even the show 24, which tries to build the illusion of being in real time suffers implausible plot holes of characters getting from place to place in totally unrealistic timeframes. The film Timecode, by Mike Figgis, tried to solve the impatient audience dilemma by showing four real time stories at once... probably because he knew that audiences were quite unwilling to sit through a single linear story.

Sure, I applaud creators playing around with plot. Not every story can, or should, be linear, but the redundant use of television and film time shift gimmicks has been over done. It's jumped the shark or nuked the fridge, when it really should join Luca Brasi's slumber. To play with time in a television show or film should be done only when the story demands it to be told effectively and not in order to make a boring story more interesting. Can't you imagine a writing team sitting around a table saying "Dude... this script is really not that good, and we shoot tomorrow. What'll we do?" "I know... let's throw the scenes up in the air and let the sheets fall where they may. That will be the new order." And, after all this reassembly, when they put the scenes together in their new found chaos and find the story STILL sucks... "Well, let's at least put the big climax scene at the beginning. That's the best scene anyway and we'll be able to show it twice and save ourselves 3 minutes."

I'm not saying the job of a television writer is easy; after all how many times can find a unique way to explore the stoic Grissom in CSI, or the cranky Dr. House, or the dysfunctional Desperate Housewives, or the high horse riding Jack McCoy? Maybe we need to borrow a page from the Brits. We need to allow show creators to say "I think I've got about enough for a dozen good episodes here, maybe a season at best." We need studios to buy into the fact that a show, once noble when it first started, will more often than not slip down the ratings not when the audience gets tired, but when the writers do. And fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

jump the shark