Tuesday, January 19, 2016

the booze tube

Maybe I should just chalk it up to the fact that I'm becoming a grumpy old lady, but I'm starting to miss the TV shows from my youth. It's not just that I'm getting a big dose of midlife nostalgia (although I'm sure it's partly to blame) but I feel so overwhelmed watching so many of these new TV shows that have such an alcohol-centric focus that booze is practically another character in the series.

I suppose I should digress here and clarify that I am not sober. I do not have a problem with drugs or alcohol, so seeing people on TV drinking or being drunk does not "trigger" me in any way. And yet it bothers me. It bothers me a LOT.

I'm sure someone has done better research on this topic than I ever could, but the way I see it the blame goes back to advertising standards. In the United States there are very strict laws governing the way that alcohol (and firearms and tobacco, which are all lumped together under "adult activities") are marketed and advertised. Up until the 1990s, cartoon characters and other imagery was used that was clearly intended to catch the attention of younger audiences. This isn't a dubious claim and it wasn't a mistake. They intentionally started marketing their products to children and adolescents, knowing that they would be the future consumers of their products - which was a base of users that they needed to build after their current crop of consumers aged out of the products or died (some from medical complications caused by the products themselves). A fifty year old man drinking beer didn't care a lick about Spuds McKenzie but the kids in my elementary school sure thought he was cool. After decades of complaints, the temperance movement finally caught up to the governing bodies of advertisements and those ads, along with most others, were removed from sight. Well, at least from the mainstream. Sure, there are still enough beer ads out there to fill the Grand Canyon but they're not as ubiquitous as they used to be. On television, you'll rarely see an alcohol commercial at all (unless the network and program meet certain criteria to be allowed to air such an advertisement) and those that make it through the filter generally are trying to sell you on the excellent qualities of the product (quality hops, high-end distilleries, etc.) instead of the party-time, rock-n-roll lifestyle that they used to portray (Spuds McKenzie, etc.).

But booze wasn't going away, so if the brands couldn't advertise in commercial spots, where could they go? They went into the programs themselves. True, many programs use prop products (you'll see a box that looks like Cheerios but is called Cereal-o's or something like that) which also includes beer like Heisler but the big brands find a way in (by buying their way in; product placement is lucrative for any production company which is why your favorite characters sometimes go to Subway or incessantly talk about Quiznos). How many scenes in TV/movies are set in a bar? Do you see neon signs in the background for name brand beers? How many characters are chugging a distinguishable bottle or order a "jack and Coke"?

And beyond the product placement, booze culture found it's way into the "mainstream" television program. Sure, look back to the programs of the 1950's and TV parents often had a cocktail before dinner, but it wasn't made into a big deal. It was a thing people did. Mom baked cakes, kids rode bikes, dad had a Manhattan, no big whoop because that wasn't the story of the episode. But today's TV environment is totally different. Characters aren't just out at a bar, they're getting drunk at a bar. They set out with the intention to get drunk. Their friends say "oh, you've had a terrible day - what you need is a drink!" Several popular TV shows have a repeating theme of binge drinking games which have now been adapted for at-home use by the viewers.

What bothers me about all of this is that most people don't stop and think it through. I come from a background in Marketing and Advertising so maybe I see things or think of angles that others don't, especially young people who are impressionable. I'd much rather my nephew watch The Simpsons where Homer's alcohol problem is played as a problem. He goes to a seedy bar full of unhappy people who visibly - and literally, often by saying the words out loud - warn against becoming like them. When Homer stops drinking, his life improves and his family is more content. That's totally unlike most of the shows out there that appeal to teens, who want to emulate "cool" people like those shown on network TV every night of the week. I know it's no longer a new show, but a show like How I Met Your Mother is in syndication like crazy - and it's a funny show - but it's another example of how the main characters spend their time almost exclusively in a bar and drink to deal with their emotions.

So when I watch these types of shows, I feel slightly irritated -- why can't they ever have a bagel or coffee instead? Why do friends have to get drunk so constantly? -- and I can't imagine how difficult it must be for someone with a substance abuse problem. It must like having a stomach ache, because I can tell you from experience that whenever I feel nauseated every commercial is for greasy pizza. It bothers me that alcohol is just another character in every show these days and that a lot of that is funded by the alcohol companies themselves - they provide sponsorship money, props, and 'samples' for the networks in exchange for writers creating a scene where it's applicable. So here the characters go back to the bar. Again. But it makes me sad for the younger generation. Will they be able to see through the bullshit and not try and emulate what they see on TV? Will they get to college and think "hey, my friends and I can hang out together at this bubble tea place" instead of a bar?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Evolution is making a full circle

Back in the early 2000's I started a blog. I don't remember where I heard about blogging but it immediately struck a chord with me. I was never great at journaling or diarying or whatever but I liked the idea of keeping some sort of electronic journal and by the early days of the new millennium I was enamored with a handful of the new-fangled public journals that people were posting. Maybe because no one was watching (or maybe they were? At the time, it wasn't easy to tell), people opened up a bit. They wrote about their lives, their passions, or simply what they had for lunch. There were no rules or expectations so people just wrote what they wanted and it was super appealing to me.

I started off by following a number of craft blogs. The writers would talk about what they were making and often share techniques and along the way would sprinkle in bits of their personal life. Since they were publishing into the void, there were no guideposts and so you'd see posts on a single site that ranged from issues with health, money, family, and then an excellently detailed post about how to knit in-the-round. Also, this was before putting pictures on the internet was easy or fast; most of us were on dial-up modems at home and even so, photo sharing sites weren't born yet. So posting a blog entry was a laborious process. You had to build a page template and then, essentially, upload a new one every time you made an update. Images were separate and HTML was still pretty rudimentary so photo tutorials (nevermind video tutorials) were still a long way off. It was challenging, it was slow, it was the perfect way to waste an hour at work (you're still staring at your computer, typing and clicking - it looks like real work when, in fact, you're just taking advantage of internet access that didn't require an AOL account).

I didn't really get into the swing of things before some free blogging platforms became available. Even with "major" services like Blogger the interface was archaic and if you didn't know HTML coding you weren't going to get far. RSS was also in a very early phase and only served to send out "pings" when content was updated -- it was a long time before an RSS feed was developed and then an RSS feed reader where you could follow websites by viewing the content in a single location*. Instead, we had blog rolls.

Ah, the blog roll. Now this was my favorite part. Some smartypants programmer had created a way to keep a list on the side column of your web page where you'd enter the URLs of sites that you liked. People visiting your site could then see who you liked and it was an excellent referral source. If I liked one person's writing style then they'd likely be in a circle with other writers of a similar vein. I'd add them all to my blog roll and you'd add some to yours. On a daily basis, I'd go down the checklist of sites and read any updates and then maybe click through to their recommended pages and add that person to my list, too. I remember what an exciting day it was when the blog roll was updated with RSS capability! Now it would show an icon next to any sites that had been updated - so you could easily identify where to find new content! What a brilliant discovery!

My regular routine, which I think was shared by a lot of people, was that I'd read the updates and then if I had something to say, I'd email the author. Yes, there was a time before comments were invented! So then I'd usually have an exchange of some sort with the author - and ditto to the people commenting about my site. And then I started finding overlaps. I'd get an email from a few different people who had a shared opinion or complimentary senses of humor and so I'd reply to them all at once. In this way, you were introducing your friends and inviting them to interact. Which is how you used to "meet" people online. At least, it was how I met people.

Comments eventually came to blogs, and although they weren't as advanced as they'd get someday, it brought more of the conversation out in the open. You'd be able to respond to someone else's feedback and they to yours; it was great. And the sites that I followed were all friendly banter, so the comments were a rich source for hilarious jokes - I honestly can't recall a single "you suck" comment on any of the hundreds of sites that I followed. It wasn't a negative space. Instead, by the shared comments and interactions and the individual blog posts, I began to find my people.

Eventually, I started meeting My People in the real world and it was wonderful. Instead of having a friend based on proximity (which most of our friends are; you live near people growing up or sit by them at school) I found real, actual, adult friends based on my interests. We shared a love of crafts and humor and comedy and so many other things. When we met in person it was a party. There was no awkwardness, nobody was shy. You already knew these people - you already liked these people and they liked you. It was amazing. Over the years I have met up with a LOT of people that I've met online. On more than one occasion I have traveled great distances specifically to meet "online friends". This dynamic absolutely has changed my life in the best way possible.**

Over the years as most of us have retired from blogging - people started families, changed careers, lost interest, or just simply relocated to social media - I kind of lost the fire for writing here. Not that I ever cared how many people read it (even though it's all integrated and easy now, I still never look at web stats) or commented, I just have a hard time finding the energy to blog much anymore - and knowing that nobody is watching makes it easier to abandon the project. But I have been thinking about it lately, about making a comeback. After years of writing regularly, I still get little snippets of ideas that pop up in my head and I start mentally crafting a blog entry of it. I've been wanting to start actually typing them up and then Jules suggested that we "get the band back together again" and has invited several of us olde timey bloggers to come back, to create a blog roll, to catch up (beyond the 140 character limit of Twitter). So here I am. The evolution of blog technology led to the demise of this particular blog, but I'm back again. Let's see where it goes.

*Google Reader was my favorite RSS feed. It was the first RSS reader that allowed for social interaction. Rather than sending you to a 3rd party site (i.e., "tweet this!") you could leave comments directly within the Reader page. You could share those comments with your friends who could then comment back. It was easy to share articles and have conversations all on one page. When Google sunset Reader to push everyone to Google+ it was a sad day. Luckily, a new RSS feed has entered the arena whose only goal is to bring back the Reader experience. If your friends sign up (free) for it, you can share content, comments, etc. plus it's got an easy sharing interface for social networks outside of the blog feed. I personally love it - and you can connect with me there, too, if you care to: www.theoldreader.com
**So much so that I feel guilty when I hear people talk about how hard it is to meet people. They just want a handful of friends, someone that they can go to a movie with or whatever, but where do you meet people when you're almost 40? Work? Church? Bars? It's very hard to do and I feel weird that my "secret" is that I meet people online because there's still an outdated notion that the internet is ONLY for weirdos and creeps. It's not strictly their domain, but sometimes I like those guys too. ;)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Kidlet Turns Ten

For the Kidlet's tenth birthday we wanted to do something special. He hasn't traveled much so we toyed with the idea of taking him out of town or even out of state. Usually at this time of year I have a business trip to Florida and so we kind of thought that it would be fun to extend our stay and make a mini vacation out of it. We would all fly in a few days early, hit the Orlando theme parks, and then the boys would fly home while I went to my conference. But it was decided (at a very late date) that I didn't need to travel to Florida after all and by the time I looked at flights and hotels for the three of us... well, things got pricey and it just seemed like a bit too much to swing so early in the year.

But I still wanted to do something special, so I thought "hey, Kidlet has never been to Universal Studios" so we cooked up an idea to take him to the one here, in Hollywood. His parents agreed to let him skip school on a Friday so that we could sneak him away for a fun-fueled weekend at the park. Perfect!

Friday morning, he was dropped off at our house instead of school, which was a surprise. He thought he was going to class but instead ended up with us. Of course, he's smart enough to know that something fun was about to happen but he didn't have any idea of WHAT. And we didn't tell him. Instead, we hauled him in the car and drove north. We told him to prepare to be in the car for a long time (he hates long car trips for some reason) but we were lucky that the Traffic Gods smiled upon us and we made it to Hollywood in about 40 minutes - unheard of! His first blip of excitement was seeing the Hollywood sign out the window of the car. He didn't know that it was a real thing (but was aware of it from TV and movies) and honestly we could have said "that's it!" and turned around and gone home and he would have been pleased. For some reason the sign reminded him about Tom Hanks and he started telling us all about Tom's acting career. Not sure where THAT came from but it was funny...

But we headed to our hotel for the night -- he'd only stayed in one hotel before so this was thrilling for him. We stayed at the Universal Hilton which is pretty fancy and he was impressed. Again, we could have said "here's your present!" and he would have been satisfied. But instead we checked in (all my business travel came in handy! My Hilton Honors membership got us a beautiful room that was ready for us at 10am instead of the usual 3pm) and headed up to the 19th floor. The hotel has lovely views of the valley and we could see the hotel pool by looking straight down the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was like standing on the ledge of a building! So cool!!

 At the bottom of the pic are my feet, pressed up against the glass.

Kidlet was so excited that he immediately claimed the bed next to the window as his. He was chuffed at all the pillows and the big fluffy blankets. He really didn't want to get up, he just wanted to roll around in the down comforter forever. But we said "let's go downstairs" and immediately found the courtesy shuttle to the theme park. He caught on pretty quick and his ear-to-ear grin said it all.

The famous Universal globe and our hotel. Plus my right eye.

We started telling him the history of the Studio and the fact that they filmed actual movies right there, within view. So we headed to the tram tour first. Of course, since he's ten, he can only make goofy faces when a camera is pointed at him. I promise, he is having a good time. While waiting for the tram, we came across a picture of Tom Hanks in line. Hey! There's Tom again! The tram tour is pretty impressive and you get to see some cool stuff, plus there's the King Kong 3D experience that was awesome and JAWS jumped right up at Kidlet in the tram car. Perfect! For some reason, the highlight for him was Norman Bates coming out of the Bates Motel and chasing the tram with a knife. Kids!

Then we headed to the Lower Area where we passed the Apollo spacecraft and who else but TOM HANKS again? The boys posed for a picture with the astronauts.

The rest of the rides require that you leave your bags in a locker, so there's not too many pictures. I think we all liked the Transformers ride and the Mummy roller coaster, but they were a bit action-packed for the boys. I think everyone was a little dizzy after those two. Luckily, the Jurassic Park ride is just a mild boat ride (until the giant splash at the end).Kidlet's favorite was the Jurassic Park boat ride, by far. It's got everything. Action, adventure, a life-size T-Rex and you get really, really wet. All told, I think we rode it five times! That's a lotta splashing! It's hard to tell from these photos, but he is SOAKED. His hair is 95% wet and his shirt looks like someone dunked him upside down in the pool. I, however, just got lightly splashed and misted. The Kidlet is super-absorbant!

Universal is currently expanding their Springfield area (opening later this year) and so after the Simpsons ride and shopping at the Kwik-E-Mart, we stopped to take our picture with Homer and Marge. This was the highlight for me and I'd spent the days before our trip crocheting beanies and accessories especially for this! I found a men's tank top that had almost the right color of green for Marge's dress and altered it into an A-frame dress. I even spiffied up my red Converse shoes! Then I crocheted a beanie out of bobble stitches to make Marge's hair and a red beaded necklace to match. I also made a Homer beanie with his requisite three hairs and made a matching scarf out of donuts. Mmm... donuts! The back of the scarf had Homer's muzzle which could be worn to create his whole face, as modeled by the Kidlet. The employees in the Springfield area were very excited for us and we got LOTS of compliments. The biggest from Homer himself who tried to eat the donuts at their sequin sprinkles. :)

After a long day at the park, we headed back to the hotel. I sent the boys on a scouting mission while I ran up to the room to get the party started! I bought banners and balloons and streamers - even a tiny pinata! But the boys were so exhausted that they came back early, so I only got half the decorations up. Even so, Kidlet was ecstatic and couldn't stop laughing.

We were all pretty tired but the Kidlet insisted on going swimming. The hotel's pool was heated year-round and open until midnight! There were tons of other kids in the pool, too. All of the out-of-towners thought that 50 degrees at night was downright balmy so they had no qualms about night swimming in Hollywood! Kidlet swam for about an hour and then was so exhausted that it took all of his strength to have some pizza before he fell asleep for the night. Successful day!

The next morning we went back to Universal Studios and went on the rides that we didn't get to on Friday and also saw all of the shows. They each have their own charms, but I think Shrek 4D was the Kidlet's favorite. It was good for the adults, too! No problem convincing us to sit in the air conditioning for 20 minutes! It was another great day that passed really quickly -- with more Jurassic Park boat tours, obviously. Then we headed home and everyone was suddenly drained of all energy. Both of the boys kept saying "no, I'm awake!" the whole drive - even though I saw their chins drooping as we were driving. Good thing I was behind the wheel!

All in all, it was an awesome trip and I think the Kidlet had a good time.

Happy birthday, Kidlet! I can't believe you're already ten!! Tia Mia loves you! xoxo


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