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Opinions

I hate McDonald’s Advertising.

I’m a pet sitter. I drive a lot. I listen to the radio, a lot. I hear McDonald’s commercials, a lot. I cannot stand them, at all. Why? Just listen to these series of commercials:

It’s not just a fish sandwich, its THE FILLET-O-FISH!

The McGriddles is so good, somebody had to rap about it

I’m going nuts for a nutty Sunday.

It burns into my minds. McCafe, McGriddles, Fillet-O-Fish. Over and over again. Their pathetic attempts at appealing to a young, hip, urban market. SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! They’re annoying as hell because of what McDonald’s is, the definition of bland(except for their awesome mushroom and Swiss angus burger, which they got rid of, assholes!). You’re not fooling anyone. You’re not cool, you’re not hip. You are the Walmart of fast food.

Sure, I eat at McDonald’s, but only because there’re ubiquitous in my service area and I often don’t feel like cooking, but its certainly not because of the radio ads.

Heck, I’m not the only one who hates McDonald’s radio commercials:

That’s it, that’s all I have to say. Mcdonald’s radio commercials suck and I’d wish they’d go off the radio asap.

Essays Opinions

Why I have a problem with #yesallwomen

I cannot even imagine what’s its like to be a woman, not in a million years. I can write deep women in fiction, but they’re just characters from my head. The amount of sexism that women encounter in intense. Every day they have face harassment and threats of domestic violence and assault, that I, as a man, can not even begin to fathom. My heart goes out to them, really it does. I wish we could all be a equal, but that’s not the world we live in.

Then there’s #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter and this is what I have a deep problem with.#yesallwomen is everything wrong with Twitter today. Yes the stories being shared is important and need to be shared 100%. The world needs to know, just not this way.

To understand my point of view, you have to separate the stories of domestic violence and abuse women face and look at it in terms of why the hashtag stated and the current state of discourse on Twitter. On the three years I’ve been on Twitter, it has degraded from a micro-blogging service to what amounts to a cesspool of yelling and screaming and various special interests hijacking Twitter for whatever fits their end. Time and time again, I’ve seen plenty of hashtags trend that are based on people jumping the gun and rage about whatever without thinking through the issues at hand.

The case in point is #yesallwomen, which started in the wake of Saturday’s shooting at UC Santa Barbara. Elliot Rodgers, who wrote a manifesto expressing his anger at women in general and sexually active men in particular, shot a guy a convenience store, stabbed 3 men in his apartment, then went to a sorority and shot two women and injured 13 others . Then somehow, in the wake of a horrible tragedy, we get a hashtag where women talk about the misogyny and violence they face in life, which is fine, but in context of the Santa Barbara shootings is  to me its very insensitive, because it forgets the male victims that died and instead becomes all about one man’s disturbed hatred of women.

Hijacking a tragedy where both men and women died and in-essence making it all about the women is insulting, and by denying the right for men to express that, women become everything they’ve accuse men of being. Women have being fighting against having their humanity stripped away for ages and in this instance are stripping men of their humanity. 4 men died in the rampage along with the 2 female victims, where’s the outrage against their deaths on Twitter?  I’ll tell you it certainly wasn’t in #yesallwomen.

The Santa Barbra shootings are not the platform to launch into a discussion about misogyny, not when both sexes were the targets of a twisted individual’s hate. Misogyny is a critical issue and needs to be discussed, just not this way, not this time.

That’s is why I have a problem with #yesallwomen and Twitter in general. A real tragedy is reduced to an excuse to rage against the machine, justified or not.  I today made some comments that were just plain wrong(stand corrected about men losing family court) and I’m sorry for those.  I don’t think I’m wrong in general and I’m not sorry for speaking out.

Women need to speak out against the horrible things they face in life, but they need to do it in the right context, and #yesallwomen is not the place to do it because they do so at the expense of a tragedy with real victims. Violence against men as an issue pales against violence against women in many respects, but we should we not forget that violence against men is still an issue, especially in light of a tragedy where four men died.

 

Essays Opinions

Candy Crush Saga and the Erosion of the Middle Class

candy crush sagaFor those living under a rock, Candy Crush Saga is an incredibly popular and quite good free to play game where you match gams candy under various conditions, like taking certain jewels ingredients to the bottom of the board in a certain number of moves.Its free to play meaning you don’t have to pay a cent to play until you get to the  the insanely hard levels that populate it after awhile.  At that point, you will have to pay for buffs or extra moves/time/lives or be in for a painful play experience. While King.com, its developer, says 70% of the people on the final level never paid a cent, that 70% basically had to learn how to game the game  to do it.

But Candy Crush Saga is only the tip of the iceberg of free to play games, games which free to play but uses various psychological tricks to get to get you pay. While I could spend this entire article talking about how games like Monopoly Hotels and Beat the Boss aren’t really games at all but rather cash machines for greedy developers, I won’t.

Instead I’m going to argue that the rise of the free to play gaming system is rather a symptom of this:

Low wage workers strike in NYC

The rise of free to play gaming is actually a symptom of the erosion of the middle class in the United States. 50 years 61% of adults were middle class, now 51% are. Right now wealth is more unequal since the Guided Age of the 1890s. Low wage workers across the nation are striking because they can’t afford to survive anymore  Even Walmart, which had a food drive for its own employees,  is beginning to realize its profits depends on people having money to spend.

At first glance, there is no direct correlation between free to play gaming and the erosion of the middle class. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for me to paint a direct correlation without doing serious research for months and writing a several hundred page book. Still, there is some sense to this on the surface.

Gaming is not an essential purchase. One can do without it. As more more and people balk at the high price tag of consoles and $60 games, they’ll naturally gravitate towards lower priced games, namely free ones. However, free to play games are not free to develop, therefore developers have to resort to using shady tactics to make money. In essence, games like Candy Crush Saga are the direct result of a downward pressure on gaming prices, which while nobody will say it publicly, I believe its because its the result of people not having the money to throw around anymore.

Even despite the free-to-play tactics, only 1-5% of free to play game players monetize, forcing game developers to rely on “whales,” or taking advantage of people’s addictions. We can debate the ethics all day(and I fall on the side of its disgusting) but the gaming industry in a sense has been forced to into this model to survive.

Poor people were never really able to afford expensive gaming consoles and games. It was middle-class millennial kids and teens with large amounts of disposable income who could(AAA gaming is aimed at teens for a reason, they have the disposable income to spend on gaming). But these millennials are now adults and not making nearly as much as their parents did. And as they marry and have kids, they may spend money on games for their children. Except the cost of raising a child is rising at an alarming rate. Combined with lower wagers overall, guess who is not buying a $500 Xbox one and the games necessary for Microsoft to make money?

The console of the 1%

The Xbox One is the console of the 1%. The PS4 is not far behind though.

 

Now the PS4 had a great launch and the Xbox One did alright for having a $500 price tag, but I question whether in six to eight months we won’t be seeing a giant nose dive in sales as the sheer number of people who can and will afford a console at original launch price  peters out. Remember that earlier this year, the game industry was in dire straights, with a major publisher going bankrupt and the WII U is a failure. The forces behind gaming’s woes haven’t shifted just with the launch of two new consoles (although evidence points to Nintendo’s woes being of its own making). Still, consider that Microsoft is heavy using free to play game tactics. Is Microsoft being greedy, or is Microsoft using these tactics to extract more money out of a fewer number of players? While I personally believe its the former as I ditched the 360 after my last one broke because I didn’t want to spend $70 on an Xbox live subscription in order to be advertised to all day, the latter could very well also be a factor as well.

King could jack up the price to $30 with none of the shenanigans, but who will pay that much anymore.

King.com could jack up the price to $15+ with none of the shenanigans, but the game would fail.

Again, I can’t really make a direct correlation as its all circumstantial. But the circumstances is what gives my theory weight. Which is more likely, people not willing to throw $30 at a mobile game as good as its 3ds counterpart, or people just don’t have the money to throw $30 upfront anymore?  Games are not immune to economic forces and therefore must respond to a player-base with less money to throw around. But developers need to get paid regardless.

At this intersection lies the free to play game, games which have to be free to get the largest number of people playing, but have to actually make money. While we’d love to blame greed(and there are some cases), the real answer probably lies with an industry responding to a poorer player base and their own to need to pay their workers and make their investors money.

All I can say is play the free-to-play games that respect the player and deliver an actual game(like Candy Crush Saga, Temple Run 2, and Plants Vs Zombies 2, which is from Monopoly Hotels developer EA mobile no less) and if you can afford it, throw the developers a few dollars now and  then, they need to eat too.

Essays Opinions

Ethereal Girls: Troll my Book, Please!

As writers, we should focus our promotional efforts on trying to get people to talk about our books (review them, read and recommend them, give them awards, take them to their book groups, write articles or blog posts about them) instead of trying to get people to buy them.-Mary Walters

At the end of January, Ethereal Girls was a dead book. Nobody was talking about it and nobody was buying it. I had dropped the price to 99 cents and relegated it to the back burner. Then on the advice of my editor I posted it on a certain internet forum. They hated it. In fact, they hated it so much they started trolling it. My name started traveling across the internet regarding how atrociously terrible Ethereal Girls is and culminated in a piece on February 13th entitled Ethereal Girls: If You Hate Women but Love Staring at Them. It currently has 290 notes on Tumblr. It read as follows:

Plot: 4 atypical teenage heroines save the world .

If you hate women, but love staring at them, you’ll love the creepy “Ethereal Girls.” To begin with, I excerpted the cover, because I thought the detailed-yet-not-quite-right drawings of underage womens’ breasts and genitals was a little much to put on my blog. (If you must, click through to see the vulvae of your high-school notebook dreams.)

The author forbids any portions of his book to be excerpted without his express consent, so I am unable to provide the actual text here (it’s in the “Look Inside” button hereif you’re truly curious) but I will provide you with a sample of what you might potentially find if you were to plunk down the ten bucks for this flagrant abuse of the English language:

Stacey was wearing a short, tight jean skirt, that was really sexy, and her butt was sticking out, causing it to bulge around her butt. She leaned forward and said “It’s time for cheerleading practice.” The other girls nodded and when they nodded their boobs moved. They all had really big boobs, and round. Wow.

Stacey wondered if the other girls had magical powers. “Does anyone have magic” she thought, and then a big snake woman, who had really big and sexy boobs, came into the gym. “I’m going to use magic.” She said. Her boobs jiggled as she said the thing about magic.

The snake shook it’s tail and hissed, and the other girls said “We don’t have magic. Please save us.” They looked really great and 1 was crying, and it went on her boobs, and the tear went down in the cleavage (between the boobs) and everyone saw it.

The most striking thing about the article is the fake snippet.  Drew, the author,claims that I wouldn’t allow him  to post excerpts…except that I did. The language he’s referring to is boilerplate legalese in the front of the book:

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.

He can post text from the book because his article is a review. But why instead does he just make up an excerpt that doesn’t reflect anything actually in the book? Because there’s nothing really to troll.

The book isn’t that bad, with mostamazon customer reviews falling in the 3-4 star range until the trolls descended.  The first two chapters are freely available to read here on this site. Drew never actually read any part of the book because if he did, he’d be making fun of Liza fighting a Yakuza cyborg while she’s wearing a pink dress at the end of chapter 2. But even if he did read that section, posting about that would run the risk of people thinking it was awesome and plunking down money for it, and he couldn’t have that. Therefore, he made shit up.

The trolls aren’t really trolling Ethereal Girls, the book; they’re trolling a made-up idea of Ethereal Girls, what they believe the book to be, some creepy fetishistic worship of muscular teenage girls, when it’s really an over-the-top superhero novel. If the cover featured a super masculine boy, nobody would’ve cared…but because its a girl, I’m a perv and the book appears a thousand times more sexual than it actually is. Somehow I’ve managed to push a cultural button which prevents people from taking the book seriously and instead whips them into a frenzy of hate and scorn.

But no matter! By trashing the book, Drew (who has a huge following) spread me and my book across the net. And viola, somebody  mentioned they bought it just to see how bad it was. Exactly what I want.

uwe boll

I refer to this as the Uwe Boll effect.

We all know Uwe Boll makes terrible films (most notably film adaptations of video games) and has done so for years. Here’s the thing: the only reason Boll is still making movies is because people wouldn’t shut about him (the German tax loophole that allowed Boll to make his earlier films was closed in 2007) If people didn’t want Uwe Boll making terrible video game adaptations, they should’ve shut up after Alone in the Dark, but they didn’t and he’s still making movies today.  The reason this happened is that the more people talked about him, the more chance there was for people to watch his films to see how bad they were. I myself am guilty of this, having watched all 3 Bloodrayne films, Postal, Far Cry and In the Name of the King. I played right into Uwe Boll’s pocket.

I used to hate trolls, but now I love them. As Mary Walters said, writers should get people to talk about the book, and trolls are people talking about my book.

So keep going everyone! Troll Ethereal Girls into the ground. Talk about how atrociously awful it is on every corner of the net. Proclaim how Ethereal Girls makes 50 Shades of Grey look like Lady Chatterley’s Lover by comparison. Flood Amazon with one star reviews, the more over-the-top and absurd the better(but please purchase a copy before you leave one). Go ahead, I welcome it with open arms. The more people troll me and my book, the greater the chance somebody curious will buy it, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll like what they find.

Essays Opinions

Why Gangnam Style Beat Baby on Youtube

Not long ago PSY’s “Gangnam Style” surpassed Justin Bieber’s “Baby” to become the #1 most watched video  on YouTube. When I started writing this, it had 829 million hits. I went to bed and by the time I woke up, it went up 4 million to 833 million. It will be have plenty more by the time you read this. Baby is at 805 million and has been around there for awhile. But in every article I’ve read about PSY’s rise to international stardom, nobody ever really talks about why a song released in Korea by a Korean for Koreans in Korean about a Korean neighborhood became an international sensation.  Articles about Gangnam Style’s record hits don’t talk about why he beat out Bieber, who happens to have the same manager. But it’s not hard to figure out with some simple analysis.

Bieber vs. PSY

Let’s start with Baby:

This song is terrible to everyone but Bieber’s fan base, myself included. Its a pubescent boy singing to pubescent girls about pubescent love, with Ludacris chiming in about his adolescent crush in probably the worst performance of his that I’ve ever heard (and I like Ludacris). The video itself is completely unremarkable and generic, it isn’t anything unto itself, which all great music videos are.

Baby is at 805 million hits after 2 years, with the video reaching 600,000 hits after a year and a half and getting the remaining 200 million over the next 16 months. Keep this in mind.

Now onto Gangnam Style:

It’s fun, it’s catchy and it has a very specific dance associated with it, guaranteeing its rotation at dance parties for years to come.  The video is one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen. While what he’s making fun of is Korean, the images are universal and can apply to a lot of posh neighborhoods, like the horse barn, the dance studio, the aerobics classes and even the yuppie-looking people on the pink bus.

The chart for Gangnam Style tells a different story than Baby did. The time frame might be shorter, but that’s the entire point. Extrapolate the graph out to Baby’s time frame and the growth will seem be exponential before leveling off.  Events such as PSY’s appearance at the VMAs September 9th merely capitalized on the song’s growing popularity.

But there’s another side to this. Gangnam Style’s success marks an important milestone in the music industry: music has been democratized.

Universal Appeal

It used to be that an artist would find international success based largely on the whims of record companies. When I went to Greece in 2003, finding songs I liked over there here in the US was nearly impossible because they weren’t in US record stores or played on the radio. Even when the iTunes store took off, finding international hits was still dependent on record companies releasing the albums in the US iTunes store.

To put Gangam Style’s importance in perspective, let’s compare with another fun, catchy song with a specific dance that went viral a few years ago: Daler Mehndi’s Tunak Tunak Tun.

Now if you watch this video closely, you’ll notice the dances are pretty similar in some ways (the circular arm wave variation). While I don’t know if PSY has seen this video, to me he’s channeling Dalar Mehndi’s goofy charm through the entirety of Gangnam Style.

But why didn’t Tunak Tunak become a monster international hit despite enjoying international popularity? First,  Dalar didn’t capitalize. He didn’t appear at the VMAs and he didn’t release Tunak Tunak in the west. To be fair, however, Tunak went viral when YouTube was still largely a novelty and the corporate presence was virtually nonexistent. His video going viral meant a lot less than Gangnam Style going viral now.

Second, unlike other entertainment media, like books and movies, music has an never-fail formula for success and by that I mean this formula:

Or more simply: Score = (w1 x f1) + (w2 x f2) + (w3 x f3) + (w4 x f4), etc I’ll let Wired explain:

The “w”s are “weights,” or musical features like tempo, time signature, song duration, loudness and how energetic it is. Musical style doesn’t stand still, and the weights have to be tweaked to match the era. In the ’80s, for example, low-tempo, ballad-esque musical styles were more likely to become a hit. Plus, before the ’80s, the “danceability” of a song was not particularly relevant to its hit potential.

Once the algorithm has churned out these weights it’s simply a case of mining your proposed song for these exact same features (the “f”s in the equation) and working out whether they correspond to the trends of the time. This gives you a hit-prediction score.

But I can boil all that down to one word: infectious. Doesn’t matter the genre, doesn’t matter the decade, if a song can get into people’s head and never leave, it’ll be a hit song.

And Gangnam Style is infectious. It conforms to the pretty universal sound of today’s pop music worldwide which is basically electronic dance music, with the difference being whether or not the song is rapped or sung and what language it’s in (If you don’t believe me go pick random J-pop, K-pop, Euro pop and American Pop songs, you’ll see).  Tunak lacked universal music appeal. Dancing to Tunak Tunak feels like you’re dancing to Indian Pop music, while dancing to Gangnam Style doesn’t feel like you’re dancing to K-pop.

Conclusion

Enter a song that confirms to universal music tastes with a video that has universal appeal which is featured on a video website with universal reach and the recipe for a monstrous hit is born. Justin Bieber, as talented as he is, just doesn’t have the pull beyond his target demographic. Once they finished gushing over the song, there wasn’t the mass appeal to propel the video further beyond the haters.

In addition, you can bet other acts will attempt to follow in PSY’s footsteps to have international monster hits. However, most will only achieve more modest international success because Gangnam Style hit all the variables in the right places at the right time, which is extraordinarily difficult to do. PSY didn’t even come close to matching his own success with another version of Gangnam Style featuring the vocals of Hyuna, the woman dancing with PSY towards the end of the original video. But PSY’s a Korean cultural icon with a ten year career, he’ll be fine. And Bieber will be fine even if his career tanks because he can live off his earnings for the rest of his life.

Finally, while one can decry the homogenized nature of pop music world-wide, it’s merely a reflection of the universal nature of the Internet. If people can easily access music from across the world via YouTube and other sites, it’s only natural that tastes will will converge and artists will follow suit. While there’s always been a genre called World, that’s always been about showcasing varying musical traditions, not bringing them together.  You can kind of say Gangnam Style is more worldly than “world” music, something to ponder.

I’ll leave you off with another K-pop video I came across and loved: Tarantallegra by Junsu. This is as much a result of the world convergence of pop music as Gangnam Style, for reasons that will become blatantly evident :

Essays Opinions Porn Uncategorized

New School Porn Parodies: A Slippery Slope

Not too long ago I wrote an essay about old school and new school porn parodies. Old school parodies attempted to send up the source material while new school parodies were glorified fan fiction, like this one:

Not a parody at all.

And then I had an epiphany, if porn companies can pass off fan fiction as parody and sell it, what’s stopping erotic fan fiction writers from doing the same thing? We’re not that far from it already.  50 shades of Grey, for example, started off as a Twilight fan fiction. E.L James then removed the Twilight references, sold it and made millions.  But if E.L James had changed nothing and called it Twilight: A Literary Porn Parody, she could still sell the book because of the parody loop hole in copyright law. 

And even with non-erotic work, unofficial sequels abound, especially sequels of public domain work like the literature of Jane Austen. Then there’s the whole fad of inserting monsters into Austen books and selling them as humor.

Maybe I should write a story about a zombie Jane Austen devouring the brains of those who shamelessly steal her work.

All it’s going to take is an author creating an erotic  fan fiction of anything protected under copyright law and successfully self-publishing it using the word “parody” in the title to cause the floodgates will open. Tons of erotic fan fiction stories will start popping up for sale.  And even if the fan fiction author gets sued (and they most likely will) they will almost certainly win in court because there’s simply too much precedent in the form of new school porn parodies.

This is going to happen sooner or later, regardless of this article. Success breeds imitation. If porn companies can make millions stealing work, then then the little guy is going to want to the same thing.

Essays Opinions Television

Piratz Tavern: How Bar Rescue Faked Reality

Before I begin, please watch the following about Piratz Tavern:

Now this episode of Bar Rescue is compelling television. It’s about a sinking pirate bar called Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland, where the staff wants to play pirate while the workers at the several corporate high rises next door ignore the noise. Furthermore, the owner is $900,000 in debt and lives in her parents’ basement with her husband, Piratz’s incompetant chef, and her college-age daughter.  In walks nightlife expert Jon Taffer who believes the staff is delusional and drags them kicking and screaming to a new theme, the Corporate Bar and Grill. After the change, the place looks to have a bright future. But the owner, still wanting to play pirate, turns it back to Piratz a few weeks later and the ship continues to sink.

There’s only one problem: The show is made up.

I’ve eaten in Silver Spring lots of times and had even tried to eat at Piratz Taven before the filming. Honestly, it looked like an empty dump. The show wasn’t completely wrong in that respect.  However, after watching the Bar Rescue episode, I absolutely had to go in order to find out how different the show was from with what actually happened. I went for dinner there with some friends and spent a long time talking to the staff.

Piratz Tavern Staff

From left to right: Rouge, Monkey, Blackjack, Archer and One-Eyed Mike.

What I found was that practically everything on the show was made up. While the staff, along with the manager Tracy Rebelo, had a reason to lie in order to make themselves look better, it was obvious from their passionate and candid responses, along with a few plainly visible facts, that they weren’t lying.

Here’s a list, in show chronological order, of many of the differences between the Bar Rescue episode and what I observed and was told:

-At the beginning of the show there’s a statistic that says during the day the population in Silver Spring swells to 295,000 with an average income of $96,000. At night the population drops to 71,000 with an average income of $36,000. While there’s nothing wrong with this on the surface, it’s missing something very important that I’ll explain further down.

-The show claims the staff loves to drink and play pirates rather than serve the customers. Well, that both is and is not true. On the one hand, the staff loves their jobs, loves pirates, and enjoy working there.  On the the other hand,  the food came quickly and I didn’t have to wait to get a seat. In some ways, the jovial, friendly staff is why anyone would come to Piratz in the first place and Taffer ignores it.

– On the show, Tracy claims that’s she’s over $900,000 in debt, her credit is shot and she lives in her parent’s basement.  Tracy told me, a guy she never met, that she never uses credit cards with Piratz and she’s pays off the $10,000 rent every month in full and on time… oh, and there is no basement.

-Jon and his wife show up to the bar which looks dead…except it’s dead because the Bar Rescue producers told the tavern to tell everyone that the tavern was closed. Anyone in the bar were people who walked by and saw it was open.

-The show claims the patio in the back is unoccupied…except they forgot to mention that the segment was filmed at night in February 2012, with nightly temperatures in the 30s. Jon’s wife is even shown walking into the establishment in a heavy coat.

-The fish the planted couple orders is supposedly terrible. Everyone there told me basically the same thing: the food was fine, they just lied and said it was terrible. My food was delicious!

Update: 9/29: Went back to Piratz and ordered the fish the couple on the show did.  While I thought it wasn’t as good as the turkey legs I had last week, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the show made it seem.

-There’s a reference to an appetizer that’s too spicy. The “Burnin’ Bits” has a waiver you to have sign in order to eat it. I know because I took notes on the back of said waiver:

Piratz Tavern Waver

Too spicy on purpose.

-How many corporate high rises are really around Piratz?  There are two on the same block, plus a few within eyeshot. Jon wanted to make the point that there are tons directly next to it, but there are only the aforementioned two plus the Discovery Channel directly accessible via a back alleyway. The others he points out include a two-story storefront and this:

Behold the Silver Spring Metro Garage!

This is a case of Jon not only stretching the truth to make his point about corporate highrises, but also ignoring a bigger problem which should be obvious to anyone who has been to the area:

The way most people get to the area is to get off 495 and head down Georgia Ave. Right before you get to Piratz, they come to what’s known as Downtown Silver Spring, a popular outdoor plaza with literally a dozen restaurants and two movie theaters (The Regal and an AFI Silver) along with several big stores including a DSW and a Whole Foods. This attracts a lot of people with money. However,  the traffic turns on either Colesville or Wayne and heads towards the garages. Only a fraction of the traffic heads past Wayne Avenue. I’ve traveled to the area quite a bit. Downtown Silver Spring could be packed, but walk across across Wayne Avenue and the place is a ghost town.

There’s no way Jon missed this fact when researching – he could see it from Piratz Tavern! While it appears he might have counted Downtown Silver Spring as a high-rise, counting it as such is extremely misleading because he therefore ignores all the people coming in on weekends for entertainment. This destroys his entire theory on why a pirate bar in Silver Spring can’t survive.  If Piratz had a location within Downtown Silver Spring, it would’ve been just fine because the people who go to the plaza are looking to have fun.

– Moving on, Archer, who quit on the show, was told to be the bad guy and his role was to quit. The only thing is that Archer really did  get mad at John so the reaction when he told the cameras to get out of his face was real.

-To help in the kitchen, Jon brings in Jason, a line cook… who had been working at Piratz for 7 months prior to filming. He was working at a Bertucci’s when a few Piratz employees got him in touch with Tracy who hired him.

-The show makes it seems like there’s an all day bar training going on for the bartenders. Well, training only lasted as long the cameras rolled and so the staff only learned basically what is shown on TV.

-On a segment involving service staff training Mike appears to have trouble talking like “a normal person.” It’s implied Mike was so wrapped up in his pirate persona, he had trouble coming out of it.  Except how Mike talks on the show is how he really talks. His accent is not an act.

-There’s an exchange where the service trainer says to Mike to “act like the people outside.” He says that he hates those people. Only one issue: that was edited together from two different exchanges, the second one being the people who go on Yelp and give the bar bad reviews.

-The soft opening was staged, as everyone that was brought in were actors and did not have to pay. Everything was going fine until Jon told the actors to start acting as if the service was terrible.

-The scene where Juciano storms out and Tracy goes after him was staged. He was told to storm off.  The audio seems to cut during the segment because they’re laughing while filming.

-The only thing the employees weren’t told ahead of time was what the new theme was supposed to be, so their reactions were real. Even I thought the idea was terrible from the first time I saw it. The Corporate Bar and Grill made the place seem homogenized and soulless. When corporate workers want to go to a bar, they want to escape, not go back to work. And Jon Taffer, even on the show, came across as a guy who hated the very idea of a pirate bar from the moment he walked in and simply wanted it gone, regardless of the reasons for Piratz’s failures. The staff confirmed my suspicions with Tracy calling him “completely unprofessional” and saying “he made the worst decision possible.”

– While it looked pristine in the show, the new interior was shoddily done. For example, the new tiles on the floor were simply glued onto the floor underneath. The glue oozed through the tiles and was tracked onto the back patio, which had to be resurfaced.

-As part of the renovation, Jon installed self-service draft tables where people could pour their own beer. However, they are illegal in Montgomery County, so they were useless.  Not only that, the draft tables were really being rented, with the first 2 months paid for. After that, the bar had pay for all 3 draft tables.

-The grand opening, like the soft opening, was staged, with actors playing the roles of customers, who ate for free. While I wasn’t told this, based on what they told me about the soft opening, I’m certain the actors were told to act like the place was great even if it was crummy.

-During the grand opening scene, Jason can be seen making burgers. The staff told me that the burger was made using frozen beef patties and were expected to charge $11 for it; this is in contrast to their $12 buffalo burger which was and still is on the menu and is made fresh. They have an $8 regular burger. They never mentioned it, but I assume it’s made fresh. And even if it, too, is a frozen beef patty, it’s still $3 less.

-After filming, Piratz Tavern returned within two weeks, nearly every single one of Jon’s changes was reversed and a small beer bar was added to the front to make it more lively.

I went to Piratz Tavern expecting at least some of the show to ring true and found that apparently not one moment of the show was what it appeared to be. Everything organic was either staged or heavily edited. Watching the episode again after eating there I saw the fiction in the “reality” clearly. Bar Rescue is a fictional show about a man who takes bars from money pits to profitable businesses. Before Jon steps in, the staff has to be inept, the food has to be terrible and the bar has to be completely out of touch with the surrounding community, even if not one of those things was true. After John relaunches, the staff has to be top notch, the food has to be delicious and the bar has to be beautiful and popular. It makes Jon Taffer look like God’s gift to bar management. And if the bar reverts to its previous persona or isn’t doing well, it isn’t Jon’s fault, it’s always the owner who’s to blame. They didn’t listen to Jon Taffer and now they’re paying the price.

Piratz Tavern

Behold the new sign installed the week before I went!

While the staff admitted the bar was having problems, any problems it did have were solved simply by being on Bar Rescue and the huge publicity it generated, giving people a reason to travel past Wayne Avenue. Our waiter, Blackjack, told me that Jon Taffer should have just come in and just helped with an ad campaign instead of the nightmare their “bar rescue” turned out to be. Monkey even said it was one of the worst experiences of his entire life, and I have to believe him.

Piratz stands as a symbol of how fake reality television truly is. Before I ate at Piratz, I loved Bar Rescue. It was a compelling, well-produced show. After eating at Piratz, I don’t think I can watch another episode knowing full well that what I’m seeing is as fictional as a scripted drama.  One thing I do know for sure is that I’m definitely going back to Piratz Tavern.

Update: 3/28/15

Normally I wouldn’t a post an update for a 3 year old article, but with the bar closing and the upcoming episode, I feel the need I should as interest in this article will be renewed:

So, the bar is closing and the owner claims its because she was fucked over by reality TV again, believing the producers that things would be different this time with the second episode.. I personally think(and this is only a guess) Bar Rescue didn’t close the bar, in actuality, it kept it going for three years due to all the publicity, but whatever the problems were initially finally caught up with her again. She invited Bar Rescue back in the hopes that magic would strike twice and she could ride another wave of bad publicity to another three years, but when it didn’t look like that would happen, for whatever reason, she gave up and closed the bar.

I went back in February for my birthday(after a two year absence), and the bar was great. The food was excellent, the grog was delicious and the service staff was friendly(I got a free dessert and t-shirt).  in the end, I have to begrudgingly say maybe Jon was right in that you can’t run a pirate bar in Silver Spring. But who knows, considering its critical location problem.

 

Essays Opinions Porn

Porn Parodies: Old-School vs. New-School

Yes, you are about to read a serious, in-depth discussion of porn parodies.  I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes, but pornography is a film genre, it has its own conventions and cliches and, dare I say it, some artistic merit. Porn parodies are probably the most fascinating porn to study because they are judged not solely on the sex, but also other aspects that more traditional porn movies aren’t judged on, like their plot. This is because porn parodies live or die based on how well they handle the source material.

If somebody just wants to see two people fucking, they can just pick up any old porn and get that. But if somebody watches a porn parody, it’s because they want to see two specific characters fucking. But there’s a problem. It’s called copyright law. One can’t just use somebody else’s characters without permission for profit. However, there’s a loophole in copyright law where parodies are considered fair use. This gives porn producers the green light to use other people’s characters as long as they’re using them in parodies.

Dick Smothers played Maxwell Smart better than Steve Carell!

For the longest time, porn parodies were actual parodies. In other words, these were porn movies where they attempted to send up the source material on some level.  I call these “old-school” porn parodies. These parodies can be distinguished by their funny titles: Edward Penishands, Rear and Pleasant Danger, Missionary Position Impossible and so on. They generally were low-budget and filled to the brim with bad acting and innuendo.

Fun for the whole family… minus the ass to mouth during the four way at the end.

Then around 2008 to 2009,  porn companies got wind that porn parodies were a licence to print money. These companies then started pumping out parodies and a paradigm shift occurred. Instead of trying to poke fun at the material, these “new-school” porn parodies became big-budget pornographic mockbusters. When a movie is being “parodied,” the movie is actually just copied scene for scene with sex scenes inserted here and there, while if a TV show is being “parodied,” the result is an episode of the show with sex scenes inserted.  In the worst cases these parodies are just extended sex scenes based on other people’s characters that are strung together with no real plot. Worst of all, the funny titles disappeared, being replaced by names like ___ XXX : A Porn Parody or This Ain’t ____: A XXX Parody.

To illustrate the difference between old-school and new-school, I’ll post two clips for two different Star Trek porn parodies, Sex Trek: Where No Man has Come B4 and This Ain’t Star Trek XXX.

First up is the old-school Sex Trek:

This installment of the long-running Sex Trek series (incidentally, there are at least 8 of these) is directed by one of  masters of the old school porn parody, Cash Marksman, who also directed Get Lucky. As a master of the art, Marksman understands that people watch porn for the sex and generally just want to get the story over with as quickly as possible. But if you’re going to sit through the story parts, you might as well laugh a little in the process. The production is second rate but it really doesn’t matter because the film doesn’t take itself seriously and lampoons Star Trek quite nicely.

Now here’s This Ain’t Star Trek:

Instead of trying to lampoon Star Trek this movie tries to be Star Trek just with hardcore sex.  While the production is first class, instead of being interesting the clip comes across as just boring. The actors just don’t have the charisma of the original cast. I haven’t watched the entire movie, nor do I want to. This film was directed by Axel Braun, and having seen several other Axel Braun parodies, I know what to expect with this one: an emphasis on style over substance with terrible writing all around. Here’s the Porn Critic reviewing Dark Knight XXX where he effectively states Braun’s issues.

But even the soullessness extends to the better porn parodies. Watch the trailer for Star Trek Next Generation: An XXX Parody:

This parody is notable for two reasons. First, they brought in a Patrick Stewart impersonator to play Captain Picard.  Therefore, Picard just gets a blowjob at the end from Crusher. This way they could use a stunt cock and never have to show Picard’s head. Second, the script is fanfiction written by the director, who’s a confessed Trek fan. While this is a very good porn parody, there’s just something missing. The cast tries hard, the sex is hot and the production values are top notch. Go ahead, watch some of sex-free story parts to see just how good it is. But in the end, it’s just a copy. A Stewart impersonator is just that: an impersonator.

People still watch this movie 20 years later.

Porn, by nature, isn’t meant to entertain but rather to arouse. Once its function has been fulfilled, it’s thrown away. But by embracing their transient nature, old-school porn parodies collectively enshrined themselves as part of popular culture even if many of the films themselves have been lost to time. When asked to come up with a porn movie idea, most people will invariably think of low budget porn parodies with funny titles that are packed with sex-puns; movies where the cast, who weren’t selected for their acting talent, deliver their innuendo-filled dialogue barely able to contain their laughter. Even if they are no longer being made except in a few cases, like the excellent BATFXXX (short for BatFucker XXX), the idea of old school parodies will live on.

This isn’t parody, this is plagiarism! Now if Elaine was naked…..

New-school parodies will never achieve immortality beyond how similar the people on the box covers look to the original characters. First, they aren’t parodies, they are only called parodies in the titles so the producers aren’t (justifiably) sued for copyright infringement. The Next Generation doesn’t parody the show but instead celebrates it. Second, new-school parodies forget the very reason people watch porn. Nobody really cares what happens between the sex scenes; the story only exists to put those scenes in context. With some non-porn scenes in a few “new-school” parodies I’ve seen stretching over ten minutes, I know people will just hit the fast forward button to get to the fucking.

Still, new-school parodies pretend they are in the beloved old-school tradition by releasing multiple disc collector’s editions and allowing behind the scenes press access. The truth is, most of these parodies pale before their lower-budget predecessors. They actually possess no more longevity than run-of-the-mill porn movies with titles such as Blow Me 7 and I Got Banged 3…meaning none at all.

Essays Opinions

Ancient Aliens: Spreading the Alien Gospel

Ancient Aliens and UFO Theology

H2’s Ancient Aliens‘ central premise is that everything in history is influenced by aliens from outer space,  from the ancient Sumerians to the 2004 tsunami. The series even goes so far as to state that the dinosaurs were wiped out by aliens.  Furthermore, every religious text is to be taken literally, except every reference of a divine being is to be replaced with aliens. So “Humanity was created in God’s image,” becomes “Humanity was created by alien beings.”   In essence, ancient alien theories are a form of religious mythology like Christian mythology which can also be found on the History Channel.

Let’s compare apocalyptic theories:

In Rapture theology popularized by the Left Behind series, the good Christians will be whisked off to Heaven while the Antichrist reigns on Earth for seven years. Jesus will them return, seal the Antichrist and reign on Earth for a millennium. At the end of this millennium will come the last judgement where the wicked are judged and sent to Hell and the world ends. Everything that occurs happens in order to fulfill this prophecy. Humanity has no control.

A similar idea exists with some ancient alien theorists, who believe that aliens came to the Mayans and revealed to them that the world will end on December 21, 2012.  If Ancient Aliens is to be believed, all the meddling of aliens in our affairs is leading up to the end of the world in a little under three months. Everything that has occurred has occurred because aliens made it happen. Humanity has no control.

Ancient alien theories should really be called  UFO theology, because that’s what it is. Instead of believing that God created the Earth and continues to be involved in human affairs, they believe aliens created the Earth and continue to be involved in human affairs. Aliens or God, the idea is the same: that there is a higher power behind the universe. However, the UFO believers understand that  the major religions, like Christianity, have millennia of societal validation behind them, causing them to have a much a wider acceptance by the general public. So the UFO theologians go back in time to see references of UFOs in order to validate their beliefs. Just like Christians see validation of Jesus in the Old Testament, UFO believers see validation of aliens in ancient religions… as well as everything else in human history.

Ancient Aliens

Giorio A. Tsoukalos’ hair really sells him as a UFO Theologian

Then to spread their religion the priests of UFO theology, so-called  experts like Jason Martell and Giorio A. Tsoukalos, got themselves a television show where they can espouse their religious beliefs without dissent. Instead of religious services in temples, they have UFO symposiums in conference centers. Instead of attacking other religions and science, like fundamentalist Christians do, fundamentalist alien theologians attack only science, because they see Christianity as really being about aliens, not God. While my head hurts every time I watch Ancient Aliens, it’s not directed at me, my heart has been closed to accepting that aliens from outer space visited ancient Sumeria.

Why don’t UFO believers create a church and get tax exemption from IRS, like the Raelians, who also believe aliens created the world?

In addition to Raelian women going topless, Raelians also practice sensual mediation, or transcendence by having lots of sex.

Raelism is based on  religious-style revelations from aliens to a man named Claude Vorilhon. It therefore sees and presents itself as a religion.  UFO theology comes out of crackpot theories of people on the far fringes of science.  They don’t call themselves a religion because they see themselves in context of science, despite requiring just as much faith as any religion.

Faith and Tentacles

I believe there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Have aliens visited Earth in the past? No. Are aliens currently visiting Earth? No. Are we ever going to find other intelligent life? No.

Assume there are exactly two intelligent space-travel-capable species in the entire universe: humanity and my cute tentacle creatures called Brac’tai… yes, those Brac’tai:

Just work with me!

And let’s assume the Brac’tai live here:

 

If we are bound by the laws of relativity then the Brac’tai are bound by them as well. If we can’t travel faster than light, then they aren’t traveling faster than light.  And even they found a way around time dialation when traveling close to light speed, it would still take them millions of years to get here. Then, if it were possible to create wormholes, how exactly would the Brac’tai know where we are? All communications would take 122 million years round-trip.  Meeting each other, much less knowing we exist, is simply impossible.

But assume the Brac’tai are closer:

So now the Brac’tai are only 425 light years away. Let’s say the Brac’tai pick up our television broadcasts and they love them dearly. Unfortunately, the broadcasts are 425 years old, so nobody involved would even be alive when the Brac’tai decide to send fan mail to them. Traveling via spacecraft still isn’t possible due to the still huge distance. Plus, even if they could make a wormhole to Earth, with all the doom and gloom on TV, chances are they’d figure humanity wasn’t around and just stay home.

Alright, now the Brac’tai are in range of arrival at Earth. After watching TV for awhile, the Brac’tai build a spacecraft and rocket to Earth… only to fly around and abduct crazy people?

It just doesn’t make any sense. If the Brac’tai came to make contact with the only other intelligent species in the Universe , they’d land on the White House lawn, dock at the ISS or do something other than make contact with a select few believers.

ancient aliens

Finally, what if instead of showing up now, Brac’tai showed up six thousand years ago to ancient humans and gave them technology to create civilization as well as building ancient monuments? Well, that’s pretty insulting to us, actually, because it means we’re too stupid to have created technology on our own; any huge advancements could only have come from beings from another planet. Even the Old Testament says it was humans who built the great monuments of Egypt, not God.

In the end, my example is irrelevant because UFO theology is not about real intelligent life existing on the other side of the Universe. UFO theology is about aliens filling a spiritual void to people who can’t believe in an all-powerful omnipotent sky god. Science will never be able to fully answer the heavy metaphysical questions such as “Why do we exist?” and “Is there life after death?” When faced with the absence of God, people still unable to accept that humanity is nothing more than a bunch of evolved apes have to turn to other sources like aliens from outer space. This is the why the same blind faith that defies reason underpins UFO theology as well as traditional religious theologies.

Therefore, Ancient Aliens has more in common with evangelical Christian shows like Breakthrough with Rod Parsley on the Trinity Broadcasting Network that it does with shows like H2’s own The Universe, which is firmly rooted in scientific discourse regardless of how farfetched it occasionally can get. For example, on Breakthrough, Rod Paisely claims the “Eternal nature of God” is a fact in the same way “expert” Jason Martell can claim bird-like aliens called the Anunnaki visiting ancient Sumeria is a fact. Neither has definite proof beyond ancient Sumerian writings,  so their claims ultimately lie in blind faith. The only real difference between Breakthrough and Ancient Aliens is the higher power involved, the nature of both programs are  the same.

ancient aliens

Never forget it.

Essays Opinions

Fifty Shades of Tomb Raider

Back in May, there was a huge feminist outcry over an interview with a producer of the  Tomb Raider reboot by Square Enix:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character…. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her… She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”

The outrage over this was swift and severe and I agree with this. The producer was espousing a classic sexist stereotype that is insulting to men and women: that men only want submissive, non-threatening women that they can protect and heal (even at times by fucking, such as in the case of Jack from Mass Effect 2). This sexist view is literally everywhere and manifests itself in a variety of ways.

This brings me to Fifty Shades of Grey, the enormously popular erotic romance series which features a submissive female heroine who gives herself over to a heroic dominator. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to read it because I read Fifty Shades of God, an editorial in the Washington Post about how women are attracted to the trilogy because it’s really about religion:

Grey starts out in the books intending to dominate (beat and cause pain to) Anastasia in his famous playroom dubbed “The Red Room of Pain,” and ends up loving and not wanting (or rather willing) to hurt her. One could compare him to the God of some peoples’ imagination.

Christian is at times punishing, sadistic, angry, demanding, intolerant, fickle, bewildering, withholding, omnipotent, omniscient, awesome, abusive, kind, generous, wise and — above all — loving and cherishing.

Just when Anastasia has had it and is about to give up on Christian for doing something absolutely appalling, just when she no longer believes in him, he redeems himself by doing something so outrageously wonderful that she cannot abandon him and is pulled back into the fold. Just when he is withholding his love from her and she is weeping and can no longer bear it, he embraces her with an overwhelming totality. Just when she is doubting herself for her submission, he turns the tables and offers himself to her.

And here we see the delusional fantasy women have about men: that the dominating, asshole guy secretly has a heart of gold that only she can bring out. This, too is everywhere, for trashy Harelquin Presents novels to Twilight.

I noticed something: these delusional male and female fantasies match up.  Men want to dominate and ultimately heal the woman (usually by fucking) and women want to be submissive and ultimately heal the man (usually by making love). First off, sex and love, while often powerful motivators, don’t heal deep-seated mental wounds. This is just common sense.

Now, I’m of the opinion that in general, women subconsciously hand power to men. Why else would they be reading fantasies where they are literally bought and sold (again, Harlequin presents)? I know some women are going to  call me sexist and chauvinist, and I can see how they’d think that. However, I also believe it takes two to tango. Patriarchy wouldn’t exist if women weren’t willing to be submissive to male will.   Men might have imposed patriarchy long ago, but women’s beliefs and actions keep it alive and well.

Crap like 50 Shades of Grey only reinforces gender inequality by saying bliss is found in submission. Additionally, men also need to stop seeing women as lesser beings that they can dominate protect, which the new Tomb Raider does nothing to correct. Ultimately, both genders should be equals in life. Women shouldn’t hand the reins of power over to men completely and men shouldn’t be intimidated by not being totally in control. Unfortunately, while both genders might reach total equality one day, we still have a long way to go if men and women’s fantasies are anything to go by.

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