Thursday, March 26, 2015

BBC Prepares for a Top Gear Without Jeremy Clarkson

With the sacking of Top Gear's divisive host Jeremy Clarkson, the BBC has likely put itself into an even less tenable position than on the various occasions Lord Hall has defended the brilliant oaf. Of course, the decision had to come down in the face of Clarkson's assault on producer Oisin Tymon; violence in the workplace is generally grounds for dismissal in just about every first world nation.

The victim, Oisin Tymon. C'mon, you're thinking of punching him right now, too.

Whether he's in the middle of some kind of break down or simply a product of power-mad psychopathy (probably a tad of both) nobody can ever get away with abusing their colleagues and their subordinates. There's clearly something going on if you're socking peopling in the mouth over cold cuts - this excerpt from a story about Clarkson's feud with Piers Morgan may shed some light:

From Business Insider.

There's no mistaking the popularity and hence incredible profitability of Top Gear, the show about cars that's managed to entertain and captivate people who don't even care about cars - while also gaining the distinction of "Most Watched Factual Program in the World" according to the Guinness Book of World Records

By the numbers:
  • Sold to 214 territories worldwide 
  • Over three million YouTube subscribers 
  • Over 19 million Facebook fans 
  • Over one million Twitter followers
  • Top Gear Magazine global circulation: 1.67 million 
  • Over 4 million unique users on every month 
  • Half a billion page views in the last year
  • Over 8.9 million downloads of Top Gear game apps 
  • Over 1.5 million visitors to Top Gear Live

What does a post-Clarkson BBC look like, as it's presumed that Top Gear's co-hosts will be reluctant to continue without him? After all, James May observed in an off the cuff interview yesterday that the lads are something of a package deal:

Perhaps we can clumsily forecast what may lay ahead for the BBC by drawing some parallels to another national broadcaster from across the pond in Canada. Top Gear is the BBC's cash cow and any significant loss in its audience, as a predictable mutiny is sure to follow Clarkson to his next gig, is going to have an affect on thousands of employees at the BBC, let alone the show's vast production team. Likewise the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has been rocked to its foundation after the loss of its Golden Goose. 

Canadians love hockey, and for nearly a century, CBC's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast coverage of NHL games which were central to the company's bottom line;  a guaranteed audience and season-long programming.

Last year the CBC, plagued with government cutbacks, didn't (or couldn't) make a bid to maintain a lion's share of the NHL broadcasting rights, and those rights were successfully snapped up by Rogers Communication (Canada's version of Omni Consumer Products) in a deal worth $5.2 Billion - that's a Carl Sagan Billion.

2014, the last CBC owned broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada

The result for Canadian hockey fans was generally pretty positive as it meant access to more games through cable and, crucially, digital/internet sources, but the CBC lost all ad revenue from Hockey Night in Canada. How much of an impact did losing that stream of cash have on the already struggling national broadcaster? Well, the tally includes another 1,500 layoffs YESTERDAY, which according to the Financial Post equates to "the third major round of job cuts in five years after...up to 800 workers in 2009 and about 650 employees in 2012."

But they did get broadcasting rights to the 2018 and 2020 Olympic Games there's almost four weeks of programming over four years...

It's a blow that has seen the national broadcaster undergo a drastic restructuring (not helped by one of their most valuable personalities turning out to have been, like the BBC's Jimmy Savile, a vicious rapist, sorry, "allegedly" but yeah he did it). So drastic in fact that entire swaths of the company have moved into a digital format supplemented largely by content produced by outside contractors including, well, yours truly. 

Say, on an unrelated note, why not swing on over to CBC Punchline and enjoy the side-splitting comedy of Michael Allen & Mark Junop? These two crazy kids will have you busting a gut! And to see more, just click the banner ad to your left!

So if the question is does Top Gear have a future, of course as a BBC property it does, albeit obviously in some re-imagined form that likely won't include Richard Hammond or James May and most certainly will never repeat their level of success with the program.

I'd be more concerned with the general future of the BBC, a network, which like Canada's CBC, kind of sort of has already been guilty of abdicating their journalistic responsibilities when they opted out of publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons after the January attack in France, thus proving that terrorism works.

With Clarkson's contract in the shredder and without knowing what, if any non-compete, intellectual property rights and particulars are riddled throughout May and Hammond's contracts (which are all up this month), who's to say the phone hasn't been ringing with offers to produce a three-hander, car-themed entertainment/travel show. Who, I dare wonder, could front the cash for such an enormously profitable series in some kind of multiple-region, digital format...?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Fall of the House of Cosby

The highest profile celebrity scandal that is currently unfolding is the case of Bill Cosby who is facing accusations from more than 30 women who claim the comedian sexually assaulted them with incidents alleged to have occurred well over the span of his career. Naturally the responses have been as strong as they have been varied from shock and outrage to clumsy and often irresponsible journalism and even biting satire.

But the most interesting response has been the staunch doubling down of support for those who hold the accused in high regard. I'm referring not to the passive, reasonable members of the public who weigh the preponderance evidence and at some point re-consider their support after a certain threshold is crossed. (Those people are represented by opinion polls that slowly waiver as headlines unfold).

The kind of supporters I mean are the ones who hide behind the phrase "he hasn't been charged with anything!" This strain of the public seems to operate under the impression that their man is the underdog in the story and immediately seek alternate explanations that at first boarder on the improbable but soon balloon into full-fledged conspiracy theories.

Last year, Toronto had its conservative crack smoking mayor who was ultimately defeated at the polls last October, but not without a virulent population who deflected and denied all of their heroes ill deeds in the face of overwhelming evidence. The court of public opinion weighed heavily against him, a nucleus of die-hard adherents closed ranks around their besieged Mayor and claimed he was the victim of various left-wing conspiracies. Even when the man admitted on live television to smoking crack, the cognitive dissonance simply doubled down.

In Bill Cosby's circumstance, the accusations are vastly more serious however a similar phenomena of denial swirls around the man as he continues a North American stand up tour. The tone of this support may not be as shrill as those who defended Canada's most reckless mayor but the language is the same and the implications more damning.

One hand, (public opinion notwithstanding) innocence until proven guilty in a court of law must always remain the standard of justice in any criminal case let alone sexual assault. At the same time, the protection of victims who come forward is equally vital for there to be any case at all. Siding with Cosby in the face of 35 women who have spoken on record and in the case of Lise-Lotte Lublin, attempting to change state laws surrounding the statute of limitations, is to do more damage than believe in a conspiracy to bring down this man.

Allegations of this magnitude and quantity are met with suspicion or contempt the underlying reasons appear painfully familiar. Doubting the women's accounts or flat-out condemning them as liars looking for their fifteen-minutes of fame is hard to mistake for anything other than blatant misogyny and part of what many feminists refer to as "rape culture."

Bill Cosby is a grown man and quite wealthy; he can afford to face such allegations and doesn't need members from the general public to engage in disturbing mental gymnastics in his defense. It's one thing to reserve judgment until someone has their day in court, it's quite another to entertain the idea that 35 women would endure such a horrific, public and humiliating ordeal that is sure to last years whether it goes through the courts or not, and all for the sake of a book deal or mere cash settlement. Simply put, there are easier ways to earn a buck than lying about one of the worst crimes a human being can commit upon another.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Top Ten Offensive Tweets in Only Four Words

So the internet finally gave up with trying to figure out what colour #TheDress is and instead moved one to a delightfully deranged attempt to break the internet through vulgarity and filth.

#OffendEveryoneIn4Words swept like a tsunami of inappropriate ideas, despicable images, and horrifying innuendo across Twitter and only using of course, four words.  And for your viewing pleasure, these were the ten best of the worst:

#10. Snap, take that every kid who's been struck with "rapid aging disease;" - there was usually one of them on Maury Povich every week before he focused on the mating habits of the American poor.

#9. Although Urban Bomb Works looses points for the extra commentary after the hashtag, I have to admit I cannot imagine speaking those words aloud let along typing them one keystroke at a time.

#8. These foodies tied for the sheer audacity. Whereas the first few hours of OffendEveryoneIn4Words were filled with the predictable "Hitler did nothing wrong," this pseudo POTUS almost cut a little too close to the bone.

#7. One of the better religious-themed Tweets, Mrs. Betty Bowers managed to bitch-slap the world with her pie chart and offer a suggestion for those still bickering about the "One Nation Under Goid" line in the Pledge of Alegience." In one Tweet she managed to piss on the Christian majority and rile up a few Islamists simply for being a woman using a computer.

#6. Check out this triple threat of bad taste.  I always thought General Veers was a tough but fair man doing his job to rid the galaxy of Rebel scum. Now I see he's all about victim blaming.

#5. Way to get a little extra mileage out of Dakota Johnson's "omg super offensive ISIS sketch" form Saturday Night Live. This baby was still trending on its own a day after the show aired. Some twits just can't take a joke.

#4. Keeping with the oh so easy task of offending Islamist Extremists, Lalapuj offered this before and after of a Mohammed inspired makeover. Another two-pointer for the praising of a fashion style so controversial not even feminists have an opinion on it.

#3. The @towbinator sure knows how stir shit up with his lady-friends.  This is the kind of image that shows up in the Facebook feed of an acquaintance and depending on whatever your political and social views are this year, you either un-friend or secretly wish you could "like" it but your sister the social justice warrior, completing her masters in gender studies, will crucify you.

#2. Oh snap! Dead celebrity humour- bonus points for the hashtag within a hashtag, very Inception.

And the number one most offensive post trending with the #OffendEveryoneIn4Words goes to Naughty Jim:

#1. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Nobody Gives Good Interview Anymore: PART 1

There was a time before cable news channels. A time when network news programs like 60 minutes reined supreme.  It was the golden age of the interview, before the proliferation of cable news pundits whose interviews dissolve into barking cacophonies of accusations. The world we live in is not much of an exaggeration from the one in which James Franco's impudent Dave Skylark scores an exclusive sit-down with Kim Jong Un.

In our cable wasteland, we're served a buffet of low-hanging fruit. Reality TV stars and rich men who have cheated on their wives used to be a guilty pleasure, an amusing aside to fill the gaps between a coveted sit-down with a head of state, or an author of some work that was shaking up the social consciousness.

Not only has the quality of guests dropped in the last, say fifteen years, now one is hard-pressed to see an interviewer take the guest to task with serious questions. Instead of either backing a cantankerous subject into a corner until they break as did Richard Nixon in his one on one with Robert Frost, or lulling a flighty personality into a state of vulnerable revelations, most appearances are carefully coordinated marketing tools.

That's not to say that TV appearances and the the sit down interview format hasn't always been used by the subject as good publicity (no one would appear unless they thought it was good for them). What used to count as a seismic event on the journalism landscape, now is replicated ad nausea with a journalistic facade.

Perhaps no one person did more to establish an interview style that became a standard than Mike Wallace.  From his earliest days on CBS sparring with Ayn Rand to his seasoned conversations with Louis Farakhan, Wallace developed a technique of questioning that was simultaneously tough and unfiltered; while confrontational, he was never disrespectful.

This was the style that characterized 60 Minutes and colleagues including Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. While most of their subjects were newsworthy individuals, the distribution was a diverse spectrum of statesmen, celebrities, murder suspects, witnesses to history, etc. Meanwhile it was the style of other programs such as the news format in which Larry King presented guests, along with the rise of daytime talk shows that parlayed the format into info-tainment.

Celebrities visited the The Tonight Show while authors and politicians were the domain of network news specials. The Larry King style of interview differed greatly from the traditional Mike Wallace school of questioning in an important way.  Whereas Wallace was a newsman, Larry King's style was to let the guests, almost all entertainers, ramble on with little guidance and almost completely unchallenged.  It was no different than an appearance on The Dick Cavet Show except it was presented in a news format. 

Since then isn't just the format that's changed for better or for worse, but also the very criteria for who gets to be a "news-maker..."

Up next: The birth of Entertainment Tonight, our obsession with serial killers, sex tapes, To Catch a Predator and the ambush interview.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Auschwitz: Humanity's Darkest Hour

It was seventy years ago today that a Russian rifle division arrived upon a scene of abandoned horror outside the town of Auschwitz in southern Poland. Having fled the camp with nearly 60,000 prisoners on a death march across the frozen countryside, the S.S. had left behind the weak, sick and the dying as the Soviet forces swept toward Berlin.

Although not the first of its kind discovered by the Allies, the city-sized camp at Auschwitz testified to the scope of the Nazis "Final Solution" for the Jews of occupied Europe.  This was a factory for extermination unrivaled in scale and capacity for murder. It remains today a symbol of the pernicious tumult of human ignorance in the service of entropy.

The camp stands today in preservation, a museum open to hundreds of thousands of visitors who walk the grounds. Those who do visit often are overwhelmed not only by the atrocities committed, but by the sheer scale.

At 40 square kilometers, the massive factory of death easily encompassed
the downtown of a major metropolis.

A self-contained city unto itself, the camp was erected first as a concentration camp for political prisoners and gradually expanded in size and mandate over the course of the Second World War. By 1944, the sole purpose of Auschwitz was mass murder in gas chambers upon arrival of prisoners including 1.1 million Jews.

Now 70 years on from the horrors of the Holocaust, what endures are the testimonies of those who survived. Their stories and more importantly, the lives they went on to live, and lives that have come after them down the generations, are the cumulative if solemn victory over the darkness that nearly destroyed civilization.

In the second decade of the 21st century, our world remains rife with ideologies which seek no compromise, premised on irreconcilable absolutes. We face the dilemma of keeping vigilant against the obligation to intervene in the affairs of other nations ravaged by genocide. As we face these horrors in our own time, we can never forget, nor minimize the reality entombed in the soil of Auschwitz.