You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

This may be the funniest clip ever from Adult Swim's "Robot Chicken," but only for those raised on Star Wars. If you're from Generation X and not watching it, you're doing yourself a disservice.

via videosift.com


Knee-jerk review: "The House Bunny"

1. Very cute.
2. But some might argue that the cuteness factor for the Cheese Fry is affected somewhat by the presence of many attractive actresses. Those people could have a point.
3. Even so, the Cheese Fry has always been fond of college comedies.
4. Anna Farris is way funnier than you'd expect.
5. Hugh Hefner, playing himself, however, is way worse than you'd expect. But give the old guy credit for being such a good sport.
6. But it's really Emma Stone who steals the movie, gawky and sexy at the same time in a way that seems very fresh and very genuine.
7. Cool soundtrack.
8. Where did the girls get the money needed for their extensive makeovers and that incredible Aztec party?
9. "The eyes are the nipples of the face."
10. Biggest laugh-out-loud moment comes when we learn how Farris' character remembers people's names. It's ridiculous, but completely believable.
11. Yeah, it's better than Tropic Thunder, but that movie swung for a home run instead of settling for the nice little double that is The House Bunny.
12. The movie goes a long way in suggesting that girls can only be popular and happy if they ramp up the sex appeal and act dumb... only to finally at the last minute pull out of its sexist dive-bomb to insist that its actually far better to Be Yourself. (Though a little eyeliner and a low-cut blouse can't hurt since you'll have a boyfriend.) There's a women's studies thesis paper in there somewhere.

Knee-jerk review: "Tropic Thunder"

1. Yeah, it's pretty funny in places. But it's also kind of a narrative mess, ping-ponging all over the place. For every broad, silly joke there's a more subtle and clever jab and that makes for a very uneven experience.
2. Why is Jack Black even in this movie? He's completely wasted and rather annoying at that. You cut him out and you wouldn't even miss him.
3. The same goes for the rapper-turned-actor character Alpa Chino. A sort of clever idea that never really pans out. The whole thing feels undercooked.
4. Robert Downey, Jr., however, is the man. You can't stop marveling that someone as good as him is in something as crazy as this.
5. "You m-m-m-m-make me happy." Hilarious. And anyone you tells you it's offensive needs to get over it. The trend of actors seeking awards by playing a handicapped character is what's offensive (see Sean Penn in I Am Sam, Juliette Lewis in The Other Sister, Rosie O'Donnell in Riding the Bus with My Sister, or really, even Tom Hanks in the ridiculously overrated Forrest Gump - all of them doing the kind of mentally handicapped voice that we all mastered in the third grade), not a comedy that mocks that kind of narcissistic pandering.
6. Matthew McConaughey needs to just go away. Don't we all have those secret lists of celebrities whom we'd like to give a one-way ticket to a deserted island? Put him at the top of our list. He no longer even tries to play a character. He's just being Matthew McConaughey, oily and half-stoned.
7. It could be argued that the fake trailers that open the movie are more clever than the movie itself.
8. Danny McBride is a genius.
9. Best sight gag involves a dead panda. Too funny.
10. We should also perhaps discuss Tom Cruise's "cameo" as a fat, balding, profane studio head. Get it? He's, like, totally playing against type! How clever! We can, like, totally forget about how creepy he really is in the real world! If it wasn't so smugly self-congratulatory, so transparent in its attempt to make Cruise seem hip and relevant, it might be halfway amusing. But it's not. Cruise's performance is way over the top and his scenes throw the whole movie out of whack.


Rewind: the Beijing Olympics

Ten things we learned this summer:
1. Michael Phelps is indeed a freak of nature, which was dutifully explained to viewers by NBC via some very cool "Six Million Dollar Man"-style graphics that zoomed in on his freakishly disproportionate arms, legs, and feet. (His oversize ears were not discussed.)
2. Nastia Liukin may be the best U.S. gymnast, but Alicia Sacramone is the hottest.
3. Badminton isn't for kids. It's a high-speed game that requires the sort of agility and fast reflexes anyone reading this probably doesn't have.
4. "I Got Soul but I'm Not a Soldier" is one groovy song that backed up the best Olympic-themed advertisement.
5. There's something elegantly compelling and simple about the footraces. At the Olympics you can't get much more basic than "which of you can run the fastest?"
6. Cheaters can win. Anyone with the vaguest sense of human adolescence could easily see that some of China's gymnasts were no more than 12, way under the age required by the rules. But China put them into competition anyway and the team won gold. Everyone complained, but the Olympics seemed reluctant to "embarrass" the host country with something so rude as an accusation of cheating. Even though the complaints grew to the point that officials finally had to admit that they were looking into it, the Olympics are now long over and whatever sanctions that come down to punish China won't really matter, will they?
7. We don't care at all about millionaire NBA players trying to win a medal in basketball. Whatever.
8. Mary Carillo's cutesy little Beijing human interest stories were cloying and took us away from the games. We tuned in for the athletes, not Mary's husky man voice or her forced interactions with Bob Costas in the NBC studios. This is supposed to be the Olympics, not "The Today Show."
9. High divers go straight to the showers after a dive because the shower water is warm and helps with their muscles.
10. The opening ceremonies were nothing short of amazing. When was the last time something as cheesy as an Olympic opening ceremony got you talking at the water cooler? Yes, there was something vaguely Leni Riefenstahl about the whole thing - the thousands of Chinese performers dancing and marching in perfect "don't mess with us, we have more people than you" unison. And there was also the requisite controversy about the little girl singer who was deemed ugly and replaced by a prettier child who would lip sync the song. But did you see the glowing red drumsticks or the last torchbearer running around the inside of the stadium's upper deck? Brilliant.

Another reason to hate advertising

Earlier this summer the Made to Stick dudes, Dan and Chip Heath, wrote a column in Fast Company about the way advertisers manufacture social stigmas to sell products:

A classic TV commercial for Wisk detergent opens with a housewife closing a suitcase she has packed for her husband. Suddenly, the suitcase springs open, and we hear, seemingly from within the suitcase as if it's possessed, a chorus of devil children shrieking, "Ring around the collar! Ring around the collar!"

Another Wisk ad of that time shows a man on a cruise. He is approached enthusiastically by the female cruise director, who tugs playfully at his collar -- you know, in the way cruise directors are always playfully tugging at your collar. But then she spots his Ring Around the Collar. She recoils, disgusted. Ad Age ranked the Wisk campaign No. 62 in the 100 top advertising campaigns of the 20th century. It's also despicable.

People are incredibly sensitive to social stigmas. The most serious forms -- aimed at a particular race, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation -- are pernicious and destructive. Others, less serious but more plentiful, govern our day-to-day behavior. Think of the way you quickly judge a person who sneezes on a crowded bus without covering up. The Ring Around the Collar message creates an everyday stigma of this kind.

Marketers deliberately construct stigmas for the sake of selling you a solution to the ensuing embarrassment and disgust. They smack you on the head so they can sell you an aspirin for the headache. Why do we put up with this?

If Ring Around the Collar seems laughably old school, a relic of a more naive time, then consider one of the 2008 variations. A commercial in Visa's Check Card campaign shows a deli where people move through the line with elaborate, precise choreography, like a Broadway production number. Customers complete their transactions by swiping the check card, and they all seem delighted to be part of the capitalistic clockwork. That is, until the moment when one misguided schlub pulls out some cash. Then everything comes to a crashing halt. No more dancing, no more delight. The cashier looks disgusted.

Yes, Visa and its ad agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, are trying to make you feel embarrassed for paying for your lunch with cash.

Folks, that takes gall, since for most of the past 30 years, it has been the cash people who have waited patiently for the credit-card people. Remember the guy in front of you a few years back who was trying to buy a 79-cent Fanta Orange with his Visa, and the clerk used the card-imprint machine to grind the raised digits onto the carbon, but the machine didn't work right, so he pulled out a Bic and began microscribing the 16-digit credit-card number into those tiny preprinted boxes? And then he had to call for an approval code. Sheesh.

Sadly, Visa isn't alone in making shame one of our leading exports. Get a load of this astonishing statement in a Strategy + Business article that advised companies how to grow faster in China: "Too often, companies focus on understanding only the current demand of the consumer," wrote Edward Tse, a VP with the consultant Booz Allen Hamilton. "A better course is to anticipate or even create demand. Through smart marketing, Procter & Gamble, for example, created the perception that dandruff -- traditionally a nonissue for the Chinese -- is a social stigma and offered a product (Head & Shoulders antidandruff shampoo) to 'solve' the problem."

Well played, P&G! And, quick, let's get a team from Gillette to solve the Arm Hair Problem in Ecuador! Other marketers should take notes on how to demonize the ordinary. Here's a suggestion for Coca-Cola: "Because who knows where your water has been." For Hallmark: "So he wrote you a love poem. Guess he couldn't afford a card, huh?"

You may be asking, What's the harm? A thoughtful paper from two Columbia University professors on this topic addresses that question. In "Conceptualizing Stigma," Bruce Link and Jo Phelan point out that while stigmatizing certain groups can lead to direct discrimination -- for example, against people regarded as "mentally ill" -- it can also have subtler effects. A depressed woman, for instance, who is aware of the negative perceptions of the mentally ill, may begin to act more cautiously for fear of the way others may respond to her. Stigmas breed self-censorship.

This is precisely the response that the sleazy Visa campaign wants to elicit. Picture yourself in a crowded checkout line. You reach for the cash in your wallet. At that moment, the folks at Visa and TBWA\Chiat\Day hope you'll feel a whisper of shame. The people behind you are cursing under their breath.

That's icky. Stigma should be reserved for people who violate community standards, like people who willfully park in handicap spots. It shouldn't be used as a too-cute-by-half way to peddle some dumb new product.

This is why we need one more stigma: a Ring Around the Collar for badly behaved marketers. Then the vast majority of people responsible for selling products wouldn't use tactics like these. It's time for the marketing community itself to be the first to turn up its nose at people who shamelessly use these techniques to sell creams and detergents and credit cards.


The Sarah Palin situation

Although reports today suggest John McCain's gamble on Sarah Palin may be working for now, last week L.A. Weekly's Marc Cooper looked at what the Palin nomination says about the GOP's predicament and what it might mean for the Republican ticket:

It might have beenthe waterlogged and vengeful ghost of Katrina, materialized in the form of Gustav, that came wisping into St. Paul, effectively shutting down the first night of the GOP's quadrennial multimillion-dollar propaganda show. But it's an uncontrollable Hurricane Sarah that threatens to blow the McCain campaign right into the deep, dark sea.

A rather shameless media swoon set in immediately after Sarah Palin's surprise appointment to the Republican VP spot last Friday. Reporters and anchors jostled each other aside in a race to celebrate the perky Governor What's-Her-Name's predilection for caribou stew, moose pie and children with screwball names. But the honeymoon was short-lived.

What began as a few breezy rumors on the Web soon congealed into a raging Category 5 storm of controversy. Sarah Palin was — within hours — revealed as a perfectly affable but totally laughable and supremely unqualified religious zealot from a three-stoplight town.

By day one of the truncated Republican National Convention, we learned that the governor had recently been a member of a fringe party seeking secession from the U.S.; that her God-fearing, fundamentalist 17-year-old unmarried daughter was carrying a baby; that far from being a Mrs. Smith–type reformer, she vigorously supported an earmark system she now supposedly opposes; that she supported the so-called Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it; that she has lawyered up to rebuff a state investigation into her ethics; that she served as a top official for a political action committee of Senator Ted Stevens, who was indicted on myriad ethics charges; that with the exception of one political visit to Kuwait, she may never have traveled abroad, and that John McCain had met with her just once or maybe twice before giving her the nod.

By day two, as news broke that McCain's vetting party had arrived in Alaska only a day or so before the choice was made, we learned that in the political futures markets, the odds were quickly rising that Governor Palin would soon be purged, packed off to political Siberia and replaced on the ticket.

The Republican Party — especially its ideologically sodden "base" gathered in red-white-and-blue sequined vests and elephant-ears hats in the St. Paul convention hall — was reacting to this catastrophe the same way the old Communist Party USA reacted to the twists and turns of the Hitler-Stalin pact. History aficionados and graying red-diaper babies will recall that back then, the CPUSA obediently parroted whatever the Kremlin line of the day was — no matter how much it zigged or zagged. One day, it was to oppose the Nazi takeover of Germany. Then it was to support Hitler as an ally against British Imperialism. Then it was to ally with the former Imperialists to crush the Nazi invaders. All you had to do was pick up the morning edition of The Daily Worker to find out what to think. Or believe.

So what, then, if Supreme Leader McCain has changed his mind about the whole "experience" thing? For the last six months, we were supposed to be scared witless by the very thought of a dopey Senator Obama picking up the phone at 3 a.m., a pre-convention Clinton argument that McCain happily picked up on. Now, we're supposed to feel secure when Governor Gidget answers the call, puts on her glasses and wakes her hubby to ask if he knows where this Pakee-stan place is that everyone's so worked up about?

No problem, Comrade. Just as there's no problem with this whole teenage-daughter baby thing. All these family-values types, who want to stigmatize and punish errant sinners, are now all lined up to give a beneficent pass to Bristol Palin, who at age 17 couldn't keep her pants on tight enough. Governor Mom says she's "proud" of her kid's decision to keep the baby and marry the father. As if the daughter had a choice. Her fundamentalist family doesn't believe in choice. Indeed, Governor Palin has publicly advocated the criminalization of abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. In short, the same people who scold us not to politicize young Miss Palin's pregnancy, the same people who tell us it is none of our business, are the very same people who want to make it their business, and that of the state and of the criminal justice system, if — God forbid — someone else's kid gets knocked up and wants to abort.

There's nearly a one in five chance that any sitting U.S. president will die in office. McCain, if somehow elected, will be the oldest candidate ever to serve in the White House. He's also had four bouts of cancer. McCain's choice of Palin, then, demonstrates not only a ragged recklessness but is an affront to the entire electorate. Mister Serious, as McCain likes to portray himself, turns out to be a clownish and incompetent fool who thinks the American people are stupid enough to buy the gimmick he's come up with.

I seriously doubt it. Indeed, I think it's time to buy right into that futures betting market, because I can't imagine Palin surviving into and through the scheduled October 2 debate with Joe Biden.

As for the GOP, they'd best take a few hours off from their partying to bone up on the history of the CPUSA. Blind obedience to ideology and unswerving loyalty to leaders turned the CP into little less than a holding tank for geriatrics and Stalinists. And then it quietly, completely unnoticed, disappeared into the darkest recesses of forgotten history.

The hiatus is over!

In television, a "hiatus" refers to a short pause in a show's broadcast schedule when a network temporarily takes an under-performing show off the air for a few weeks. In reality, "hiatus" is code for "cancellation," a kind way of quietly removing a show from the schedule without the humiliation of announcing its been cancelled. It's only after audiences have forgotten about it does the bad news come out.

The good news is that the Cheese Fry has not been cancelled. It really was on an August hiatus.

But now we're back, leaner and meaner than ever. For those handful of people who expressed sadness at our lack of postings... thanks! We didn't know anyone was actually out there.