Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Auto-Tune Culture of America

In an ideal world, the success of an individual would be based on talent and drive. In our world, this is simply not the case. Success can be based on looks, networking, the ability to do absolutely nothing but make sex tapes and act like an idiot, being in the right place at the right time, and any other combination of silly qualities. This becomes more and more true in popular culture with things like reality shows, debutantes and pop music. The fact that Paris Hilton has not been banished to a corner to think about what a no talent slut she is is a testament to the steady downward slide in society's need for anything with real value. (As a disclaimer, I don't really mind the slut part, just the no talent annoying part)

My television is inundated with reality shows that makes me so angry I could punch babies. (ding! New reality show idea.) MTV is the biggest offender. Their programming plan consists of crapping in a bucket and then showing it to you for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From the inane Kardashian show to the even worse Kardashian sisters show, this channel has succeeded in melting the collective IQ down so much that the short bus is now used for kids without special needs. Each show has a pretty basic premise. Sluts, steroid crafted men, lots of flash and money, and scenes set up to look "real." To let you in on a secret, it's not. They script that. Just don't tell MTV I told you or they might send that bitch New York to my house to make me watch her show as punishment.

But TV is not the only source of hellish mind numbing "entertainment." Music has become something that is manufactured in China by underage and underpaid children. Once a formula has been found, every hack in the country with that sound gets a shot at destroying our eardrums and our hope for something with substance.

Now, I am not a fan of pop or hip-hop (at least not today's bastardization of the musical form), but I can admit that there have been people and groups that have come along and created a lasting impression on the world and the art form. But, like all art forms, when something comes along that is profitable it will be copied until we are drowning in it. Take the examples of Britney, Christina and Jessica or NSync, Backstreet Boys, and 98°. They all come out (no pun intended) have huge success which eventually levels out or just fizzles and dies. Then we wait for the next time around, the next big shiny star or the next big fad. Remember pet rocks? I don't, but I have heard about them. People really bought prepackaged rocks. No joke.

A semi-recent development in the "music" industry has been this electronic voice thing that hip-hop "artists" are using called Auto-Tune (or Auto-Tune Vocoder, no one seems to want to say for sure). If you have heard a song by T-Pain, you will know what I am talking about. Forgive me for asking this (or don't), but shouldn't singers be able to sing?

After I heard this guy's first hit single, I was a little annoyed that someone stole Cher's sound from that song she did where the video consisted of her in a leather belt in a "V" shape to cover the stuff no one wanted to see anyway. But, when I heard that this guy was selling hundreds of thousands of albums, I cried. Have you ever seen a grown man cry? It is not pretty. I wasn't crying because my ears were bleeding and begging for mercy, I can handle physical pain. It was T-Pain I couldn't stomach, or rather the fact that people not only listened to this...shit, but spent hard earned money on it. I cried for my loss of hope in society. To believe that people were calling this guy an "artist" made me a bit nauseous. Even though this molestation of musical integrity occurred a few years ago, it has been revisited very recently and regularly.

Since T-Pain raised his middle finger to artistic values in favor of truckloads of money, there have been quite a few others to step on the train and assist in the cheapening of the "talent" in this industry. What really blows me away is the recent AT&T commercial with Mary J. Blige. This woman has numerous hit songs, has sold millions of records, and has a huge fan base that crosses global boundaries. So, why the hell would she treat her multi-million dollar voice like a cheap whore by using one of these ridiculous synthesizing voice thingies? Easy answer? Money mixed in with label pressure or some other stupid thing like that. I guess that wasn't really an easy answer. To be honest, I don't know what would motivate a well established star to do something like that. Perhaps the millions of dollars in her bank account are insufficient, in which case she just sucks. And I am not the only one who thinks so.

Jay-Z, rapper, business dude, all around rich guy, released the track D.O.A (Death of Auto-Tune) where he trashes all of these hip-hop idiots using the auto-tune in their "music."

"You boys jeans too tight, you colors too bright, your voice too light...You rappers singing too much, get back to rap you t-paining too much"

If you can get past the devastation of the English language, the lyrics in this song are pretty much right to the point and successfully say what this whole blog entry has been trying to say, just in a much more ghetto fashion. If one of the biggest dudes in the industry realizes that these idiots are trashing what could be a legitimate art form, then maybe there is hope for fans of actual music.

I realize that the American Dream has become a bit watered down. Instead of working hard to achieve success, we strive to achieve success with as little effort as possible. Thanks to the lack of discerning taste amongst the majority of the country, this is really possible. If we demanded quality and stopped buying the flaming piles of poop sold to us, we would get something with substance. But, as a group, the people of the US are pretty much happy with anything that is new and flashy when it comes to entertainment. Throw in some violence mixed with a bunch of sex and some bling, and you could sell sand in the desert. It's like all of pop-culture is using the Auto-Tune to max out sales instead of creating art that has some depth to it. Anyone could put out a hit song with one of these things and make millions, talent optional, and then make a reality show about how they did it and make billions. With that said, I am heading out to Best Buy, or Radio Shack, and will see you all after I have bought my house in Malibu.

Note: In some cases I was using quotes around words to show that calling them "music" or "artists" is just an insult to real music and actual artists.

DOA lyrics

Friday, July 31, 2009

Profiting from Our Ignorance

The Hollywood diet, Atkins, pills, plastic surgery, gastric bypass, proper diet and activity. Just like in Sesame Street, which of these things does not belong?

Our country is insane. Every street corner is littered with fast food chains, yet the image of what is attractive is impossibly skinny. It's like giving a kid candy and telling him not to eat it. We are the most overweight population in the world, but we sell our women as being size 0. Millions of people watch football while they eat chips and drink beer (wings, wings are my fav). What the hell are we doing? Instead of changing our habits we look to science, who is only too willing to answer our prayers, and try to find that quick fix. Every new-excuse-to-make-poor-choices gimmick that comes out reaps billions of dollars, and there is something new all the time.

They (they being the diet industry that milks our wallets like the hungry little piglet it is) have recently discovered the answer to many people's quest for a wonder cure and it has to do with brown fat, this nifty little bit of tissue that burns energy, unlike white fat, and could be used to combat obesity. Now if I were psychic, which I am, I would say that this awesome discovery will come at us with a huge price, like all of the other obesity wonder cures that are out there. And like all of those other cures, it will come with another excuse for us to sit on our asses and eat whatever grease soaked, oil fried, chemically abundant, sugar covered crap we want and then bitch that we can't get out of the lazy boy. The answer to our problem is not drugs or manufactured fat.

The problem is that we eat too much and move too little and this is only half of our health conundrum. The other half involves a shrinking self image. Teeny little women called "movie stars" have created a false ideal of what attractive is. Combine this with a bombardment of "food" that barely resembles actual nourishment and a lack of education about real nutrition and we have a problem. The question is, who is to blame?

Our parents didn't teach us the right way to eat, how to monitor calories, how to get outside and play.

The restaurant industry refuses to work out healthier options and get rid of the Blooming Onions (2310 calories!!) and feed us the right way.

The government is not getting involved in how we eat and what is available to us. If they would just regulate the food industry, then we wouldn't have to think for ourselves.

No, I think the problem lies within ourselves. We know what is good and what is bad. We know what will happen to our waist line when we enjoy a bit of chocolate cake, but we also know how good that slice of cake tastes (352 calories a slice, damn you you delicious chocolaty treat).

The problem seems to lie in the balancing of being good and being bad. We are not a country that is good at finding a balance.

It is a sad statement that the following statistics are real:
  • Nine percent of 9-year-olds admit to having vomited in an attempt to lose weight.
  • Forty-two percent of first-, second-, and third-grade girls say they want to be thinner.
  • Fifty-three percent of 13-year-old girls say they are unhappy with their bodies.
  • Seventy-eight percent of 18-year-old girls say they are unhappy with their bodies.
Nine year old girls are worried about their weight!?! Nine year old girls should be worried about things like school, or cooties (do those exist anymore?), not ways to be skinnier. Then again, can you blame them? When the Jennifer Love Hewitt or that Kardashian chick have been labeled as fat, what hope does a teenage girl going through massive hormonal changes possibly have? The bar has been set in America for females to be no bigger than a size 2 with body fat under 20% (and I am being generous there). That is just stupid. A healthy percentage for women is in the 21 - 30% range, depending on age. This image of the perfect woman has driven over 8 million females to develop eating disorders.

The drive for women to look a certain way is fueled by everyone. The media displays models and actresses who are unnaturally thin. Men drool over said women. Women do that thing that women do that make other women feel self-conscious. (I am a man, attempting to describe what women think would be like discussing quantum mechanics.)

We are all to blame, but how do we change it? Damn good question. We could change media standards to show more women of normal size. We could all learn to accept each other for who we are on the inside. We could also all go around in burlap sacks. Maybe if we just realized that this size zero woman is not a good idea, that it is unnatural, unhealthy and unattainable for 99% of our population, then something would change.

I just don't get the need for us to alter our bodies in such a drastic way to be considered attractive. But, then again, as a man I am not subject to such harsh ideals. I know, WTF?

Now for the other side of the scale; we, as a country, are overweight.

Fast food spends billions in advertising its calorie dense, nutritionally lacking food to the American public, and we love it. The double cheeseburger craving I get every few months could be likened to crack, if crack were two mostly-beef patties with processed cheese, pretend onions and pickles between two halves of a highly refined and processed hamburger bun. Good thing McDonald's restaurants can be found world wide, and in hospitals, airports, college campuses, and in the bathroom of Starbucks (which would put them on every corner of everywhere). With nearly every state in the country becoming more than 30% obese, we may have a problem here, but with fast food restaurants pulling in between 250K to 2 million a year, I don't see them stepping down. (56% of Ohioans are overweight or obese, 13% of the population exercise for 30mins 3x/week)

The drive for the dollar outweighs the drive for social responsibility. If Burger King would just serve health conscious food, we would be all good. If the mighty government would get in and say, "hey, you naughty fast food vendors, stop serving crap and marketing it so damn well" then we would never have to think about it. Better yet, if each one of us stopped and said, "I don't really need a Baconator (830 calories, 450 of which are from fat), I think I will grab something with some actual nutritional value," then off down the road to a better, healthier America we would go.

Stop for a minute and think. The crap that goes into all the crap food is about as good for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes. The difference being, cigarettes can give you cancer. Eating like shit can give you diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, liver problems, sleep apnea, and pregnancy complications (http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/health_risks.htm). And before anyone thinks it, the answer is no. I don't think that fast food or processed food should be banned like the aforementioned cigarettes. We just need to get smart. Healthier food may be a little more expensive but it is a false economy in comparison to the costs of obesity related disease down the road – medical insurance companies are also laughing all the way to the bank! You wouldn’t put a mixture of sludgy crap with a dash of petrol in your car why do that to your body?!

A woman I work with has lost nearly 40 lbs without any artificial help. No drugs, no crash diets, no brown fat injections. She decided to take responsibility for herself and her hand-to-mouth movements, lose the weight and did. (In fact, if you are a bit lazy like me, it is nice to know that she didn't even get into a workout program.) The plan was simple, check the labels and count the calories. That's it.

It may not be easy, but it is that simple.

I know that you will be shocked when you start to read the labels on the food you eat. There is so much that we don't know, and not because it isn't available. Getting healthy is in our hands, and for everything out there promoting fast food there are a dozen resources to show the alternatives. I'm not saying that the occasional piece of super awesome chocolate cake with chocolate icing is out, even Jillian Michaels has said that it's all about moderation. I am saying that it is important to find the balance.

So, why all the drugs?

Our pharmaceutical businesses love the work we are giving them (40 billion dollars worth, http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2008/01/the_diet_indust.htm). Diet pills fill shelves with promises of fast results. The fact that these miracles only work with proper diet and exercise is mentioned in the microscopic print at the bottom of your television screen. The really amazing thing is, proper diet and exercise will work all by itself and you wouldn't have sold your first born for a bunch of pills that just make you poop a lot (which would be better than the heart attack that is an awesome side effect of some). There is even evidence that these pills don't work as well as they advertise. Five of the leading diet-drug pill manufacturers have been taken to court for using fitness models in their before and after shots. They were taking post-pregnancy pictures of models with their baby weight, paying them to train like crazy for 12 weeks and then taking the after shots.

We are killing ourselves with extremes. Too many are eating too much or too little. Yes, the media plays a big part in this, but remember that they only show us what the research says we want to see. If interest in healthy living becomes profitable, that is what we will see. Just take a look at the popularity of shows like The Biggest Loser, people losing weight with healthy lifestyle changes. No more images of a size 0 starlet sending our little girls to the toilet, or the psychiatrist. There will be less food with nothing to offer us and we will all be living on rainbows in peace and happiness. We control it. It is in our hands.

For a personal trip down the weight loss trail read The Fractured Anecdote - 10000 lbs.
An awesome website that offers free help: sparkpeople.com

For more on the diet pill and its effects check out: http://health.howstuffworks.com/health-illness/treatment/medicine/medications/diet-pill3.htm.

For more on brown fat: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/45988/title/Creating_fat_that_burns_calories

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Has God Become a Scapegoat?

What the hell is going on? I live in a country run by a black man? The United States, the country that used to import human beings for the purpose of slavery from the continent where our president's dad was born, is run by a black man. And not only is he black, but his mother is white. This is a bitch slap in the face of all the racist shit heads that populate this nation. Ignorance may still be ahead on the score board, but at least intelligence is making a come back.

How the hell can we be so damn powerful when this country is full of such idiots? Sure, the country's IQ took a massive jump when Howdy Doody left the white house, but I don't think it was just his fault that we have become a bit of a laughing stock on the global playground. We eat too much, move around less than we take a moment to think, and we believe we are right. All the time. No matter what.

Every good citizen will wave their flags and sing lame country songs full of patriotism when it comes time to "free" the citizens of another country from its overbearing oppressors. (See what I did there? I put quotes around free. Get it, cuz it's bullshit) But, when it comes time to look at the oppressed groups in this country, the one these people actually live in, the only thing you will hear are crickets. For a long time it was black people that got the guff of the our prejudice. Women enjoyed being less than men for a long time as well, a really long time in fact. And Jews...forget about it. In terms of being on the losing end of the stick, they are the Cleveland Browns of social classification. But now, thank God, it is considered naughty to direct your hate at these groups of people. It is this same God that has said that we should not judge, lest we be judged, so therefore we shall open our arms and realize that all are our brothers and sisters. Unless your gay. That is just wrong, God says so. If He says it's bad, than it must be really, really, really bad. He tells us about it in the Bible. You know that book written 500 years after Jesus Christ had bid us his final Adieu, twice. That same book that underwent a translation from original texts, which means succumbing to one group's interpretation. Following that interpretation have been thousands and thousands of rewrites, edits and re-interpretations, all of which were done by people. That's right people. Those nasty buggers that are genetically inclined to put bias into anything they do.

We can't help it, it's who we are.

So, I ask you, who is it that says being gay is bad? God or human?

I am sure some of you will still say God, and that is your right as a human. But what about that part where God says that he is the only one who is allowed to judge? Where does that come in when you are telling Mike and Ike that they can't get married because they are sinners?

And who was it that said that the African slaves were less than human? Or that women were less than men? Wasn't that God too?

God has become less than a deity, he has become a scapegoat. We blame our ignorance on Him. (I am using the royal "we" in this case. I usually blame my ignorance on myself, or public schooling, whichever happens to fit at the time.) I wouldn't be surprised if He hadn't thrown in the celestial towel a long time ago. "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

We have to move on. We must progress. If our country keeps grasping for God and Guns than we have not evolved much from the cavemen who didn't have the understanding of the world that we have and looked to gods to do things like bring rain and used violence to solve disputes. And who the hell are we to tell anyone how to live? This circle of trust deal, where everyone is alright as long as they believe what I believe, is done. So, get your head out your ass and look around. We have gone global and that means different opinions, cultures and religions will be available en masse. I think there was another time in our history when this country was inundated with something very similar. People coming to America to be free, bringing with them all of their different...stuff. The very things which made our country great will make it better and the people that hold on to the past like a leaking life raft will end up like Leo at the end of Titanic.

"Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Justify denials and grip 'em to the lonesome end.
Clutch it like a cornerstone. Otherwise it all comes down.
Terrified of being wrong. Ultimatum prison cell.

Saturn ascends, choose one or ten. Hang on or be humbled again."

-The Grudge, Tool, Lateralus