Brigham Young University has shot itself in the foot — right in the middle of a race.
The Daily Herald (my daytime employer, though I had nothing to do with the story) broke the news Tuesday night that starting center Brandon Davies will not complete the season because he violated the school’s Honor Code. The news is a big blow. And though I can’t make a decent prediction about the consequences of the news, nothing good can come if it.
But while Davies obviously let down his team and community, an equal share of culpability goes to BYU for its opaque enforcement of a bizarre and arcane set of rules. In other words, Davies screwed up because he broke the rules, but BYU did the same when — by implementing and enforcing those rules — it set the stage for Davies’ failure.
MTV’s recent announcement that the cast of Jersey Shore will head to Italy has brought mostly groans and grimaces from the blogosphere. But what many people may not realize is that crew of self-proclaimed guidos and guidettes has already been in what MTV described as the “birthplace of culture” for some time.
Before last summer, I had never seen Jersey Shore, nor did I even know anyone who watched it (or, at least, who admitted to watching it). Despite the hype and the controversy, it seemed like just another bunch of clowns in a house — entertaining, perhaps, but ultimately pretty boring too.
But then, over the summer, I went on a trip. To Italy. And I got hooked.
This week Glee creator Ryan Murphy lashed out at indie superstars Kings of Leon for declining the show’s request to use their song “Use Somebody.” In addition to calling the band names and sounding like a spoiled three-year-old, Murphy made one curious and bizarre accusation: by turning down the chance to have a song on Glee, Kings of Leon hate arts education.
Brushing aside the obvious — that Glee is a for-profit TV show, not a school or charity — Murphy’s temper tantrum surprised me. After all, I genuinely never thought Glee was an altruistic endeavour to promote the arts. The mean-spirited characters, all the screen time spent on personal drama, and the perky-but-bitter tone led me to believe the show was aiming for satire, not didacticism. If it genuinely wanted to promote the arts, there are a lot of things it could do, but showing sexy twenty-somethings playing teenagers being mean to each other isn’t one of them.
Of course, there’s no doubt that Glee might make someone want to sing (or that it can be a fun watch). But how is it any better at that mission than other programs, like High School Musical? In fact, the satirical character of the show probably renders it less effective in that regard than more straight-faced media about the arts. I’d rather watch Glee than High School Musical any day, but I also wouldn’t necessarily use it as a marketing tool for the arts. In the end, if Glee exists just to hook people on singing, then it is truly an epic failure.
BYU has an image problem, but it doesn’t seem to know it. Or maybe it just doesn’t care.
On the university’s home page recently — as well as in the alumni email I got earlier this month — I read about a new study by professors Jason Carroll and Brian Willoughby that argues that waiting until marriage to have sex benefits couples later on. The study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
The study was probably legit. It was published in a reputable journal, and my experience as a student at BYU (for more years than I care to admit) was that professors genuinely try to do serious scholarly work.
But whatever the study actually included, the uber-popular news website Gawker discovered it and expressed suspicion over how the scientific research “hews so closely to the Mormon church’s position on sex before marriage.”
All organizations draw some flack from time to time, but the point Gawker makes is one worth taking seriously. After all, if BYU wants to be a top tier school, an example to other institutions, and a leader in the sciences, perception does matter. And Gawker, though not the biggest media portal out there, is a major news player. In reality, many more people have undoubtedly read the Gawker piece than have or will read the study itself.
Watching TV shows months or years after they air can mean missing out on the culture’s zeitgeist, but it can also provide a chance to see otherwise overlooked pop culture connections. Like, for example, the one I just noticed between the wild events in the life of Randy and Evi Quaid and the TV show 30 Rock.
In case you haven’t been following the story, Randy Quaid was once a respected actor. He has been nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy, and he won a Golden Globe (although I’m still not quite convinced that means anything these days.) He’s most famous for playing Cousin Eddy in some National Lampoon movies, though those under 30 may know him better as that crazy drunk pilot in Independence Day.
For reasons no one claims to understand, Quaid and his wife Evi have literally gone crazy. After living the high life and subsequently falling on hard times, Quaid walked away from a starring role in a Broadway play — a role Vanity Fair said would have been a comeback and a “coup” for the actor — two weeks before it was to begin in 2008, was banned for life from the stage actors’ union, and was arrested several times. He and his wife are currently charged with all sorts of things, from burglary to fraud to squatting.
Stars implode all the time, but what makes the Quaids’ story so interesting is that earlier this year the couple fled to Canada and began saying a group called the “Hollywood Star Whackers” was after them. Supposedly the group is trying to kill them, but it’s also behind a vast conspiracy that has engineered most of the couple’s financial and legal troubles. The Quaids also say the Hollywood Star Whackers are responsible for the deaths of David Carradine, Heath Ledger and others.
The Quaids and the alleged conspiracy out to kill them have attracted a fair amount of media attention. And, for people on the lam, the duo has been remarkably easy to find. They’ve been profiled and talked about, and the January issue of Vanity Fair includes a lengthy piece for which writer Nancy Jo Sales hung out with the couple in Vancouver for a while. (The Vanity Fair piece mentions that the Quaids even pitched a reality show based on their recent escapades escaping the law and would-be assassins.)
Theories about the Quaids’ collapse range from drugs to mental illness, and the Vanity Fair piece seems to faintly endorse the popular theory that Evi is somehow at fault. But while any or all of those explanations may fit, there is a much simpler one: 30 Rock.
More specifically, during the show’s first season episode “Cleveland,” star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) finds out that Bill Cosby hates him and, subsequently, that an evil group of African-Americans called the “Black Crusaders” is trying to destroy him. As a result, he has to give up his life in New York to go on the run.
Though similar premises have been used before (and though things eventually work out for Tracy Jordan), the similarities between the 30 Rock episode and the Quaids’ story are worth a double take. Both plots hinge on the existence of a ridiculously named cabal of evildoers; both involve struggling stars hiding out in remote locations; and, in both cases, the people surrounding the targeted stars don’t really believe in the evil group.
Obviously there are also a lot of differences between the Quaids’ story and the 30 Rock episode. But a lot of the things that differ — the motivations of the evildoers, the place chosen for the hideout, etc. — wouldn’t have worked for the Quaids, even if they had wanted them too.
There are also other reasons to suspect a Quaid-30 Rock connection. For example, “Cleveland” originally aired on April 19, 2007. That was about a year after Randy filed a $10 million lawsuit against the producers of Brokeback Mountain — he said he was misled to believe that it was an indie film when it wasn’t, but perhaps he was already in financial trouble — and about a year before his more serious legal problems and arrests began in earnest.
In other words, if the Quaids were looking for a script to guide their escape from trouble, they could very well have been looking around the time the episode aired. (The 30 Rock season one DVDs came out in September 2007, which might even have been better timing and which means the Quaids could have seen “Cleveland” at any subsequent time.)
One of the most surprising things about this situation is that any potential connection between the Quaids and 30 Rock hasn’t really been talked about in the media. Aside from a few user comments on entertainment blogs and Internet magazines, my Google searches couldn’t even find anywhere that mentioned the Quaids’ name and 30 Rock on the same page. Perhaps some blogger out there has made this point before, but it appears no one in the mainstream media has spent any time on this connection, either seriously or in jest.
And in the end, I have no idea what is going on with the Quaids other than that their strange behavior bears an uncanny resemblance to an episode of a popular TV show. Did the couple watch 30 Rock and rip off the story? Is this particular plot so elemental that the similarities unfolded independently? Were the Quaids influenced by some earlier film/text/media, perhaps one that also influenced the 30 Rock writers? Or could the Quaids genuinely be crazy — or even telling the truth?
Perhaps only time, lawsuits, and police investigations will tell. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep my eye on Tina Fey and company for clues about where the Quaids might be headed next.
With 2010 fading fast in the rear-view mirror, it’d be easy to call the year a coup for Kanye West: his latest album is getting buckets of acclaim — including here at Rhombus — and everyone pretty much agrees the guy is a one-of-a-kind maestro. But while we all rap his praises, it’s worth keeping in mind that West was, not so long ago, in serious PR trouble.
Consider: In 2006, West stated on national TV that President Bush didn’t care about black people. Though many probably privately agreed, the moment brought West a lot of negative press. And because he didn’t subsequently present any cohesive political message, the moment seemed more like an impulsive rant than anything else.
2006 was also the year West began using awards shows to torpedo his public image. When that year’s Grammys were announced, West forwent normal celebrity psuedo-humility by declaring that he should win Album of the Year. West also rushed the stage at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, and hinted that racism was a reason he didn’t headline at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards.
And of course, there was his infamous and unforgettable stage-rush during Taylor Swift’s speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
If you’re any kind of glitzy award show junky, you’ve probably heard the Golden Globes referred to as the “pre-Oscars,” an “Academy Award bellweather,” or something to that effect. Basically, the Golden Globes get cast as the slummy, early predictor of their bigger, better cousins. And looking at this years nominations its obvious why: they nominate every freaking movie that comes out.
Like the Oscars tend to do, this year’s Golden Globe nominations include their fair share of stately movies most people never see — The King’s Speech and Black Swan — and wider release prestige films — Inception, The Social Network. (The Fighter probably falls somewhere in between.) These films are nominated in the “drama” category, and are pretty typical. 2009’s best dramas, according to the Globes, were Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Revolutionary Road. While some of these movies blow, for the most part they could all have been considered Oscar bait.
Wandering the information superhighway lately, I discovered this recent video made by BYU’s Divine Comedy called “Provo, UT Girls.”
As Glee episodes go, this week’s “A Very Glee Christmas” isn’t bad. The songs make more sense, a few characters — notably Sue — experience actual development, and there aren’t an abundance of awkward moments.
But besides raising the bar slightly for the show, the episode is also notable for the conspicuously secular approach it brings to what is ostensibly a religious holiday. Given the show’s willingness to address faith in the marvelously titled but poorly executed “Grilled Cheesus” episode, that approach is surprising. It also scores a big secular win for the so-called “war on Christmas,” that perennial conflict between fanatics on the Christian right who want to plug Jesus into the holiday, and their liberal counterparts who feel that thinking about a guy getting kicked around and tortured to death dampens the most wonderful time of the year.
The most obviously secular part of “A Very Glee Christmas” is the song selection. Though some of the greatest — and oldest — Christmas songs are either hymns or religious in origin, no member of New Directions sings them. Instead, they perform a series of classic Christmas-special hits like “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year,” a couple of numbers from the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a song by The Carpenters (just to make sure there is at least one really lame moment in the episode.)
But song selection isn’t the only secular part of the show. Significantly, Rachel and Puck, two Jewish characters, and Kurt, a formerly anti-religious zealot, show no qualms about partaking in all the seasonal cheer. And while Rachel explains her participation to Finn as just wanting to do something he enjoys, her justification basically boils down to saying, “I might not be a Christian, but what does that have to do with celebrating Christmas?”
And that seems to be the takeaway message. The episode argues that no matter who you are, what you believe in, or how you live, Christmas is for you. In essence, it’s an extension of Glee’s larger multicultural thesis, which is generally admirable.
When it comes to Christmas, however, that idea is also controversial. Every year, people get up in arms about companies using words like “holidays” and “season” instead of “Christmas.” Others lament the commercialization of the holiday, or militantly try to impose Christian symbolism on pagan icons like wreaths and evergreen trees. In “A Very Glee Christmas,” however, those are the very things that matter. Glee’s holiday is all about physical ephemera.
None of this is to say the episode isn’t charming. It really is. The story is also largely about giving, charity and kindness, things that Christians and non-Christians alike tend to value. For those of us who delight mostly in the commercial gaudiness of the season, the episode might even be memorable enough to watch again next year. But for anyone who feels that our modern holiday has strayed from its course, “A Very Glee Christmas” must surely be evidence of one thing: the war on Christmas is far from over.