Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Drax the Destroyer Guest Tweets for MLGW?

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 1:40 PM

Judging by a recent round of defensive, hyper-literal tweets from the official MLGW account, it would appear that Memphis' public utility has hired in Drax the Destroyer to man social media during this period of post-storm crisis. Drax, the blunt alien powerhouse who struggles to understand metaphor and most figurative language, responded negatively to a tweet by Memphis newsie Joyce Peterson. When Peterson accurately explained how "45,000 customers without power" means more than 45,000 people remain in the dark, Drax answered back sharply:  "This tweet is unequivocally wrong and malicious."
After a number of Twitter uses invited Drax to munch a chill pill MLGW's guest tweeter doubled down on his initial pronouncement: "Our customer is not a house or an apartment building. Our customers of record are people who have families, employees, and customers."
While it's cool of MLGW to bring in such a big celebrity and card-carrying Guardian of the Galaxy, the PR gig may not be a good fit for Drax's skill set, which is basically destroying things.

Insert your own "covfefe" joke here.

Tour Brings Memphis’ Historic Parking Lot District to Life

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 10:58 AM

Development as Metaphor
  • Development as Metaphor
Bing Hampton plants himself in what he describes as “the spiritual epicenter,” of Memphis’ Pinch district, in front of an iconic piece of architecture, and a humble sign reading, “PAY HERE IN ADVANCE.” Once settled, the activist turned entrepreneur begins a colorful, expletive-laden folk tale about a, “mighty pyramid-shaped fishing lure,” built by Memphis’ civic leaders to win favor with the professional sports franchise Gods. Growing more excited with every word he tells the stories of brave young men with bulldozers who flattened all the crappy antique buildings that once blighted that stretch of N. Main, and laid down a lush carpet of asphalt for overflow sports fans to park on. As the founder, CEO, and lone employee of $5-Parking Lot Tours, Hampton worries that new plans to redevelop Memphis's first commercial district will result in the loss of some of the city’s most historically important pavement.

Hampton's passionate about his topic and walks the lot like a minister, dropping knowledge as he goes. “Only the finest white and yellow pigment was used,” he shouts. “It’s widely accepted that Pinch-style striping set a new standard for affordable surface rental.”

Parking wasn't the only thing going on in the pinch in the 90's and early 2000's.“You could purchase all sorts of goods and services here,” Hampton says. “You could get your windows washed, pick up a loose cigarette, and maybe get a good deal on a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD. One time I bought a whole case of 60-watt light bulbs for $3.”

The urge to preserve is relatively new to Hampton. “I think I first started paying attention to what was going on in 2013 when they tore down the Taco Bell that had been built on top of the Taliesyn Ballroom where the Sex Pistols played on their disastrous 1978 American tour," he says. "Then they went built a brand new Taco Bell on top of all that. Where does that kind of madness end?”

Hampton’s a realist. “I don’t expect to save all these beautiful old parking lots,” he says, noting how empty, and quiet everything is nowadays — how clean the air is now that there’s no good reason to choke the district with automobiles. “It really is a paved-over paradise,” he says. “And I know they’ll never replace it with anything half as nice.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

City at Night: A Look at Memphis in Silhouette

Posted By on Tue, May 30, 2017 at 2:08 PM

The M-Bridge.
  • The M-Bridge.
This weekend's wind event didn't wipe out all the electricity in Memphis, but it took out enough to transform the nighttime city into a virtually unrecognizable noir landscape where every tree-lined street suddenly looked like the cover of a Stephen King novel. These photos were all taken in the immediate wake of the storm using only available light. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bartender Turns Off TV During Band Set, World Ends

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 2:35 PM

  • Kablooie
The world ended Wed, May 17, 2017 when Ima Moran, a part time bartender at Shenanigans, accidentally turned off the TV while attempting to change channels.

“I knew better,” Moran was quoted as saying as she fell deeper and deeper into the endless abyss. “Even though it seems like a distraction and a terrible discourtesy, you’re never, ever, ever supposed to turn the TV off while the band is playing. But I never dreamed something like this could happen.”

Ike Anteven, a regular at the Cordova watering hole, blames himself. “You know, I’m not all that into music,” he explained just before he froze to death. “I thought maybe Ima could see if there was a good game on or something. If I’d just been content reading the FOX news crawler, everything would be normal now and not, AAAARRRRRRGGGHHHH!”

Edianna Crusier, vocalist for the popular Dark Side Band had a more positive spin on the situation: “I always said, just one time — just one goddamn time before I die — I wish they’d turn the TV off while we’re playing.”

Physics professor Barnaby Jones says nobody’s sure what kept the Earth from exploding when bands played in taverns and dance halls prior to the invention of the TV. “It’s a mystery,” he said as his head was sliced off in a sudden debris storm.

Jesus it's getting cold. I...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

That's What She Said: Why did Kay Robilio's colorful language cause a stir?

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 2:51 PM

Berlin Boyd
  • Berlin Boyd
My first role at Theatre Memphis was that of an Egyptian warrior named Bel Affris in a production of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar & Cleopatra. Accepting the small, but showy part came at an itchy cost: I had to shave all my body hair. Why? So the carpet growing on my chest arms and legs wouldn't mat when I was painted brown, and thus transformed into a convincing Egyptian. My richly detailed costumes, photographed for a spread in the Commercial Appeal, included a couple of wicked swords... and an afro wig. Behind the scenes it wasn't uncommon to hear comparisons to Othello and Aunt Jemima back to back. To me, what's most shocking about this story in 2017, is how not remotely shocking it was in 1987.

I mention all of that to  illustrate a point that should be, but is seldom obvious. What was normal and fine only yesterday— particularly in regard to things like race and gender identity — may be archaic or offensive today.  On the lighter side of the ongoing struggle, an entire situation comedy trope has been built around the fact that, as a culture, we're so pathetically fragmented and behind in some areas that we exist in a constant state of catching up. Everybody will be familiar with scenes from TV, film, and real life where some older "out of touch" character makes a racially insensitive comment unaware that s/he's said something wrong. This sets up the real joke when a younger "with it" character corrects the elder using hipper language that's either ironic, or (recognized by  savvy viewers as  being) similarly out of date. To borrow a line from Anthropology professor Yolanda Moses, "at this cultural moment in the U.S., we still live in a racialized social and cultural hierarchy, and our language continues to reflect our ongoing attempts to grapple with that reality." The key word there is "ongoing." The dustup and debate following City Court Clerk Kay Robilio's setback-inducing use of the term "man of color," during a city council meeting is part of that ongoing struggle.

There was some initial confusion as to what Robilio had actually said. Was it "colored" or was it "person of color?" It was, of course, neither, but this is how news spread across social media platforms and people attempted to interpret the former judge's meanings, and debate the legitimacy of "of color." Here's the thing: these conversations always devolve into fights over intention and decorum. These are rabbit holes, and entirely beside the point. What is the point? Well, I think this bit's pretty good. William Safire wrote it in 1988, only a year after I allowed myself to be painted brown: "When used by whites, people of color usually carries a friendly and respectful connotation, but should not be used as a synonym for black; it refers to all racial groups that are not white."

Think about every piece of that, including "friendly and respectful," then proceed.

Robilio fumbled the whole exchange referring to an individual as a, "man of color." This elicited surprise in
 the room, and a correction from Councilman Berlin Boyd. But even if she'd gotten it right the first time, it seems likely the use of an idiom aggregating non-whites to describe one person would still raise eyebrows in 2017, particularly in a majority African-American city with a majority not-African-American leadership. This isn't about Robilio, of course. Her awkward attempt to be correct — because that's what she was fumbling to do — is more indicative of systemic cultural issues, than personal ones. It's symptomatic of where we live now, as language slowly and uncertainly evolves away from identities determined by their relationship to whiteness. But, until the two are uncoupled we'll continue to see "acceptable" descriptors eliciting side-eye, and unease. As is to be expected when you define folks by what they aren't.

In this case the speaker was imprecise and mangled language that would have been technically incorrect even if she'd gotten it right. But she wasn't out of line and neither were critics.  In the situation comedy we call Memphis, Robilio's playing her part as the "out of touch" grandma — A trope perfectly essayed in this vintage cartoon. She's not on trial here. And we'd all know that if things weren't so suddenly personalized on social media, or if rhetoric was still a part of a basic education. It's language that's in the hot seat, and here's my hot take on it. While "people of color," is an old expression, it's only been a popular one for the last 30-years or so. It emerged as a status quo alternative to "non-white,"  making a monolith of many groups, while continuing to define against whiteness. It's been adopted by multi-racial groups, and is perfectly mainstream today. So was  "colored" when it was enshrined by the NAACP, and there's no compelling reason to be protective of the expression in circumstances when there's pushback from people it's used to describe. In the meantime, "People of color," or "Communities of color" is best used for describing diverse ranges of people who aren't white. When describing an individual  it's sound practice to be considerate and specific.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CA Follies: Get It Together Gannett

Posted By on Tue, May 9, 2017 at 9:48 AM

The Commercial Appeal's lost its editor to St. Jude, name brand staff to layoffs, and its ability to prevent tiny, tragic errors. You know, like when you run an above the fold A-1 headline about a woman from "Columbia," who runs a Colombian diner, right next to a picture of the smiling subject wearing a correctly spelled Colombia t-shirt.

Seems like somebody was sipping too much juice down by the Bug Light Stage this past weekend.

And here's a classic case of "don't know if they're coming or going" from Saturday's edition. Read the sub-headline, then read the opening paragraph. Then go ahead and cry in your cubicle a little. It's okay, really it is.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Commercial Appeal Reports Unfortunate Festival Sponsorship

Posted By on Mon, May 8, 2017 at 3:39 PM

Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival can be a gorgeous weekend on the river. It can also be a crowded, muddy, buggy mess, and turning one of the festivals concert stages into an enormous Bug Light is a terrible, terrible, terrible idea. That's why FOTW is happy to report this is only a typo.

WREG to Be Acquired by Conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group

What does that mean for Memphis?

Posted By on Mon, May 8, 2017 at 2:59 PM


With their overemphasis on crime and safety in the urban core, Memphis' TV-news stations already affect a potent, subtle, and effective right-wing bias. Today's media news suggest things are about to get less subtle. On Monday, May 8, Tribune Media Co. announced its 42 television news properties, including Memphis' WREG-TV, would be acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group for somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.9 billion.

If approved by the FCC Sinclair, will operate 233 stations in 72-percent of America's broadcast markets. The company will additionally assume $2.7 billion in debt.

Sinclair has a long, unapologetic (though occasionally denied) history of aligning itself with conservative politics and making local news less local. There's no point in repeating the origin story when this Memphis Flyer Viewpoint from 2003 does such a fine job of condensing things.

Like many a media empire, Sinclair grew through a combination of acquisitions, clever manipulations of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, and considerable lobbying campaigns. Starting out as a single UHF station in Baltimore in 1971, the company started its frenzied expansion in 1991 when it began using "local marketing agreements" as a way to circumvent FCC rules that bar a company from controlling two stations in a single market. These "LMAs" allow Sinclair to buy one station outright and control another by acquiring not its license but its assets. Today, Sinclair touts itself as "the nation's largest commercial television broadcasting company not owned by a network." You've probably never heard of them because the stations they run fly the flags of the networks they broadcast: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the WB.

The new deal, which also gives Sinclair part ownership in the Food Network, still requires FCC approval, but, as noted by CNN, the Trump administration has shown nothing but interest in approving these kinds of mergers. Once approved Sinclair plans to swiftly liquidate all real estate connected to Tribune Media's print holdings. That makes sense since, as noted by The Baltimore Sun, Sinclair Broadcast Group does two things very well: "It knows how to run local stations lean and mean. And it makes some of the most visually engaging local news in the country."

The Sun also notes Sinclair's history of "compromising its news operations with right-wing politics."

Of course Sinclair's only putting its mouth where its money is.  Last month Trump’s FCC reinstated a something called the UHF Discount allowing media conglomerates to blow through congressionally set ownership limits. The UHF Discount is an obscure rule from 1985 before the transition to digital eliminated the UHF/VHF signal gap. It allowed owners of UHF properties to declare half the coverage area reach compared to a VHF station.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Sign Fail of the Day — "Love" on the Rocks

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 4:17 PM

Well, at least they tried. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

US Military to Weaponize Alligators Trump Announces

Posted By on Tue, May 2, 2017 at 11:38 AM

Artist's rendering by POTUS
  • Artist's rendering by POTUS
"It's just a tremendous thing you can do with these animals," President Donald Trump told a hastily assembled group of top military officials. "They're like living dinosaurs, it's just the most amazing thing you've ever seen."

Inspired by a half-remembered song about former president Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans, Trump laid out a plan to expand the American military by rounding up alligators and turning them into rocket launchers.

"It's an incredible natural resource," the President said of the threatened species. "What Jackson did with them — amazing really — is he'd fill their head with cannon balls. Such a good idea. One of the best I've ever heard. Then he'd take the gunpowder and — well, I'm sure everybody can guess where that went. Little fire. Bam! Japanese never knew what hit them."

Trump asked an aide to lower the room lights then asked the assembled group to close their eyes and imagine with him. "Imagine you're North Korea," he said. "And one day you look up and all you can see is alligators falling from the sky shooting rockets out of their mouths.

"That's Jackson for you," the President concluded, admiringly. "Ahead of his time. Fine looking head of hair too." 

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