7.19.2005

the muppets don't sell out


i was on the best week ever blog and i clicked on a link to the statler and waldorf movie review show, from the balcony on movies.com. for those of you who don't remember, statler and waldorf were the two old guys that sat in the balcony of the muppet show and crack wise about how bad the show was. also, in the first muppet movie, they uttered a staple in the ragin' asian movie aphorism repertoire, "i've seen soap that leaves better film than this." anyways, during these five minute vignettes, they pseudo-review current movies.

in the first episode they review war of the worlds. and it started out with their usual schtick, but they ended up kinda giving it a positive review. for a quick moment, i was worried that the muppets had sold out and i would have to watch puppets shill for crappy movies. it made sense right? movies.com gets some of their money from the movie studios and it makes sense that they would want to make movies seem good so that people will continue to go to the movies and then continue to use movies.com. however, my fears were soon relieved in that they proceeded to skewer bewitched. it was a nice hatchet job too. a sample of their review style:

statler (the shorter one) says:
when i first heard about this film, i thought, "why make a movie version of bewitched?" and then i saw the preview for the movie and i thought, "why make a movie version of bewitched?"
waldorf (the tall one) says:
"i fell asleep before the lights in the theater went down."
zing. it's kinda old timey type humor, you know lots of puns and old guy jokes, but there's a lot of good schtick packed in the first two episodes. they really take some mean swipes at several celebrities throughout. i highly recommend.

anyways, this whole deal just strikes me as bizarre. like i said before movies.com has a vested interest in people going to see movies so it would only make sense that they would promote movies in a positive light. furthermore, movie studios have a vested interest in their stars remaining stars, so it wouldn't necessarily make sense that they would provide trailers and what not to movies.com if they're just going to make fun of them. but this is exactly what the muppets do for movies.com. don't get me wrong, it's not like they are telling people to stay away from the movie or anything, and after all, they are puppets. but i think that this flies in the face of how the movie/celebrity industry usually handles their publicity in that they do all they can to ensure that the only publicity is good publicity. witness the jude law public apology to his fiance sienna miller for cheating with his nanny (have any of you seen pictures of his nanny? what the hell was he thinking?). i doubt sincerely that any of the people who are jude law fans are now going to reconsider going to his movies now because of his indiscretions with his babysitter. the whole tom cruise thing can be seen in this light as well. everyone thinks he's crazy, yet war of the worlds is tom cruise's biggest hit yet.

anyways, if you'll indulge me and allow me to connect the muppets to the larger cultural picture, i think that the muppet movie critic thing is part of a larger trend in mainstream media not deferring to the entertainment biz, or if you prefer more sociological terms, the press, which in the past has had a dependent relationship on the institutions of the entertainment capital, are allowing a space for a more realistic and more complex consumption of entertainment products. in other words, you can think that r. kelly peed on a teenager and still think his music is great (last week, his album TP.3 debuted at #1 on the billboard charts). like i said, i think this is a part of a bigger trend in that we see this a lot online on the various entertainment gossip blogs such as the defamer, and we see it on tv on shows like the soup and best week ever, and we can hear it on the radio or via podcast on the pop life radio show (new episode available today!). in a real sense, the national enquirer was way ahead of the curve in being willing to cover celebrities in an unflattering light, with that torch being carried by basically, all of the internet.

of course, what i will call institutional media still exists, like entertainment tonight and people magazine, and they still get more access to stars and information from the entertainment industry, but it seems to me that audiences are getting smarter, as the recent book, everything bad is good for you, by stephen johnson, argues. for those of you who haven't heard, the thesis of this book is that the conventional wisdom that things like tv, video games, etc. are bad for you or represent a moral failing is incorrect. the author argues that these things in fact are more sophisticated than they used to be which is a function of the fact that audiences are more sophisticated in the way they consume these products (disclosure: i haven't read the book, but i've read a lot about the book and i'm pretty sure that's what he's getting at. any of you who've read the book, please correct me if i'm wrong on these points).

anyways, i suppose that this might be what is happening, but i think the overall tone is a little too cheery. as you can guess, my take is a little more cynical. i'm not sure it's that the sophistication of the consumers is what is helping to spur on this de-mythification of the world of the entertainment celebrity. no doubt it certainly helps, but the idea that people are more interested in involving popular culture in their worldview seems optimistic. rather, i think that people just don't care. something to the effect of "tom cruise thinks that tylenol is the same as crack? who cares, stuff gets blowed up real good in his movies." i think that this is much more likely than, "wow, cruise and speilberg really brought up some good discussion points about how the tactics of these imagined aliens are really not that different from the tactics that the bush administration is using with the war on terrorism." only pretentious (but still smart) douchebags like myself do that kind of stuff.

anyways, i'm interested to see how the mainstream entertainment industry will react if this trend of knocking their stars down a few levels continues. will they embrace the nike mantra of any publicity is good publicity? will they adapt as movies.com seems to have? will they launch a counteroffensive ala the tom cruise/scientology publicity machine has? does it even matter?

wow, that ended up being a lot longer than i thought it would, but obviously, it's something that i've been thinking about, and those crazy muppets provided me the perfect example to start writing about it. thanks for hanging with me, and if you have anything to add, by all means, please leave a comment.

if you have made it this far down in this post, here is a fun link as your reward...crazy asians...

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