Friday, March 30, 2012

Don't be Pink Slime

You may have heard about "pink slime" in recent weeks. If you haven't, let me clue you in: It's the latest social media trend in what to hate, right up there with Kony and people who don't know how to use memes corretly. In fact, there has been such a public outrage over beef companies using pink slime as a filler in their ground beef that the USDA has made new rules forcing food companies to allow schools to protect their students from pink slime by opting out of meat that include the stuff. Jobs are being lost at the companies that use it. Here's the weird thing, though: The pink slime that companies use as a cheap filler for meat is made out of ... more meat.

Basically, they take all the pieces of fat that have bits of meat stuck to them and superheat them and spin them really fast, and the meat separates from the fat and they can stick those little bits of meat back in with the other ground beef rather than throwing it away and wasting it. It's basically the same stuff hot dogs are made out of, and you've been eating it your whole life. It's not, as many people I talk to imagine, some kind of hot pink chemical goo, and maybe it reduces the quality of the ground beef but it's certainly not dangerous.

So who started the campaign to eradicate "pink slime" and why are they so against it? I have no idea, but whoever those people are, I would like to congratulate them for their public relations genius. With all the bad, cancer-causing chemicals we ingest every day in our food, our drinks, etc. they managed to put a target on something basically harmless just by changing its name from "finely textured lean beef" to "pink slime."

It's like telling all the parents in town a daycare provider is a socialist because they teach the kids to share their toys. Or starting a campaign against "animal bodily fluid," also known as milk.

Words are very powerful things, my friends. Learn how to make them stick and you can rule the world. Many a politician/company/product/law has been undone or risen to power based on whether they chose the words that defined them or had a label slapped on them that they couldn't shake.

One of the best ways to deal with this is to commit a sort of verbal jusitsu and turn the word around to use against your opponents. The Obama camp finally got that last week when they stopped telling supporters not to use the word Obamacare and Obama declared "You know what, let them call it Obamacare. Because I do care." Smart move, Mr. President. The same thing happened somewhere along the way with the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. People used to use "Mormon" as a slur. If those same people travelled forward in time today, they would say "Ha ha, you're a Mormon" ... and then have all the wind taken out of their sails when they saw billboards and TV ads for the church in which members proudly declare "I'm a Mormon." How do you like them apples?

Of course, you can use words positively, too. That's the job of PR people, who say someone at an event was "imperfectly caught" rather than "dropped on their head" or that the product is "luxury" instead of "way too expensive."

Take a leaf out of their book. If your car is a broken-down old piece of junk, tell people you drive a "vintage classic." If you get your paper back and your professor has covered it with red pen corrections, tell your parents you got a lot of "mentoring" from someone experienced in the industry. Your kids aren't disobedient, they show creative initiative. You don't procrastinate, you live in the moment. You're not Facebooking, you're networking.

Make sure you're finely textured lean beef and not pink slime.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

That movie everyone's talking about

I recently saw the Hunger Games, like everyone else in the world, and I've got to say, I loved it. There were two parts of me that loved the movie: the book lover and the feminist.

My book lover side really liked the movies, because, let's face it, when it comes to turning books into movies Hollywood just doesn't get it. Most book adaptations are terrible. Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite books when I was younger, but the movie belongs with the Hulu free movies the menfolk in my house sometimes watch, like "Cannibal the Musical" and "Killer Clowns from Outer Space." The only thing the Ella Enchanted movie stayed true to was the title: There was, in fact, a girl named Ella in it and she was, indeed, enchanted. But she picked up an obnoxious sidekick, two extra villans and a lot of uneccesarily cheesy dialouge (and that's saying a lot for a fairy tale retelling) when she hit the big screen. When I saw the author, Gail Carson Levine, speak at BYU, the first question someone asked was how much she hated the movie and she managed a very gracious reply about how they "certainly went in a different direction." Yes, if "into the garbage can" can be considered a direction.

But back to the Hunger Games. They actually followed the book! Unlike other franchises (I'm talking to you, Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilight...) they realized that if the books sold millions of copies to people who normally consider reading as fun as getting their wisdom teeth out, then maybe the author did something RIGHT and they shouldn't fix what ain't broken (well, okay, maybe Twilight was broken already, but casting Kristen Stewart didn't help their cause). If J.K. Rowling didn't see the need to burn the Weasleys' house down, maybe it didn't need burned down. In the hands of most directors, Katiniss would have probably made out with Haymitch (who was weirdly adorable in the movie) or found out Peeta was a werewolf or some other such nonsense.

The other thing I liked about the Hunger Games is that Hollywood managed to make a movie with a strong female main character that didn't fit into every single other young female role ever: helpless sexy or catfight sexy. Usually the person carrying the movie is a studly dude and his love interest ranges from "Please save me while I'm wearing this wet T-shirt because I get knocked unconscious every time an errant feather lands on my head" or "Let me don some movement-restricting skintight leather and catwalk-worthy stilletos to knock out some bad guys and then get in a sexy fight with another girl before I change into the wet T-shirt." I mean seriously, every woman in the world knows there is NO WAY anyone would ever put on four-inch heels for a situation that involves running and jumping, unless they were in desperate need of a broken ankle. So props to Katniss for being a girl who knows the value of a good pair of flats. If more women ran around dropping genetically-engineered wasp nests on peoples' heads the world would be a better place (in the movies, at least).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Everyone's offended

There are many "offensive" professions in the world. Mine is one of them. Journalists doesn't offend as many people as, say, porn stars do, but when you're producing an entire newspaper's-worth of content for the general public every day, you're bound to offend someone, somewhere on a regular basis.

For example, recently my editor wrote an editorial in which she said she was offended by Rush Limbaugh. In the course of the editorial she referred to him as a crackpot. This produced an amusing chain of letters to the editor in which people wrote that they were offended by what she wrote about being offended, then people responded that they were offended by the first peoples' letters, and yes, the most recent editorial page included people who were offended by the people who were offended by the people who were offended by my editor being offended. No joke. I'm sure it will continue for at least another week as our town sinks further and further into mutual offendedness.

We also got a lot of calls on the issue. They were angry calls where people ranted about our "liberal propoganda" against a man "you don't like because he tells the truth." I didn't mind these calls too much, because they weren't mad about anything I had done, so all I had to do was say "Mmmhmm ... Uh-huh ... I'm sorry you feel that way."

It's not that people can't get offended. But let's pick and choose what to write angry letters to the editor about. I mean, where was that level of outrage when the city spent $100,000 on an ice machine at the same time they voted to raise water rates significantly?

There are sometimes I can see peoples' point, even though they overreact. For example, when I worked for the Daily Universe I got a bunch of angry emails demanding that whoever designed the front page that day be fired. The center story was about cars and the story down the side was about someone being run over by a car on campus. The headlines were next to each other, creating an unfortunate juxtoposition that looked something like this: "Zoom zoom zoom... Pedestrian dies after being run over on campus." Unfortunate? Yes. A sick joke and a fireable offense? No. The copy editor was only looking at part of the page on the screen at a time and didn't really realize how it would come together.

People are also often offended by errors in the paper. I mean, actually offended, not just rolling their eyes. I got a letter once from a guy who was really upset by the fact that I wrote an article about drugs and spelled "heroin" as "heroine" all the way through the article. Sorry, dude. I went to BYU, okay? I didn't have a lot of practice writing about illicit drugs. At least he didn't wax on authoritatively about why my article was "bad jernolism" like someone else.

I prefer to laugh about typos. For example, recently when someone was copying and pasting an article, somewhere along the way the words "A student at..." were lost, so the lede of the article was published as "The Dalles Wahtonka High School was transported to the hospital Friday with a broken jaw." Some of our mistakes are legendary. Like the time (before I started working there) when a photo somehow got blown up inside its photo box, so a story about a city employee was accompanied by a photo of his eyebrow. You're welcome, readers, for the unexpected doses of humor we sometimes bring to your day.

Life is so much more enjoyable when you spend it laughing rather than writing flame mail.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It's back!

Hey everyone,

As you may have noticed, I kind of gave up on this blog for a while. I was really into it, and then I got a job as the opinion editor for The BYU Daily Universe and was getting paid to write a personal column for a WAY bigger audience, so I lost interest. But I'm no longer at the DU and I'm starting to miss all of that opinionating. So I'm starting up the blog again, same as before-- random, mostly light-hearted musings on life with the occassional political statement thrown in.

The topic on my mind today is that lovely phrase "the show must go on." This afternoon, about six minutes before the matinee of the high school production Mame was slated to start, Cole called me all in a panic because he's been running the light board and neither one of his spotlighters had shown up yet. He wanted me to come and run one of the spotlights, because he didn't know what else to do, short of pulling the two spotlights next to the lightboard and running one with each hand while pushing buttons with his feet. Since I ran lights for a show once I was at least slightly better than that option. That being said, if his spotlighters hadn't shown up at the last second, it would have been a disaster, since it's kind of hard to follow an actor around with a spotlight when you've never seen the show before and have NO IDEA where they're going. It would have been exactly like the anxiety dreams I always get before a show, when I dream that I show up and they're doing a different play than the one I'd been rehearsing.

Anyways, it brought to mind a few of the funniest mishaps I've seen on and off stage:

1) When I was a chorus member/talking apple tree in Wizard of Oz, during a dress rehearsal that had an audience, Glinda asked Dorothy if she was a witch, Dorothy replied "Oh no, witches are old and ugly!" All of us Munchkins giggled, and at that point when Dorothy asked why we were laughing Glinda was supposed to say "They're laughing because I'm a witch!" Instead, she accidentally said, "They're laughing because I am ugly!" There was really no covering up that mistake.

2) Also in Wizard of Oz, one night backstage I ran into a certain red-haired chorus member who played one of the Wicked Witch's soldiers. When I whispered "What are you doing on this side of the stage, you're supposed to be walking onstage right now!" and tried to shove him toward the curtain he hissed back "I'm not wearing any pants!" I looked down, and sure enough, he wasn't. Someone had accidentally grabbed his pants during a costume change.

3) When I was the stepmother in Cinderella, the footman was trying the glass slipper on me when the heel got all caught up in my long petticoats. When one of my stepdaughters reached down and said "Here ma, that's my slipper, I'd know it anywhere," I gave an extra hard tug to free it, and all of the sudden I was watching in horror as the slipper went sailing through the air and into the orchestra pit. There was a second of silence, then Hannah said "Well ... it WAS my slipper," and then the whole audience burst out laughing while the footman calmly, and in character, went to retrieve it.

4) When Lance was in Suessical, I saw the tape of the night when Leah, who was playing the bird in love with Horton, came out with her hugely long tail and started singing about how lovely and long and voluminous it was. Right at the beginning of the song, her tail got caught on something and ripped off. Poor Leah had to sing the entire song about how long her tail was with a stump about six inches long.

5) During Sweeny Todd our lighting designer decided to reset a cue one night before the show to add more blue. Unfortunately they forgot the house lights were on while they were setting it, so that night in the middle of the most sad, emotional scene of the whole show the house lights popped on.

There have been a million other missed cues, forgotton lines, panicking over lost props or costumes, technical difficulties, set pieces breaking, actors not showing up when they were supposed to, people running off stage between scenes to throw up, things being knocked over backstage, injuries before and during shows, wardrobe malfunctions, actors tripping, etc. that I've seen over the years. A few of them the audience has noticed, but many of them were covered up by the brilliant improvisational skills of the cast and crew. And afterwards during the cast party, talking about the things that went wrong every night is always good for a laugh :)