Monday, November 30, 2009

Should Harlan Ellison Write the Next Star Trek Movie?

I'm intrigued, even if it's not likely to occur. The "it" in question is the possibility of veteran writer Harlan Ellison offering to write the next Star Trek movie. According to the web site Slice of Sci Fi, Ellison said he's ready, willing, and able to write the next Trek film if the powers that be (and they be spelled "J.J. Abrams") are interested.

It's not clear from the report where this offer was made (in an interview with Slice? elsewhere?), so the context isn't helpful. But for all of us Trek fans and Ellison readers, it is a fun idea to ponder.

Harlan Ellison, of course, wrote "City on the Edge of Forever," arguably (and it will get you an argument) the best episode of the original Trek. He's written a zillion other things -- books, articles, screenplays, short stories, etc. -- that also have given him the credibility to be a perceptive and oftentimes sharp-edged critic of media such as Star Trek. In one of his most memorable articles, he reviewed Star Trek: The Motion Picture for Starlog #33 in 1980. The review was very well done, but also very critical, and it brought a predictable landslide of feedback from readers.

Would Abrams be interested in working with Harlan Ellison? Would Ellison be interested in writing a Trek in its current hyper-action incarnation? Would viewers be interested in the new movie?

Oh, I hope to see more on this story.

UPDATE: The story's also reported at Sci Fi Squad. Not clear to me what part of the story is original, nor, again, where the comments were first made.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, Trek Today has a more fleshed-out report, citing Ellison's blog. (Though the link at the end of the article goes to an Ellison bulletin board, and I can't find anything about this on that page.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Response to Fangoria: Should Horror Films Be Scary or Fun?

Brian Matus has posted a short article at asking, "Are Horror Films Supposed to Be Scary or Fun?" There are already a number of responses, which you can read there, and there are responses elsewhere on the web, such as Marc Patterson's thoughtful article. I'll let those responses take care of exploring the question directly.

As is my wont, I'll take this in another direction. Last week, I went to Borders and purchased a copy of Stephen King's new tomb -- I mean, tome -- Under the Dome. I'm not an automatic buyer of King's books, but I have found them to be absorbing and well-done, so I bought the book. As I was paying the cashier, he asked, "Have you ever actually been scared by any novel Stephen King has written?"

The question was just check-out counter conversation, and I don't think he meant it as a criticism of King nor of me as a buyer. But it made me think. I've read a fair number of King's books: The Stand, Firestarter, Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Danse Macabre, Pet Semetary, Thinner, Misery, The Tommyknockers, and Cell. Did any of them scare me?

Thinking about the question, I had to consider what "scare" means. I have never had one of those scary jolts of shock in a King book that you get in some films, where the cat jumps out of nowhere or the villain suddenly appears from the shadows. But that's too narrow of a definition. Most of the time in my life when I've experienced fear, it has been a dread of something that might or might not happen. And I've certainly felt that in King's novels (especially in my favorite, The Shining), and in the best horror films. (The best parts of Alien, in my opinion, were not the shock parts but rather the incredible scene-setting at the beginning, where we get to see and experience just how isolated the Nostromo is, then just how isolated the shipmates are -- including from each other -- and then just how isolated the alien ship is.)

I enjoy a well-done book (or film) that is able to create that sense of dread, of fear-inducing atmosphere. I've got a lot of books in line to read before Under the Dome, but when I get to it, I'll let you know if it scares me. Or something better.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Starlog Video Clips

This is really just for the hard-core Starlogger crowd. CrowTRobot1313 at YouTube has posted some video clips from Starlog's line of videos in the early 1980s. I don't know if the magazine ever made money from its videos (which were re-releases of classic science fiction shows). I think it might have been ahead of its time -- it was probably a couple years before home video hit big -- but then again, "the magazine of the future" should be ahead of its time.

Anyway, enjoy these clips.

Media Roundup: Starlog, Allure, Hillary, & More

The latest from the worlds of media, with a Starlog-heavy emphasis:

  • On the off-chance that some of you read German, you can read the latest from about four new magazines that have launched, including Wir magazine.Yep, magazine launches continue.
  • I'm happy to note that and are no longer having any trouble loading in browsers. A Jedi's work is never done.
  • Speaking of Starlog and Fango, Starlog editor David McDonnell blogs over at about a short-lived magazine published by an earlier owner of Starlog and Fangoria. The magazine was a Playgirl competitor called Allure (no relation to the later women's fashion magazine of the same name). He gives some nice behind-the-scenes info on the magazine's life (which lasted less than a year), including the fact that the magazine was rather controversial in the small, multi-title company that generally focused on movies and TV. Apparently many editors and other employees had trouble with the "porno" title, which is rather funny, because there was very little actual nudity in the magazine (mind you, this was in the mid-1980s, when skin magazines still felt the need to be mostly articles, and Allure was no different), and what nudity there was was very mild. Despite the short life of the magazine, I know it was not for lack of trying; one of the publishers once told me about how much work they poured into it. But when the editor left (later becoming an editor at Playgirl, in fact), apparently sales were so weak that the publishers decided not to keep it alive, and it went "poof" into nonexistence.
  • In my recent posting here about the Hillary Clinton media blitz, I neglected an obvious example, the very recent Time magazine cover story by Joe Klein.
  • We all know Condé Nast's had a rough year, like many other publishers. Word is that CN's looking to China to help it pull a turnaround, after a year when it closed some U.S. titles and reduced staff.

My previous media roundup.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

White House Party Crashers Show the Way

A coworker was invited to attend the first state dinner thrown by the Obama White House this past Tuesday night. I was not invited. Silly me, because apparently I could have attended even though I didn't get an invitation.

You all know the story by now. Two annoying attention-seekers attended the party even though they weren't invited, getting past a security wall that must be paper-thin, and they had their picture taken with various high potentates, such as the vice president of the United States. This makes our federal government look like it has worse security than a middling night club in Chicago.

It does, however, put a new light on the National Treasure films. Remember the one where hero Nicholas Cage is able to get into the White House? Remember thinking: Only in Hollywood?

Apparently not. Apparently, it's even easier than that. Just show up.

Doesn't anyone ever get fired in Washington for doing a poor job?

San Francisco Auto Show Post-view

What better way to spend Thanksgiving Day than the way the Pilgrims and their Indian friends did -- strolling through the San Francisco International Auto Show looking at cars you can't afford to buy?

Well, since our Thanksgiving dinner guests all bailed on us, we had the day to ourselves, so we headed over to our annual guilty pleasure, the SF auto show at San Francisco's Moscone Center. Pretty much any car company you can imagine was there (and is there -- the show runs into December). We spent most of our time looking at Saabs, BMWs, Volkswagens, Porsches, and Aston Martins.

The car drawing the biggest crowds at the Porsche section was the new Panamera sedan. From the front it's a pretty smart-looking car; the rear is not as pretty. Too chunky and inelegant. But the crowds loved it, and it was the only car where people were waiting patiently to get in and sit in the front seats and the back seats.

And, though you can tell from most of these photos that my sympathies lie with German-made cars, I was intrigued by the small display by SV Motor Company, which is apparently of Italian and American lineage (I think that means long lunch breaks and bad health care for the workers). I had never heard of them before. Here are a few photos of the SV cars. Pretty nice looking, eh?


As the happy owner of a 2003 VW Jetta, I naturally had to spend some time at the Volkswagen section, and they had a number of interesting cars. Though I'd like to think my next car will be a BMW 1-series, the only thing that could tempt me away from that (whenever it might be) would be the VW Eos hard-top convertible.

But my first visit at the auto show (this blog post is clearly not written chronologically) was Bavarian Motor Works, where I made short videos of the 128i, 328i, and Z4. Their 3-series cars seem to have become elongated, which is a bit much for me (I don't like big cars). But the 3-series cars they had on display certainly were nice enough. They also seemed to be quite popular with the attendees, though I was treated to (that's sarcasm) three middle-aged men examining the 128i and repeatedly wondering if simply owning such a car made you automatically gay. Well, as a gay wannabe-128i-owner, let's hope so!

Video of BMW 328i at San Francisco Int'l Auto Show

And here's the BMW 328i:

Video of BMW Z4 at the San Francisco Int'l Auto Show

And now the Z4:

Video of BMW 128i at San Francisco Int'l Auto Show

For those car-lovers (and specifically BMW lovers) among my readership, here's a short video exploration of the BMW 128i convertible. The video is from Thanksgiving Day at the San Francisco International Auto Show at the Moscone Center. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fangoria Graphix on ComicMix

ComicMix has an interesting interview with Fangoria Graphix Associate Editor Troy Brownfield. If you're at all interested in how a horror comics company operates and what are its plans for the future, check it out.

Of geeky interest is that the interview was conducted by Robert Greenberger, who himself was once the managing editor of famed horror magazine Fangoria. Greenberger (who also was the founding editor of the late, great Comics Scene magazine and is a media tie-in expert), writes an interesting blog here.

If only Fango's web site were visible today ...

James Cameron's Avatar Takes over the World of Magazines

Nothing deep to report here. Just a note that the 3-D science fiction film is going to be everywhere this December on magazines. The latest, from Germany and the UK:

Starlog and Fangoria Web Sites Go MIA: Is the Trade Federation to Blame?

For the past couple days, when you visit the web sites for science fiction source Starlog or horror source Fangoria, you receive this error message:

Now, I don't know what the reason is. Maybe they forgot to pay their bills, or their web host is having major problems, or the Great Recession has struck another victim. I have no inside info. But am I the only one who saw those error messages and thought, A communications disruption could mean only one thing: invasion.

I hope some nice Jedi knights can help 'em out.

Thunderbirds Are Go: Large Hadron Collider in Operation at Last

If science is a brainy pursuit, I have to admit to a stupidity: For the longest time, I thought the name Large Hadron Collider was somehow referring to the (very) late Roman emperor Hadrian. The one who built the wall in Britain to keep out the dentists. Him?

But no, I was incorrect. A hadron is a particle. So "Large Hadron Collider" is just a very specific, straightforward name for a giant particle accelerator, 100 meters beneath the French and Swiss borders, where scientists are doing very brainy work that will help us understand the universe (on large and small scales) much better.

It's been called the most expensive science project in the world. At $9 billion dollars, with 15 years of development and construction, LHC finally was completed last year, only to be shut down immediately for repairs. But it started up again this week, and scientists were thrilled, because it started delivering results much more quickly than expected. The first collisions came just a few days after the restart of operations, and scientists hadn't expected results so quickly.

No, it was not the creation of a world-devouring black hole that had been feared by the hysterics among us. (I'd make more fun of such people, but then I thought the thing was named after a dead Roman. Humility is no fun.) But researchers can tell a lot from these events, including recreating some of the conditions that existed right after the Big Bang.

A black hole would have been cooler, as would giving the place an imperial Roman moniker. But I look forward to hearing more news from LHC.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

AMI Picks up Business Outsourcing Deal with Playboy Magazine

The "bolder steps" are becoming clearer, and they appear to be good ones.

When Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders recently spoke about needing "bolder efforts" to save Playboy's print publication, there weren't any specifics. Today, news hits that Playboy has outsourced the business end of the magazine -- ad sales, marketing, subscriptions, distribution -- to American Media Inc., the giant Florida-based publisher, home to Star, Men's Fitness, and other publications. (They're even reporting it in Russia.) The five-year deal is intended to return the magazine to profitability by 2011, reports Chicago Tribune.

Thirty jobs at Playboy Enterprises could be lost in the shift, according to reports, but some of those people might land at AMI.

Briefly, this is a smart move. It leaves the heart of the magazine, the editorial, in-house and outsources the part that has been giving the company a headache for decades, at least since the Reagan administration teamed up with the Religious Right to scare away advertisers from the magazine. Since then, we keep hearing about circulation drops, but circulation can be fueled by a thicker magazine. Just think what kind of marketing and promotion the company could have done with the tens of millions of dollars in advertising money it lost as a result of the government-Religious-Right collusion? AMI's business muscle should come in handy in addressing that problem.

Still no word on an outright sale of the entire company or other strategic moves by Flanders.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sarah Palin, by the Numbers

Over at The Daily Beast, novelist/satirist Christopher Buckley provides a handy index to Sarah Palin's book. Who knew Plato was in the book? We knew God would be a major recurring character, though.

When Religions Control Newspapers and Magazines

When I was a child, my newspaper-and-magazine editing mother held The Christian Science Monitor in high esteem. The paper was indeed well-regarded in media circles, I would learn later on my own as I moved into the industry. This despite the fact indicated by its name: it's owned by the Christian Science religious sect. The paper was still known as a publication that kept its news reporting separate from the views of its owners, and that was good.

Today, watching the implosion of the Unification Church-controlled, right-wing Washington Times, one gets to read all kinds of allegations of interference from the church's leadership, including its self-styled messiah.

Today comes word from The New York Times that Governing magazine has been sold to a California company owned and run by Scientologists. This has worried a number of staffers, because the Florida company that sold the magazine also owns the St. Petersburg Times, a well-regarded newspaper that has won acclaim for its reporting -- most significantly, its reporting on the Scientology cult. I mean church. Read the Times article for some clues about what might be in store for the staff. Such as a book club, maybe. Catholic Online -- another media operation whose ownership link is pretty obvious from its name -- goes further, citing sources that suggest greater involvement of the cult -- er, church, I've got to get that right -- in the operations of e.Republic, the new owners of Governing.

I'll admit to being somewhat torn. Not by Scientology; I've read way too many exposes of that organization over the years to see it as anything but a serious danger. But I don't think a religious owner -- even one with wacky religious beliefs -- should be an automatic reason for rejection in the media world. We are coming out of a very ahistorical period where mass media was controlled by faceless, nonideological, nonreligious public corporations, and we've entered an era that is more normal for this country and possibly the world: People and organizations start up newspapers and web sites and conferences and magazines and book companies because they want to support a worldview. That worldview might be wacky, it might be dangerous, it might be sweet and good. There will be more of all beliefs and worldviews out there.

We just have to make it so that if your new boss tries to force you to read a book and take a creepy seminar, you are able to tell him or her to take a flying leap and still keep your job.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Media Roundup: Life & Style Magazine, Bunny Icons, People People, & More

Oh, the fun continues:
  • CNN has a report on the maybe/maybe-not romance stories that are slathered over the covers of the gossip-sisters mags at the checkout stands. The latest film to fuel this game? The New Moon franchise. The first to play the game? Life & Style magazine.
  • Reuters has its take on the current news flare-up over a possible sale of the 56-year-old Playboy business. Reuters decides that the bunny icon -- the logo, that is -- is more valuable than the magazine, or the web sites, or the mail-order business, or the Chinese clothing stores, or the grotto. Mebbe, mebbe not.
  • Would you like 45 million readers? Then get your keister over to Time Warner and buy People magazine -- the company, not the individual magazine copy. That's because Folio:'s reporting that People recorded a readership of a mind-boggling 45.1 million readers (counting pass-along readership; that's not its paid circulation). That's the kind of number that should only be recorded by like the official publication of the Chinese Communist Party or something like that. You know, the kind you can't unsubscribe to. Must be all those New Moon romance stories.
  • Oprah's O magazine is in trouble? I bought my first-ever issueof O recently because, well, Ellen Degeneres was on the cover and she told me to buy it. It confirmed that I don't need to buy it ever again, but gay men are hardly O's prime demographic. But anywho, Keith Kelly over at the New Yawk Post makes out that the magazine is in dire straits and Hearst, the publication's owner, is making big changes to try to save it. I think he's over-stating the case, but it's interesting even if only partly true. I mean, does this suggest that Oprah can't do everything right? At least it lasted longer than Rosie magazine.
  • I'm not sure I understand this. If the entire point of having Alaska boy-toy Levi Johnston pose nude was to help relaunch the print edition of Playgirl magazine, why are so many of the photos appearing online long before the magazine hits the stands? Let's face it: I'm sure the magazine's not going to be so full of scintillating prose by John Updike and exposes on Washington skulduggery that people will want it for any other reason.
  • Fox News is flipping out over a magazine that answers teenagers' questions about sex and is actually available where teenagers can read it. Shocking.
  • And, finally, we unveil the NUMBER ONE MOST NOTABLE MAGAZINE LAUNCH of the year (I got sick of doing the caps). It's Mr. Magazine's choice. Curious? Hungry to learn more? Salivating?

My previous media roundup.

Coming Soon: The Making of a Magazine

Okay, so I'm going to start posting a series of blog items on my ongoing project creating a magazine. From desiging the cover to finding writers and artists to figuring out a printing model and more, I think it'll be at least remotely interesting to my readers here.

Both of them.

So stay tuned.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hillary Clinton's Media Move

The U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is in the news in a big way, featured in magazines and newspapers and web sites.

The new issue of Vogue (pictured) includes a very long feature story about Clinton.

The New York Times has a long article on Clinton's high-stakes role as the Obama administration's point person for trying to get Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, to reform his government. That was apparently the news hook of the week, because BBC News features much the same storyline. (But the World Socialist Web Site didn't like her performance in Kabul. If World Socialism -- whatever the heck that is -- is against you, shouldn't the rightwingers like you more?)

This and other coverage will probably go a way to muting the people who've said Clinton's been too low-key since taking the State Department role. (It doesn't hurt that she's helping to take some of the limelight from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.) So if the pro-Clinton Daily Beast (or at least Tina Brown) and the quite anti-Clinton Huffington Post can both be caught up in this, it's something worth watching.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Media Roundup: Christopher Hitchens vs. Sarah Palin, Tribune, Kremlinology & More

Oh, the media is rich with fun lately:
  • The publishing carnage continues. The publisher of the Washington Blade and other gay newspapers has abruptly folded.
  • Hmm, Kremlinologists try to read something into this: Playboy Enterprises CFO Linda G. Harvard has stepped down (effective at the end of the year). Does this have anything to do with the possible sale of the company that's been bandied around late?
  • Meanwhile, Golden Gate Capital has issued a statement saying it is not going to be a part of any purchase of Playboy Enterprises. No reasons given in the brief Reuters report, so Kremlinologists are free to speculate again. Is this because the competing interest from Iconix is coming out on top? Or because they've looked at the books and don't like what they've seen? Or because they've got money issues unrelated to Playboy and more related to the general economic situation? Or something else?
  • The new Newsweek is out, featuring a take-down of Republican favorite Sarah Palin, who just may be the first major presidential candidate to have all the gravitas of a reality TV star. (Maybe Spencer Pratt could be her running mate.) Anyway, inside are two articles on Palin, one by Even Thomas (about the center-vs-rightwing struggle in the GOP and the nation as a whole) and the more important one by Christopher Hitchens, about her role as fuel for populist ire. "The difficulty with populism is that it exploits the very 'people' to whose grievances it claims to give vent." Palin, by the way, apparently has added to her list of grievances the use of a cover photo on that issue of Newsweek (see photo above) from a photo shoot for Runner's World. She said it was sexist and an example of how the media will use anything to get its way. Sound like a reality-TV-wannabe-candidate we know of?
  • Apparently, the Tribune Company reorganization plans aren't going well, and the company has asked for an extension of its timetable for exiting bankruptcy.
  • More on the media and Palin. Remember her embarrassing interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric when she didn't (or couldn't) name a single newspaper or magazine she claims to have read? Now, she tells Oprah how upset she was by that question, thinking (bizarrely) that it was an attack on Alaskan provincialism. You can watch the video excerpt below and make up your own mind. But I still can't help thinking: If she's still talking about it after all this time, don't you think she'd mention a few magazines or newspapers she's read? Does she not have any  advisers who would mention some easy ones to just drop in conversation? She could mention conservative magazines -- National Review, Commentary, whatever -- or should could mention some mass-market ones -- would it have taken a genius on Oprah's program to say with a twinkle in her eye that she does try to pick up O magazine from time to time? Like I said back when the first train-wreck of an interview took place, when you're asked a softball question, hit it. At least she does say in this interview that she loves magazines and newspapers. Of course she does; they help keep the house warm on those cold Alaskan nights.

>> My previous media roundup.

Monday, November 16, 2009

DeathRay Science Fiction Magazine Is no Longer of This World

I have to admit I'm very late in passing this along, but then, I'm very late in hearing about it. There were three oversized UK science fiction media magazines not too long ago: DeathRay, Sci Fi Now, and SFX. As of October, apparently, DeathRay is no more, according to blogger Lee Harris.

The official site of Blackfish Publishing, which produced DeathRay and Filmstar, currently includes a note that both magazines are "on hold," which could mean anything. EIC Matt Bielby writes on that page, "Quite what the future holds for Filmstar, Death Ray – and, indeed, Blackfish – remains unclear, but we hope to have more definite news over the next week or so. Keep watching this space, because as of now quite literally anything (or nothing) could happen." That was several weeks ago, so "the next week or so" will have to be elastic.

It's always sad when a magazine goes under, especially if (a) it's a science fiction magazine, and/or (b) it's an ambitious magazine, which DeathRay was. Still, as I've noted here before, I never thought DeathRay was different enough from SFX and Sci Fi Now -- all three are pretty interchangable in their snarky, laddish approach to covering the genre and in their graphic presentation. That's not necessarily bad; Brit attitude can be refreshing at times. I just miss having other voices that sound like real other voices and not echoes. That won't change with DeathRay's passing. Er, "on hold"-ness.

There's still a big hole in the U.S. magazine market for a quality SF print magazine. The UK magazines are nice, and I did recently fill the void in my mailbox by taking out a subscription to SFX. But they don't cover the U.S. market the way an American magazine would. And the French-sourced Fantastique doesn't do it, either. Will a champion arise to take up the mantel laid aside by Starlog? ("Hiatus" is just another word for "on hold.")

Media Roundup: Guest Editors, Clueless Owners, & More

The latest from the worlds of media:
  • A while ago, I shared my thoughts on why guest editors of magazines are a silly gimmick we would be better off without. Obviously, my tremendous influence throughout the magazine publishing industry has resulted in ... yet more guest editors. Will Young will be guest editing an issue of Attitude, a gay lifestyle magazine. And a recent issue of the UK edition of Esquire has no less than four guest editors (including Ricky Gervais)
  • The news about Playboy Enterprise's possible sale to one of two potential buyers has stirred the usual excitement in the media, though the Chicago Tribune's Greg Burns asks why, considering the company's rather poor performance. I was also surprised to read a number of lame articles, such as Reuters' report, which reads more like a canned obituary than a report on a pending company sale. That might be expected, considering the paucity of information available about the sale options, both of which would take the public company private, with as-yet-unspecified effect on the magazine. Still, don't these people have sources?
  • The former managing editor of Playgirl has a behind-the-scenes take on what went wrong at that magazine and why she's ... well, annoyed, it seems to me, by the current talk about a revival of the print magazine, led by the modeling of Levi Johnston. She puts a lot of the blame on the corporate sex-industry owners of the magazine, saying they understood neither how to market to women nor to gay men.
  • And, finally, proof I wasn't lying about that 300-year-old magazine.

My previous media roundup.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Esquire's #%^*ing "Augmented Reality" issue

Hmmmmm, ... so one of my loves about a good print magazine is that it is a self-contained universe, a worldview designed and written and presented between two covers (well, between four covers, if you're a magazine person). And yet ... alongcomes Esquire, with its December "augmented reality" issue, featuring a vaguely lewd pose of actor Robert Downey Jr. on the cover above a box that reveals who-knows-what under the right conditions.

Samir Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine," found the Esquire experience interesting and useless. I found it, well, completely unfulfilling, because when I finally received my copy of Esquire in the mail, I was first put off by the fact that a mailing label was covering up part of the special box that was supposed to be part of the "augmented reality" gimmick of the issue. I'd heard that you hold up the image to a web camera and something is revealed.

Not quite. Luckily, the idiotic mailing label (which can be placed elsewhere on the cover, you know; it doesn't have to be over the one vision-critical portion of the entire magazine cover) came off without ripping or disfiguring the paper beneath it. But then I was instructed to turn to page 21 of the magazine, where I learned I had to go to a web page and download a zipped file, and then view the cover of the magazine in front of the webcam.

No. I refuse. That's stupid. I mean, bravo, hooray, all that nonsense for a magazine that
is trying new (albeit useless) gimmicks to get attention. But I have to go download some software that I will never use again just to watch what apparently is an ad for the magazine I already hold in my hands?

I give up. How is this better than a normal magazine?

BTW, I have sitting on my desk next to me the June 1940 issue of Esquire (no, I'm not that old; I bought it on eBay, thank you very much). It features absolutely no such gimmicks, but it does feature articles by F. Scott Fitzgerald, examinations of Japanese life, a look at the people around Jack London, and a ton of satire, fashion, comics, and commentary. And much, much more. I hope Esquire -- and all the other magazine editors out there who think they have to trick people into reading their publications -- can come back to earth at some point and realize that people spend time with your magazine if you give them something worthwhile to read.

And you don't have to hold it up to some stupid web camera.

Progeny Payback: Roger Corman Gets His Academy Award

This probably won't be a Trending Topic on Twitter, because it's been building for too many years. Too many decades. But 83-year-old filmmaking veteran Roger Corman received an Oscar last night in recognition of his long career, where he gave a start to many young filmmakers, including Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, and others.

Lawrence French interviews Corman over at Cinefantastique, where Corman tells French that he never tried to lock in these young talents with long-term contracts:

I couldn’t put up the millions of dollars out of my personal savings for someone to make a film. I simply didn’t have that much money. So I assumed that people would make their first low budget film for me, and then would go off and make their next film at a major studio for a much bigger budget.
In the December issue of Playboy, Avatar Director James Cameron says the Corman experience -- which he lived while making models for Battle Beyond the Stars -- was a sink-or-swin experience. "On a Corman film everybody just rose to his or her own level -- the opposite of the Peter Principle, in a way. You didn't think of a career; you thought, What's my next opportunity?"

The Los Angeles Times reports that Corman was saluted by some of his former young talent, including Ron Howard, who toasted him: "He changed my life. ... Dying for him was a badge of honor."

Congratulations to the independent film-lord.

The main Academy Awards show, which will be co-hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, will take place Sunday, March 7, 2010.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2012 Movie Review: Cheesehead Disaster Flick?

2012 is the latest (and allegedly final) disaster movie from Roland ("Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow") Emmerich, the German-born blockbuster director.

His fans shouldn't feel left out, though. If you've seen one disaster movie, you've pretty much seen them all. World ends. Some people survive (usually). Much unlikely stuff occurs. Giant things crash into smaller things, some excellent special effects take place, and the heroes make some impossible escapes. Same thing here.

There are some nice touches. John Cusack does a good job with a pretty uninteresting role, as the divorced father of two who is forced to come to their rescue -- and to the rescue of his ex-wife and her new husband. Danny Glover is okay as the president, who has to decide whether to go with the chosen escapees or to stay behind with the vast majority of the American people to meet his doom from the planet-wide disaster.

That's a key choice, even if his particular decision isn't key to anything in this movie. Basically, 2012 sets up an unfair conflict, in which the audience is expected to share the moral outrage of one of the heroes about people who are not allowed onto the arks that will protect a small minority of the population. It's false, because if there are only a certain number of slots available on the arks (and the film offers no other option), then only a minority will survive in any case. It's Sophie's Choice on a vast scale in any case, but one of the heroes throws a hissy fit right at a critical time, causing a delay in the launch of one of the arks and nearly killing many more people.

But it's silly of me or anyone to expect a philosphical masterpiece in a film, much less in a disaster film. So if you can turn off your brain for two hours and 38 minutes, then you will likely enjoy this movie. Despite my qualms above, I was able to enjoy it as the brick-stupid movie it is.

But I have one question: What's the deal with Wisconsin? It crops up quite a few times in this movie. Did the moviemakers not like the state? Or are they doing a friendly shout-out to it?

Then again, I'm from Wisconsin originally, so maybe others won't notice that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Media Roundup: Augmented Reality, Playboy's Threads, Magazine Industry Promotions

The latest from the weird world of media:
  • Samir Husni experiments with the latest fad to hit magazines that are bored with being magazines: augmented reality. He checks out Colors and Esquire, both of which employ AR in their newest issues. My Esquire hasn't arrived yet in the mail, but until it does, I'm informed by Husni's experience that my previous assumptions that Esquire is being smart PR-wise but dumb content wise were correct. Husni notes, "The result was fun, captivating and useless, all three in one… like eating cotton candy…eating all that hot air that will satisfy your taste buds but will leave you hungry rather than satisfied." Now isn't that what you want people saying about your magazine?
  • One Twitterer (nittwit?) commented today, "Playboy may be sold to Iconix Brand Group (London Fog). That will be a sad day. The mag. enterprise could easily be salvaged instead." I tend to agree that the magazine is the important thing -- from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, it was one of the most powerful magazines in the country, socially and politically (and economically). Nonetheless, if Iconix does turn out to be a successful buyer for the company, I don't think that necessarily means the magazine's in trouble, or not more trouble than it's in today. After all, Iconix owns Joe Boxer, London Fog, and a ton of other brands. It must be smart enough to see the magazine as a marketing tool for those brands; an ad page in a magazine purchased by 1.5 million people a month is a great place to get traction. But I think another thing is not being noticed, at least in the United States: Playboy is a clothing brand, as well. It has a string of successful Playboy stores in China, for example. Go to eBay's Chinese or Hong Kong sites and do a search for "playboy." You'll see just how many non-magazine items there are. I continue to think that Iconix could be a good choice; and if it's not that company in the end that is the buyer, it at least shows that Playboy's being pretty smart in choosing its dance partners.
  • But wait: There's more! The Los Angeles Times reports that Playboy's also talking with another potential suiter, a group led by the company's former entertainment chief Jim Griffiths. Both deals are estimated to be worth more than $300 million, and both would take the company private. (I never thought Playboy should be a public company, anyway, and it has only gotten more expensive and self-defeating to be a public company in the past decade. Sarbanes Oxley itself is reason enough to go private if you can.) The Times reports, "[Playboy CEO Scott] Flanders said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that he wanted to grow Playboy by focusing on brand licensing and location-based entertainment, such as nightclubs. That probably would be the plan as well for Iconix, which owns and licenses several well-known brands such as London Fog, Starter and Joe Boxer." More good news, then.
  • Enough Playboy news. For those of you train-wreck fans, CBS has put out some excerpts of Sarah Palin's interview with Oprah. Headline news: She doesn't like Levi Johnston, and she admits her interviews with Katie Couric weren't successful.
  • And, finally, the cavalry is here. Several magazine bigwigs, including Rolling Stone and Us Weekly's Jann Wenner, Hearst Magazines' Cathie Black, and Time Inc's Ann Moore,  are planning to join together to promote magazines as an industry. Maybe they'll use Augmented Reality. I'm sure Jann Wenner does.

(My previous media roundup.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Playboy in Talks for Sale to Iconix Brand Group

Iconix Brand Group, the owner of London Fog and Candie's and Joe Boxer clothing lines, is reportedly in talks with Playboy Enterprises about buying the 56-year old media and entertainment group. Bloomberg says Iconix is examining Playboy's finances, though neither company is commenting.

Playboy's stock surged today; Iconix's dipped slightly, according to Crain's. There still might well not be a deal, but if it goes through, it would be an interesting matchup, with a new owner that really knows brand exploitation and that can do some good cross-promotion among its brands. (When was the last time you saw a London Fog ad in Playboy?)

Nor is it clear what role would be played by founder Hugh Hefner, who still owns the vast majority of Playboy shares.

Media Roundup: Condé Nast, Tribune vs. WSJ, Cult Newspapers, and More

The latest from the worlds of media:
  • Politico's Michael Calderone reports that Newsweek is going through a round of layoffs. No word yet on who's leaving. But it makes this Newsweek blog from earlier this year about surviving layoffs rather interesting.
  • Someplace that has also seen layoffs and other cutbacks, the luxury operation at Condé Nast, is also out with a report on its ad pages for the year, and it isn't pretty. According to The New York Times, the company's overall ad pages are down by a third, and "[t]he worst-hit magazines for the year were Architectural Digest, where ad pages fell 49.9 percent; W, where ad pages fell 46 percent; and Condé Nast Traveler, where pages fell 41.1 percent. Details and Wired both fell about 39 percent."
  • The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal reports that The Wall Street Journal is looking into creating a Chicago edition, such as the one it recently launched in San Francisco (really the national edition with an occasional page of Bay Area-specific coverage). If it does do the new edition (and it probably will, because it's locked in a coast-to-coast battle with the similarly expanding New York Times), then the Trib has no one to blame but itself, as it has continually shrunk its ambitions and coverage and size under owner Sam Zell. When I was in college in the 1980s, I heard that the publisher of the two Madison, Wisconsin, dailies was asked why he didn't just combine them, in essence taking the smaller, money-losing one out of its misery. He replied that no way was he going to do that and open up a slot for the Milwaukee Journal to move in with a localized edition. Nature -- and Rupert Murdoch -- abhores a vacuum.
  • Staying on the newspaper beat a little longer, we should note the bizarre goings-on at the Washington Times, the right-wing capital paper owned by cult leader Sun Myung-Moon. Long a disreputable also-ran paper in the nation's capital, the Times nonetheless became a darling of the conservatives and even -- strangely -- the Christian Right. Now, it appears to be "imploding," and that city is full of stories about the Moons' family feud, armed guards in the company offices, flight of top editors, and more. Huffington Post quotes one source as saying that Rev. Moon said, "The Washington Times has to take responsibility for people going to hell in America," he declared, referring to, among other sins, 'homosexuality and lesbianism.'" I guess no GLAAD Media Award for Sun Myung-Moon this year!
  • Just to show that there is good news in the world of media, here's a report on a Purdue student who created his own magazine.
  • And, finally, Jeff Bercovici reports that John King will host a new show to replace the departing Lou Dobbs. I think that's called trading up.

(My previous media roundup.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Star Trek's Gene Roddenberry to Get TV Hall of Fame Slot

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that Gene Roddenberry will be added to its Hall of Fame in 2010. Roddenberry, of course, is the late creator of Star Trek (as well as other, less long-lived projects). He will be part of a small group of inductees in January that includes pioneering TV comedians Dick and Tom Smothers, Candice Bergen (anyone know that Ms. Bergen wrote an article for Playboy's February 1974 issue called "Can a Cultural Worker from Beverly Hills Find Happiness in the People's Republic of China?" -- see image above right), Charles Lisanby, Don Pardo, and Bob Stewart.

"Each year, the Television Academy has the privilege of honoring television greats that have contributed to the development and success of this ever-evolving medium," said John Shaffner, the academy's chairman and CEO. "This year's inductees have challenged and shaped popular culture, changed television for the better and entertained us royally while doing so. We are very pleased to be able to induct them into the Hall of Fame for their many achievements."

Congratulations to all.

Lou Dobbs Leaves CNN Again, but Wolf Blitzer Lets the Opinions Fly

For the second time in his career (if I'm keeping count correctly), Lou Dobbs is high-tailing it out of CNN-land. The TV host has been under increasing fire for his unending crusade on immigration policy -- bordering on racism, in some people's eyes -- and more recently for apparently pushing the lunatic birther movement.

Whether he's headed to Fox News or some other warren of media wolves (just go with me here) is unknown at this time. But it does mark one more feather in CNN's cap that they let him out of his contract and didn't try to keep him.

Now, what the heck was going through CNN's mind earlier today, when Wolf Blitzer unleashed some incredibly amatuerish bile at the lawyer defending the man who shot those soldiers at Fort Hood? Look, nobody I know of is thinking kind thoughts about that clearly deluded murderer. But when the lawyer said it was his job to see that the defendent got a fair trial, Blitzer tried to end the conversation by saying that that was at least more than the people who were gunned down received. Is Blitzer angling for a Fox News invitation? An MSNBC timeslot?

Try doing the news, sir, and leave the opinion to others. The lawyer -- a retired military lawyer, in fact -- was not making wild or ridiculous statements that deserved rudeness. He said nothing to disrespect the murdered soldiers or their loved ones. He was simply stating the obvious and answering Blitzer's earlier question about whether he had qualms defending this man. If Blitzer has a better idea about how military justice should work, I look forward to reading his learned treatise on the topic. But this was embarrassing, and from CNN, no less.

To Blitzer's minimal credit, he did let the lawyer respond, after it became apparent that the lawyer was taken aback by Blitzer's grandstanding. But I lost quite a bit of respect for a news host today.

Murdoch's Self-Defeating Plan to Take on Google

News Corp. baron Rupert Murdoch's plan to block Google from indexing his newspapers' web sites could mean The Wall Street Journal's site "could lose up to 25 percent of its traffic," reports PC Magazine.

As I noted here yesterday, Murdoch seems intent on erecting a barrier against companies linking to his articles. The ostensible reason is that he will be putting in a paid content system -- but that's a ridiculous argument. People still link to a paid article, but when they get there, they need to sign in. Has anyone ever clicked through to a Financial Times article? That's what you get. (Unless, like me, you're one of the chosen who has a subscription.) 

Daily Finance blogger Jeff Bercovici thinks Murdoch's too smart to cut off his own legs, questioning "whether he's really so angry at the 'parasites' he's prepared to drink poison just to hurt them." While I'd hope he'd gulp it down, I agree that Murdoch is anything but stupid long-term. Crass. Purveyor of yellow journalism. Debaser of culture and politics. Sure, but not long-term stupid.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Media Roundup: Murdoch, Paid News Sites, Science, Caijing, & More

The latest from the worlds of media:

  • Now, this is a move by yellow-press baron Rupert Murdoch that I can get behind: He is threatening to sue Google and BBC for using material from his media empire on their sites. Google, of course, links to (mind you, links to, doesn't copy) news from around the world on its Google News service. I use it. I like it. It does not in any way prevent me from visiting media sites, and in fact I've got several dozen newspapers, TV, radio, and magazine web sites bookmarked that I visit throughout the day. (And readers of this site know that nothing has stopped me from subscribing to magazines -- in fact, I just sent in a one-year subscription order for British science fiction media mag SFX.) What I don't have bookmarked is anything from Murdoch's empire, because I think he puts politics before truth, and I think he plays in the gutter too often. Here's my point: I've often wished I could select some feature that would remove Fox News and other Murdoch sources from my Google News results. I don't want to accidentally click on them and end up helping his click-through rates. Now, Murdoch will be making this happen on his own. Hooray. Google, of course, said Murdoch can just choose not to have his newspapers indexed by Google. The FT report on his response when told about that suggests to me that he's not quite clear on the concept of links on the internet: "Asked how he reacted to the challenge of Google and others for newspapers such as his to remove their newspapers from search results, Mr Murdoch said that once they had in place the means to charge for news, 'I think we will.'" Huh? Why doesn't he remove it now? Does he know what he's talking about? 
  • Mediaite has a nice collection of magazine covers featuring the Berlin Wall, which recently celebrated its 20th year of non-existence. (For more on the Wall anniversary, see here and here and here and here.)
  • Discovery Communications -- the overlords for the Discovery family of channels -- is launching a science news web site. More science news is always a welcome move, especially coming from a group that has been as successful as Discovery at popularizing it. Bookmark its new site -- I don't think Murdoch will care!
  • If you remember my recent post about the upheaval at anti-corruption Chinese magazine Caijing, you might be interested to know that the pioneering editor, Hu Shuli, has officially resigned and is going to be dean of communications and design at Sun Yat-sen University. (By the way, I first learned about that from a link on Media Bistro's newsletter to a story in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. But since he doesn't want people to come to his web sites, I decided to include a link to the Forbes article instead.)
  • Despite circulation of more than half a million, Metropolitan Home magazine is closing, with its December issue being its final number.
(My previous media roundup.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Avatar -- The First Half-Billion-Dollar Movie?

The New York Times and Slice of Sci Fi, among others, are reporting that James Cameron's new science fiction film Avatar will cost studio 20th Century Fox about $500 million, once you factor in the production budget and the marketing budget. And yet, the studio seems rather chipper about earning a profit on the flick (or else they've bought some really good insurance).

Slice of Sci Fi notes that Cameron did this with his last big flick, the budget-busting Titanic, which scared industry executives with its price tag but which went on to earn untold trillions at the box office. I also remember that when Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Cameron's sequel to the low-budget B-movie Terminator, was coming out, it was also thought to have an astronomical, never-to-be-paid-back budget. T2 cost about $100 million, and it also went on to make gazillions.

So a half-billion sounds like a lot -- I mean, I could think of many cool uses for even half of that -- but Cameron does know how to deliver.

Important Omission from China's Official Reports of Berlin Wall Anniversary

In the English-language web site for Xinhua, China's official news agency, the report about today's 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is a nice overview of the celebrations today, a bit of information about the wall's founding, and a note of some of the leaders in Berlin for the celebration.

There is even this interesting paragraph:

The Berlin Wall was erected during the night between August 12-13 of 1961 to divide the Berlin city as well as East Germany and West Germany. The wall is the symbol of so-call Iron Curtain for the Cold War. 

What's missing from that paragraph and in fact from the entire article? How about the single word communist or its relative communism? That China's communist leaders wouldn't want to note the fact that the wall's fall was a mass rejection of a failed communist party, ideology, and police state isn't surprising. What's worrisome is that many people will probably read Xinhua's article and not even notice the omission.

Berlin Wall -- Past and Present

The Brandenburg Gate, once the famous place for Western leaders to make anti-Wall speeches. (2001 photo by John Zipperer.)

In the former eastern sector of Berlin, there is a memorial known as the Mauerpark -- Mauer is the German word for wall. Though almost all of the communist-built wall that separated this city for 28 years has disappeared, this park serves as a reminder of several things: the wall itself, the communist regime that ran the former GDR, and the lasting scars of the horrible war started and lost in that capital city.

On August 4, 1961, just days before the Berlin Wall's construction would begin, UPI President Frank Bartholomew spoke to The Commonwealth Club about the dilemma Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev faced with his post-war empire in Eastern Europe.

In Berlin this July, I was able to understand Khrushchev's attitude toward Berlin and why he created the crisis. From his viewpoint, it is completely logical. ... Berlin is cracking the Iron Curtain. It's a showplace of Western prosperity 124 miles inside the Communist zone, and it has become absolutely intolerable to him. ... The billboards in East Berlin extol the benefits of Communism as against the slavery of the West, but 40,000 East Berliners go West each day for their employment. ... The defections are depleting the population of East Germany. Three weeks ago, defections were 4,000 a week. Now reports say they have stepped up to 1,500 daily. ... Khrushchev faces 100 million enemies in the Iron Curtain countries and is making no progress at persuading them to the Russian way of thinking.

Today, Germany is hosting celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Leaders from across the European Union -- nations that were locked in a fight to the death 65 years ago, and that were divided by a lethal iron curtain for about 45 years after that -- gathered to commemorate the event that, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted, was part of the continental struggle to lift off the repression of a number of communist regimes. Those leaders have been joined by some other significant leaders, including Russian President Medvedev, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Polish President Lech Walesa, who arguably established the first crack in the Iron Curtain when he led the shipyard strikes against Poland's communist government almost a decade before the Wall fell. In her comments right before a re-enactment of the crossing of the border, Merkel noted the "incredible encouragement" East Germans got from Poland's Solidarity movement.

When Walesa spoke at The Commonwealth Club in 2004, after receiving The Club's Medallion award, he downplayed the role played by Gorbachev and suggested that it was the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin who really made the changes of 1989 stick:
The process could have been reversed, and at this point we were lucky to have Yeltsin - not Gorbachev, but Yeltsin. Because Gorbachev, when he realized what was happening, made this attempt to reform communism. Perestroika and glasnost are nothing but a reform of communism. .... This is precisely what he admitted in the presence of President George Bush Sr., [German] Chancellor Kohl, [Czech] President Havel and others. But that was a time when Yeltsin was antagonistic with Gorbachev. As you may remember, the majority of you supported Gorbachev at that time; however, this antagonism allowed Yeltsin to prepare Russia and then withdraw her from the Soviet Union, which he actually did. I'm not sure whether he did it when sober or when drunk, but he did it. Had he not done it, I am sure that I myself, and Chancellor Kohl, would be rebuilding the Berlin Wall even faster than we had pulled it down sometime before, with strong encouragement from the United States. [Listen to complete Walesa audio.]
Yeltsin, of course, is unable to attend today's festivities, but Walesa's views do not seem to have moderated in the last five years. He recently told German newsweekly Der Spiegel that "the first wall to fall was pushed over in 1980 in the Polish shipyards. Later, other symbolic walls came down, and the Germans, of course, tore down the literal wall in Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall makes for nice pictures. But it all started in the shipyards."

In his own speech to The Commonwealth Club on the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czech President Vaclav Klaus noted that the revolutionary events of the end of communism in eastern Europe had given way to a changed landscape that required continued -- but not revolutionary -- change: "The Czech Republic has become already -- structurally -- a standard, which means normal, European country, and as a result of this it has typical European problems, if not to say European diseases. They cannot be solved by means of another revolution, because we are already in the middle of the process of a spontaneous evolution of basic social structures. This evolutionary era, of course, is less radical, less dramatic, less headlines-creating, but -- paradoxically -- more controversial and even more ideological." [Listen to Klaus event audio.]

Tear Down This Wall
Another important figure who was not able to make it to this year's celebrations is the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who famously sparred with the Soviets during his first term in office, only to forge a partnership with Gorbachev. Reagan is often quoted for his challenge to Gorbachev, delivered at the Brandenburg Gate along the Wall, to "tear down this wall."

The writer of that speech, Peter Robinson, told The Club in 2004 that he had a conversation with President Reagan before the speech, in which Robinson tried to get feedback from the president that would help him formulate a strong speech.

I said, "Mr. President, I learned when I was in Berlin that they'll be able to hear the speech on the other side of the Wall, by radio – and if the weather conditions are just right, I was told, they'll be able to pick up the speech as far east as Moscow itself. Is there anything in particular that you'd like to say to people on the other side of the Wall?" And Ronald Reagan thought for a moment and then said, "Well, there's that passage [in the draft of the speech] about tearing down the Wall – that's what I'd like to say to them: that wall has to come down." [Listen to complete Robinson audio.]

Today, "Berlin Wall" is a "trending topic" on Twitter, which means that it's one of the phrases used most often on that social media service. Thousands of "tweets" are noting the anniversary, sharing memories, and pointing to news stories on the celebrations in Berlin. One person tweeted the question, "What would it have been like if Twitter had existed when the Berlin Wall fell?" Probably not much different would have happened, but it might have given an answer to the other person -- a teenager, judging from his profile photo -- who tweeted, "Who cares about the Berlin Wall?"

The crowds who accompanied Merkel, Walesa, and Gorbachev across the bridge in their re-enactment of the first East German crowds to surge across the border in 1989 care, that's who. And they are making another point about how what people on the ground can do to make history, or at least to push their leaders in the direction they want to go. The New York Times reports that, as Merkel noted the large crowd that turned out for the crossing today, despite rainfall, she appreciated the milieu:

“It’s perhaps as chaotic as it was in 1989,” Mrs. Merkel said of the crowd thronging around the leaders so that it was sometimes barely possible to distinguish the politicians from the people. “I’m very happy that so many people turned up. ... Everyone who is present here today has a story to tell,” she said. “They are part of freedom.”

[I originally posted this article here.]

Mauerfall: Berlin Wall Anniversary in the News

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, which led very quickly to its dismantlement (fitting, since it was erected very quickly) and within a year to the reunification of Germany.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is representing the United States at the celebrations, along with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Polish President Lech Walesa, Russian President Medvedev, and various EU leaders.

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev jointly retraced the path of the first East Germans who crossed into the West after the opening of the Wall. For Merkel, it was a repeat performance, because she was actually in that crowd of Ossies going west.

As I've noted here before, I spent that historic time watching from afar, as a political science student and campus newspaper editor at the University of Wisconsin. One impression I had then was reinforced when I read a line by (I think) German writer Peter Schneider, who noted that the spontaneous celebrations took so many people by surprise because they saw that Germans could be spontaneous, laughing and partying, so unlike the stereotype of them around the world. (Assuming I've got the correct writer attribution there, it's an appropriate one. Schneider is the author of, among many other works, Der Mauerspringer -- a collection of short stories translated in English as The Wall Jumper.)

It's rare, I think, that truly world-changing events take place in ways that are almost entirely positive and peaceful. There were certainly violent results of the fall of the Soviet Union, but the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the celebrations, and the reunification of Germany demonstrated that these things can happen without bloodshed.

So, again, I watch from afar.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Clinton Hits All the Right Notes in Berlin Wall Anniversary Speech

Great speech by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Berlin for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall. The UK newspaper Telegraph quotes her as saying, "We owe it to ourselves and to those who yearn for the same freedoms that are enjoyed and even taken for granted in Berlin today.... And we need to form an even stronger partnership to bring down the walls of the 21st century and to confront those who hide behind them: the suicide bombers, those who murder and maim girls whose only wish is to go to school.... In place of these new walls, we must renew the trans-Atlantic alliance as a cornerstone of a global architecture of co-operation." Best of all, she cited German Chancellor Angela Merkel's wonderful speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress last week, which didn't get nearly as much attention as it deserved. A very good political move. (Also, check out the Time magazine cover story on Clinton.)

 For more on the Berlin Wall anniversary celebrations, see Deutsche Welle's comprehensive reporting. (See short DW German-language report.) For German-readers, Der Spiegel has a great report (as usual). And any subscribers to the German edition of Playboy should check out its report on Mikhail Gorbachov, the somewhat tragic figure of this whole enterprise.

And the always-disturbing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is nostalgic for the former GDR. By now, we all know that UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was about 45 years behind the times with her bitter opposition to German reunification, but, as The New York Times reports, most of the naysayers were brought around. They realized that Germany in 1989 (or 2009) was not Germany of 1933 or 1945.

Happy anniversary.

The Party Line

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Little (Starlog) Background Music, Please

Ha. Just a day after I noted that the background on the web site was really a Fangoria background and not a Starlog background, well, there's a whole new background and even a bit of a web site redesign for the Starloggers. (I know, I know, it had nothing to do with what I wrote; after all, you don't redesign a commercial web site in less than 24 hours. But I like the coincidence.)

Comic-Con Founder Shel Dorf, RIP

Shel Dorf, who founded the giant Comic Con comics convention in San Diego nearly 40 years ago, has died at the age of 76, Chicago Tribune reports. The first convention was attended by only 300 people; today, the Comic-Cons attract well over 100,000 people a year. Also: Comic-Con's tribute to Dorf.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Media Roundup: Levi Johnston, redux; Creepy wait; Funding Bookstores; Oprah and Ellen

The latest from the worlds of media:
  •  Esquire's at it again: Supposedly, there will be 3-D something-or-other on the cover of the December issue of the magazine. I haven't received my subscription copy yet, but I hope it helps sales. That said, when was the last time you read about or heard someone talk about an article they read in Esquire? When was the last time you heard or read about some gimmick in Esquire? I suspect, for most of us, the latter is more recent (and frequent) than the former.
  • There's been lots of are-they-or-aren't-they and finger-pointing concerning the reported plans to cease publication of long-running gay news magazine The Advocate. Gay blog Towleroad recently reported about a blistering attack on the magazine written by a former Advocate editor, but today the blogger says that the editor didn't mean to be so, well, mean. What's up here? There have also been denials that the magazine's going to be canceled (and turned into a 32-page insert into sister mag Out). Is this just a case of people trying not to burn bridges they might need someday, or is the final decision (and the resulting fallout) not yet final after all?
  • The Daily Beast carries an article this morning by Jacob Bernstein on how Playgirl magazine is being reinvented and relaunched one year after it ceased print publication and went online-only. The high-profile figure involved in this is, of course, Levi Johnston, the father of right-wing Republican "author" Sarah Palin's grandchild. As has been reported everywhere, Johnston is going to pose nude for Playgirl. Originally, it was assumed this was going to be an online exercise, but the Beast's Bernstein profiles the man who's helping to bring the magazine back as a print product, though it's not yet decided if it'll be bimonthly or quarterly.
  • In one of my earlier roundups, I included a note about how much I liked the new comics-sized version of the (formerly magazine-sized) legendary horror comic Creepy. The first issue really was wonderful, capturing the spirit and the look of the iconic Warren magazine while still updating it and not be too imitative. The release of the second issue of this (sadly only quarterly) comic was announced for October. Now well into November, I checked publisher Dark Horse Comics' web site and see the release date has been set at November 25. Production delay? I don't know the reason. My desire is definitely to see this comic go monthly, but if they're having delays producing it on a quarterly schedule, monthly might not be in the offing.
  • United Business Media reported earnings in line with expectations, but it is expected to close more magazines, on top of the 15 it closed earlier this year, reports Folio:. I hope the UBM folks I know are doing okay.
  • No hard-hitting reporting here (okay, not that my Creepy item will win a Pulitzer), but I enjoyed this post by Starlog editor David McDonnell about feeling required to buy something when you enter a bookstore. As you can tell from my response on that page, I feel much the same, and I'm often pleased with what I end up buying. Other times, I head home and I'm already regretting what I paid for. Do I really need to own a copy of ESPN magazine? Why am I buying the newest issue of Der Spiegel when I haven't even started my previous issue? Alas. It keeps the economy moving! (A side note: Is anyone else bothered that the background of the Starlog web site features images from sister magazine Fangoria, but not Starlog? Mistake? Marketing decision for their recent Las Vegas convention? Who knows?)
  • And, finally, one of my favorite TV personalities/comedians, Ellen Degeneres, appears on the December cover of Oprah Winfrey's O magazine. When two TV talk giants combine, you can expect a media publicity overdose, and sure enough, you're getting it. There are video segments covering the photo shoot, reader polls (there are two versions of the cover), and much hooplah.

My previous media roundup.