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All photos Getty Images - Justin Sullivan; Jason Merritt; Michael Buckner for SXSW; Jamie McCarthy for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; Michael Buckner; Jason Merritt

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Real Housewives: New Jersey

In Episode 135, Germar is joined by Erin McKelle to talk "Jersey Housewives." We discuss the history of the show and franchise, make predictions about the future, and discuss all the action from last week's season premiere. Think of this episode as a pre-cap. Oh, and Erin may be the best co-host ever, so tell your friends.

Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for HSN

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kardashian and Lohan: virtual game fame

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Kim Kardashian cemented her status as queen of the “famous for nothing” this year. Over the last 12 months, she raked in an estimated $28 million. So it’s no surprise that Kim also holds the claim to fame when it comes to social media. As a reality TV-show star, it makes sense that she retains eminent ranking in all things reality: twitter, Instagram, tumblr—you name it. But now, going one step further, Kim has decided to test the waters of fame in virtual reality—and used it as a fun way to parody herself.

The reality TV star teamed up with Glu Mobile last month to release the smartphone app Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. With the launch of the game, just three weeks ago on June 25, the app has already absolutely exploded. As of Wednesday, July 16, the game sits shockingly at No. 2 on Apple’s free app charts, and rates impressively among users.

According to Forbes, the game brought in a monstrous $200 million for the developer; Kim made over $85 million. With that paycheck, Kim earned nearly triple the amount she made in 2013, including all her endorsements deals, fashion lines, and even her career-launching TV show.

So what exactly is so enthralling about yet another trifling Hollywood-centered game? The answer isn't the renowned Kim Kardashian—it’s the caricature of her lifestyle.

The object of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is to venture into Hollywood, climbing the necessary social rungs to reach celebrity “A” status, with crucial tips provided by Kim along the way. The game centers on sarcasm. It mocks Kim’s (and other Hollywood celebrities’) superficial lifestyles, as the digital Kim herself makes snide remarks about her own life.

Film and TV producer Ali Hussainy noted, “Kim Kardashian took every negative connotation ever been made about her and incorporated it into this game. Half the fun is waiting for the little inside jokes she makes like when she comments, ‘dating another celebrity will make you more famous.’ It’s actually quite funny.”

While this satirical view of Kim’s celebrity status as a video game character seems harmless and wacky, other celebrities clearly aren't joining in on the fun. In fact, this celebrity-scapegoat theme can even be offensive.

As she turned 28 on July 2, 2014, Lindsay Lohan stood in a different kind of birthday suit.
Lindsay sued the makers of the popular video game Grand Theft Auto Wednesday, July 2, for creating a character that she alleged was based on her own image. Lindsay claimed that GTA used her image, voice, outfits, and clothing label without permission.

In the game, released September 2013, a minor character, Lacy, is portrayed as a famous actress. Players meet her in an alley, in downtown “Vinewood,” where she hides from the paparazzi.

In a voice strikingly similar to Lindsay’s, Lacey demands help to escape the paparazzi. Her social status as a popular celebrity is satirized during the ride as she complains about being famous, reveals she is anorexic, and swanks her immense wealth.

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images
 Arguably, the character bears a strong resemblance to Lindsay in hairstyle, physique, and clothing styles. “Lacy” seems especially similar to Lindsay in her depiction on the front cover of the Grand Theft Auto game, posing in a bikini and holding a mobile phone.

Both video games promote a similar sardonic look at the Hollywood lifestyle, from a middle class point of view. The games feature two paparazzi-magnet starlets. Despite Lindsay’s upcoming lawsuit, both games have succeeded immensely.

But while Kim’s paltry “dress to success” app spurs nothing more than a lighthearted jeer, Lindsay’s derisive duplicate renders something much more spiteful. As working consumers, reading about sordid affairs and scandals of celebrity life exasperates and amuses us. But can the joke go too far?

Kim approved her image in the video game, and was actively involved in the development process from start to finish. But GTA may have swiped Lindsay’s image to create its ditsy Lacey character, without her knowledge or permission. While we know Lindsay unwisely ran up an unpaid $46,000 bill and was banned from the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, was it necessary for Grand Theft Auto to use the same location in the game?  Are they purposely twisting the knife, or is this one big coincidence?

The theme of gaining virtual and superficial fame sounds fun, but this sword cuts both ways. Is the goal of these video games fun, or a sneaky way of kicking stars while they’re down, or soaring, or being reborn?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Britney Spears, auto-tune, and pop music masks

by Anna Acosta

Editor's note: auto-tune is now the generic name for digital pitch correction, which is sometimes automatic or automated.

Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
The use of auto-tune continues to drive debate in the musical community. In some genres, it is viewed as the great evil. Other genres have been created based entirely on auto-tune’s over-use. Recently, someone released a recording of Britney Spears singing her latest radio hit “Alien” sans auto-tune. The results are rather cringe-worthy. 

Naturally, a discussion sprung up concerning the use of auto-tune in today’s (pop) music. Are we being sold a lie? Is auto-tune ethical? Can anyone really sing anymore? These are the questions that get thrown around. They are good questions. They also miss the point entirely.

The vocal booth is an interesting place. Any vocalist knows that the human voice is a temperamental instrument. Additionally, very little information has been released regarding the clip in question. There are a lot of factors that should be considered when judging any singular recording. These factors become irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, because at the end of the day, none of us were there.

The clip was rumored to be a warm-up take. It’s possible Spears was not feeling well at the time, or her levels weren't where they needed to be. Even the very best ears can be misled, when a vocalist's headphones or monitors aren't quite right. Perhaps Spears was merely having a bad day. Perhaps she really is a bit tone deaf. Perhaps.

As tempting as it can be to dive into the world of unverifiable conjecture, it serves very little purpose in cases like this. Even more crucial to consider than Spears’s instrument is what she represents in this case – the pop artist of the 21st century. This isn't just about the music. That isn't to say there is no quality musicianship in pop music. For every awful pop song, there is a phenomenal one.

Pop music is about so much more than music – it’s about image, and it’s about an experience. When you’re part of a finely tuned machine, where the bottom line holds the key to your image, and positioning, the pressure on artists like Spears is immense. Perfection is expected, to the point that it matters more than musicianship. Performances must be flawless. As a result, no one should be surprised (or offended) by a heavy use of auto-tune. This is exactly what we've asked for.

As album sales become less and less of a primary income source for major labels, and their artists, the music itself becomes a loss leader. The necessity to be flawless comes more and more into play. A pop concert today--regardless of the sub-genre--is a heavily manufactured, closely controlled production designed to give the viewer an experience that goes far beyond the purposely formulaic, sometimes trite music that's put on display. 

No one goes to a pop concert to connect with the music itself. That simply isn't the function it serves. The shows are too expensive, and too difficult to get to (between the crowds, the lines, and the overzealous fans) for it to just be about the music. Fans want a payoff for their investment, and the only way to guarantee that payoff is by masking reality to a certain extent. Auto-tune is merely one weapon in an arsenal of ways to make pop prettier.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images
In many ways, a pop show is like a magic show. Fans see and hear what they want to see and hear. The illusion that it is not manufactured is comforting. Any vitriol that results from the illusion being stripped away is simply because people do not like to admit that they have willingly bought into a system that cares more about image than the music it is supposed to represent. It is the dirty little secret that everyone knows, but nobody wants to admit to knowing.

Pop shows are backing tracks. Pop shows are mimed instruments. Pop shows are real-time auto-tune. Pop shows are heavily rehearsed monologues and moments of “sincerity.”  Pop music is bought likes, views, and followers. Pop music is about choreography and to-the-letter details, all painstakingly chosen to achieve that untouchable image and air of perfection. It offers an escape, an outlet, where people can disconnect for three minutes from the messy realities of day-to-day life to a place where everything happens exactly the way one would expect it to . . . until the song ends.

To blame pop for striving to achieve perfection by any means necessary is to blame it for doing exactly what it is supposed to do. Pop music is not being dishonest or lying to its listeners, or pretending to be something that it is not. It is serving the very purpose that it was created to serve. It will continue to do that as long as there are crowds of people willing to sing along.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Apes and Autobots

20th Century Fox
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
 for Paramount Pictures
Episode 134 is the best podcast ever. Germar reviews Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (11 min.) and Transformers: Age of Extinction (20 min). There are light spoilers throughout. But first, Germar talks about why he doesn't get along with dudes. This podcast is great and we never even make it to Optimus Prime becoming Superman, the advocating for statutory rape, or the 18th time that aliens caused the dinosaur extinction OR the fact that both of these movies are really about evolution . . . . BIG BONUS: Germar does the best ever Mark Wahlberg impression.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Taylor Swift: "albums are arrows through the heart" in the Wall Street Journal

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
“Country” crossover megastar Taylor Swift recently wrote a controversial op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.  She emphasized confidence in a thriving future for the music industry, in spite of current trends, numbers, and technologies.

At first glance, the idea of Swift writing an editorial for the WSJ is innately amusing.

At least for me, and my late-teen and nearing the end of college group of friends, Swift’s opinions typically promote mockery. The overemotional “pity me” and “boys suck” themes ran their course in high school. Now, when Taylor Swift-related news crosses my path, my eyes roll.

I was surprised to find her op-ed fairly impressive and well-written. Despite her usual carping and petty standpoints, Taylor took an optimistic and intelligent view in the article. She wrote about the progressive direction of the music industry.  She filled her writing with LSAT-worthy arguments.

The article made it clear that Taylor isn't quite “legally blonde.”  Taylor reached her conclusions a little too quickly, and the errors in her reasoning were too broad to be ignored. Predictably, she introduced a typical Taylor Swift melodramatic feature to the argument, and thus rendered her claims inadequate.

Taylor started her op-ed by warning the reader to beware of her eager, positive view: “Before I tell you my thoughts on the matter, you should know that you're reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying…it's just coming alive.”

Well, at least for me, this is the first time I've ever seen the phrase “enthusiastic optimist” anywhere near a reference to Taylor Swift. Her past opinions centered on relationship cynicism; she detoured radically here. The article was dripping with irony mid-first sentence.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Taylor tried to take a businesslike and level-headed approach to lead off her article. She claimed, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”

Her stance was fairly straightforward. As I train for law school, I've learned that “if a, then b, if b then c, therefore if a then c.” Taylor’s argument is logically sound.

 But her argument quickly lost its sure footing.

In mentioning album sales, she wrote, “I'd like to point out that people are still buying albums, but now they're buying just a few of them. They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren't alone in feeling so alone.”

Now there’s the Taylor Swift every young teenage girl knows too well! She wouldn't be her notoriously sappy, love stricken self without vivid imagery like “arrow through the heart.”

As a newly minted future future lawyer, I’ll point out what makes this so “flawed.” First of all, too extreme fits her flying arrow metaphor almost perfectly. Sure, I've purchased a few albums that really meant something to me. But, I've also thrown a CD or two into my shopping cart out of sheer spontaneity.

Overlooked possibilities could also discredit Taylor’s claim. I’m not sure if I'd ever think of my newly-acquired Frozen soundtrack as overwhelmingly “arrow-piercing,” and I feel quite confident vouching for my roommate that her new NOW 50 CD doesn't go much deeper than providing a variety of enjoyable car jams. These possibilities certainly don’t align with “feel[ing] like they really aren't alone in feeling so alone.”

It’s not wrong to label all music poetic and artistic, like Taylor does. After all, she’s writing an op-ed here, and is perfectly entitled to her own opinion. But just because the music itself might be meaningful and profound, that doesn't make the consumer’s reason for buying the music meaningful and profound. It’s a clear case of mismatched concepts, and an obvious wrong answer on the LSAT.

Monday, July 7, 2014

22 Jump Street

In Episode 133, Germar reviews 22 Jump Street! NO SPOILERS HERE. But first, crazy white friends got
Germar to rock climb, for the first time, with a sprained knee. What could go wrong? Also, living with co-workers and when does hard work and competence pay off?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

True Blood: I Found You

In Episode 132, Germar recaps the most recent episode of True Blood. But first, hear all about LA-based life and love. This is a good one. It's definitely the best podcast ever recorded, while recovering from the flu.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

True Blood: Jesus Gonna Be Here

In Episode 131, Germar is sick, but still provides thoughts on the first episode of the last season of True Blood. As of right now, LTC is paying guest writers for posts. So read up, write up, and submit.

Snow White’s sequel minus Snow White

byUniversal Pictures
by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern

The successful female-empowerment fantasy film, Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, is getting a sequel.

That’s really no surprise. Kristen couldn't help but burst with excitement, and enthusiasm, about the sequel, in an interview for Indiewire back in December 2012. “Oh, it's gonna be f***in’  amazing. No, I'm so excited about it, it's crazy,” she bubbled, when asked about a sequel. “So there will definitely be another Huntsman movie,” the Indiewire interviewer asked Kristen. “Oh my God, f*** yeah. Absolutely,” Kristen responded.

Because the interview was conducted 18 months ago, I’m not sure Kristen was aware of an odd twist. Surprisingly, and possibly ominously - apparently, the sequel will not feature Kristen, or any kind of Snow White character at all.

Reportedly, the previous director Rupert Sanders has been replaced by The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont. Darabont’s departure from The Walking Dead between Seasons 1 and 2 became the subject of heated controversy. He hasn't directed a feature film since The Mist in 2007. His other feature film credits include The Shawshank Redemption, The Majestic, and The Green Mile.  Those movies are inspirational. But they don’t quite fit the fantasy-action element of this “Snow White.”

But replacing Rupert Sanders could be a wise move, after Kristen and Rupert’s little scandal surfaced late summer 2012. It caused quite a stir.  Kristen and Rupert were caught on camera committing romantic indiscretions (Kristen was in a relationship at the time with her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, and Sanders was married). But, because the problem was between the two of them, it follows to remove one of them from the picture. And preferably not the attention-drawing female fan-base star from Twilight.

Frank Darabont has decided to promote the film as more of a spin-off, instead of a direct sequel. The plot centers on Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman character. If Kristen returns at all, apparently it will likely be a “handful of brief scenes,” or “limited to a cameo.”

Photo by Marianna Massey/Getty Images
I’m not sure this new spin will be the grand success possibly already brimming in Darabont’s mind. While I might not be the biggest Kristen Stewart fan myself, I admit that I paid to see each one of the five Twilight movies—more than once. Kristen is not known as a great actress, but nevertheless she is unforgettable as the weak and pitiful Bella Swan.

Naturally, when I heard she would star as the female lead of a dark and twisted take on Snow White, I needed to see the level of her expressionless monotone in that movie as well. Unsurprisingly, Snow White and the Huntsman grossed a decent $56 million on its opening weekend. The movie itself was dull and predictable, along with Kristen’s acting. So Kristen and her notoriety were undoubtedly the attraction.

I’m not discrediting Charlize Theron’s finesse as the embodiment of the typical “evil queen,”  or a deliciously grungy Chris Hemsworth fresh off The Avengers. For better or worse, the film does not make as much money without Kristen’s mainstream drawing power. Love or hate the Twilight star, she stirs interest. With Kristen out of the picture, I no longer care about Snow White and the Huntsman.

Centering instead on Chris Hemsworth and his macho-man, “me Tarzan you Jane,” demeanor is all good and well, but a fact remains: audiences for romantic-fairy tale-fantasy films are female. And while we females are interested in viewing the strong spear-throwing hands of Hemsworth, we enjoy female-centric plot lines. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maleficent—all female-centered. We’re a condescending gender; there’s no getting around it. We claim our genres. Fairy tales, fantasy, and women-warrior themes all go hand-in-hand. This spin-off, and spin away from Kristen Stewart, especially in a film like Snow White, will soar – well under the radar.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

High School Ghosts and Coworker Roommates

In Episode 130, Germar discusses weird run-ins with old high school friends. No, it's deeper than that. Just listen. Also, meritocracy is a myth perpetrated by the privileged. But the second half is about four roommates, three bedrooms, and one woman. First celebrity interview coming soon!