Featured Essays

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Glorifying Social Media - When Twitter Met Television

Glorifying Social Media - When Twitter Met Television

Welcome to the age of social media, where we are one with the Internet.

There is no denying the prominence of Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter over the past couple of years. Although these social media platforms did not exist a decade ago, they are now firmly integrated into modern society. In fact, it is incredible how much our lives are influenced by social media. We not only communicate online, but we also “tweet” and “digg” and “bookmark” and “favourite” and share all kinds of content. Any event of interest, regardless how insignificant it may be, is almost guaranteed to be reported via multiple online avenues. Whether it is a tweet or a blog post or a viral video, the buzz spreads rapidly across the Internet. After all, we are the Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter generation – we live and breathe through social media.
When Twitter Met Television
In particular, the rise of social media brought upon an interesting phenomenon within the traditional media format. Recently, the world watched its first ever situational comedy inspired by a Twitter account. Crassly titled $#*! My Dad Says, the show features William Shatner as a cantankerous old man with a wide array of snappy one-liners, while his son records these remarks on the Internet. The actual Twitter account has almost two million followers; the sitcom premiere debuted to an audience of over twelve million viewers. Let those impressive numbers sink in first, and then you better realize that it was an anonymous old man – who would never have been famous without the Internet – drew this much attention and popularity.

At first, the concept of a Twitter account sounds laughably absurd – how could an actual television show sustain based on the random tweets of less than 140 characters? As it turns out, $#*! My Dad Says is no different from the standard laugh track comedies on CBS, complete with Shatner’s distinguished way of delivering a ha-ha punch line (or any line at all, really). Yet, it is the idea behind the sitcom that displays the most originality. Think about what the show has accomplished by its mere existence: a social media icon is being celebrated in network television! Can you imagine getting a TV show based on your disjointed thoughts online? Can you imagine being famous because of your Twitter account?

While Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter grow more dominant in our culture, it is becoming increasingly clear that social media has no boundaries anymore. Its influence reaches beyond the Twitterverse or a primetime television show; it affects our modernity as a whole. This essay will analyze deeper into the seamless integration between social media and traditional media, as well as the unsettling repercussions of this recent pop culture trend.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Old Ladies with Spunk – A Love Letter to Betty White

Old Ladies with Spunk – A Love Letter to Betty White

Dear Betty White,

I was not part of the Facebook campaign. I was not part of the movement that pushed you to a hosting gig on Saturday Day Live. Regrettably, being part of the ignorant and self-absorbed generation, I was not aware of your presence or your legacy until recent times. I have caught glimpses of you though - you were the scene stealer in The Proposal, you starred in that Super Bowl commercial which became a viral classic, and you popped up here or there with a guest role in numerous sitcoms. Of course, this was the same Betty White who starred in The Mary Tyler Show and The Golden Girls, so the comedy genre had always been your forte.

A Love Letter to Betty White
Dare I say that 2010 is the year of Betty White? Whether you are Hot in Cleveland, or dancing dirty with Jon Hamm during the Emmy Awards, or insulting Facebook users worldwide on Saturday Night Live, it is clear that the public loves your humour, the Internet admires your spunk, and the media just can’t get enough of you. You’re writing two memoirs. You have a saucy 2011 calendar coming out. You are probably getting movie offers and television guest gigs left and right. There is even a Betty White clothing line (of hoodies), I kid you not.

At 88 years old, Betty White is not the first popular senior entertainer in the industry, but how many aging stars have been celebrated to this extent? We parade her from show to show, we laugh at her bawdy jokes, and we treasure her like she is America’s Sweetheart. The upsurge in her popularity is quite astonishing, since a celebrity past his or her prime tends to be overlooked until their sad but inevitable eulogy, followed by the in memoriam montage during awards shows. Fortunately, Betty White is still alive and kicking, and one can argue that the busy actress is still very much in her prime.

The Betty White mania does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. However, fame is fickle and fleeting; and like all popular icons, I have started to witness some backlash against Betty White. People are getting tired of her grinning mug, tired of her geriatric sex jokes, and tired of the relentlessness in promoting her across the media. In their opinion, she is overexposed, overrated, and overused. She is preferable in small doses - the one Saturday night hosting gig was a triumph for the Internet - but the naysayers are wondering when she will exit the stage and leave the limelight.

When will people get tired of Betty White?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Explaining the Bieber Fever – Who is Justin Bieber?

Explaining the Bieber Fever - Who is Justin Bieber?

Seriously, what is the deal with Justin Bieber?

The sixteen-year-old is technically a singer, but he is better known as an unstoppable online icon and prodigious teenage sensation.  Recent Twitter studies have shown that 3% of the microblogging servers are dedicated to him, and his name is mentioned 60 times per second during peak hours.  To put this statistic in perspective, co-founder Evan Williams reported that Twitter averages 90 million tweets per day, which means there are approximately 2.7 million mentions of Justin Bieber on any given day.  In simpler terms, it appears as if Bieber’s online fandom has the influence and prevalence measurable to a small country. 

Who is Justin Bieber?
How could a single person, let alone a harmless and inoffensive teenager from a small town in Canada, warrant so much attention?  What could possibly be so fascinating about Justin Bieber?  Although his two albums (titled My World and My World 2.0) skyrocketed in sales, he hardly lit up the music industry with any interesting or innovative songs.  And with all due respect to teenagers, his life experiences at the age of sixteen are virtually non-existent.

Despite his lack of accomplishments, the Internet’s ongoing conversation about Justin Bieber is growing more prominent each day.  The discussions often revolve around his helmet hair, his eight-year-old girl voice, or his tendency to attract water bottles hurling at him on stage.  Nobody said he was an interesting guy, but the Internet sure has taken an unhealthy interest to him.  In any case, the mundaneness of Justin Bieber has not stopped his popularity one bit.  While his celebrity status may seem very fortunate, I do not believe his success is entirely accidental.  In an attempt to rationalize the ‘Bieber fever’, this article will analyze the numerous factors that contributed to his massive appeal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Into the Third Dimension – The Appeal of 3-D Entertainment

The Appeal of 3-D Entertainment

Remember a time when 3-D movies did not used to be popular?

For the past few decades, various forms of three-dimensional entertainment have only appealed to a selective niche market.  They were mostly contained within amusement parks, targeted towards children and their parents during the typical family summer vacation.  These 3-D movies never hit it off in mainstream culture, because wearing those clunky glasses to the cinema did not feel comfortable, convenient, or economically viable.  Besides, the enjoyment derived from an additional dimension was not substantial enough for businesses or consumers to invest in this media.

In the age where many naysayers predicted the demise of television and movie entertainment, few people expected there would be a sudden upsurge in 3-D films during the recent years.  Not only did they reach out to the younger demographic, but many adult moviegoers are also fascinated by the unique viewing experience.  These consumers were even willing to shell out extra money in the cinema for the three-dimensional alternative.  As evident by the unprecedented number of 3-D movie releases in the upcoming year, this form of entertainment has been surprisingly revived.  The real question remains: how long will this modern phenomenon sustain?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vampires - A Modern Phenomenon with the Supernatural

There are vampires among us.

    What should have been a daunting statement now seems rather trivial, due to the overexposure of these mythical creatures in our modern society.  Vampires exist not only in our literature, but also in our television shows, our cinema screens, and of course our Halloween parties.  Lately, there seems to be no escape from these fanged monsters, not even in broad daylight.  There are swarms of enthusiasts lined up outside of the bookstores and theatres, eagerly anticipating for the next instalment of their vampire franchise.

    Vampires are not a recent phenomenon.  These creatures of the un-dead have haunted our popular culture for centuries.  From Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel Dracula to Stephenie Meyer’s teenage romantic saga Twilight, vampires carry a prominent influence in many works of fiction.  In fact, their creative potential seems endless.  Rather than going out of style, these timeless characters grew stronger in mystique and intrigue.  Former hit television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel introduced us to multi-faceted vampires that fall in between both ends of the moral spectrum.  Recent cult favourites like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries further demonstrated the complexities of the supernatural community.  Evidently, the momentum for this storytelling niche does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Love in Reality Television – Celebrating Adultery and False Romances

Romance is dead in reality television.

    After twenty collective seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, one must wonder if any actual romance existed in the first place.  There is definitely lust among the contestants, as evident by the multitude of make out sessions per episode, but can meaningful relationships blossom beyond the initial physical attraction?  The track record seems doubtful.  This series has produced just one happily married couple so far.  Perhaps two couples, if we take into account of the notorious bait and switch scandal.  Nonetheless, there have been at least eighteen failed relationships, which is an astonishingly high number for a franchise that promises to discover true love.

    The truth about romance in reality television is that it rarely occurs.  In normal life, most couples take months and years before finally connecting with one another.  In reality television, this dating process is reduced to a matter of weeks, with the threat of a prospective engagement at the end of the journey.  Time issues aside, many reality television couples suffer from the delusions of amour, due to the manufactured circumstances in their artificial setting.  Sure, it is easy to fall in love during a romantic candlelit dinner at a gorgeous exotic locale, but will the feelings remain the same in a less glamorous environment?  The biggest drawback to The Bachelor franchise is that it does not prepare couples for a practical relationship outside of the show’s bubble, without the camera crew and without the luxury dates.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Lady Gaga Phenomenon – Attention Please!

Lady Gaga sure loves the media attention.

    Several years ago, the phenomenon that is Gaga barely registered on anybody’s radar.  She was an unknown entity in the music industry, performing at small public arenas with little recognition.  It took nearly three years of struggle before her first album The Fame was released.  True to the title, this marked the beginning of Lady Gaga’s stardom.  The singer, still in her fresh twenties, quickly rose as a prominent leader in pop and dance music.  She also became an iconic figure in fashion and accessories, for better or for worse.  Unlike most one-hit wonders, Gaga followed up with an equally strong sophomore album called The Fame Monster, thus solidifying her status as a widely successful artist in the 21st Century.

    Lady Gaga not only received attention in radio airplays, but she also attracted both good and bad publicity across the different media platforms.  In particular, online blogs love documenting her every move.  It helps that she has a magnetic presence, especially in the wardrobe department.  Her wacky costumes have been the central topic of many pop culture discussions, and the creative inspirations for Halloween parties.  In fact, Gaga is so defined by her unique fashion sense that her name became synonymous with crazy clothing and a crazier persona.  This type of attention is either a celebrity’s best accomplishment or their worst nightmare – her identity as an artist is dictated by her outward appearance.