Saturday, September 3, 2011

Never Enough -- Writer's Poke #310


After the 1979 season, the Houston Astros signed pitcher Nolan Ryan to a 4-year, $4.5 million dollar contract.  This made Ryan the first major American sports star to earn a million dollars a year (not including endorsements). 

Fast-forward to 2011. The Philadelphia Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick to a 6-year, $100 million dollar contract. Actually, Michael Vick is the only player to sign two contracts worth over $100 million dollars, as his 1994 contract with the Atlanta Falcons was a 10-year, $130 million dollar deal. 

While $100 million might sound like a lot, keep in mind that this averages out to just $16.7 million, annually. So, not surprisingly, Vick isn’t the highest paid athlete in the NFL. The highest paid quarterback, for example, is the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning, who earns $23 million a year.

Major League Baseball pays its top stars the best, and seventeen of the top 30 best-paid athletes play baseball; by way of comparison, only 3 NFL stars make the top 30, while 9 NBA stars are also on the list. Somewhat surprisingly, Samuel Eto’o is number 2 on the list at $28 million annual. Who is Eto’o? He apparently plays a game called soccer.

In 2007, the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275 million contract. So consider this: How much do you make at your job? If you earned $100,000 a year, which is still a respectable sum, certainly, you would only need to work 2750 years to equal what A-Rod will earn by 2017.

Will we see the first billion-dollar contract signed in our lifetimes? When it comes to money, is there ever something called “enough” or “too much”?

“Money often costs too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

“Money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.” – Barack Obama

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tethered -- Writer's Poke #309

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The dad of one of my best friends likes to play golf. As long as I have known him, he has worn Polo shirts, driven a nice car, and held true to his Republican and Presbyterian ideals. He has two sons, including my friend, both of whom have gone never against family tradition. As adults, both maintain the same upper-middle class lifestyle, and both now live on golf courses. Their political and religious beliefs remain pretty much in line with those they “inherited” from their father.

Rebels and “degenerates” and “black sheep” get all of the attention, but my suspicion is that most children are heavily influenced by those that raise them. They, in fact, in ways conscious and unconscious, become reflections of their in-home models. Most children embed the behaviors, attitudes, and flaws of their parents or guardians, whether they are biologically related or not. That’s my theory.

And at the same time, forces outside of the home domain are credited for having more influence on the shaping of character. Granted, peer pressure is real, but it’s also situational and temporary. The family “pressure” of how one is raised transcends contexts and, in most cases, has lifelong effects. How unusual is it, for example, for individuals even in their 30s and 40s to be dealing with issues related to childhood and how they were raised? Not very unusual at all, I would suggest.

In many ways, adult children still feel tethered to the traditions of family. More importantly, sometimes adult children do not feel the tethering, but that by no means indicates that the tethering no longer exists. Most people, at least to a certain degree, like being independent agents, but most people also fail to recognize how powerfully family influence affects anyone’s ability to be truly “free.”

In what ways are you still tethered to your family?

“A bird on a tether, no matter how long the rope, can always be pulled back.” -- Ronald Reagan

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Sins of the WWE -- Writer's Poke #308

Early in 2011, WWE held a press conference in Mexico City to announce the signing of one of Mexico’s most popular professional wrestlers, Mistico. When WWE signs wrestling talent, it’s not unusual for that talent to be “rebranded,” and at the press conference, it was announced that Mistico would perform under the name Sin Cara.

The Lucha Libre style is much different from the American style, and apparently Mistico never adapted to expectations of WWE. The Internet Wrestling Community commented weekly on how many in-ring moves Mistico “botched,” as well as when WWE would reshoot entire matches due to Mistico’s mistakes.

Over the summer, Mistico was suspended for 30 days for failing WWE’s talent wellness policy. Mistico immediately went public to explain that his WWE-sanctioned doctors had given him a legal substance, and it was this substance that had registered on the test.  The suspension itself was never acknowledged formally, and WWE explained Sin Cara’s absence as due to injury.

When Sin Cara made his in-ring return, Mistico was no longer the wrestler under the mask. WWE gave the role to Hunico, a wrestler, ironically, that had at one time used the ring name of Mistico in Mexico. WWE made no mention that Hunico had permanently assumed the character of Sin Cara, and the match announcers simply indicated that Sin Cara had “put on some muscle” and “developed new moves” while out on injured reserve.

Mistico, although not officially released, is apparently no longer performing for WWE. The character of Sin Cara, however, lives on.

When professional wrestlers portray a character, is it the same as actors playing a part? In other words, is it unethical for WWE to continue the continuity of Sin Cara by dumping Mistico and using Hunico under the same character’s mask?

“All sins are attempts to fill voids.” – Simone Weil

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Judge Me, Please -- Writer's Poke #307

In John Updike’s classic short story “A&P,” Queenie never asks to be judged. Not by the manager, and not by Sammy, the boy that defends her. Even Sammy’s defense is based on a form of prejudice, as he assumes her to be something that he has no way of verifying one way or the other.

If it’s been a while since you’ve read the story, the basic premise is this: Queenie and her friends are walking around a grocery store in their bikinis. None of the customers seem to notice, and only Sammy and the Manager “confront” the situation head on. Another character, the butcher behind the meat counter, leers at the girls, but in no way does he seem offended that these young girls have entered the store in “inappropriate attire.”

The Manager makes the point to the girls that he expects them to dress “decently” when they shop at his store. Queenie picks up on the term when she responds: “We are decent.” Again, there’s no indication that these girls are attempting to be provocative. There’s also no indication that they realize that they are inappropriately dressed for the circumstances, or that they recognize the “dress code expectations.” Further, there’s no indication that this store has a policy stated and posted in writing (e.g. “No shirt, no shoes, no service); the Manager’s attitude seems to be that these girls should instinctively know better.

Are the girls simply na├»ve? Don’t they feel the butcher’s lustful stares? Don’t they know that boys like Sammy are fantasizing about them? Don’t they care? And if not, why not? Is their apparent disinterest an invitation to judgment?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Your Brain on Ads – Writer’s Poke #306

What has happened to the average thirty minute sit-com? I don’t mean quality. I think the quality of the best sit-coms on TV today is every bit as good, if not better, than any series from the past. What I’m referring to is the run-time allotted for the actual show.

I did a little investigative work just to affirm my theory, and here’s what I discovered. Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963) had an average run-time of 25 minutes (run-times include opening and closing credits; M*A*S*H (1972-1983), 24-25 minutes;  Cheers (1982-1993), 24 minutes; Frasier (1993-2004), 24 minutes; Scrubs (2001-2010), 21-25 minutes;  Big Bang Theory (2007-current), 21 minutes.

Granted, this is a rather informal survey, but my thesis is: sit-coms are getting shorter, and this is a rather recent development. The standard sit-com length appears to have remained between 24-25 minutes for 40 years. Only in the past decade has the content time dropped, but the loss of an extra minute (or five) is quite noticeable.

Recently, I was watching Season 3 of Big Bang Theory, and I was shocked when episodes started ending around the 19 minute mark. Even including ending credits, some episodes were under 19:30 total run time.

Can a sit-com story be fully developed and delivered in less than 20 minutes? Of course, but for people that actually watch TV with the commercials, that’s a lot more commercials per episode. And by the way, who still watches TV with commercials anymore? Most people I know stream or DVR the shows they like, and so the whole purpose of adding more commercials to each episode seems rather pointless.

If the trend is that more and more people are skipping the commercials (DVR, DVD, streaming, etc.), then why are networks adding commercials and reducing program content? And by the way, if all ads disappeared, would that then eliminate the problem of TV being owned and controlled by corporate "sponsors"?

“The threat to free television. The reason television is free is because it is a life support system for commercials. That fundamental aspect is about to change.” – Dick Wolf

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mother Teresa: Scumbag? -- Writer's Poke #305

People around the world still generally view Mother Teresa favorably, but Christopher Hitchens and others have tried to take her down a notch or two. Hitchens, a noted atheist, believes that “Religion poisons everything,” and so it’s clear that he sees the “hero worship” of Mother Teresa as dangerous. Pointing out her flaws, exposing her “hypocrisy,” stripping away her sainthood, is essential as it allows people the opportunity to be truly enlightened. To blindly venerate Mother Teresa, then, is to relegate the power of reason to the garbage can.

According to Hitchens, “To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experiment is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.” We shouldn’t fear doubt; we should embrace it. We shouldn’t blindly accept the purity of the messenger, no matter how much we like the “purified” message. In fact, we should be willing to question just how pure the message is, too. Mother Teresa performed a lot of good with her life, no doubt, but how much “bad” did she perform, knowingly or unknowingly, and what is the harm in acknowledging the bad or misinformed works that trace back to her? Wouldn’t it be more harmful simply to remember the airbrushed Mother Teresa that never existed in reality? Isn’t it much better to view Mother Teresa for what she actually was, warts and all?

Personally, I cannot go as far as Christopher Hitchens goes. To make Mother Teresa into a villain makes as little sense to me as putting her high up on a pedestal of admiration. Nevertheless, I do agree that we should accept that ever human falls short of perfection, and therefore, if we must engage in hero worship, we should be willing to accept that no hero exists without flaws.

Why we are we so quick to judge people? And once we make our judgment, why are we so slow to reconsider when new evidence comes to light?

“To all my little Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong” – Hulk Hogan