Saturday, 16 April 2005

Gone to Texas

For those of you wondering why I haven't made a post in the past few days, I've gone to Texas to visit friends and family. It was in some respects a rather rough trip. On the way down I forgot the effects of shimmying and shaking of buses on soda bottles. While on the bus I opened my bottle of Dr. Pepper and wound up with soda sprayed all over the place. I had to change pants in the bus restroom.

In Abilene I did not get to see the young lady I had wanted to. To a large degree I expected this, as her car had an unfortunate encounter with a cow earlier in the week. She didn't know if she would get a car by Thursday and, even if she had, she may not have felt up to a trip into Abilene due to her injuries. At any rate, not getting to see her did cast a dark shadow on that portion of my trip.

Fortunately, I can't say that the trip was a total waste. I walked around Abilene and saw such sites as the Grace Museum and the Paramount Theatre. The Paramount is beautiful, especially at night. It was built in 1930 with a Moorish/Spanish design. What's more, it still has all of its neon lights. This weekend they were showing Annie Get Your Gun.

Anyhow, the bus was late getting out of Abilene. It seems that they had overbooked another bus and were moving passengers to our bus. What is worse is some fellow who could not be placed on our bus (all the seats were full) decided to take the fact out on the bus driver. They wound up having to call the Abilene Police. I finally made it into Dallas about 50 minutes late, where my brother picked me up. Fortunately, my visit here in Little Elm has been pleasant.

For those of you who have been wondering where I have been at, well, there's the answer to your question. I suppose the morals of this story are: 1. If you are driving in central west Texas at night, beware of cows, and 2.) If you are living in Missouri, avoid taking buses to Texas if you possibly can...

Wednesday, 13 April 2005

The Ever Changing Genres of Music

It seems to me that in most media, the classification of works in various genres remains fairly consistent over time. In books, Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie was considered a mystery when it was first published, as it still is today. In movies, Casblanca was considered a romance when it first debuted. It still is. In television, Star Trek was considered a sci-fi show, and it is still classed as such today. But it seems to me in music that whatever genre any given group, album, or song is considered might well tend to change over time.

A perfect example of this is Rush. When they first debuted in the Seventies, they were considered a heavy metal band. Over time, however, they came to be considered "hard rock" or, more often, "progressive rock." And while I do believe Rush's sound softened over time, I don't see that it changed so drastically that they ceased to be heavy metal. A more severe example may be Roy Orbison. Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties, Orbison was considered a rock 'n' roll singer. Since then I have occasionally heard him described as country. Now Orbision certainly did perform songs that could be counted as country, but it seems to me that the majority of his work were either rock 'n' roll or ballads. I think he is best counted as a rock performer who sometimes did country songs.

Of course, sometimes artists are counted in genres into which they don't even fit. I remember in the early days of Van Halen, they were counted as heavy metal. Now eventually they would be considered hard rock. That having been said, I don't see how they could have been counted as heavy metal. Even then, they sounded more like hard rock to me. An even more extreme example may be Kid Rock. I read an article many, many months ago in which he was described as a rock star. Now, quite frankly, to me Kid Rock sounds about as much like a rock performer as The Beatles do a swing band. Or The Killers do a calypso group. If I were to classify his music, it would be as rap. He has more in common with Ice Cube and Eminen than he does The Who or Cheap Trick.

Anyhow, it seems to me that to some degree music genres and subgenres tend to be amorphous and everchanging. Today's heavy metal is tomorrow's hard rock. I don't really have any explanation for why, except perhaps for the genres themselves changing and evolving over the years. Of course, I have no explanation for why some artists are placed in genres into which they do not even fit (Kid Rock is not rock). That doesn't make sense to me at all.

Tuesday, 12 April 2005

Waiting in Line for Revenge of the Sith...for Weeks?!

I just read an article about fans already lining up to see Revenge of the Sith in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. Now I am a huge Star Wars fan. Growing up I had a ton of Star Wars parphenalia: the comic books, paperbacks, models, et. al. That having been said, I cannot picture lining up to see a movie that won't be released for another six weeks!

What is worse is that the fans lining up at Grauman's cannot be aboslutely certain that Revenge of the Sith will even play there. The theatre has not booked the movie as of yet. It will definitely play at the Arclight Theater, which is apparently a few blocks away. Despite this, Star Wars fans are refusing to move the line to the Arclight. From what I gather, they simply prefer Grauman's Chinese Theatre to the Arclight. I have to admit I can understand why. I never heard of the Arclight until I read the article. I've known of Grauman's Chinese Theatre since childhood. It is perhaps the most famous movie theatre in the world besides Radio City Music Hall.

I suppose a lot of mundanes would call these fans "crazy," but as for myself I see little harm in lining up for a movie six weeks before it even opens. Of course, as I said, I cannot picture doing it myself. For one thing, I do not think it would be comfortable camping out on the sidewalks of Los Angeles for literally weeks, at the mercy of the weather and who knows what else.

For another thing I cannot see how anyone who is not independently wealthy could afford to do so. Like most Americans, I only get two weeks paid vacation from my job. I assume then that, unless all of these fans are indendently wealthy, most of them are making no money while standing in line to see Revenge of the Sith. I have to wonder how they can afford to eat or keep a roof over their heads. Anyhow, I can think of better things to do with my own time than to wait in line for a movie. Besides which, there are other things I would rather do with my vacation than wait in line for a movie for six weeks.

Anyhow, as a Star Wars fan myself I do have to sympathise with them. I wish them luck and I do wish the fans luck and I hope Grauman's does wind up showing Revenge of the Sith. Otherwise, I imagine there will be a lot of irate people...

Monday, 11 April 2005

The Overexposure of TV Series

Today on the Internet I was reading how ratings for Trading Spaces have dropped dramatically. Last year around 659,000 people watched Trading Spaces on Saturday night. That number is down to 429,000 this year. This dramatic dip in ratings for Trading Space would perhaps not be so serious if similar makeover shows, such as Clean Sweep and While You Were Out were not performing poorly in the ratings as well. The end result is that TLC's over all ratings are down from what they were two years ago, when Trading Spaces was still a hot show.

Quite simply, the problem was overexposure. TLC aired Trading Spaces ten times a week at its peak. On top of that, a whole host of imitators sprung up, such as The Discovery Channel's Surprise by Design and ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In the end, not only did Trading Spaces suffer from overexposure, but the entire genre of home makeover shows.

It seems to me that overexposure is a relatively new phenomenon in television. Indeed, I think what constituted overexposure has changed from what it was in the Sixties and Seventies. One of the old theories as to why The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. failed and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s ratings slid in its third season was that there was too much U.N.C.L.E. on the air--even though between the two shows there would have only been two hours of U.N.C.L.E. each week! Of course, this was at a time when any given prime time show might air six times a week at most. And that once only if prior seasons of a show still on prime time had been released to syndication! With but few exceptions (Batman and Peyton Place being two), most prime time shows on the broadcast networks only aired once a week.

It seems to me that the advent of cable channels changed all this. MTV would air episodes of The Real World and Road Rules as many as ten or more times a week. Lifetime would air reruns of various sitcoms at least twice a day. Even a broadcast network overexposed a show. ABC aired Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? so often that its ratings plummeted, taking the rest of the ABC schedule with it.

Why does overexposure hurt TV shows and even entire networks so badly? My theory is that there are two factors at work. The first is a simple case of supply and demand. The more times a show is aired, the more times people can watch it. As a result, the audience becomes spread out over several different airings. If the show was on only once or even twice a week, its ratings may well be higher as the audience would be forced to watch the show all at once. The second is that people probably just get burned out on a show when it airs too often. After seeing Trading Spaces too many times, people may well have tired of the show (not to mention its imitators), and so they sought other things to watch.

I think the lesson to be learned from all of this is that for both the broadcast networks and cable channels, overexposure should be avoided whenever possible. Too often a show's ratings can suffer as a result. And too often that show's ratings can drag the rest of the network or cable channel's ratings down as well.

Sunday, 10 April 2005

The Atlas of Middle-Earth

I recently checked out The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad from the library. Yes, I know it was first published in 1981. Yes, I do believe that there have been at least two editions since then. I hope that doesn't mean my geek status will be revoked for reading it just now! For those of you who are not Tolkien fans or geeks, The Atlas of Middle-Earth is a collection of maps and a discussion of the geography of the world featured in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Anyhow, The Atlas of Middle-Earth is a marvelous book in my opinion. It features maps of Arda in the First, Second, and Third Ages. What is more is that it has maps of places featured in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. There are maps of the Shire, Hobbiton, Minas Tirith, Mount Doom, and many other places of interest. There are even blueprints of many of the buildings that play a major role in the books, from Bilbo's hobbit hole to the Prancing Pony to the home of Elrond. There are also maps of every major battle, as well as the paths the various adventurers took in their journeys. If The Atlas of Middle-Earth had stopped there, it would still be a remarkable book, yet it also features thematic maps showing the landforms, climates, vegetation, population distribution, and the distribution of languages in Middle-Earth.

The Atlas of Middle-Earth is a great resource for any fan of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. In a small space Karen Wynn Fonstad provides a great deal of information and a meticulous attention to detail. If you have never read it and you are a fan of Tolkien, I recommend that you by all means do so.