Saturday, October 9, 2021

Four Ways Twitter Can Be Improved

It was in 2019 that Twitter rolled out a new redesign. At the time Twitter claimed the redesign is "...a refreshed and updated website that is faster, easier to navigate and more personalized." They also claimed that "Easy Access to Your Favourite Features." To say Twitter users disagreed would be an understatement. Most of them seemed to detest the new design. In the little over two years since the redesign was introduced things have calmed down, but I think one will still find many Twitter users who hate the 2019 design. I know I am one of them. While there have been a few improvements to the redesign since its introduction, I think Twitter could make even more improvements that would make new users more likely to stick around and would please long time users like myself.

Return the Menu to the Top of the Web Version of Twitter

For most of its history, the menu for the web version was at the top. This made perfect sense, as it was easily accessible. Both the mobile version of Twitter and the Twitter mobile app have a menu at the bottom. Again, it is easily accessibly. For some reason known only to its designers, the current web version of Twitter has the menu on a left-hand sidebar. Worse yet, it is more difficult to reach some of Twitter's features on this left-hand sidebar than it was the old top menu. For instance, to reach Moments one has to click on More at the bottom of the sidebar. Now I never have used Moments, but I do know of people who did. It seems to me, then, that Twitter should not only return the Menu to the top, but return it to the way it was before the redesign. It would be much easier to use and much more accessible.

Give Users the Ability to Disable the Algorithm Sorted Feed in Settings

In 2016 Twitter introduced an algorithm sorted feed that it then called "Best Tweets." At the time one could simply disable it by going into settings. As a result, many, perhaps most, Twitter users went about their business reading tweets in reverse chronological order as always. Unfortunately with the 2019 redesign the algorithm sorted feed was renamed "Home" and one had to click stars in the upper right hand corner to switch to "Latest Tweets (the original feed in reverse chronological order). This would prove to be an annoyance, as when returning to Twitter one might find their Twitter feed switched to the algorithm sorted feed (which Twitter calls "Home") and would have to switch it back again. That problem has since been fixed, but if one logs out of Twitter or clears one's cookies in their browser, they will find themselves on the algorithm sorted feed again.

Given many, perhaps most, Twitter users prefer the Latest Tweets feed, it seems to me it would be a good idea for Twitter to give users a way to disable the algorithm sorted feed in settings like we used to have. The plain truth is that when I visit Twitter I do not want to see tweets that some algorithm has determined I am interested in. I want to see the most recent tweets. This is particularly important when live tweeting movies or TV shows. Indeed, if Twitter had been sorted by algorithm from the beginning, I have to think the phenomenon of live tweeting would never have arisen. Of course, another solution would be for Twitter to do away with the algorithm sorted feed entirely. I doubt very many would miss it.

Do Away with "What's Happening"

It was not long after the 2019 redesign was introduced that the Trends sidebar with the What's Happening sidebar. The What's Happening sidebar usually contains news stories and a few trending topics. Quite frankly, I want the Trends sidebar back. As far as I am concerned, What's Happening is useless. Most of the news stories I see on What's Happening I have absolutely no interest in. I would much rather see what is trending on Twitter the way I used to. What I then propose is that Twitter either do away with the What's Happening sidebar entirely or, at least, give users the choice of replacing it with the old Trends sidebar. Either way, I know I would be much happier.

Twitter Should Giver Users a Means of Hiding "Topics to Follow"

The ability to follow specific topics on Twitter is another thing that was introduced not long after the 2019 redesign. Essentially, when one follows a Topic, tweets relevant to that Topic will show up in one's feed. Of course, for this to happen one must be using the algorithm sorted feed (the one Twitter insists on calling "Home") rather than the Latest Tweets feed. For those of us who always use the Latest Tweets feed, then, Topics are meaningless. Unfortunately, when viewing one's own profile or someone else's profile, a block of "Topics to Follow" will show up in the middle of the feed. I find this annoying as I have absolutely no interest in following Topics on Twitter. Given I use the Latest Tweets feed exclusively, it would be useless for me to follow any Topics at all. Twitter should then give users a means of hiding Topics to Follow and never seeing them again.

Twitter is my second favourite social media service after the late, lamented Google+. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy it as much as I did before the 2019 redesign and it is precisely because they moved the menu, replaced the Trends sidebar with "What's Happening," and insist on forcing Topics on me. To be honest, I think Twitter would be better off ditching the 2019 redesign entirely and returning to the old design. I know I wouldn't alone in being happy about that.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (2021)

Many actors are referred to as legends, but in Rita Moreno's case even the word "legend" seems like an understatement. She was a trailblazer with regards to Latina actresses, overcoming stereotypes to carve out a career for herself. In the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies she was one of the few Latinas to be seen on both the big scree and TV screen. Along with Mike Nichols and Barbara Streisand, she is one of thnly three PEGOT winners (people who have won a Peabody Award, an Emmy, A Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony). She appeared in her first film in 1950 and is still working today.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, is a loving look at the actress, her life, and her career. Its structure is roughly chronological, with forays into various aspects of her life: her childhood in Puerto Rico and New York City; the racism she has faced; the sexual harassment and outright abuse she experienced; her relationship with Marlon Brando; her marriage to Leonard Gordon; and, of course, her work in film, television and on on stage. The centrepiece of the documentary is an interview with Rita Moreno, interspersed throughout the film. Also interspersed throughout the film is commentary by such diverse individuals as Puerto Rican actor, singer, songwriter, playwright, and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda; actress Eva Longoria; West Side Story co-star George Chakris; Electric Company co-star Morgan Freeman; television producer Norman Lear; her daughter Fernanda Gordon Fisher, and others.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It goes into her life in some depth. As expected, West Side Story is discussed, but so is some of her other work, including the children's TV show Electric Company, her guest appearance on The Rockford Files, and the Broadway play The Ritz. Miss Moreno talks about the many "exotic" roles she was forced to play early in her career, including Tuptim in The King and I. Watching Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It can be rough going at times, as Rita discusses some unpleasant subjects, particularly the racism and sexual harassment she experienced in her career. What makes Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It succeed as a documentary is Miss Moreno's at times brutal honesty, even about herself on topics ranging from Hollywood to the low sense of self-esteem she had throughout her life.

If Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It has one flaw it is that I sometimes wish more time could be devoted to each topic. Indeed, entire documentaries could be devoted to Rita Moreno's work on West Side Story, the racism she faced in Hollywood, or even her work on The Electric Company. In the end, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It could have been much longer.

Even though I wish more time could have been devoted to each topic, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It is well-worth watching. It is a loving and honest look at an actress who broken own barriers in her long career and is still working to this day.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Lupe Vélez on the Radio

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Lupe Vélez may well have been the most popular Mexican actress to work in the United Sates, with the possible exception of Dolores del Rio. While best known today for the series "Mexican Spitfire" movies, Lupe Vélez made several successful movies prior those films, and she had a successful career on stage as well. American radio was the one medium she did not conquer. She appeared on only a few American radio shows, all of those appearances in the Forties.

It was in 1932 that Lupe Vélez made her debut on radio, on the radio show The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air was a short-lived attempt to bring the well-known Ziegfeld Follies to radio. It ran from April 3 to June 26 1932. It should come as no surprise that Lupe Vélez should appear on Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. In 1932 she was appearing as Concita in the production Hot-Cha!, which was produced by Flo Ziegfeld himself. Unfortunately, I could not find out what episodes of  The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in which Lupe Vélez appeared.

It was on April 14 1935 that Lupe Vélez appeared on the Lux Radio Theatre episode "The Broken Wing." It was an adaptation of the 1932 movie of the same name, in which Lupe Vélez played the lead role of Lolita. Curiously the film was banned in Mexico City by the Federal District government, who claimed that it "...slurred Mexico." Lux Radio Theatre was well-known for adapting movies as radio shows. In fact, the following week there would be an adaptation of the 1933 version of Little Women.

It was on March 14 1937 that Lupe Vélez appeared on the radio show Texaco Town. Texaco Town was a variety show sponsored by Texaco and hosted by Eddie Cantor, for which reason it was also known as The Eddie Cantor Show. Today Texaco Town might be best remembered not only as a vehicle for Eddie Cantor, but also because it featured a young singer named Deanna Durbin.

Lupe Vélez's final appearance on radio was her second appearance on Lux Radio Theatre. On May 24, 1937 she appeared on the radio show's adaptation of the 1936 film Under Two Flags. She played the role of Cigarette, a role originated on screen by Claudette Colbert.

While Lupe Vélez would no longer appear on radio, she continued to be a popular movie star, even as her private life sometimes received more press than her films. It was a mark of her popularity that at her funeral in California more than 4,000 people attended. Thousands also attended her funeral in Mexico. To this day Lupe Vélez remains one most popular Mexican actresses to work in Hollywood. It seems likely she always will be. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"White Justice" by Alice Bag

From Ritchie Valens to ? and The Mysterians to Carlos Santana, Mexican Americans have made substantial contributions to rock music. Among the Mexican American artists to have had an impact on rock 'n' roll is Alice Bag. Born Alicia Armendariz, Alice Bag formed the band Femme Fatale with Patricia Morrison (AKA Pat Bag) in 1977. Femme Fatale evolved into The Bags (also known as Bags and The Alice Bag Band). The Bags were among the first wave of punk rock bands in Los Angeles. As The Alice Bag Band, they appeared the classic documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene, The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization (1980).

After The Bags broke up, Alice Bag wast part of the band Castration Squad in the Eighties and the band Cholita! in the Nineties. She later formed Stay at Home Bomb, an all-women punk rock community dedicated to addressing the social concerns of women. In 2016 her first self-titled solo album was released.

From the beginning Alice Bag has been devoted to issues ranging from education to female empowerment to LGBTQ rights. As a Chicana, she had addressed Mexican American civil rights several times. Her song "White Justice" is about the Chicano Moratorium anti-war march that took place on August 29 1970 in East Los Angeles. Here then is "White Justice" by Alice Bag.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy

Although today it seems impossible that anyone else could have played Lucy's husband on I Love Lucy, at the time of the show's debut the casting of her real-life husband Desi Arnaz was historic. Desi Arnaz became the first Latino to star on an American sitcom. I Love Lucy was also historic in being the first American television to portray a mixed marriage.

Desi Arnaz was born on March 2 1917 in Santiago de Cuba. It was following the Cuban Revolution of 1933 that his family immigrated to Miami. It was in the United States that Mr. Arnaz launched his music career. His Desi Arnaz Orchestra proved highly successful, to the point that he came to the attention of Rogers and Hart. They cast him in a role in their 1939 Broadway musical Too Many Girls. Desi Arnaz reprised his role when RKO adapted Too Many Girls as a 1940 musical. It was here that he met Lucille Ball. The two fell in love and married.

As to Lucille Ball, she was an established movie star by the end of the Thirties and continued to be a popular performer in the Forties. It was in 1948 that she was cast in the role of Liz Cooper on the radio show My Favorite Husband. My Favorite Husband proved popular, so in 1950 CBS decided they wanted to adapt the hit program for television. CBS asked Lucille Ball to reprise her role as Liz Cooper on the television version of My Favorite Husband, but Miss Ball insisted that real-life husband Desi Arnaz play her husband on the show. CBS rejected the casting of Desi Arnaz on My Favorite Husband as they did not believe audiences would accept an "All-American" woman and a Cuban man.

In response to CBS, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz then created their own vaudeville act, which was written by My Favorite Husband writers  Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz took their vaudeville act on the road and it proved to be very successful. The success of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's vaudeville act persuaded CBS executive Harry Ackerman that a show starring the couple could be successful. At the same time Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's prospective new show generated interest at CBS's archrival NBC. With the prospect of losing Miss Ball to NBC, Harry Ackerman eventually gave into Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's wishes and the result was I Love Lucy.

For those few of you who are unfamiliar with I Love Lucy, the show centred on housewife Lucy Ricardo and her husband, upcoming Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo. The two lived in an apartment in New York City, which they rented from their neighbours Ethel and Fred Mertz. Many of the show's plots rotated around Lucy's efforts to break into show business, often as part of Ricky's act.

As to Ricky Ricardo, no secret was made of the character's Cuban ancestry. In fact, Ricky was essentially a fictionalized version of Desi Arnaz himself. Just as Mr. Arnaz had immigrated to the United States so too had Ricky. Desi Arnaz's Cuban flavoured music featured prominently in the series, Today Ricky could be considered a bit of a Latin stereotype. He was highly excitable and he had a bit of a temper. When upset it was not unusual for Ricky to erupt with a stream of rapidly spoken Spanish.

While there were aspects of the character of Ricky Ricardo that could be considered stereotypical, there were other aspects of the character that ran contrary to common assumptions made about Latinos in the United States in the early Fifties. Ricky Ricardo was college educated, having attended Havana University. Starting out as the bandleader at the Tropicana, he eventually bought the club and renamed it the Club Babalu. Ricky offered a sharp contrast to other Latino character on television in the Fifties. Frank the gardener on Father Knows Best, who was so naive that it seems likely he couldn't function in American society without the Anderson family. Pepino on The Real McCoys was always deferential to the McCoys and often the target of Amos McCoy's tirades.

In portraying a character who embraced his Cuban identity, while at the same time being married to a white woman, I Love Lucy challenged the homogeneity of American television in the Fifties, a time when the vast majority of characters, particularly on sitcoms, were white. At the same time I Love Lucy proved that a show could be inclusive and yet still be successful on American television. Indeed, it was not only one of the most successful shows of the Fifties, but one of the most successful shows of all time. Both as an actor on I Love Lucy and as a producer and business man behind the scenes, Desi Arnaz was very much a pioneer, paving the way for other Latinos on American television. While Latinos are still rare on American broadcast network television, the fact that there are any at all can largely be attributed to Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball insisting on a TV show that reflected their real-life marriage.