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Name: Rex Stetson
Occupation: Masked Avenger Type
Base of Operations: Washington, DC
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Friday, October 24, 2003

Movie Star Fame vs. TV Star Fame

First Jack Tripper Dies, Now Rerun, Too??

Just Kidding. I come to bury Rerun, not to praise him.

The story of Rerun's decline and death is a hilarious near-parody of those "pathetic washed up stars" VH1 specials. I quote some of the funnier bits of the eulogy:

Rerun was a 1970s version of latter-day goofball TV characters like Steve Urkel from "Family Matters": loud, a little whiny, a little dim and definitely geeky. "What's Happening!", which ran from 1976-1979, focused on three teenage friends - Rerun, Raj and Dwayne - who learn about life, women and trouble while growing up in Los Angeles.

Among the more famous episodes was one in which Rerun joined a bizarre cult and another in which he got busted for making bootlegged tapes of a Doobie Brothers concert.

[...]

By the time "What's Happening!" ended, Berry said he had blown more than a million dollars on drugs, cars, homes and an airplane. With no acting jobs heading his way, Berry tried to live off his fame by charging to appear at shopping malls.

Even later in life, he was still cashing in: lately, he earned money by calling fans on the telephone with the service www.HollywoodIsCalling.com. About $30 would earn a fan a 30 second call.

Berry's love life was another complication. He married a dancer while in his 20s, and the two divorced, remarried and divorced again. Berry repeated that performance with his second wife, whom he married and divorced twice (most recently in 1991). He also married and divorced two other women.

Rerun brought Berry another brief moment of success in 1985, when "What's Happening!" was revived as the syndicated "What's Happening Now!" Berry quit in a contract dispute after the first season and the show ended in 1987.


Bad enough he had to die, but the AP needed to blame Urkel on him, too?

Fred “Rerun” Berry wore his signature red beret and suspenders for all public even appearances and legally changed his name to " Fred Rerun Berry". Typically this type of sad, pathetic behavior is exhibited by minor celebrities with known for only one role who are desperately trying to make a comeback , or parlay that 15 minutes of fame into some publicity for their other endeavors.

This seems to happen mostly with TV stars, perhaps because of the transient nature of TV, and TV fame. Al "Grandpa" Lewis of TV's The Munsters also changed his name to "Al Grandpa Lewis" in a sad, failed bid to drum up publicity for his sad, failed bid to become Governor of New York. Cary Coleman tried the same thing in california recently- without changing his name to "Gary Arnold Coleman", at least- but still relying heavily on his trademark catchphrase, well documented elsewhere. Not that relying on catchphrases is a bad strategy to win the California governorship, as Governor-elect Schwarzenegger can attest.

One "Arnold" had more fame, and more catchphrases, and he won- and despite attempts to portray him as a joke candidate, people don't consider movie actors as much of a pathetic joke as TV actors, and take them more seriously, even when they shamelessly reference their popular work.

Example: Here is a pic of Harrison Ford and the three Indy girlfriends from the films promoting the new DVD box set, courtesy of Star Wars-geek news site www.theforce.net. Ford showed up in Fedora and Leather Jacket- Which is really cool since most Movie celebrities don’t appear in costume for publicity or fan conventions, especially celebrities of ford's stature.

Movie stars have of that caliber, with long careers have the luxury of picking their favorite role to reference- most TV stars are usually only remembered for one role, so they have to milk it for all they can. The classiest example of this is the guy who played the andriod Kryten on the BBC's Red Dwarf- who would not only appear in costume at sci-fi conventions, but also in full makeup, and stay IN CHARACTER the whole time! Why? Not because he's running for office, but because it's fun to do, and he appreciates how much fun it is for his fans. Still, it's kind of wierd and surreal. You won't get that from any Star Trek cast members, although they are generally known to be fan-friendly.

The safest route to take for a low-level TV celebrity who wishes to remaining the public eye while still retaining some shred of dignity is to have a sense of humor about being a washed-up has been and a pop-culture reference. Gary Coleman played himself as a security guard on the Simpsons a few years back, a boost for his career. William Shatner has elevated self-parody to an art form-ensuring that he will always have a place in the public eye. The alternatives are the "VH-1" routes taken by Gray Coleman's co-stars on Diff'rent Strokes, Dana "Kimberly" Plato (crime, soft core porn and death by drug overdose) or Todd "Willis" Bridges (crime and imprisonment). I know there's no such thing as bad publicity, supposedly, but come on...

There have been a few minor TV celebrities who have successfully made the transition into politics for a few years- Ben "cooter" Jones (Dukes of Hazzard) and Fred "Gopher" Grandy (Love Boat), both former congressmen. But they didn't change their names, and Jones didn't wear his greasy mechanic cap- Gopher didn't campaign in little white shorts. It was a classier affair. The career path of Former Senator Fred Thompson is a bit more puzzling- a character actor in films, then a US Senator, now a regular on TV's Law and Order. I don't know what to say about that, exactly- other than that it's interesting to see political fame used to revive an acting career. Perhaps the success of these three came from the relatively unmemorable characters they played: Quick- do your "Gopher" impression! Ha- you can't, can you?

The most successful strategy for using your fame, however, regardless of how much you have- Know your place. Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger could do Shakespeare or bixarre vanity projects if they wanted, but they don't- Harrison Ford, like Arnold, has a narrow range of acting roles in which public will actually accept him. He basically plays variations of the reluctant action hero. As Arnold loves to be remembered as the Terminator, Ford loves to be remembered as Indiana Jones. As Arnold revisited his signature role recently in Terminator 3, So will Ford in the upcoming Indiana Jones 4. because they know how to give the public what it wants. Mid-level stars with a decent size fan base struggle with this truth, but usually resign themselves to it, as in the case of Leonard "Spock" Nimoy: Early in his Trek fame, he wrote a biography called "I Am Not Spock". Recently, a sequel covering his twenty-some years as a fairly accomplished film and tv director was published, titled "I Am Spock".

Posted by Rex @ 12:23 PM

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The "Do Not Spam" List: Rex Tells You Why it's A Bad Idea

Today The Senate passed an Anti-Spam bill modelled after the wildly popular "Do Not Call" list operated by the FTC. The Do Not call list targets the nuisance of telemarketers, and I support it 100%. Rather than some who see it as excessive government regulation, I see it as government excersizing its few legitimate functions: and protecting free association and voluntary trade. By signing up for the list, one merely signals one's intent to refuse to do business with telemarketers. Thus no one's time is wasted on the phone- the individual may continue eating his dinner uninterrupted, and the telemarketer can operate more efficiently-focusing his sales pitches where they have a greater chance of success. Telemarketers were bitching about the list, but ultimately it helps them run much more efficient operations- by pre-screening out people so rabidly hostile to phone sales-pitches they took the time and effort required to register for the list. The telemarketing industry warned that this would result in massive layoffs (50% of the workforce would be let go,supposedly) but even if this were true (it isn't) it wouldn't affect the telemarketers' profits-- the folks on the list wouldn't have bought anything anyway, and by weeding them out, they will now have a higher number of sales per calls made. It costs money to make telemarketing calls. The callers need to be paid an hourly wage, if not a commission for each sale. Layoffs should only if occur to compensate for decreased efficiency- to cut overhead and keep profits steady. So this list is good for everybody- people who are open to these calls can recieve them, people who don't won't have to. Only a truly malicious telemarketer, concerned not with efficiency or his bottom line- but annoying people purely out of some sadistic impulse- could reasonably find it a hindrance.

The Do Not Spam list, however, is a completely different matter. While on the surface unsolicited telemarketing calls and unsolicited commercial e-mail might be similar (namely, that they are both unsolicited) they differ in one crucial aspect, one that will not only prevent the Do Not Spam list from working, but could in fact make a bad situation far worse.

The mistake supporters of the Anti-Spam bill are making is in misunderstanding the fundamentall dynamics of e-commerce in relation to plaind old commerce: Remember that I said it costs money to make telemarketing calls- beyond paying the callers, the calls themselves cost something to make. Not so with e-mail. That means that that spammers can send 10 million e-mails for the same cost as one. If the amount of time/cost/effort a spammer needs to invest remains effectively zero, the sales / emails sent ratio will always be effectively infinite! Unless the cost of spamming is shifted somehow to the spammers (rather than the recipients) there will never be any incentive to stop spamming.

"Ah, but there will be stiff penalties for violators", you might objec-"that will shift the cost to them!" Do you seriously think the FTC, the FBI, the FCC, or any government agency has the resources to catalogue every piece of spam, trace its origins through the forged names and other disguises its been given by its creators, learn their true identities and street addresses , prosecute them, and keep them from doing the same thing a million or more times the next day under a different e-mail address? Even if the government were able to make a few "poster child" examples by nabbing a few high-profile spammers and hauling them in handcuffs into a courthouse in front of the tv news cameras- we might feel a little better. But ultimately the Do Not Spam list would effectively be unenforceable. And that's just within the United States. Most of the Spam comes from outside the FTC's jurisdiction-that's right, from the rest of the world, especially in Asia. Ever notice how bad the english is in those things? How exactly do they propose to enforce the Do Not Spam list in Indonesia- against spammers who are unknown, untraceable, and don't pay a cent of long distance charges (as even the foreign telemarketers must)?

Would a Do Not Spam list prevent pornographic spam from getting to children's eyes? No. Any US spammers feeling a little skittish could merely outsource the spamming overseas (most do already).

Would it cut down on at least *some* spam, and therefore be "a good start", as CNN says? No- for the same reasons. Spam is virtually free to send, and virtually untraceable- and a Do Not Spam list would be virtually unenforceable.

Oh sure, some decent, legitimate, reputable businesses that also do commercial e-mailing would honor the list to maintain their good reputations- but those aren't the spam that have people so up in arms: the fraudulent, pornographic, and unstoppable. Most legitimate businesses already have an "opt-out" option on the bottom of each piece of spam- letting you put yourself on their own "Do Not Spam" list.

The best way to avoid spam is to use a spam filtering program, either a store-bought one, or one of the free ones: SpamRival, or those incorporated into Yahoo! Mail, AOL, Earthlink, and Hotmail. Also, don't give out your e-mail address to anyone you don't want e-mail from- duh!!

If you recall, I warned that the Do Not Spam list would not only not work, but that it could make the situation worse. The FTC must provide the Do Not Call List to all the telemarketing firms, otherwise they couldn't very well be expected to know which numbers to "not call", right?

Still think it's a good idea? Again, you're not thinking "e-commerce"! Telemarketers pick their phone numbers at random- they now must check their random numbers against the LIst. Spammers "farm" the internet for e-mail addresses, scouring webpages, newsgroups, etc. - looking for anything that has an "@ symbol and letters around it. If they are very lucky that day, they occasionally come across a page containing an e-mail directory- say, for a university or large company. Thousands of new addresses to Spam many times each day from now til the end of time!

Knowing the way Spam works, would you want the government handing out the Do Not Spam list, with its millions of names, to any Spammer who asked for a copy?

Posted by Rex @ 5:54 PM

Monday, October 20, 2003

Insanity Of Goofy Ass Rainbow Sissy Money Eclipsed Only By That Of $40 Million Ad Campaign To Promote Its Use

The Treasury Department has launched a $40 Million media blitz promoting their new $20 Bill (see Sept 9 post Goofy-Ass Looking Rainbow sissy Money To debut October 9th). it's bad enough that the government is changing our respectable-looking currency into some fruity-pepples looking euro-monopoly money. I don't know if that's some subtle conspiracy to merge the US and Canadian dollar ( check them out- they're almost identical now- except we haven't put a duck or a moose on ours- yet.) or maybe it's a far more sinister plan to ease us into the Euro! Our money will gradually start tinting and modernizing in style- so all our eurosocialist friends will be impressed by how sophisticated we are. If they change the dye and paper to one that fades into a different color for each bill: say, pink for 5's, blue for 1's, etc.- that's how you'll know.

Taking off the tinfoil hat for a moment, however, and substituting my fiscal-conservative/small government green "accountant thingy" visor ( and those little glasses down low on my nose):

Does it bother anyone else that the government is spending $40 Million to pay some PR/Ad firm to advertise MONEY?

I was willing to be "hip" and "roll with the punches" and all that- the times they are a changin'- and hippy trippy money is part of life, I guess. Look at the Susan B Anthony dollar, the Sacagawea dollar- You have to put up with a lot of goofy money sometimes. And I do. Like this new $20 with an even LARGER picture of Keith Richards on it!! And these trendy currencies usually fail, because Americans don't respond well to trendy gimmicky money. Newfangled crap like angular edged coins depicting angular-edged feminists ( from the decade that thought avocado and Burnt orange were sharp-looking interior design colors). And that screwy looking Sacagawea with her papoose. Turning around like: "oh, hi there, folks! Didn't notice you there.." And like the little baby did anything to merit being on the coin! Sacagawea was a guide for lewis and clark- that's the best they could come up with under pressure to make a less butch, but still PC-friendly replacement for the Susan B.

Obviously they don't need to advertise money to get people to "buy" it- so why the commercials? Well, ostensibly it's to showcase all the new features that are more likely to prevent counterfeiting. But something about that doesn't add up- think about it. Why would you want to have a massive educational program detailing the precise rundown of what preventative measures are employed? Wouldn't that make counterfeiting more likely rather than less? Imagine if the Homeland Security Department operated this way:

Our new security screening incorporates many facets which will frustrate hijackers and terrorists. For example, our new magnetometers (metal detectors) will be calibrated to 120 angstroms rather than 100, as with the older models. So guns larger than 4 inches can now be detected, whereas before, guns needed to be larger than 5 inches to be detected. Also, new ETD ( explosive trace detection) machines will scan baggage for nitronium phosphates, a chemical found in high explosives, but also in newspaper ink and lawn fertilizer. Finally, as a last resort, the back seat of each commercial flight, will have a loaded gun underneath it in a canister marked "Oxygen" for use by air marshals, who will fly in plainclothes in that seat on modays, wednesdays and fridays, the most "high traffic" flight days.


It's best not to give away all your secrets, you see. I know that, and so does the government. So "education" isn't the real goal of the Ad campaign. Well, maybe that scary Orwellian "political" reeducation kinda education. They want to shape our opinions about the money. They want us to accept its strange appearance- they don't want a lemon like the Susan B on their hands. Why else would they sink so much money into it? they want to ram something no one wants down our throats, that's why!

The commercials show a guy so flipped out about the money I shit you not that he is doing backflips! What the hell is that all about. If they wanted to get people excited about the new money, they should give away free samples. I mean, $40 Million buys 2 million $20 Bills- they could have gotten people a lot more excited about them if they did that believe me. They probably could have even bought the $20's at some bulk discount, and gotten more that 2 Million to give out! Or they could have started a program: usea new $20 bill and for the first month, they'll be treated as a $40 Bill! that would provide a short-term stimulus for the economy as well. Or maybe not- but it would certainly be more backflip-worthy: Imagine buying shares of Microsoft, or your dream house, or your dream car- for half price! (If you bought it in cash with the new $20's) They wouldn't be able to keep up with the demand! The bill would become a legend - and people would remember it fondly for years to come!

More realistically- if they wanted people to get excited about money -i think they should do what the Post office stamps do- honor americans who have contributed in some way to our culture, then died. This could be modelled after the "state quarter" program. You could have an Elvis dollar, a Marilyn Monroe Dollar, A Babe Ruth, an Einstein dollar. They'd be collectors items, people would just naturally get excited about new dollars being issued featuring enduring American icons. What better way to show how all men are qreated equal than to have the JFK dollar be equal to the Thomas Edison dollar, equal to the Jackie Robinson and the Martin Luther King and the Robert Johnson and Frederick Douglas dollar, etc.

Aside from the fun, collecting fun aspect, would also eliminate the Stalinesque
revisionist political choices we have to make whenever it's time to put some trendy new character on a coin in favor of an less trendy one. You laugh but this is tricky for a lot of those politicos who are big into group identity and race politics. We don't need to further alienate the feminists just to curry favor with the Native Americans, like we did when Susan B was reworked into the less bitchy Sacagawea durign the "dances with wolves" years. We had to ditch Ben Franklin in 1964 to make room for JFK, which I can sorta see- but shit- what did Ben Frankling do to deserve that- he didn't pull the trigger! WTF? "Yeah sorry, old timer- electricity, almanacs, founding father, but what have you done for us lately??"

Maybe that Sacagawea was to make up for ditching the Indian to replace him with Jefferson (no doubt done to pacify the libertarians for removing "Liberty" from the dime to replace in with the picture of ....FDR. You gotta love the zeitgeist symolism of these weathervane switcheroos- but for those of you who are really into making political statements with your currency-it's not necessary to abandon it. You can do a lot more of it, in fact- with much smaller coalitions necessary.put out your Abbie Hoffman dollars and your Malcolm X dollars, reissue the Ben franklin if you want. When dead celebrities fall out of favor, they will become collectors items- or they can be traded like baseball cards for trendier folks: "I'll give you 3 OJ simpsons for your Kobe Bryant!"

I know other countries do this- lame ass little island countries that make all their money by selling goofy "Beatles" currency to collectors. Or maybe that's stamps, again. A Lesson can be learned by our government here: make your money work for you. these countries make money by resonding to market demand for popculture tie-ins, not by forceing PC figures or launching a marketing blitz to get people to like $20 bills.

Posted by Rex @ 4:28 PM

REX STETSON: ARMCHAIR VIGILANTE character name and distinctive likeness thereof: TM & © 2003 Armchair Vigilantism, Inc. All Rights Reserved.