What to Like, and for How Long

February 23, 2012

A perfect storm of questions hit me this weekend. It occurred to me that there’s not enough time or brain space to appreciate all the aesthetics that are out  there for you to experience, so what’s worth following and what’s not?  I’m not going to answer that question in the next paragraphs, I don’t have an answer.  But here’s some topics I’m mulling over:

There are “Experts” in Everything

This question hit me while listening to Freakonomics podcast about how wine snobs may not have any idea what they’re talking about.  And then my mind bounced right to the XKCD cartoon above — that if you follow anything intensely enough, you’ll eventually develop a more developed opinion of it.  So… what’s worth knowing, what’s worth discarding, what’s worth devoting time to?

The Lowest Common Denomenator Theory

I touched on this a little on A Dead Kid post a while ago, suggesting that the more obscure your passions, the less connected you are to the rest of the world.  I feel that a healthy understanding of popular culture, though potentially mind-numbing, is really important. I don’t want to be lost in dinner discussions about The Bachelor, or silent (verging on looking snobby) when the bar topic du jour is about Katy Perry’s relationship status.  Crap culture is the new Weather — everyone experiences it, you can’t avoid it, and everyone has an opinion about it so it’s a perfectly fine topic to bring up when you have absolutely nothing else to talk about.  Would you want to talk to someone who responded to your weather comment with, “Oh, yeah, I’m  not really into the weather.”

What’s  Worth Your Time?

How long does it take to watch a movie?  Eat a meal? Read a book?  I ask, because, in the last 10 years a new time-sucking phenomenon has appeared — the serial TV drama. Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons chatted a bit about this on Monday.  Long-form TV drama is  everywhere, and they take forever to get through.  There was a time when someone would ask, “Have you ever seen <movie>?”, and you would say “no”, and they would be like “I can’t BELIEVE you haven’t seen <movie>.”  You would then rent that movie (or borrow that CD or go to that restaurant) and experience it — that would take about  2 hours… even a book, which I would consider a real commitment, takes anywhere from a week to a month to complete.  Serial cable TV shows are the extreme of commitment.  They last for months; often years if they’re doing well.  They are recommended by others who have no real idea how they will eventually end.

People don’t recommend albums based on the first two tracks of an LP, restaurants based on appetizers, or books based on prologues, but they do this sort of thing all the time for serial dramas.  Every serial show is an insane commitment with no guaranteed satisfactory conclusion (hi Twin Peaks, Lost).  Everyone is probably guilty of recommending a show that you, yourself won’t know how good or bad it will wind up being.  I know I am.  I told my friend a decade ago to get into Desperate Housewives.  There are still people watching Grey’s Anatomy because, I can only imagine, that they’ve put too many hours into McDreamy to give up on it now.  Anyway.  I digress.  I just dread dedicating that much time to one thing and watching it just… suck.

Sensory Appreciation

My uncle once said he wouldn’t buy a good sound system because he doesn’t have the ear that could recognize the difference between an good sound system and an excellent one.  I could imagine the same goes for tastebuds, and any other sensory experience as well.  This is logical.  But it make me wonder who gets to appreciate the most things, and perhaps then determine what’s “the best” themselves —  those fortunate enough to experience the most?  Does a variety of experience from somone with no real taste trump the limited experience of someone who has incredible taste?

Art vs Necessity

Last section, I promise. This is the old form/function argument. I’ve read that if an art serves any real function, it ceases to be art.  My questions is then, what happens when a basic necessity is elevated to something greater?  When it comes to things like architecture, fashion, or cuisine — shelter, clothing, and food if we’re going Maslov here — are post-modern buildings,  high fashion, or molecular gastronomy the epitome of art because they’ve transcended their functions, or are they invalid because they are objects that fail to meet the requirement of their initial reason to exist?  Are foodies and fashionista’s kidding themselves, or are they following the most logical path?

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Who’s Your Favorite Anthony Gonzalez?

September 4, 2009


Yelp Snub – Nightwood & TeeCycle

June 12, 2009

I’ve previously mentioned Yelp for their “community censoring” — deleting unflattering reviews and allowing obviously faked positive reviews to remain posted.  For a while it was just interesting “Web 2.0” type news, but I’ve recently had a number of reviews removed from the site for various reasons.  That’s fine.  Yelp’s a private entity that can do what they wish.  (Thank God for Google cache).  I’ll post the stuff that was deleted below (including emails explaining why).

Unfortunately, the first one was for a restaurant called Nightwood, and was deleted.  I assume this is because I wrote the review based on Time Out Chicago and a few other sources commenting on the place before it even opened… ha.  Yeah, I love Lula’s and I couldn’t resist breaking the news that a sister restaurant was opening. Anyway, I received this email on 5/25 from Yelp HQ:

Hi Brian,

We’re writing to you regarding your review of Nightwood. Your review was flagged by the Yelp community, and after looking it over we’ve decided that it falls outside of Yelp’s review guidelines because it links to outside content.

We’ve also noticed that several of your other reviews also contain such links to outside content. Rather than removing these reviews, we’d like for you to use the edit function to remove these links from the body of the reviews in question. Please make the necessary changes by week’s end, or we’ll have to take them down.

We hope you’ll understand our stance here, which is meant to keep Yelp reviews fresh, fair, and original.

Thanks for being a part of the Yelp community.

Regards,
**************
Yelp User Support

Aside from my enthusiasm for the Nightwood owners and the area of Pilsen in general, my review was based entirely on other sources and, as a good blogger should do, I linked back to the stories that I drew from.   I wasn’t about to take what I’d read and pretend it was my own.  Anyway.  The plot thickens I guess.  I wrote to our Chicago Yelp liaison, who is a very nice gal….

Hey ******,

I got this email and I’m confused.

Yelp is going to take down my reviews because of links to “outside content”.

What they’re referring to as “outside content” are my references to sources I’ve used to write the post.  I.E. if I hear about someplace from TimeOut Chicago (which is what happened in the case of the Nightwood), I’m going to reference it as a source as opposed to plagiarizing.  Or, in another case, if the Art Institute used Johnny’s Grill as a place to re-imagine “Nighthawks“, finding an image online and reposting it on Yelp as my own is stealing — acknowledging outside content, I would feel, is the right thing to do.

As a site that depends on community and member reputation, I would think that transparency is of the utmost importance.  Blogging without referencing where your information is coming from, to me, would seem like the antithesis of what Yelp is about.

I would ask that Yelp reconsider what they consider “outside content” compared to proper citation.

Regards,
-Brian Battle

Meanwhile, in the world of actual journalism (as opposed to the cult of passive criticism that is Yelp) Chuck Sudo of Chicagoist wrote a review of Nightwood, in which I got made fun of… deservedly… on 5/27

To review Nightwood after one night would be a disservice to Hammel and wife Amalea Tshilds, Executive Chef Jason Vincent and the humping-to-please staff we encountered last night. (Although it didn’t stop Brian B. on Yelp, who apparently gave Nightwood a four-star rating based on TOC’s preview without even visiting). We’ll have a full-on review after a few more visits. But the Chicagoist food and drink staff have had cameras at the ready lately, so we took photos of some of the dishes we sampled. Enjoy.

Then I got this email at 7pm that same day:

Hi Brian (and *****[Yelp Chicago liason]*****),

After much careful review and discussion, we’ve decided to remove your review of Nightwood. We’re doing so for a number of reasons, but primarily it’s the copious linking and quoting, which do not represent a firsthand experience with this business. And yes, granted, we have in the past allowed “coming soon” reviews, and so, of course, a firsthand experience with a business that has yet to open is impossible. In these instances, we look to the user to write something useful about the business based on firsthand knowledge (i.e. past businesses operated by the owner; location; likely menu), but these reviews must contain firsthand information; additionally, this type of “coming soon” review is only left on the site for one month.

We hope you’ll understand our decision in this case, Brian. We also strongly urge you to make sure your reviews comply with Yelp’s review guidelines because we’ve also removed your reviews of teecycle.org since you state yourself that you have a conflict of interest with this organization.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter and thank you for being a part of the Yelp community.

Regards,
********
Yelp User Support

————— Original Message —————
From: ***************
Sent: 5/26/2009 9:33 AM
To: ******************


Subject: FW: Message from Yelp.com HQ

Hey all…

Hmm, he has a point. Any thoughts? I think his outside content is mostly just images, etc. And the Nightwood post was actually very helpful (moreso than people posting before an opening saying “Can’t wait to check it out.”)

He’s elite, and very well behaved…

Thanks,
********

*********** *******
Chicago Yelp Community Manager
Yelp.com | *******

Ha!  I love the chain of command!  Our local Chicago community manager calls me “very well behaved”!  Yay!  I should get a gold sticker.  Despite that, Yelp San Fransisco pulls my review… after the suspicious use of the word “copious”.  (Copious = 3, btw).

Anyway, the review clearly mentioned I’m fond of their owners, their chef, their other restaurant and also describes the menu.  Yet, they deem it unworthy of Yelp.  Which, considering what gets onto Yelp,  hurts bad.

What’s worse, upon further dissection of my posts, Big Yelp pulls my review of TeeCycle.Org too.  Ouch.  Ah, well.  The nail that sticks up, yada yada yada.

More on a tirade about a Lincoln Park puppy mill later.


The Digital Switcheroo

May 22, 2009

Photo Courtesy of CNL822 on Flickr

Watching baseball last week with all the jitters, smears, and pauses of digital broadcasting,  I realized I haven’t officially bitched about the digital switchover. All this info (well, except for the Kanye part) I think is pretty valuable:

  • With good reception, digital broadcasts look good. It is a huge step forward for television clarity.  Admittedly.  It does work.  So, if you get a new TV, yay, you get a new TV with potentially much better quality and more channels.  Everybody wins!(?)  The following bullet is much more important…
  • DIGITAL SIGNALS ARE NOT CRYSTAL CLEAR. It’s true.  Before I got a digital converter I didn’t realize this, my coworker didn’t realize this, so I assume some of you have been (or are in the process of being) mislead as well.

Now that people are using digital receivers, we’re realizing that digital TV reception is as bad or worse than analog TV.  Those that haven’t gone digital yet (or in some cases can’t even afford to), hear the Networks pitching the switcheroo and it’s like they’re doing you a favor.  It’s important to know that TV Networks/the government/Big Businss are NOT just doing it for your benefit.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, hell, any rant that mentions “the government” usually makes me tune out.  But this is true, apparently: The initial digital switch plan (I shit you not) was a delayed reaction to  Post-9/11 communication issues. According to Bloomburg

The government mandated the switch to free up airwaves for advanced wireless services and emergency workers’ radios, to raise money and to provide clearer pictures and more programming.

Broadcast networks volunteered to give their analog frequencies over to  emergency police and fire communications.  Though, “volunteered” is a stretch.  Television networks were well aware that this act, which appears fairly selfless and sensible, had an overwhelming business-minded upside.

Giving up these frequencies and moving to a digital signal would mean that every American that does not subscribe to a cable subscription (~20% of the population, skewed towards the less affluent) must buy a brand new TV, update their televisions on their own dime (that’s 285 million sets as of ’05),  or  get cable.  It was a sweetheart deal all around, exemplified by the nifty bullet points below:

  • Government gets low-freq emergency channels (Which is great… whoopdie-doo.)
  • Broadcast Networks, who have been trying to go digital anyway, get to do so with the government bankrolling them, and in the name of public good.
  • Broadcast Networks now have multiple channels to run second-tier content on, which can steal share back from cable stations like The Weather Channel, Univision, Telemundo, and in NBC Universal’s case —  ESPN.
  • Cable companies  profit off of new subscribers unwilling to make the digital switch
  • Electronic stores (namely Radio Shack) make a killing on digital converter box sales, and on selling peripherals around the digital conversion.
  • Everybody gets to pretend they’re helping John Q. Public

That last bullet is the kicker, because, if you installed the digital converter box you quickly realize that reception can, and does, still suck.  What’s worse, broadcast channels that used to come in a little fuzzy on an analog television will not even register through the digital box.  No longer do you have the option of watching a fuzzy screen — it’s all or nothing now.

Digital TV is a snob — if it’s not crystal clear, you’re not allowed to watch it.   You cannot even manually tell your digital converter to include a channel that is not registering — this is what is happening to CBS (WBBM) on my TV and a friends in Chicago.  I wonder if they’re losing ratings because the digital boxes they forced on their viewers refuse to recognize it as a channel.

The funniest part is those antannae… you know the ones you were supposed to be able to throw away…  those rabbit ears they made fun of in the “swtch to digital” PSAs earlier this year?  Yeah… you have to buy a new one.


Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Flight of the Conchords

May 18, 2009

Nearly June.  The year is 5/12ths over. Here’s one of 12 I enjoyed over the last 12 or some months…

Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

(#5 of 12 in no particular order)

Like David Brent playing a pretty good acoustic guitar — there’s something intimidating about musicians that have chops but then choose to make fun of what they do.  Performing as a comedian/musician is a fickle thing… play original work and people may not know you’re joking, play too close to something else and you’re written off as a parody artist, or even worse, an impressionist.  FotC somehow manage to walk the funnyrope.

Songs that were rawer (but still hilarious) on their HBO show take on a new life on the LP — they clean up nice.  Specifically, you have to love the spotless production and prominent funk bass that now comes through beautifully on both “Ladies of the World,” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)”.


Wilco (The Blog Post)

April 29, 2009

Wilco (The Band) has just released the name of their album: “Wilco (The Album)”.  See what they did there?

Also there’s the topic of the press photo:

vs…

Just sayin’


Who’s NOT Playing Pitchfork This Year

March 26, 2009

Thanks to the idiotic “Radius Clause” inflicted on Chicago every summer, while we eagerly anticipate which bands are announced to play its  two major music festivals every year, we know immediately who WILL NOT be playing.

"Sad hipster" courtesy of Aubs on Flickr

Time Out Chicago explained it well last year:

For 60 days before and 30 days after their Lollapalooza appearance, Lolla performers are prohibited from booking a show within 250 miles of Chicago (which includes Madison, Milwaukee, Champaign, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor and Iowa City)

Because of these bullshit protectionist agreements we know that any band that plays P-fork (July 17th to 19th) cannot play Lolla (Aug 7th to 9th). Boo, fucking, hoo. But it gets more interesting than that.

Provided that Pitchfork also follows these festival rules we know that any band playing between ~May 18th and ~August 16th will not be sweating it up on stage in Union Park.

This includes TONS of bands, most of which are inconsequential. But there are a few groups that are well-regarded by the haute-indie online tastemakers that now cannot play. (Pitchfork ratings in parenthesis):

I’m especially suprised to see SXSW * bloggy sweethearts School of Seven Bells and Passion Pit on this list. St. Vincent, though only registering one album on p4k, has been a favorite over the years.  As has Art Brut who will be doing a 5-day residency at Schubas over the summer.