Category: Popular Culture

PSA – Yes, That’s Me on TV

If you’re in the Chicago area (or will be within next five years or so), and you happen to watch the PBS affiliate WTTW 11, you might catch me in one of their station commercials.
A few months ago I was on a date in the Museum of Science and Industry and there was this camera crew from the station looking for people to record some of their promos. They had a list of types of people they were looking for, one of which was “young couple.” Since we were a “young couple,” I just figured this would be a cool thing to do on a date. Besides – who really watches PBS around here that could possibly have a chance of recognizing me?
Apparently, many many people at UC.
Incidentally, thanks to Hasidic Musician for pointing out that Eli Ata was originally a Chabad niggun, and not a Carlebach one. Correction has been made.


“It is as sport to a fool to do wickedness, and so is wisdom to a man of discernment.”(Proverbs 10:23)
Inspired by Kurt Warner’s recent accusations that he was benched because of his religion, ESPN’s Robert Lipsyte writes about Sports, God & Religion.
Nothing really new here. Some players like to invoke the name of the Lord before they go out to who knows what. On the other hand, some owners are suspicious of players who (halilah) believe in a power greater than football. Reading this article, I’m reminded how similar this community of worshipers mimics almost every religious community.
I’m sure there are plenty of professional athletes devoted to their respective faiths. Others merely pay lip-service because it sounds good to other people and they demonstrate some degree of humility. How many people do we know of sit on either side of this mehitza?
I also find interesting is the jihad aspect of football. Whoever has more faith, has God on their side, and therefore deserves to win. Dennis Miller had a great line (not quoted by Lipsyte for some reason): “the winning team always has God on their side, but no one ever says ‘Jesus made me fumble.'” It’s easy to thank God when things are going well, but how often do we see the hand of God in the bad as well?
From what I’ve seen, the Lord is invoked in football more than other sports. This could be because of shortened season, heightened intensity, or following George Carlin – baseball is just wimpy. With fewer and more intense games, football players will understandably be more emotional than after one of the many insignificant baseball games.
Of course, all athletes get emotional at the end of the season. Players thank God for a good season or for the opportunities they had. It’s a time of reflection and retrospection where players reevaluate themselves and prepare for the future season (or retirement). For intents and purposes, this is the end of their year and the off-season is a time for renewal and optimism. We shouldn’t be surprised then that athletes have their own “Rosh Hashana” rituals.
It’s easy to mock athletes for irrational, inconsistent, or insincere faiths. Just realize that underneath the pads and multi-million dollar contracts, they’re just people like everyone else. And the flaws we see in them, might very well be the flaws we refuse to see in ourselves.

MSNBC’s Kabbalah Corner

Does anyone else find interesting how much MSNBC covers the new-age Kabbalah craze? It could just be the standard mocking of stupid celebrities. Not only are people like Madonna and Britney prime journalistic fodder, but they won’t have to worry about the Kabbalah center suing them into oblivion for defamaiton unlike some other “religious” institutions.1
For example, in a recent Newsweek interview which appeared on MSNBC:

When Spears talks about the South Asian musical influences on ?In the Zone,? she says she?s ?been into a lot of Indian spiritual religions.? When asked if one of them is Hinduism, she says, ?What?s that? Is it like kabbalah??

So she’s not exactly a religion major.2 It’s possible she has some insightful comments about comparative religion. I doubt it considering her teacher has some trouble keeping her own Kabbalah straight. See for example, MSNBC’s review of Madonna’s new children’s book, Mr. Peabody’s Apples:

In her introduction, Madonna explains that ?Mr. Peabody?s Apples? is based on a 300-year-old Ukrainian tale called ?The Baad Shem Tov.? [sic] She says her instructor in Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, first turned her on to the story, which aims to demonstrate the power of words.

This could be a simple typo on the part of Madonna or MSNBC. Frankly I’m curious if Madonna knows something we don’t (undoubtedly she does, but regarding Jewish History. On second thought, scratch that too). Did the Baal Shem Tov have an evil twin? Or maybe this guy was a Hassid from the ‘Hood?
At any rate, I’m sure MSNBC will continue to humiliate the these two for many months to come. They just make it too easy.

1. What, you’d think I’d mention them by name? They scare me.
2. But a poster child for not learning Kabbalah until one turns 40. Incidentally, Madonna easilly meets the age requirement.

Best Interactive Time Wasters

Since my last call for comments was less than impressive, I’m going to try again with another question. What is the best most addictive interactive time waster on the web. This doesn’t include reading blogs, watching amusing cartoons, or anything passive. These are things that require more user input than pressing the “play” button. For the record, I discovered these long before I came to Chicago.

I offer three suggestions:

News Hunter
This shockwave game is based on Comedy Central’s Daily Show. Skipping the so called “point,” this realistic flash game is highly addictive and entertaining despite the blantant shilling for the VW Touareg.

Fling the Cow
Initially done in DHTML, it is now available in flash as well. It delivers what it promises.

Broken Saints
This will be my “exception which proves the rule” (I love academia). Though passive – it’s a moderately animated graphic novel – it’s a fantastic piece of work. The work of three people over three years in their spare time, this work has won numerous awards including one at Sundance. (See their FAQ for more details).

So if you’re interested in something different, check this out. I’d recommend downloading “keepers” locally so you can view them at your leisure. One ambitious (probably unemployed) Slashdot reader clocked all 24 chapters at roughly 10 hrs 30 min total viewing time, so I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing in one sitting. One warning though: the beginning is really slow.

Update: It turns out that this isn’t much of an exception after all. I just noticed that there is an upcoming Broken Saints video game. If you have the bandwith, check out the trailer – although it’s more impressive if you’ve seen the original in its entirety. The game isn’t due out until 2006 and only for “next generation consoles.”

Disclaimer: Play at your own risk. I am not responsible if you get fired or suspended.

Muzak Madness

Strange experience in the local Office Depot. I was in the filing section when I hear the faint sounds of “blessings on your head, mazal tov, mazal tov.” Since I was the only white person in the store and probably the only Jew around for a mile I thought it was just senility. A few minutes later, I clearly hear Sunrise, Sunset. In the computer demo section of this Office Depot in Hyde Park Chicago, they were actually playing the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof. Really.

Question for discussion: What is the strangest song you’ve heard either played in public either in normal form or the strangest Muzak experience? (BTW – check out Muzak’s website. I’m convinced they’re a cult). On the way out of the store, I heard Bruce Hornsby’s classic The Way It Is which wasn’t completly terrible.

It’s also good to know that some people other than myself remember the great SNL sketch with Paul Simon selling his soul to the devil and his Hell is being stuck in an elevator listening to muzak renditions of his songs.