Thinking Out Loud – 12/3 by Matt Kasznel

Hi folks–this is my last column for the Duquesne Duke this semester, because this week’s issue is ALSO the last one of the semester.  We’ll resume our regular shenanigans in early/mid January following winter break.  If you’d like to check out the entire newspaper, including archives of our previous issues this semester, check out Enjoy!
Cowabunga! The 80’s Are Back, Legit

I recently discovered the heavy metal band Steel Panther. As usual, however, I am a few years late to the party. The best mock rock band since Spinal Tap, Steel Panther has been churning out ’80s heavy metal riffs combined with over-the-top, ridiculously sexual, ’80s heavy metal lyrics for the better part of this decade. As overblown as their ’80s rock image is, it still accurately portrays that culture of music. (99 percent of these lyrics aren’t allowed in the average college newspaper, so I won’t even try.)

The 1980s – especially its music – falls right behind “scandalous political figures” as the easiest target for comedians and humorists, and for good reason. Take a look at any music video starring Van Halen front-man David Lee Roth. Back then, these videos were considered funny, wild and crazy. These days it’s hard enough to look at any singer from the era and accurately identify their gender on the first guess, let alone take them seriously.

But I have a warning for you Dukes. You may take shots at the music, movies and fashion of the “Molly Ringwald Era,” but take heed, because the ’80s are back.

First, let’s analyze what made ’80s music so appealing. Music videos were much more relevant to the songs of the ’80s than any videos are today. Two of the top singers from the era, George Michael of Wham! and Madonna, were stylish and sexy, and their music videos went a long way to promote that image. Also, remember that MTV actually played music videos during this time; the regular rotation of videos did more to promote the music than it ever would today.

Dance music has always been “sexy” because dancing was generally associated with … yeah, you get it. But ’80s rock music was overtly sexual. You might be thinking, “Duh. Rock music is typically sexual. And the sky is blue, too.” Recall that in the ’90s, however, rock music was primarily infused with brooding, emotionally distraught messages.

The heavy metal group Pantera tried their best to be KISS-revivalists for the entire Reagan administration and ditched the leather pants and glitzy showmanship for angry modern metal, come the new decade. Grunge music was officially in, and outlandish glam rock was out.

But now, the look and style of ’80s music is making a “triumphant” return, depending on your opinion of the time period. It may not seem obvious to you now, but think about some of today’s most popular artists.

Lady Gaga, a dance-floor phenomenon, coats herself in layers of makeup the way farmers shroud their crops in pounds of fertilizer. She’s a modern-day Madonna, unashamed to make music that likely will be mocked in 10 years.

Music by Nickelback, one of the most polarizing rock bands of the new millennium, has been described as everything from “the scourge of music history” to “kind of OK.” The band recently teamed with producer Mutt Lange, the man who helped to sculpt titanic rock albums from AC/DC, Def Leppard and Foreigner. The resulting album is chock-full of party anthems and cheesy “heart-on-sleeve” ballads that follow the same pattern as many ’80s glam rock albums.

But the most evident proof is American Idol darling Adam Lambert. If you’re near a computer, take a minute to search for a cover image of his new album, For Your Entertainment. I’ll wait … OK. Done? It’s crazy, isn’t it? Combine the image with a shrill singing voice that would make Freddie Mercury proud and his passé attitude toward his recent awards-show backlash (blaming parents for letting their children stay up to see his antics), and you have yourself a modern mixture of Roth and Michael.

But, for the moment, he’s still considered trendy. I rest my case. Eighties music is back, and whether you like it or not, chances are … you’re going to like it.


Thinking Out Loud – 11/5 by Matt Kasznel

The New Legend of Late Night
Media professionals know how to effectively balance what kind of ratings a show will receive with its production costs. Nowhere is this truer than in the comedy department, where shows made to make others laugh are dwarfed by big-time hospital dramas or cop shows. The success of shows like Two and a Half Men are offset by Charlie Sheen’s $825K-per-show salary while shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos cost virtually nothing to produce because the audience provides all the material.

Then, there’s the golden mean of comedic television, the late night talk show, where big bands, big guests and big laughs lure viewers. In the past, the show’s hosts were also larger than life, but look beyond the land of greats like Jack Paar, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson, and you’ll find a revolving door of hosts who take on the role of show manager rather than ringmaster of a three-ring circus. These hosts, like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien, seem happy to be along for the ride.

A new crop of late-night hosts are poised to take the throne this fall with George Lopez, Wanda Sykes and Mo’Nique starring in late night roles on TBS, Fox and BET, respectively. These networks have begun advertising well in advance to prove to potential viewers that their host will be smart, edgy and “tell it like it is,” whatever “it” may be.

In a way, late night has become a type of sanctuary for these forgotten humorists to revive their fading careers. (Really, Fox? Wanda Sykes hasn’t been funny since Ross Perot was a legitimate presidential candidate.) With Jay Leno moving to primetime and David Letterman aging and struggling with serious issues of his own, who will become the next king of late night? Craig Ferguson? Jimmy Kimmel? Maybe Arsenio Hall will come out of retirement, but I don’t think we could get that lucky.

Nevertheless, look no further, TV junkies. Your savior has arrived, and he’s wearing a ridiculous looking backward hat and a big stupid grin. I’m submitting a blueprint for The Obscenely Late at Night Show with Matty Kaznel to you, readers.

Late night needs a few changes to pull in a younger audience who will stick around for years to come. Guys like Letterman did a lot for the 40-and-over crowd, but what group is usually awake from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.? Other than obsessive stargazers, the answer is college students. Although the average college student is probably watching South Park, studying or jamming to Dave Matthews Band during that time, I believe if we bring those interests into our program, it will be a success.

First, I would make DMB the show’s official house band. I feel I could bring out Dave Matthews’ comedic side and turn him into the wisecracking co-host I know he could be. Acceptable alternates include O.A.R., Pearl Jam and Metallica. (Come on, how cool would it be if the show opened with “Master of Puppets” every night?)

Second, I would hire Trey Park and Matt Stone to write South Park for our show. Instead of running a full 30-minute episode, it would be broken up into three sections spread throughout the show, the way The Simpsons aired on The Tracy Ullman Show. The big difference is that South Park already has a huge, loyal audience. We get South Park, we get their viewers.

Finally, no great late night talk show is complete without a truly epic announcer, the disembodied voice that brings out the guests and goes back and forth with the host on occasion. After a lengthy search, I’ve decided to go with the legendary Michael Buffer. If you don’t know who he is, just search “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” online and see what comes up.

The rest of the show would follow a similar format (guests, crowd interaction, etc.), only much better. I’m a confident guy, what can I say? But if my dream show can’t be made, I have just one request: give Bruce Campbell his own show. He would be so good at it. Instead of giving jobs to failed actors or comedians who think they’re good, why not give a job to someone comfortable with his own B-rated star power? Make it happen, late night. Make it happen.


Thinking Out Loud – 10/29 by Matt Kasznel
10.29.09, 8:27 pm
Filed under: MattK, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Americans Study Too Much

With the United States economy begging for mercy, Americans have done everything short of installing Lo-Jack in their wallets to keep tabs on where their dollars are going. Gone are the days when affluent old men and women in cartoons tossed wads of cash onto the fire to keep it roaring in the winter. There is no doubt a good portion of the world, let alone America, is bleeding green.

But where is it all going? The culprits are numerous, but I believe you can place a significant portion of the blame on folks who simply have far too much time on their hands.

Yahoo! Music blogger Lyndsey Parker recently posted a blog regarding the effect of singing “Feeling Good,” by John Coltrane and Nina Simone, on TV talent shows. Parker took the time, effort and resources to go back into the annals of reality television and find that every contestant who sang the ballad on American Idol and The X Factor was voted off the show in a shocking and untimely fashion.

Usually, if one can reply to an article, paper or blog entry in less than three words, you need to rethink what you just wrote. I refer to this as the Calvin Coolidge rule. In this case, an appropriate response to Parker’s piece would be, “Who cares?” Of course, you could easily violate the Coolidge rule by adding your own expletive in the middle, but the message remains clear. Yahoo! may be a massive internet/news group, but can they really afford to allocate resources on posts like this?

I wish I could say that pointless research and studies are limited to the entertainment world, but unfortunately, research like Parker’s only represents the tip of the iceberg. In the past five years, we have seen medical and psychological studies proving that night-shift nurses have poor sleep habits, playing with puppies makes you feel good, daytime soap-operas are not realistic in their depiction of comas, and women are more attracted to men who use John Travolta-esque dance moves in nightclubs – you know, the kind of research any doctorate or Ph.D. would kill to have on their résumé.

We’re just about to close out the month of October, when the nation coats itself in pink to call attention to breast cancer. So instead of pumping cash into finding out why squirrels prefer certain trees, how about re-allocating funds to one of the deadliest and most difficult-to-detect diseases.

I know I’m being somewhat unreasonable. After all, I just wrote a few weeks ago that irreverent humor and sporadic behavior would make any serious situation better. So, I will level with those who want to partake in such bizarre studies. Not every piece of research has to be groundbreaking or life-saving, but has to at least provide some reasonable benefit to society. In short, I’m in charge now.

I want to see someone research the effect of listening to music, talk radio, or simply nothing while falling asleep. Do you actually retain information from listening to news podcasts when you sleep? Do you end up mentally deranged by drifting off with Marilyn Manson blasting every night? Or does it have some undiscovered mentally stimulating effect, the way listening to Mozart is supposed to improve your math skills? The answer might not be as obvious as the answer to “Do people who work the night shift have difficulty sleeping?”

I want to see a study examining the psychological effect of adding the word “smart” to the name of a product. If I tell somebody “I’m sexy,” why would they believe me? They wouldn’t; I obviously have some ulterior motive. So, why buy something simply because the people selling it claim it’s “smart”? What’s so “smart” about a bottle of electrolyte-enhanced water that you can’t hold onto while running, or a car that can only seat the average 12 year old comfortably?

And lastly, I want someone to study the effects of reading the “Thinking Out Loud” column on a regular basis. How many brains cells does it kill per word? Is it more entertaining than digging your eyeballs out with a spoon? Or does it improve the self-esteem of its readers, who know that no matter what they do, they can’t be as ridiculous a writer as that Kasznel guy? Be sure to keep all spoons away from you while reading the summary of that research.

-Matt K.