Now, every night is movie night: April Media Diet

April 30, 2020

I’m not running out of things to do; I just have a lot fewer options. So goes life during the pandemic. No hanging out in the library for a couple hours in the late afternoon. No spending Saturday at the zoo. Now, I stay home with the Co-Pilot and Little One, and, invariably, we choose a movie.

Who is behind that popular YouTube channel featuring Anna and Elsa dolls?

April 24, 2020

There’s a popular YouTube channel that my Little One will watch every opportunity she can. It’s called Come Play With Me and has more than 7.4 million subscribers. A brief search suggests it’s a wildly profitable channel, with Social Blade giving a low-end estimate of $68,000 monthly income.

For the uninitiated, the channel is essentially a soap opera in the form of imaginative play acted out by two girls controlling dolls mainly from Disney toy lines. The two dolls at the center of almost every episode are the “child” versions of Anna and Elsa from Frozen, though in this universe, the children are named “Anya” and “Elsya” to distinguish them from the adult versions. Other dolls show up here and there, too — the “adult” Anna is Anya’s mother, the “adult” Elsa is Elsya’s mother, and occasionally we see Kristoff, Barbies, LOL figurines, and more.

I’m not the target demographic, but I think the show is attractive to young children because A) it features recognizable characters (the use of which would be an interesting test of fair use) and B) it’s exceptionally well-edited despite the ultra-low-budget production value.

Your Michael Jordan, my Michael Jordan

April 17, 2020

Michael Jordan was a great basketball player. I’m not about to truther that he transformed the NBA, let alone argue that being the best player on six championship teams in eight seasons is less than incredible.

However, on the eve of The Last Dance, an ESPN documentary that has already prompted a bunch of retrospectives on Jordan’s career that mark him as the most important basketball player of all time, and will almost certainly prompt another avalanche of canonizing takes, it’s worth trying to head off at least one myopic line of discussion: Whether Jordan would have dominated today’s game, or, for that matter, if today’s stars would have dominated the NBA of Jordan’s prime.

Disney Plus censors movies, and I’m determined to figure out which ones

April 13, 2020

The other day, I noticed Splash is included with Disney+ and since my little one is in a mermaid phase thought it might be worth watching. But upon starting the movie, we were greeted with a notice that the film had been modified for content, so we didn’t bother.

I haven’t seen Splash, but a quick online search suggests Disney+ only includes a version of the film that removes some non-sexual nudity. After further poking around, it became clear that there are a lot of movies on Disney+ that have been edited for content without an up-front notice.

Why Republicans have no coherent answers for the Covid-19 crisis

April 10, 2020

As the crisis deepens and the president seems more interested in putting on a daily television performance than managing an effective public health response, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to how the modern Republican party has insufficient answers because all their proposals depend on attributing outcomes to individuals’ choices alone.

Cutting unemployment benefits and refusing Medicaid expansion were common GOP policy priorities from before the pandemic that now threaten millions of vulnerable people facing down the worst effects of a sudden recession. In the before times, leftists could argue that reducing unemployment benefits doesn’t actually encourage people to get a job faster, and the nature of health care is such that ensuring more people have care reduces costs for everyone, but it’s hard to use large-scale economic effects in a discussion with someone who’s relying on an instinctual principle. How do you explain to someone that life outcomes are heavily correlated with when, where, and to whom he was born when the air he breathes tells him he alone is responsible for everything he has, and that if people are wanting it’s because they, personally, are lacking?

I was worried about the wrong things

April 9, 2020

It’s becoming clear to a lot of us that isolation isn’t what we thought it would be.

Many introverts thought it would relieve pressure on them to socialize with groups, but after a short adjustment period, it turned out that many can’t avoid constant connection mediated by modern technology, and it’s just as draining as physical socialization, if not more so. Parents are realizing how much goes into education, with some deciding they have to focus on work and eschew homeschooling their children rather than take on a second full-time job.

Did I just write “parents”? In many households, it’s women who have to deal with childcare, education, and the additional housework that stems from preparing and eating more meals at home and simply having people around all the time.

Even after my child’s school closed, I thought I might be able to record more music. I thought I might plow through more books. I thought I might devote more time to drafts of a screenplay and a novel I’ve got in my files and that are just waiting for sustained attention.

Instead, it turns out having an extroverted five-year-old at home means that was all a fantasy. Thankfully, my job is in a slow period in our calendar, so I can run point on assisting the child with her schooling and keeping her from distracting her other parent while she works (a much more connected job). But I actually have less time to devote to solo pursuits than I did in the before times because on top of the work I still have on my plate and performing as teaching assistant, the time I used to spend commuting is now reallocated to preparing lunches, cleaning up, responding to requests for Lincoln Log time, and otherwise guiding the child’s energy into more positive directions.

All that’s to say that the school and daily childcare routine do not translate directly to isolation life, and I haven’t been able to find any new free time, which I suspect is a common experience among my younger-parent cohort.

I was a little worried about how bored and stir-crazy I might get if I had to stay home for weeks on end, and not worried at all about handling my daughter’s schooling and dealing with her demands for attention. Of course, now, I realize I had it all backward. Instead, all the educational and social interactions we’d previously offloaded to school — teachers, other students, afterschool supervisors — is on our shoulders now, along with the logistical burdens that come with rarely leaving the same confined space for days at a time.

(P.S.: Everyone should read Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. While not directly applicable to the kind of social isolation we’re undergoing now, it frames interstellar travel as a series of problems, foreseen and unforeseen, that require constant solving by an isolated group. Emphasis on "unforeseen”.)

(Photo: "Little girl takes kinder toys from plastic box." by Nenad Stojkovic. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)

Here's why the coronavirus is a fundamental threat to the NCAA

April 7, 2020

A long time ago, Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs published a back-and-forth he had with Yahoo journalist Charles Robinson in which Craggs succinctly explained what has become my view of the NCAA:

What you guys are trying to do — demonstrate the fecklessness of the NCAA by exposing every NCAA violation across the land — is roughly akin to demonstrating the futility of marijuana laws by exposing every dude who packs a bowl on a Friday night. You begin from the assumption, in your reporting if not in your personal beliefs, that the NCAA is a worthwhile institution with flaws. I begin from the assumption that the NCAA should be dynamited.

I think you want me to offer pragmatic, adult, incrementalist solutions to fixing the NCAA. And my point is that pragmatic, adult, incrementalist solutions only further consecrate the fundamentally insane notion that higher education and big-time spectator sports have anything to say to one another.

I thought about this passage yet again when I came across a remarkable article from the Dallas Morning News which recounted all the ways big-time football schools are hoping they can get their seasons in. Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork was particularly blunt:

“I can’t comprehend it, especially looking at our place where you have facilities built specifically for housing these large gatherings, 100,000-plus people,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said in a recent interview, “and you have financing related to that based on ticket sales and advertising and suite sales and donations. 
“So the whole model rises and falls based on football. If there’s no spectators maybe we can play, but if there’s no spectators, the economics just don’t work. That’s what we have to focus on is that long-term picture.”

I thought about Craggs’s missive yet again when I read a Bleacher Report post about college athletic directors warning that a cancelled football season would be disastrous to their bottom lines. Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard is quoted by Bleacher Report saying, “If we can't play football this fall, I mean it's Ice Age time. Because there is nobody in our industry right now that could reasonably forecast a contingency plan for how they would get through not playing any football games.”

March Media Diet: Pandemic edition

April 1, 2020

Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, TV show season, and podcast I finished in March 2020. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d finished so long ago it felt unfamiliar. (See previous Media Diet posts here.)

This is not my complete media diet. I also watched plenty of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of Simpsons and Billy on the Street episodes. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode, and the only one I want to listen to, by default, is The Right Time with Bomani Jones.

I don’t have much loyalty to specific websites, but I do try every day to read Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate (free entries only), and I check ESPN. I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and the Action Cookbook by Scott Hines.

I was in the midst of quitting Facebook, but then a pandemic hit and I found myself relying on it for contact with people outside my immediate household and also for trying out strategies to convince people they ought to follow health experts’ recommendations for staving off Covid-19. I still maintain that someday I’ll find a way to kick my Twitter habit. Instagram sucks, too, but less than the other ones, probably because I’ve resisted following celebrities.

Let’s get to it.