Posts filed under “Popular Entertainment”

HEY, CODERS! WHO WILL CREATE THIS BROWSER EXTENSION?

It is generally presumed that people who look for information on the Web want it in video form. For example, if you go to the HathiTrust Digital Library, which is a collection of books, you will find instructions on the front page for building your own personal collection of books at HathiTrust. The instructions are given in the form of a YouTube video.

Dr. Boli does not like information presented in video form. What he especially dislikes is running across a Web page that is so certain he wants his information in video form that it immediately starts playing a video at him without his permission. And the very worst offenders are the pages that do have information that is meant to be read, but overwhelm it with dancing animations and videos that make it impossible to keep our eyes on the text. For example, the current front page of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh site, which fills the screen with a confused cacophony of moving images to inform us that we can get a printed program guide if we like. Can anyone think of a better way to inform readers of the availability of printed schedules of library programs than with a video showing library patrons dancing around with the printed guide and not reading it?

That was the site that finally sent Dr. Boli off on a quest for some way to kill the moving images. If you use Firefox, there is a simple setting to disable autoplay. If you use Chrome or Edge, there is no such setting. There used to be years ago, but it was taken away, on the grounds (we suppose) that users were abusing it by disabling autoplay, which is a rotten thing to do. Advertisers pay good money to Google to place animated ads all over the Web, and Google does not fund the Chromium project just to flush that money down the sewer. What was that famously aspirational Google slogan again? “Let’s be evil”? Something like that.

Fortunately, there are browser extensions that will accomplish the same thing. But there is not yet a browser extension that does exactly what Dr. Boli would like. The one he uses right now stops videos from automatically playing without his permission, which is good as far as it goes. What Dr. Boli would really like, however, is an extension that would allow him to click on any video or animation that started by itself, and with that click simultaneously kill the movement on the page and deliver a harmless but painful electric shock to the Web designer who thought the autoplaying video was a good idea. Dr. Boli is prepared to reward a programmer who can create such an extension with his patronage. Note that, if the “harmless” part of the specifications proves impossible to implement, Dr. Boli is still likely to be generous.

A QUESTION ABOUT COPYRIGHT.

Stories lodge in our minds better than numbers, so here is a concrete fact that demonstrates how long copyright lasts under current laws. The first talking picture is finally in the public domain. Wikimedia Commons’ “Media of the Day” yesterday was The Jazz Singer.

As of January 1, the creative artists who worked on that picture are no longer enjoying the exclusive Right to it, and are thus discouraged from contributing more to the Progress of Science and useful Arts. At the age of 136, just when he might be hoping to retire on the earnings of a successful career entertaining millions, Al Jolson is cut off without a cent. Of course, Al Jolson was probably not making royalties anyway; it is really Jack Warner, the genius behind the project, whose profits have been mercilessly yanked from his grasp. Fortunately he is still a relatively young man at only 130 and may expect to recoup his fortunes with another project. Silent movies are about due for another revival.

At any rate, thinking about the length of copyright brings up our question for this evening. The Wikipedia article on the Copyright Clause in the United States Constitution mentions that what got us into the current state of copyright was “the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, also known pejoratively as the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act.’ ”

Here is our question: If you presented those two names to a randomly selected pool of intelligent Americans and asked “Which of these names is the pejorative one?”—would the number of correct answers be higher than would be expected by random chance?

MOTION PICTURE NOTES.

Her Sad Mistake. Essanay, 2 reels. In the first reel, Mavis disrespects Webster’s Dictionary by using it to prop up a sash. In the second reel, she misspells “fritillary” and suffers the consequences.

Aida. Lubin, 5 reels. In a lavish picturization, Verdi’s masterpiece comes to life with spectacular sets, exquisite costumes, gripping drama, and everything but the music.

A Bad Day at the Bakery. Keystone, 1 reel. Willie the hobo just got a job making deliveries for Piccelli’s Bakery, and his first assignment is to get fifty custard pies down to the osteopaths’ convention in town. But then the cops who’ve been chasing him all morning catch up to him. Goodness! What will Willie do?

How the Daughters of the American Revolution Saved Iowa. Kalem, 4 reels. When wicked labor agitators plot to organize workers at Davenport’s only tweed mill, the plucky ladies of the Davenport chapter of the D. A. R. see the socialist danger lurking behind the deceptively benign slogans.

The Royal Mess. Vitagraph, 2 reels. A duke disguised as a salesman woos a shopgirl who is actually a countess in disguise. But can they avoid the watchful eye of the floorwalker, who is actually Kaiser Franz Josef II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?

BREATHLESS.

At some point in the not very distant past someone on YouTube figured out that modern video editing software made it very easy to cut out every pause and breath in his monologue so that the whole thing came out as a continuous stream of words without a single break from the beginning to the end of the video just like a paragraph with no punctuation and then somehow decided that hey this was really a nifty effect and he should do it all the time and inexplicably other people began to copy that style until now it has become more or less the norm that every video channel on YouTube is stuffed with breathless presentations that are nothing but a solid drone from beginning to end.

Now, here is where it would have been useful a few years ago, when that discovery was first made by some unheralded cultural pioneer, if YouTube had made it easy to use small capitals in the comments. Small capitals convey an impression of authority and finality. The world would have been a better place if, under that first video, someone had left a comment like this: “Hey, I notice you used your editing software to cut out all the pauses. Never do that again.

In his 239 years on this earth, Dr. Boli has had the privilege of meeting a number of people in unusual professions. He vividly remembers meeting, in about 1980 or so, a man who had what struck Dr. Boli at the time as one of the most unusual professions he had ever run across. This man worked for a firm that accelerated recordings of human speech. Until very recently, he explained, increasing the speed of a recording necessarily increased the pitch as well, and grown men turned into screeching pixies. But now, in the wonderful world of 1980, technology had finally reached the point where it was possible to increase the speed of a recorded voice and keep the pitch the same.

Dr. Boli does not recall what the purpose of this accelerated speech was. He imagines it as sponsored by a cabal of very impatient executives who wanted to absorb as much information as possible about the West German Betamax market before they had to tee off at 2:30. But whatever the ultimate purpose of it, exhaustive research went into this project. Plenty of data had been accumulated about exactly how fast human speech can hit the human ear and still be processed by the human brain.

But what about the pauses? Surely much time is wasted in the pauses. Human speakers are hampered by the necessity of breathing, but machines do not share that requirement. All that inhalation is just dead time in the recording. Could we not add considerably to the speed of the presentation by eliminating the breaths and pauses?

Here, our expert explained, is where the research came up with an answer that was perhaps counterintuitive at first. No matter how much the speech itself was accelerated, a certain amount of dead time had to be accepted. The reason was psychological. When we are listening intently to a speaker, we naturally begin to breathe in synchronization with the speech we are hearing. When the company experimented with eliminating breaths and pauses, the test listeners found themselves out of breath and irritated. It was not good for them to hear a steady unbroken stream of words.

Has this research been invalidated? Dr. Boli himself, an experimental group of one, finds YouTube videos in which pauses and breaths have been cut out so irritating that he simply refuses to watch them at all. But perhaps he is out of touch with the times. Perhaps most people of a younger generation—the generation born after the War of 1812—much prefer to have an unbroken stream of words hurled at their ears without any inhalations to break up the flow of aural stimulation.

So he throws the question out to his readers. Which of you prefer to have all pauses edited out of a monologue? What are your reasons? And if no one can be found who actually does prefer this style of editing, why has it become the norm on YouTube but not on commercial television? Your theories, tangential observations, and cranky complaints are welcome in the comments. Please punctuate properly.

ASK YOUR DOG.

Like every generation before it, the current generation of performers likes to believe that we have at last solved the problem of naturalism in acting. Older styles of acting were ritualized and unrealistic, but now our performance methods have reached such a peak of accuracy in the reproduction of real human speech and behavior that our acting is indistinguishable from real life.

Scientifically speaking, this is balderdash. Our current styles of acting are stale and ritualized, almost liturgically artificial. The only reason we insist that acting in our current movies and television entertainment is “natural” is because we have agreed to consider certain clichés as standing in for nature.

We say scientifically speaking because Dr. Boli has proved his assertion by a scientific experiment that does not depend on the reaction of a human audience. He asked the dog. If you have a good watchdog at home, you can try the same experiment yourself.

First, you can play a movie or television show on your computer so that the dog can hear it. Result: Dog does nothing. Dog knows that dog is not hearing real people talking: it is ritualized performance recorded somewhere else, at some other time, and is of no concern to dog.

Now make a video call to some friend from the same computer, so that the sound comes out of the loudspeaker at the same volume. Result: Dog leaps into a barking frenzy to warn you of a perimeter breach. Dog can hear that this is a real person talking. It is not ritualized performance at all.

Nothing has changed in the quality or source of the sound. The only thing that has changed is the rhythm and expression of the person talking. Dog ignores the fictional character because dog has learned that fictional characters are not real people and do not invade the house.

The same, incidentally, is true of news and information programs. Reporters have their own ritualized expression, which is completely uninteresting to dogs. Dogs understand the difference between television personalities and real people—a lesson we humans would do well to learn.

So the next time you hear someone praise the utterly natural performance of a certain actor, ignore the critic. Ask your dog instead. Your dog is a better judge.

IN MUSIC NEWS.

The management of the Four Chord Music Festival has announced that this year’s festival will feature a performance by Miss Diana Smoulder, the ravishing heartthrob of the hurdy-gurdy. According to judges, all her submissions met the entrance requirements with three chords to spare.

The Earl’s Own Early Music Ensemble invites the public to a Sing Along with Palestrina concert at O’Brady’s Bar and Grill on Saturday at 8 p.m. Three-drink minimum.

Popular middlebrow band The Luxurious Socks have denied the rumors of a breakup, saying that the band simply needed some “apart time” and will be going to separate continuing-education classes to learn more about, like, psychology and stuff.

Rap-jazz fusion artist Felonious Thelonious will be guest-hosting Face the Nation this Sunday.

British rock legend Sir Jeremy Freakout has released his first single in five decades. Titled “Nothing Freaks Me Out Anymore,” the song consists of a rhythm track, a number of repeated cues from late-night public-affairs programming, and Sir Jeremy’s own distinctive snoring.

MUSH MARLOW, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.

Announcer: And now Business Records Consulting Services LLC, the new service that takes your business records where you’ll never have to see them again, presents…

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer: The Adventures of Mush Marlow, Private Investigator!

[Music: In full, then under for…]

Announcer: Tonight we find Mush busy at his desk when his secretary Betty opens the door.

[Music: Fade. Sound: Door opening.]

Mush: This better be important, Betty. I’m reading Proust here.

Betty: There’s a lady here to see you.

Mush: I don’t know whether I have time to see any ladies. I was just getting to the exciting part.

Betty: Well, I think you’ll want to see her. She’s a knockout.

Mush: Oh, a boxer, huh?

Betty: No, I mean “knockout” as in the slang term for an unusually attractive woman. You know, the word you never use when you’re talking about me, for some reason.

Mush: Oh, you mean the kind with legs up to her hips?

Betty: And arms up to her shoulders.

Mush: What’s she look like, anyway?

Betty: Well, she has titian hair—

Mush: Titian? Isn’t that just a fancy word for “brown”?

Betty: Well, I think it means more russet. Cupreous. Auburn, maybe.

Mush: Isn’t that a city in upstate New York?

Betty: Yes, but it’s also a hair color.

Mush: They named a hair color after a city on Owasco Lake?

Betty: I don’t think the hair color was named for—

Mush: My uncle lived in Auburn. He used to go sailing on Owasco Lake, but he had grey hair. Almost white. Why didn’t they call that auburn hair, huh? It’s disrespectful to my uncle, that’s what it is.

Betty: Let’s just say her hair is reddish-brown. Do you think you can deal with reddish-brown?

Mush: Well, fine, so she’s got brown hair. Lots of women have brown hair. Why should I interrupt my Proust for brown hair?

Betty: She’s also got blue eyes.

Mush: Now we’re getting somewhere. And how’s she dressed?

Betty: She’s got on a violet taffeta gown, like she’s—

Mush: What’s “taffeta,” anyway? You women say these words when you talk about clothes, and I have no idea what they mean. I think you just make them up.

Betty: Okay, it’s silky. It’s silky and violet.

Mush: Is it violet like at the blue end of violet or violet like at the purple end of violet?

Betty: It’s violet. Why do you care what kind of violet it is?

Mush: I have to know whether it’s worth interrupting Proust for.

Betty: It’s a very expensive gown. I can tell you that much. She looks like she’s dressed for going to the opera, not for walking up two flights of stairs to a cheap detective’s office.

Mush: Maybe I won’t be cheap if she’s got that kind of money. Send her in.

Betty: Okay, boss.

[Sound: Footsteps in high heels, door opens and closes.]

Mush: Hate to interrupt my book, but I guess there’ll be time to find out what happens with those madeleines later.

[Sound: Door opens.]

Betty: Sorry, boss, but she left already.

Mush: Aha! So it’s a missing-persons case now! Call Lieutenant Baxter at the city police and tell him we’ve got a missing-persons case. Tell him to get over here right away so he can threaten to have my license if I don’t spill the beans, and I can play coy with him so he knows he’s being misled. Then put out my flask and my rubber-soled shoes. We’re on the case.

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer: And so once again Mush Marlow finds himself hip-deep in titian-haired trouble. Tune in next week for more of the hard-boiled adventures of Mush Marlow, Private Investigator!

Now here’s a message for the busy executives in the audience. Are your business records piling up all over the office—on desks, on windowsills, in the bathroom, under the pool table? That’s when you know you need to call Business Records Consulting Services LLC. Business Records Consulting Services will take your business records away to an undisclosed location, and you’ll never have to look at them again. Then when some board member or government inspector or something asks you whether the legally mandated records for your business are being kept, you can confidently say, “Yes! As far as we know!” Call Business Records Consulting Services—so you can get back to business!

[Music: In full, then out.]

THE TEN MOST INTRIGUING CLICKBAIT QUIZZES…

…You Can’t Actually Click On


Which dead novelist is your guardian angel?

Which letter of the Cyrillic alphabet are you?

Which part of the horse are you?

Which yappy little toy dog is your spirit guide?

Which common lawn weed are you?

What does your Social Security number say about your gullibility level? (Enter it here to find out!)

What’s the vibrational frequency of your thyroid?

Which brand of dental floss matches your personality?

What’s your sartorial I.Q.?

Which brainless clickbait online quiz are you?

THE MOST FAMOUS PLAYWRIGHT
YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF.

In Victorian times, stage plays were straightforward affairs. You had a virtuous maiden and a sneering villain, and the plot was some contrivance by which the sneering villain would attempt to rob the virtuous maiden of her adjective. Mortgages were always useful weapons in the arsenal of a stage villain, but the better playwrights came up with more ingeniously dastardly plots than the simple but reliable mortgage-on-the-farmhouse.

By many accounts the first American to make his living as a playwright was Bartley Campbell. He wrote for theaters in Pittsburgh, whence his plays propagated across the country. They were perfectly suited to the middlebrow tastes of the American theatergoer in the later 1800s. No one’s heroines were more virtuous, no one’s villains sneerier than Campbell’s.

His most successful play by far was The White Slave, which played every stage from big-city theaters to hick-town “opera” houses for decades. It’s set in the antebellum South, and it’s about a virtuous maiden and a sneering villain who comes up with a humdinger of a wicked plot. He convinces the heroine that she is an “octoroon”—that one of her great-grandparents was Black. Under Southern laws, that makes her Black and a slave.

This poster shows the two most famous scenes from the play:

The White Slave poster

In the first, the villain has just threatened to put our heroine to work with the common field slaves unless she consents to become his favorite. In reply, she speaks the most famous and applause-gettingest line in nineteenth-century American theater: “Rags are royal raiment when worn for virtue’s sake!” The other scene is the villain’s inevitable comeuppance, in which an authority figure reveals that our heroine is a Genuine White Woman, and thus ineligible for slavery. Notice that nineteenth-century audiences did not worry about “spoilers.” They knew how the plot would come out, but they loved to see virtue in action. They came to cheer the heroine and hiss the villain.

Bartley Campbell’s plays were enormously successful, but he went mad from the stress of trying to manage a full-time playwriting career and died in an asylum at the age of 43. Let that be a lesson to all you aspiring writers out there. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where he rests under an obelisk—but a Catholic obelisk, depaganized as they usually are in Catholic cemeteries by the addition of a prominent cross.

Bartley Campbell monument

And if you look a little closer, you will recognize his epitaph:

Epitaph

Imagine our stage heroine—who has been trained from youth to trill her Rs vigorously—pronouncing that immortally alliterative line with a virtuous toss of her head. Imagine the audience jumping to their feet to cheer for her virtue, leaving the villain to shuffle his feet for five minutes before he can finally get on with his next threat. And then imagine one of those audience members years later wandering through the pleasant hills of St. Mary’s Cemetery and coming across this monument. In an instant the most thrilling stage performance of his life rises before his mind’s eye, and he hears that immortal line, and he says a prayer for the soul of Bartley Campbell.

And while we are imagining things, imagine a twenty-first-century play in which the heroine gives up everything for virtue’s sake, and the audience doesn’t laugh at her.

The pictures of the Campbell monument come to us by courtesy of Father Pitt, who in turn was directed to the monument by the noted Lawrenceville historian James Wudarczyk.

CELEBRITY GOSSIP.

Miss Una Corda, the notoriously shy concert pianist, has announced that she will release her upcoming album, Music You Probably Won’t Like by Composers You’ve Never Heard of, in 8-track format only.

Arnold Limesquash, the noted ventriloquist, is suing his dummy for libel.

British rock legend Sir Jeremy Freakout broke his decades-long silence yesterday when he stepped on a tack at the Westminster Home for Aged KBEs. His agent quoted him as saying “Crikey.” Sir Jeremy had not spoken since 1974 in protest against British occupation of the South Sandwich Islands. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed for calm and said that carpet conditions at the Home would be investigated “forthwith.”

Rap-jazz fusion artist Felonious Thelonious busted a rhyme yesterday at the Greater Aspinwall Independence Day Art-O-Rama. He is listed in serious but stable condition at St. Margaret’s Hospital.

Bozar the Clown has been retained as a consultant for a new motion picture about the life of Stanford White, tentatively titled I Was a Predator but I Made Some Pretty Good Buildings and That Thaw Guy Was Crazy.

Irving Vanderblock-Wheedle, the well-known poet and novelist, gave a reading from his new free-verse sonnet cycle Sunday at the Buzzing Fret Acoustic Café, until the manager on duty told him that if he was going to stand there talking to himself all afternoon he could at least order a latte or something.