Is There Too Much Television?
You don’t often hear a TV fan saying that there’s too much TV. And you certainly never hear those words coming from the president of a TV network.
But that’s what FX CEO John Landgraf said at the annual Television Critics Association get-together, that “there is simply too much television”. Now, as someone who watches a lot of television (and I mean a lot — around 5 hours a day every day since 1970) I was intrigued and confused by his comments. Why would anyone want less television? Landgraf thinks that “2016 or 2017 will represent peak TV in America, and then we will see a decline.” Needless to say, he’s getting some pushback from other TV execs and fans.
At first I thought it was a ridiculous concept. As long as the television is good, what’s the problem? I don’t mean the business of television and the programming of it and whether or not networks should produce less, I mean on a personal level. I have to admit that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the number of channels we have now and the choices. I would never say there are too many books published or too much music recorded, but television is somehow different. I find myself having to set my DVR constantly or write down a reminder or put something on my calendar if there’s something I want to watch. I have to admit that sometimes I’ll sigh a quiet sigh of relief when a TV show — maybe even one that I really like — is canceled, and I don’t have to deal with it anymore.
Of course, I’m writing these words in August. Speak to me in a month or so when the fall TV season starts and I replace all of the shows I’ve stopped watching or were canceled with five or six new ones.
You may not have heard, but McDonald’s just increased the weight of their Quarter Pounder. It’s now 4.25 ounces compared to the four ounces it was before. Though that’s before cooking. It shrinks when cooked. It’s another of many changes the fast food chain has made, which include a streamlined menu, the introduction of all-day breakfast starting this fall, and the hiring of a new CEO.
Now we just have to wait for the class action suit because of false advertising. You said it was a quarter pound, but it’s not!
What else are they lying to us about? Is Ronald even a real clown? Was Mayor McCheese voted into office legally? Are the French fries even French?
How do you laugh online? Are you an “LOL” person? A “hahaha” type of person? Or maybe you like one of the alternate words to indicate you find something humorous or that you’re not serious about something you just wrote, a “tee-hee” or a “heh,” the latter I find myself using way too much.
But the LOL is on the way out. According to Facebook, LOL (or “laugh out loud”) has been replaced by “haha” and emojis. How did the social network come up with this data? They monitored what you were posting on the site and how you depicted laughter. They found out that LOL is being replaced by haha, hehe, and little pictures of people laughing or smiling.
So to summarize, language is dying and we’re all doomed. Soon we won’t speak in complete sentences to each other at all. We’ll just text or post emojis and emoticons because we’ll forget how to actually communicate with each other. Insert sad face here.
The Next iPhone Won’t Bend
Two weeks ago we told you about the privacy concerns from butt-dialing. Now comes even more phone-in-your-pants news.
A new video from Unbox Therapy says that the next iPhone is going to be just a little bit thicker, which means it won’t bend like the iPhone 6 reportedly does. Apple, of course, has no comment on this yet, but I hope a spokesperson comes out and simply says, “You shouldn’t be carrying around your phone in your back pocket anyway. Would you carry your eyeglasses back there too?”
Apparently this controversy is called “Bendgate,” because we have to call everything controversial “—gate” now. Don’t people understand that Watergate was the name of the hotel, so adding “gate” to everything doesn’t even make any sense?
Columbia House Files for Bankruptcy
If you’re of a certain age you remember the TV and print ads for The Columbia House Record and Tape Club. You’d send them a penny — a penny! — and they’d send you several albums of your choice, as long as you promised to buy other albums later at the regular price. Oh, I wonder just how many people threw away the reminders they got because they just wanted their several albums for a penny? In a sign of the digital times, the company has filed for bankruptcy.
Now, this is the part of the story where I say I didn’t even know that Columbia House still existed. Yup, it was still around, though they had moved on to selling DVDs. While they made $1.4 billion in 1996, they only made $17 million last year. Now, this is the part of the story where I gasp in italics: Columbia House made $17 million last year?!?
On a related note, I was at Barnes & Noble this weekend and noticed that they’re now selling vinyl albums and turntables. I have no idea what this means.
Happy Birthday, Julia Child
Last week I watched Nora Ephon’s last film, Julie & Julia. It’s good, not great. It jumps from a present-day story about writer Julie Powell starting a blog and making her way through Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking to scenes depicting Julia and her husband living abroad decades earlier. The Julia scenes are better than the Julie scenes, but it’s an entertaining movie overall.
In honor of Julia Child’s birthday tomorrow, here’s a site that gathers several of her classic recipes, including her Beef Bourguignon, Roast Duck with Orange Sauce, Scrambled Eggs, Lamb Stew, and Chocolate Mousse. You can watch episodes of her TV show and read tributes on the PBS website and read SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson’s thoughts on what made Julia Child so special.
And by the way? Julia loved McDonald’s original French fries!
National Tell a Joke Day
Sunday is National Tell a Joke Day. Or, if you’re a comedian, it’s Sunday.
Here’s one of my favorite jokes (yeah, it’s a knock-knock joke but I like it):
Come on, that deserves an LOL or, at the very least, a tee-hee.
Upcoming Events and Anniversaries
Elvis Presley dies (August 16, 1977)
Thirty-eight years after his death, Presley is still making a ton of money.
Charles Bukowski born (August 16, 1920)
One of the great things about doing this column is finding sites you never knew about before, like this one on the writer. There’s also a new movie titled Bukowski coming out later this year.
President Bill Clinton born (August 19, 1946)
Wikipedia has an exhaustive look at the life of the 42nd president.
The Beatles launch first U.S. tour in San Francisco (August 19, 1964)
A Beatles fan takes a trip to Liverpool to experience the world of the Fab Four.
Hawaii becomes the 50th state (August 21, 1959)
If you’ve never been to the Aloha State you might be surprised at some of the things you’ll find.
The incident has become legendary. People who know nothing else about Julia Child know what she said when the potato pancake she was cooking accidentally flipped out of the pan onto the kitchen counter.
With a truly French sangfroid, she advised, “If this happens, just scoop it back into the pan; remember that you are alone in the kitchen and nobody can see you.”
However, thousands did see her, and were both amused and reassured; even the great Julia Child, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, could make mistakes. But she didn’t stop cooking. She just kept going.
The story symbolizes how Mrs. Child democratized gourmet cooking. She wanted to remove the mystique of French cuisine and make it accessible so anyone could experience the art of the great chefs of Paris.
It was no easy goal in 1961. French cooking was popularly considered to be strange, fussy, exotic, and less satisfying than an American’s meat-and-potatoes dinner.
Enter Mrs. Child, who had fallen in love with the food of Paris and dedicated herself to exploring, mastering, and sharing its pleasures.
French cooking couldn’t have chosen a better champion in America. Julia Child was relaxed, confident, and just as unpretentious as she was knowledgeable. When Lewis Lapham interviewed her for the Post in 1964, he found her “an even more engaging woman than she seems on television.”
She stands over six feet tall (her dress size she describes as “stately”), her eyes are grayish green, her hair brown and her complexion freckled.
A tall and determined woman, cheerful, steadfast and pure in heart, [she] appears as The French Chef on a weekly television show that is as funny as it is instructive.
Although an excellent cook, she possesses none of the pretentious mannerisms so often associated with practitioners of haute cuisine. She moves around in front of the camera utterly preoccupied with the problem at hand, addressing the television audience as if she were talking to herself or to a trusted friend.
Each of her cooking lessons has about it the uncertainty of a reckless adventure. She has a way of losing things—either the butter, or the carrots she so carefully chopped into small cubes or, on one memorable occasion, a pot of cauliflower. Sometimes she forgets to put the seasoning in the ragout; sometimes she drops a turkey in the sink. But to Mrs. Child these slight misfortunes are of no importance, merely the expected hazards of a long and dirty war. Smiling and undismayed, secure in the knowledge that her cause is just, she bashes on.
When, at the end of the program, she at last brings the finished dish to the table, she does so with an air of delighted surprise, pleased to announce that once again the forces of art and reason have triumphed over primeval chaos.
Since its publication in 1961, Mastering the Art of French Cooking has sold over 2.5 million copies, thanks to Child’s television program The French Chef, which ran on public television for 10 years. It made converts of many a cook who might never have considered working through Mrs. Child’s massive collection of 542 recipes. But she also gained followers among Americans who rarely set foot in a kitchen.
A surprising number of [fan] letters arrive from people who know or care nothing about food but prize Mrs. Child chiefly for her ingenuous wit.
In New York’s Greenwich Village, for instance, a coterie of avant-garde painters and musicians gathers each week in a loft to watch The French Chef. …At first they assumed that she was doing a parody of the traditional cooking program, but even the discovery that she was playing it straight failed to dull their enthusiasm. In the garrets around Washington Square the introduction to the lesson on artichokes stands as the authoritative example of Mrs. Child’s humor and style.
The scene opened on an artichoke boiling in a pot of water and shrouded by a piece of cheesecloth, Mrs. Child, looming suddenly into view, lifted the cheesecloth with heavy tweezers and inquired, “What’s cooking under this gossamer veil? Why here’s a great big, bad artichoke, and some people are afraid of it.”
Of the other two remarks still quoted in the coffeehouses, the first concerned a chicken in a frying pan. “We just leave it there,” said Mrs. Child, “letting it make simple little cooking noises.”
The second had to do with crêpes suzette. As she put a match to it, she said, “You must be careful not to set your hair on fire.”
It’s not hard to imagine Mrs. Child, hair ablaze, telling viewers, “Now this is exactly what you don’t want to do,” before nonchalantly dousing the flames with baking soda.
It took courage, plus a sturdy sense of humor, for a Pasadena girl to master the cooking technique of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris. But Julia Child (née McWilliams) was born courageous. At the start of World War II, she immediately tried to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, then in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, but was disqualified both times because of her height. So she volunteered for America’s early intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services. “She hoped to become a spy,” Lapham wrote, “but was sent instead to Ceylon as a file clerk.”
Her fearless determination proved invaluable during the 12 years she spent writing her cookbook and the ten years of filming The French Chef. It wasn’t all raw courage, though. She took great care to prepare for the occasional disaster on the program, preparing two sets of all ingredients just in case.
“In the 68 shows that Mrs. Child has so far filmed, the cameras have stopped on only six occasions, the most spectacular of these being the times when a soufflé fell and when a kidney flambé failed to catch fire,” Lapham wrote.
On the day he visited the set, she was cooking lamb stew. “She began with a finished stew in the oven, a half-done stew simmering in a pot on the stove, and the materials for a third stew arranged before her on cutting boards.”
But even the best-prepared chef will meet mistakes, and Julia would move on barely breaking her stride. “At the moment when Mrs. Child proudly picked up the stew and said with a flourish, ‘And now we put it in the refrigerator,’ Mrs. Lockwood [an associate producer] flapped her hands excitedly. ‘Of course I don’t mean the refrigerator,’ said Mrs. Child, unperturbed, ‘I mean we put it in the oven.'”
After reading Lapham’s Everyone’s In The Kitchen With Julia and watching the movie Julie and Julia, you can appreciate Julia Child’s two great contributions to the dinner tables of America. The first was acquainting us with a broad palette of exquisite tastes, which most Americans would never have experienced. The second was encouraging cooks to forget their fears and self-doubts, and boldly explore new worlds of culinary pleasures.
It makes you wonder how many other rewarding experiences in life are waiting for an intrepid pioneer to introduce them to America.