…assorted thoughts, musings, rants, etc…


Photography magazines and radical boundaries

A year or so ago I signed up for a $5 subscription to American Photo magazine. I thought it might be interesting/instructive to see what was being featured from other photographers – that maybe I could be inspired or challenged to branch out or try something different.

After several issues, I have to confess that I regard my $5 as pretty much wasted. Because American Photo magazine really isn’t about the fundamental and classic elements of photography – a compelling landscape, and interesting abstract, and candid glimpse of someone. It’s about pushing the boundaries of subject matter. The latest issue that arrived this week, showcasing the winners of an “Images of the Year” competition, featured such gems as a group of body builders sitting at a table in parochial school attire, a girl with a deer head superimposed instead of hers, two Indonesian store owners in their underwear, and a topless pregnant girl wearing a Batman mask.

Really? These were among the “Images of the Year”?

I discovered the same thing a couple of years ago after hearing about a new photography magazine starting up called JPG magazine, featuring photos submitted (and voted on) by users. “Cool concept”, I thought to myself, so I plunked down my $20 and signed up for a year. But, again, the agenda was to push subject matter boundaries as far as they can go. One issue’s theme called “Beauty Redefined” really did take some unattractive subject matter and try to spin it as beautiful – a sort of in-your-face “Yeah, well we’re taking all your ordinary sensibilities and telling you you’re WRONG!”.

It’s a shame that photography seems to have become more about pushing boundaries than about light, composition, wonder, and compelling scenes. I’ll be the first to admit that there IS a place for photography to be stark, even uncomfortable – capturing sorrow, depicting injustice, creating empathy. But that’s just a fraction of what photography can and should do – stir the soul towards awe, wonder, longing, comraderie, even action.

Let’s hope that the craft can eventually return to First Things – the fundamentals that have helped stir souls for the past 100+ years. I’ll do my (very) small part towards that end.


WKRP, music rights, and why the RIAA sucks

I just finally finished watching season 4 of the “unofficial” WKRP DVD set I picked up online some time ago. From what I can tell this was a joint labor of love from a variety of contributers who had videotaped episodes off the air.

For those too young to know, “WKRP In Cincinnati” was a comedy that originally aired in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s centered around an AM radio station, and the mostly oddball collection of people who worked there. Being set at a rock and roll station, at various times during the episodes they would play snippets of actual songs by popular artists Apparently even at that time, the licensing fees were so high that the show was shot on video tape (as opposed to more expensive film) to offset the licensing costs.

After being canceled, the show went into syndication in the early- to mid-80s, and as is usually the case with syndication, 2-3 minutes of each episode was cut to allow for more commercials. After the first syndication run, the original song licensing rights had expired, so for the 2nd syndication run the song snippets for almost all of the original artists were replaced by generic rock music, and in some cases the actors’ voices were overdubbed with different dialog if they even mentioned the name of an artist.

The series is now being incrementally released on official DVDs, but with the generic music.

The “unofficial” DVD set is almost entirely from the 1st syndication run. So the bad news is that 2-3 minutes of each episode is gone. The good news is that all but one of the episodes in the set still has the originally aired music. And even though the video quality of some of the videotaped episodes is pretty low, it’s still preferable to the full episodes with the crappy generic music being released now.

What’s sad is that the full episodes with original music will probably never see the light of day again. The inane licensing policies of the music labels will make it cost prohibitive. And some are saying that even if some reasonable agreement with the labels could be reached, it’s possible that master copies of the non-overdubbed versions of the episodes may not even exist any more.

If the labels could have seen the incredible promotional value of having their artists featured for a few seconds in an episode, this regrettable situation could have been avoided. I mean – please – did they really think that someone hearing a few seconds of a song would deprive the labels of sales? If anything, it would be more likely to boost sales.

So thanks RIAA for ruining what could have been a great official DVD release. The day that the RIAA dies cannot come soon enough for me.

And sincere thanks to the folks who assembled the unofficial set. You’ve at least somewhat salvaged a great show for posterity.


So apparently there’s this “controversy” over Lowes home improvement stores advertising “family trees” rather than “Christmas trees” in a printed flier. In fact, some of the people protesting Lowes are linking directly to an article on snopes.com:


It’s clear that those protesters pointing to the article on snopes didn’t even RTFA. Lowes has said the wording in the ad was an error and was missed during proofreading, and that indeed there are many displays in Lowes stores for “Christmas” trees, “Christmas” ornaments, etc.

Whether the ad was a mistake or not, why is it that Christians always get their panties in a bunch over stupid-ass stuff like this? I guarantee you there are a great many American Christians who are more upset about this than they are about people dying in Burma, Darfur, or Rwanda. Why is it that our priorities have gotten so messed up? I’m certain that God doesn’t feel threatened by a retail chain calling a bunch of molded plastic a “family tree”. So why should we?

Is it any wonder that Christians and Christianity aren’t taken seriously in our culture?

And they’ll know we are Christians by our misguided reactionary boycotts
By our misguided reactionary boycotts
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our misguided reactionary boycotts

Wal-Mart To Sell Jesus, Religious Action Figures

I saw this on Digg this morning. Apparently Walmart is going to sell Bible action figures in some of its stores.

Here’s the original link:


Here’s the Digg posting, with well-deserved commentary in the comments:


And here’s the actual website selling the action figures:


All of this reminded me of a posting made on the rec.music.christian Internet newsgroup over a dozen years ago by a net acquaintance of mine named Andy Whitman. His posting was in criticism of a new line of “Action Heroes of the Faith!” dolls being sold at Christian bookstores across the country. His criticism caused quite a stir among some of the readers of the newsgroup, so he responded to them with the following. It communicates, better than I could, my feelings about the latest offering of Bible action figures.

Okay, I’m in a foul mood, and that probably colors my perceptions on life, the universe, and everything for the time being, but I’ll do my best to restrain my tongue.

I’ve received a half a dozen or so email messages over the last couple of days questioning my salvation and wondering why I bother to disturb the peace and unity of rec.music.christian. Apparently this is a result of my posting from last week where I suggested several new products for the Christian bookstore market, among them being AbbaWear, evangelistic toast, Phileo Mignon steaks, etc. Apparently some people have interpreted this posting as “mocking Christianity” and “mocking Christ.”

Since I don’t have the time or the inclination to respond individually, let me attempt to address the issues raised in this newsgroup. I apologize if this is the wrong forum, but I don’t have several hours to devote to responding to a bunch of email messages, and I’m hoping that I can address the issues collectively.

First, I am a Christian. Not a particularly good one, but if you put me on the rack and grilled me on my doctrinal positions I’d probably pass muster. I’m trying, with God’s help, to have my life reflect what I believe. The last thing I want to do is mock Christ. Nor do I want to mock Christianity, or other Christians.

In fact, I care about these things very much. And because I care about these things it disturbs me when I see the faith trivialized, and when I see the complexity and richness of the biblical revelation reduced to slogans and caricatures. And, unfortunately, I see this all the time in Christian bookstores, the very places where I would *expect* to find help. It disturbs me to see David, one of the most complex human beings I’ve ever encountered, reduced to an Action Hero of the Faith doll, as if this man who was full of faults and full of faith could be reduced to Rambo in a loincloth. It disturbs me to see bookshelves full of “Ten Easy Steps to …” titles, as if the Christian life was a matter of studying programs and techniques. And it angers me to see so-called Christian companies marketing “Truth Clothing”, turning the gospel into mere crass commercialization, something that Jesus had little patience for in his dealings in the temple.

So do I want to mock Christ, Christianity, Christians? No. But I want to mock those businesses whose business is to make the faith palatable for the masses, who want to turn the tough, lifelong journey of walking with God into a matter of what you wear, and what techniques you follow, and what cute little sayings you tack up on your wall. Do I want to mock that? You bet I do. Because it’s a lie. *That* is not Christianity. And I simply don’t buy the pious rationalizations of, “well, God can use it anyway.” God doesn’t *want* to use it. It’s crap. He wants you to know *Him*, not the dealers at the Jesus Mart.

And I’m getting carried away. Sorry. But I do get frustrated by it all sometimes. I hope this at least partially explains my views.

– Andy Whitman

Musical standards

Liking a musical artist based on his/her physical attractiveness or ability to dance is sort of like choosing a doctor based on his/her ability to draw cartoons of cute bunnies.

Ambulance chasers and the media

So I’m sitting in my living room, trying to tie up some computer-related odds and ends on my laptop. The TV happens to be tuned to CNN Headline news at the moment, and the Nancy Grace show is on. And I have to wonder – why do people watch this crap? It obviously is doing OK in the ratings, which is a sad commentary on the intelligence and discernment of the American public.

It’s not just Nancy Grace – Rita Cosby, Greta Van Susteren, Joe Scarborough, and others focus on the most tawdry, salacious, and voyeuristic stories in order to garner ratings. And it must be effective. Nancy Grace, especially, presents issues in the most simplistic and non-nuanced way possible.

It’s hard not to be a cynic about the culture when there are so many unsophisticated and “cheap thrill” viewers out there. Turn off the TV and get a life, people.

You shall not make for yourself an (American) idol

OK, I admit I’m probably a couple of steps outside the mainstream. But I seriously don’t get the apparently widespread fascination with the lame spectacle known as “American Idol”. This week I’ve seen several blurbs on various news shows speculating on who was going to win. This morning I’m seeing all sorts of blurbs online about who won. And the one, overriding question that keeps flashing across my brain is, “Who gives a rat’s a**?”.

Manufactured “pop” stars who don’t even write the material they’re singing – all the complexity and staying power of a sugar-laden breakfast cereal.

If my life ever gets pathetic enough that I start caring about such things, just shoot me.