Friday, September 26, 2008


I can’t get Fred off my mind. Not because I think he’s as funny as his legions of ten-year-old fans do, but because he, or rather Lucas Cruikshank- the 14-year-old boy who created him- has enough raw flimmaking talent and understanding of how to entertain his peers that his short movies have attracted literally nearly a hundred million viewers.

Who’s Fred? Have a look:

Charming, isn't he? But once you look past the fact that he creates his films on a nonexistent budget, and that his character has a personality that is about as pleasant as underwear made out of sandpaper, you can’t help but notice that young Mr. Cruikshank has a good understanding of how to build a movie that speaks to its intended audience in a way that keeps them coming back for more.

Yes, the core of his appeal (to his fans, of course) is slapstick. But that’s not the only tool in Cruikshank’s toolbox. Besides the swimming-with-clothes-on antics, or the squeakier-than-a-chipmunk voice, or the nearly uncomfortable looking facial expressions, he manages to address a range of topics that are a big deal in the life of an average 12 year old. And his over-the-top comedic treatment of these themes, combined with his on-camera confidence and knack for tight, rapid fire editing, creates an end product that works well. Don't believe me? Then consider the fact that the Fred YouTube channel has over 500,000 subscribers. That's 500,000 people who are clamoring for Lucas Cruikshank to keep sending them more Fred videos.

Whether you or I think his films are worth watching is irrelevant. There are enough people (admittedly they’re under the age of 14) that do want to watch them that he’s caught the attention of major Hollywood corporate types. Why? Because he has managed to do what has been so elusive for the film and television industry- create a successful product that is brought to market exclusively online. And if you don’t think his films fit the definition of successful, consider what the LA times had to say about him-

"Hollywood, ever hungry for tween eyeballs, has predictably caught the scent. Cruikshank recently signed with James Dolin, an L.A. business manager at Sonesta Entertainment. Along with the product placements -- for which he's being paid "generously," Moizel said -- he's also appeared in a commercial for the ZipIt (instant messaging device) that aired on Nickelodeon, ABC Family and MTV." "Once Fred's videos are released, they rocket into the YouTube exosphere, generating 4 and even 5 million views a pop -- repeat viewership numbers that are unmatched anywhere on the Internet. Fred's most-viewed episode, "Fred Loses His Meds," would've been the top-rated show on cable last week."

Lucas Cruikshank and others like him are turning the concept of mass entertainment on its ear. They're proving that attracting large, loyal audiences doesn't require the use of big Hollywood studios and big Hollywood budgets, and that the internet can be used as an exclusive means of product distribution.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pork, Beans, and Free Music

Is anyone else enjoying the Weezer renaissance that's currently playing itself out online? Apparently so, judging by the nearly 13 million views of their new Pork and Beans video on YouTube.

The video is clever and funny. Except, that is, if you're unfamiliar with the micro-celebrities of the YouTube universe. (I wish I could take credit for that clever term.) It pays tribute to them by incorporating parodies of their videos into the Weezer video. But these aren't typical parodies. Weezer managed to convince the actual YouTube-elebrities (that one is mine, thanks) to reperform their skits with members of the band. The results are really fun to watch, especially the ones with Tay Zonday.

Wait a second-- incorporating isn't really the right word, since the Weezer video consists entirely, in one form or another, of these parodies.

Anyway, if you haven't seen any of the original clips that the music video uses, then it will seem like a bunch of nonsense. If you fall into this category and this post has still managed to catch your interest then you'd do well to watch a few of these before moving on to the Weezer video. Please keep in mind that a few of them contain language and/or situations that some people might find offensive. In my ongoing efforts to maintain harmony and goodwill among the faithful readers of this blog I've excluded the more flagrant offenders from this list:

Casting Kung-Fu
Dramatic Gopher
Chocolate Rain by Tay Zonday
Guiness Record for Most T-Shirts Worn at One Time
Miss Teen South Carolina
Korean Pachelbel
Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment
Charlie the Unicorn
Charlie the Unicorn Part 2
Daft Hands
Daft Bodies
Ryan vs Dorkman
All Your Base Are Belong to Us
Numa Numa Kid
Evolution of Dance

And if you enjoyed Tay Zonday as much as I do, then you won't want to miss this accoustic version of him performing Pork and Beans with Weezer member Brian Bell. And while I'm at it, here's another Tay Zonday spoof, just for good measure.


As long as I'm on the topic of music I may as well share with you what has recently become my new favorite website.'s slogan is "We're not evil"- the idea being that we, the users, get to decide how much we'll pay for the songs we download from the site in addition to deciding which file format we download the songs in and how many computers we save them on. That's right, none of the "Digital Rights Management" nonsense that you have to put up with from the more popular online music vendors. All this, and the artists get a 50% cut each time they sell a song.

But none of that is what makes me like the site so much. The reason I keep coming back to Magnatune is that they let me stream entire albums. Yeah- I can log on to the site at work, choose an album on their site and listen to it, for free, while I'm working. Their primary reason for doing this is so that potential purchasers can know exactly what their getting when they purchase and album or a song. But the handy side effect is that even if you're not planning on buying the music, you can still listen to it.

Of course, when you stream the music online there's a little blurb at the end of each track that reminds you that you're listening to and kind of interupts the flow of the album. But when you're listening for free you haven't got a lot of room to complain.

They don't carry big name artists- no Weezer here; and a lot of what they do have just doesn't interest me. But I've managed to find enough music that I do like that I find myself bringing up the site over and over at home and at work. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites:

Lines Build Walls- Ehren Starks
The Depths of a Year- Ehren Starks
Woods of Choas- Rob Costlow
Dry Fig Trees- Gerard Satamian
24 Preluds for Solo Piano- Jan Hanford

And no, I will not force you to choose between listening to them or muting the volume on your computer just because you decided to visit my blog.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gifts and Derelict

The books in this review came to me by way of my Uncle Orson. A War of Gifts he authored, Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton, he recommended.

You might think that someone my age would have enough experience to be somewhat wary of reading a book that was recommended largely on sentimental value. But there it was, in a list of Uncle Orson's favorite books, along with a description of how it did such a great job of creating a sense of wonder by transporting the reader to intriguing new worlds. (I like exploring intriguing new worlds. Isn't that half the reason we read speculative fiction?)

So when I saw Galactic Derelict sitting on the shelf at my local used book store, I couldn't pass it up-- after all, its an old book and likely hard to find. So at $2.95 I felt like I was getting a steal of a deal.

A couple years later I finally got around to reading the book and it was, in a word, boring.

I'm not an expert on the evolution of science fiction. But I've learned enough about it to know that 1959 was a time when sci-fi authors were concerned almost entirely with ideas, as opposed to character development and motivation, and story, and relationships between characters and... you get the idea.

The characters in this book are one step shy of meaningless. The only reason they exist in the story at all is so that it has some way of moving forward. Norton's primary interest here is taking the reader to alien worlds.

The story begins in a future where the secret to time travel has been discovered. Also discovered is the fact that sometime during earth's prehistory an alien race visited our planet and left some of their spaceships behind. The people who posses the technology for time travel decided that more could be learned from these spaceships if they were to go back in time and retrieve them in their original state, rather than examinig the ships in their decrepit condition, 15,000 years later in their own era.

So the first alien world that Norton examines in the book is prehistoric earth, where she brings her characters face-to-face with the likes of wooly mamoths and sabre-tooth cats and well-muscled hunter-gatherers.

They don't stick around in the stone-age for long though. The process of transporting the spaceship through time to the future causes it to active and launch, with the main characters aboard. The remainder of the story consists of those characters experiencing the alien environments of the different worlds the ship takes them to as it carries out its pre-programmed flight plan.

I can absolutely understand why Orson Scott Card found this to be a fascinating book as a seventh grader, and therefor, why it would maintain so much sentimental value for him. I agree that for a middle-grade reader who hasn't had a lot of exposure to science fiction, this could definately be a worthwhile book. (I intend to keep it around for that very reason.) But for anyone who's read any sci-fi that's somewhat more engaging, this book will seem quaint at best, and probably more like just plain dull.

(Oh yeah, and just in case you were wondering about the goofy snake-beast on the cover-- it doesn't even make an appearance in the book. I suppose it was just part of some misguided marketing effort from the 1970s... "Sabre-tooth tigers? No one will read a spaceship story with a sabre-tooth tiger on the cover. Why don't we throw something else on there to liven it up a little-- some kind of snake-beast alien... with tyranosaur claws, and mean-looking fangs. Yeah, that should do the trick!")

Card's A War of Gifts, on the other hand, was delightful. Fans of any of the Ender series will not want to miss this story as it examines the Battle School, and the bugger war in general, through the eyes of a new character, Zeck Morgan. And yes, Ender Wiggin is featured in this story as a secondary character, albeit one who plays a pivot role.

The book is brief- only 128 pages- and with such a short story it's hard to reveal much of the details without spoiling significant parts of the story. The crux of the story is centered around a small rebellion among the Battle School students as they decide to break the rules about religious observation and give each other Christmas gifts.

Or is it? That's where the story's title comes from. But what was more interesting for me was the moral journey experienced by the main character as he redefines his views of religion and morality, helped out, of course, by the young Mr. Wiggin himself.

See, I told you I couldn't reveal anything about the story without spoiling it. Oh well, it's still definately worth reading, even after I've gone and spoiled it.