September 29, 2016

Does Anyone Remember Tabitha Soren?

For those of you with short memories, or were simply too young to remember it because you were still in diapers at the time, Tabitha Soren began her celebrity career as a 19-year old NYU student featured in a video from The Beastie Boys "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)", a lame video from a one-hit-wonder back in the late 1980's, although she became much better known as a reporter for what was formerly known as MTV News as the face of MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign.

The National Geographic channel, which ran a multi-part series on Generation X relatively recently, had a relevant clip on MTV News Rocks the Vote which is worth watching (see below), or at

Technically, the MTV election campaign began a couple of years earlier and was known as "Rock the Vote" with TV commercials from Madonna and other popular figures.  Check out this commercial below, or by visiting

MTV soon realized that their network had some relevance on the elections, and what started as a few commercials morphed in subsequent years, becoming "Choose or Lose" when Tabitha Soren (she was likely named after the character that actress Elizabeth Montgomery made famous in the smash sitcom from the late 1960's-early 1970's "Bewitched", catch my posts at and for more) became MTV's primary reporter on the elections at that time.  I uncovered a clip on YouTube which provides a flashback of some of that coverage (which can be seen at

However, the MTV "Choose or Lose" campaign with Ms. Soren officially began in 1992, just as Generation X was becoming a key part of the American electorate.  (In 1992, for example, I was 23 years old and living on my own in the Bay Area, but very much ready to exercise my voting rights.)  Famously, at a town hall symposium sponsored by MTV that year, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton was asked whether he'd ever tried marijuana and he famously replied, "I didn't inhale".  Whether that brought masses of young people out to vote isn't very well documented as Tabitha seems suggest today, but it seemed to be a clear sign that the era of total Baby Boomer dominance of the elections was thankfully coming to an end.)

These days, Soren is a married mother of three kids, and she works professionally in photography.  But on August 18, 2016, she re-emerged in the world of politics with a contribution to opinion section of The New York Times entitled "Hillary Clinton and the Ghosts of MTV" (see the piece at for more).

Frankly, I was a bit puzzled on the message Tabitha was trying to communicate (she was a reporter who on MTV back in the day, never really a journalist, folks) in her opinion piece.

She does say "The pretense of a lot of political coverage today is that it aims to improve and edify our civic life. The reality is that it's just whoring for attention" and I generally agree, but I don’t think the same is true for all candidates, just Mr. Trump.  For example, in addition to Mrs. Clinton, former governors Gary Johnson and his running-mate Bill Weld were (are) somewhat viable Libertarian candidates who aren't "whoring for attention" as Mr. Trump seems to be.

Although these days, Bill Clinton's wife Hillary is running for President of the United States, and seems to have a decent chance of winning because her opponent is a former reality show star who largely refuses to stay on script even though he's no longer running in the Republican party primaries speaking to voters who like his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic message, therefore he should not presume the rest of the electorate will follow his nativist and frequently racist messages that remain too short on the kinds of details that intelligent voters like me want and deserve (also, why is he the ONLY Presidential candidate in many decades who refuses to release his tax returns?).

But to suggest that elections are entertainment as Tabitha is suggests to me that she chose wisely by pursuing photography, since her coverage of the election issues in 2016 don’t really rock my vote!

September 22, 2016

Where Is She Now: Lynda Carter

DC Comics is one of Warner Brother's many properties, and competes with rival Walt Disney Company's 2009 acquisition of Marvel Comics, although the consensus is that Warner hasn't capitalized on its comic book franchise as Disney has.  Regardless, DC comics gave us some truly enduring and impressive super heroes, among them: Wonder Woman.

Lynda Carter circa 2016
Most Gen Xers remember Wonder Woman from a combination of watching "Super Friends" (catch my post on that at for more background) on Saturday mornings as kids which featured the recurring character (indeed, Wonder Woman was a founding member of the Justice League), and then a successful TV show called "Wonder Woman" that aired on ABC television from 1975 to 1979.  The lead character in the show (and her secret identity, Diana Prince) was played by Lynda Carter, a former beauty pageant winner from Arizona (who was crowned Miss World America in 1972).  Ms. Carter got her start in Hollywood with appearances on such TV shows as "Starsky and Hutch" as well as a few "B" movies.

Unlike earlier movies about Wonder Woman from that era, including the 1974 made-for-TV movie Wonder Woman which starred the blonde actress Cathy Lee Crosby (who later served as a host on ABC's reality television show "That's Incredible!" from  1980 to 1984), the consensus seems to be that Lynda Carter's depiction as Wonder Woman was more likable and believable, probably for her looks, but also because of the actress' adoption of the character.

Ms. magazine's inaugural cover of Wonder Woman
In some ways, Wonder Woman is the most peculiar of all comic book characters.  She emerged in an era when comic books targeted and were consumed primarily by boys, so Wonder Woman likely emerged in response to societal criticisms that there weren't any female super heroes.  But Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine was responsible for the return of Wonder Woman's original super hero abilities. Offended that the most famous female superhero had been depowered in depictions of her, Steinem placed Wonder Woman (in costume) on the cover of the first issue of Ms. (1972).  Warner was also an investor in Ms. magazine — which contained an appreciative essay about the character.

But the character known as warrior princess of the Amazons also endured her to male comic book readers, plus her secret super "powers" which included a tiara, bullet-proof bracelets, and golden lasso all of seemed to have endeared the character to both gays and lesbians, and in the "Super Friends" cartoon, she also had an invisible jet airplane.  That makes the Wonder Woman character truly unique in the world of entertainment.

Although there has been periodic talks of rebooting Wonder Woman for television, none have gone anywhere, as Warner just can't seem to do much of anything big with its comic book assets in the way Disney has with Marvel's assets.  But Lynda Carter has guest-starred (as the President of the United States) on the successful TV series Supergirl, which will air on The CW in 2016 (see for the news).  The 1975-1979 TV series is available on DVD, and has started to emerge on some streaming services, but has also started to appear on television again (on Me-TV).

An interesting route to take might be online, but again, Disney seems to have succeeded more with that channel than Warner has.  Perhaps that's because Viacom was married to older channels under the leadership of Sumner Redstone, while the rest of Hollywood routinely mines emerging channels for content, and older stars re-establish themselves there (the late Joan Rivers, for example, had a YouTube show called "In Bed With Joan", and Richard Simmons has paid big bucks to an agency to help him build a following online  Now that Mr. Redstone has stepped down (his family basically forced him out), we might see some more creativity from Warner that we had not seen previously, perhaps with the character portrayed by a South American or Asian actress.

But the ABC TV series Wonder Woman (which again, ran from 1975 to 1979) remains an enduring favorite, especially among Gen Xers and a large variety of subgroups.

Where is Lynda Carter today?

Well, a number of programs have reconnected Ms. Carter with her TV audiences over the years.  For example, in 2006, Australia's "Where Are They Now" program ran an entertaining segment with her, which can be seen on YouTube at (or below):

Then, in 2013, former talk-show host Oprah Winfrey interviewed her for her "Where Are They Now" segment which airs on the Oprah Winfrey cable network.  Lynda Carter revealed that she lives in the Washington, DC area (Potomac, MD to be precise) these days, and the reason she and her husband moved there was to be away from Hollywood, where she kind of suggests that people are judged more for how much money they have, rather than for their accomplishments.  She feels that she, her husband and her children are better off where they live now.  Have a look below, or by visiting

But, in typical Oprah interview style, Oprah probes deeper, and Lynda Carter revealed her previous struggles with alcohol abuse (see for more details), although she had already revealed that with a People magazine interview in 2008 and she has been sober since 1998.

Of course, several years have passed since both of these clips were recorded, but the Hollywood paparazzi and press continue to follow Lynda Carter, although they don't seem to be finding much "dirt" that Ms. Carter hasn't already revealed about herself.  Now, at age 65, Ms. Carter and her husband are eligible to collect Medicare and Social Security, although her husband is CEO of a company, so he may not be ready for retirement yet.

In her free time, in addition to taking care of her family (both her kids are over age 25 now, and no longer live at home), Ms. Carter remains a longtime advocate and supporter of breast cancer charities, she supports pro-choice rights for women, as well as full legal equality for LGBT people.  On the latter point, she has been the Grand Marshal for the Pride Parades in Phoenix, AZ as well as New York City and her adopted hometown of Washington, DC.  The main message seems to be that Lynda Carter has bonded with many groups of people over the years, she seems very proud of that fact.

The Australian clip perhaps best summarizes (towards the end of the clip) Lynda Carter's perspective on future Wonder Women, noting that she is certain others will play the role in the future, but she hopes that future actresses will have the same "accessibility" as she managed to give the character.

August 25, 2016

Gen X is an "Underappreciated Influencer" According to Goldman Sachs

Although I live in New York City, I've never been a really big fan of Wall Street investment banks for many reasons.  For one thing, they aren't really big employers, its just that they pay the handful of people who work for them obscene amounts of money (in good years, at least).  But the typical employees remind me a lot of the character Patrick Bateman portrayed by Christian Bale in the 2000 movie "American Psycho" ... a pompous investment banker who rambles on about Whitney Houston's first album and pays high-price hookers to have sex in front of him before he murders them and many, many others.  The fact is that all banks, including investment banks, earn money by selling money for a higher price than they pay for it, and Goldman isn't unique in that regard.  But consumer lending is very tightly regulated, while the same is not true for investment banking, although competition does help regulate prices somewhat there.  Oh, yeah, and Wall Street made some big bets that failed and crashed the world economy in 2007-2008 and came to taxpayers for a bailout, which is why Goldman Sachs is becoming more "banklike" while others, including GE decided to get out of the banking business altogether.

As The New York Times reported (see :

"The years since the financial crisis have not been particularly kind to Goldman Sachs's moneymaking machine — not that anyone is weeping for the company or the people who work there — despite an improving economy and record numbers of corporate financings and mergers and acquisitions."

Goldman has basically acquired its way into the consumer banking business by buying GE Capital Bank (now known as GS Bank, see the news story about the acquisition from GE at for more).  But GE actually acquired that part of the consumer banking business from the insurance giant MetLife back in 2011 (see for the news), though GE made some improvements, among them offering much higher-than-average interest rates on savings and simplifying the online banking interface which resulted in the deposit base growing from $7.5 billion when GE bought the unit to $16 billion when it sold the business to Goldman Sachs five years later.  One competitor is now known as Synchrony Bank, which has both a consumer lending business as well as a deposit business that GE spun off a few years ago, mainly because the business was too big to find a lender that could both afford it, and that regulators would allow to buy the business.  So far, Goldman Sachs has kept the consumer deposit business going largely as GE did, although its not without competition in the online banking space, including companies like Synchrony, AllyAmerican ExpressCharles SchwabDiscover, Mutual of OmahaNationwideTIAA and others.  Most offer a pretty good deal on deposits, certainly much better than your local bank is offering, although I think Goldman's offering is one of the better ones around.  The company will get into consumer lending a bit later this year with a business its calling Marcus, named after one of the company's founders.

Anyway, on August 13, 2016, Goldman Sachs' investment bank unit shared some interesting analysis about Gen X, claiming:

All eyes are on Millennials, Baby Boomers and increasingly Gen Z, but according to Goldman Sachs Research's Hugo Scott-Gall, Gen X is an underappreciated influencer when it comes to the economy. Already responsible for around 30% of U.S. spending, "Xers" are going through their peak consumption years, with different spending priorities than the Boomers that came before. Scott-Gall explains the implications for the auto industry, real estate, and more.

A video can be seen on the page noted above, or on their YouTube channel (or below):

Goldman Sachs says that they define Gen X as people born between the years of 1965 and 1980.  You can download the Adobe Acrobat version of their report HERE.

Really, these observations should be apparent to everyone, but evidently have escaped the notice of enough people that Goldman Sachs analysts think that its investors should beware of Gen X.

August 17, 2016

Video Games as Art?

On May 22, 1980, a Japanese video game designer named Toru Iwatani invented a hugely popular video game known as Pac-Man in Japan, although they originally called it "Puc-Man" in that market, but the U.S. distributor felt the name might be the target for graffiti artists who'd try and rename it "Fuc-Man" or something similar, so they suggested wordsmithing to the game's title, hence it became "Pac-Man" in the U.S.

For anyone who is old enough to remember it, Pac-Man was, for a brief window of time, the biggest video game anywhere on the planet, even spawning a lame pop song "Pac-Man Fever" by Buckner and Garcia.

Along with that, there was an even lamer Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and an entire library of books about how to master the game.  Kids were wasting their entire allowances at arcades $0.25 at a time to play the game, and there were countless toys and t-shirts, etc.  Then, Atari came out with a home version, although most people felt the original Atari 2600 version was a horrible rendition even considering the limitations of the processor on the Atari 2600 machine (Atari later redeemed itself somewhat with its 2600 version Ms. Pac-Man, incidentally).

On May 21, 2010, Pac-Man was honored with a Google Doodle which introduced a new level of office time-wasting (for a day, anyway).  I've enclosed a screenshot of that below (you can click on it to be taken to the original page which includes the game itself, though I'm not really a good html programmer), a shortcut to the historical Google Doodle's site for Google's version of Pac-Man can also be visited at

Google Doodle version of Pac-Man (click to play)

The sheer idea of being able to play a game like Pac-Man ... for FREE ... at one's desktop during lunchtime would have been simply mindblowing to kids back in 1980.  Now, kids of 1980 find the idea that you can download the entire thing on your phone, complete with all intermissions, and graphics that make Atari's 2600 version look downright pitiful, all from a device that fits in your pocket development the kind of stuff they really dreamed of as kids some 30 years ago, and many worked to make those things happen.

But the cultural impact of Pac-Man was incredible to say the least.  It also defined a generation of kids (including myself) as one of the most influential video game(s) of our youths.  But popularity aside, does that mean it's art?

According to New York's influential Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the answer was yes when it added a number of video games to its collection in 2011.  According to MOMA's website (see for details):

"Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design-a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity. Our criteria, therefore, emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects-from the elegance of the code to the design of the player's behavior-that pertain to interaction design."

I should note that NPR acknowledged the unusual addition to a museum that is really better known for its displays of the likes of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.  Have a listen below, or by visiting

These days, arcade games are less of a draw than games that can be played on mobile phones, or devices like XBox and PlayStation.  While Pokemon Go, Angry Birds, Candy Crush and others all had their day in the sun, there will no doubt be others that keep people entertained in the future.  What these are remains to be seen.  But the first genuine "blockbuster" video game was and always will be Pac-Man, which you may observe was long ago incorporated into this blog's template (see above, unless you're doing so phone a phone, as there's a separate template for computers and phones in most cases).

June 15, 2016

Gen X Gave Us Diversity and Marriage Equality, Not Millennials

According to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report, the U.S. is rapidly headed toward the day when white, European-American people will no longer make up the majority of the population.  Similarly, Pew Research predicts that by mid-century, their own forecasts show that the U.S. population will be majority non-white, although their timing differs slightly from the Census Bureau's analysis.  Indeed, in 2014 there were more than 20 million children under 5 years old living in the U.S., and 50.2% of could be considered "minorities".

The 2015 report by the Census Bureau estimated that by 2020 or so, "more than half of the nation's children were expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group."  Note the wording of that statement.  It doesn't say that minorities are taking over, it says that more than half can be considered PART of a minority group.  Its a nuance, but an important one.  This is a trend that demographers had been predicting for many decades (see for more detail), so it really comes as no surprise to anyone, except perhaps the most uneducated segments of the population, who live in kind of a bubble with little interaction with the rest of the world.

However, unlike the narrative of some right-wing commentators, its not as if white, European-Americans are being replaced by brown people.  Instead, as part of the process of broader cultural assimilation, "white" Americans are combining with Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Native-Americans and others to create more mixed-race individuals.  Indeed, people who identify as "two or more races" is projected to be the fastest-growing segment during the next 45 years.  No longer can people be grouped into a single race, but several races.  Census Bureau data validates this and has been reporting this since at least the 1970s.

Celebrities are perhaps the best exemplification of this.  Trevor Noah, the host of American late-night comedy/commentary television program The Daily Show, who succeeded Jon Stewart, is originally from South Africa, but his mother is of mixed Xhosa and Jewish ancestry, while his father is white, of Swiss-German ethnicity.  He jokes that he could have been considered criminal under South African apartheid.  The point is that he is very much the face of America (in spite of being of South African origin) today.

There's also Michael Key and Jordan Peele (better known as Key & Peele, who wrapped up a successful TV comedy show on Comedy Central, although both appeared on MADtv before that, and more recently in a movie called Keanu).  Like Trevor Noah, these comics defy the notion of being a single race, but are definitely the face of America.  Only the most racist individuals seem to have much of a problem with it.

Millennials Did Not Pave The Way for U.S. Diversity

Despite the news stories about how wonderfully diverse Millennials are (at least according to Paul Taylor, whose interview appears a bit later in this post) who claims it was all Millennials who were the transitional generation to a majority-minority population, know that it was Gen X, and not Millennials, who really were the transition -- and I back my assertion with facts.

Perhaps not ironically, most articles about Millennial diversity are usually written by Millennials themselves.  But the fact is that Gen Xers grew up with very high levels of immigration, without immigration there would be even fewer Gen Xers.  Consider this: in 1945, just over 38,000 new legal permanent residents were created in the U.S.; in 1965 it was 323,000, and then half a million by 1976.  Thus, Gen X was the first generation to learn in multicultural classrooms (approximately 22% of Gen X are immigrants), and as kids of every color, we all watched TV shows like "The Jeffersons" and "Diff'rent Strokes," and we later backpacked across Europe, Asia or Australia in unprecedented numbers.  As a result, most Xers are fairly comfortable with diversity — which is a handy trait for surviving in a global village.  This definitely isn't something new or unique to Millennials.  Sorry to break it to any Millennials who have been taught to believe they're special, and set every trend.

Gen X Gave Also The U.S. Marriage Equality, Not Millennials

As we approach the anniversary for two discriminatory laws being found unconstitutional (both the key provision of Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] being gutted as unconstitutional in 2013, and subsequently all gay marriage bans being overturned completely in 2015), as well as California Proposition 8 being overturned (actually, the Supreme Court let a lower-court ruling stand), reporters have done a lousy job of identifying exactly which group deserves credit these things.

Credit for marriage equality is being bestowed on a group that doesn't deserve it.  Culture War veterans (victims?) really deserve credit, not people who only became adults recently (Millennials).  On March 18, 2016, New Hampshire Public Radio ran a short news piece in its "Word of Mouth" segment entitled "Why Gen X Gets Ignored" which you can listen to below.  They interview someone named Paul Taylor, the author of a book he's very obviously trying to sell called "The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown", which he wrote along with some former colleagues at Pew Research Center where he was formerly EVP.

Jim Obergefell Is a Gen Xer Born in 1967

Gen X's diversity extends beyond its ethnicity to gender roles and identity.  It wasn't Millennials who made gay marriage in the U.S. the rule of law (nor did that suddenly happen with them), Gen X is entitled to most of the credit.  Indeed, a 2015 Pew Research study showed that 59% of Gen Xers supported gay marriage (see, which was nevertheless, a clear majority.

Perhaps the most notable fact is that Jim Obergefell (the Supreme Court decision which legalized it nationwide bears his name) is a Gen Xer who was born in 1967.  So are Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer (although one of them could be considered a Baby Boomer, as per the discussion in the paragraphs ahead), the couple from Michigan who, in an effort to protect their own family, successfully challenged that state's same-gender marriage ban in a trial that proved highly embarrassing for the State of Michigan and ultimately cost state taxpayers some $2 million.  I don't need to research all the other plaintiffs in the consolidated trial, but a fair guess is that a bulk of them are Gen Xers due to no other reason other than basic demographics.

There were a great many factors that played a role, but we can safely say Gen X was behind most of it (indeed, Art Levine, an attorney and professor of ethics and legal studies at Cal State Long Beach who worked in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in the mid-1960s during the height of the Civil Rights movement says Gen X deserves much of the credit, see the article at for more), including working for businesses who resented the fact that their HR departments suddenly had to keep 3 sets of employee records instead of just 2 for the married, unmarried and then a third for same-sex married (for states that permitted it) which created a huge new legal burden (and expense) for them that social conservatives never seem to mention.

That also explains why so many U.S. businesses just wanted the bans overturned, it was a very costly hassle for them to comply with.  Longer-term, there was also a big societal cost for not allowing same-gender couples to marry because people who are not in state-sanctioned relationships tend to rely on more government services, rather than having a spouse who can help care for them as they get older, or vice versa.

Factors That Shaped The Gen X Perspective on Marriage

There's no denying that Gen X was partially shaped by growing up during the Reagan era, but its as important to note that the years that preceded the Reagan presidency were equally influential.  One thing that's notable is that the Baby Boomer parents of Gen Xers had a bit of disdain for marriage (ironic, considering Baby Boomers were also the generation who claimed to be all about "family values" back in the 1990s, a claim most Gen Xers viewed very skeptically, since many of the lived through Boomer divorce).

Boomers' actions spoke volumes.  During the 1970s, the U.S. divorce rate surged and was never higher (before or so far, after) in U.S. history.  Gen Xers were more likely than any preceding generation to grow up with divorced parents. (The national divorce rate peaked in 1980, when most Xers were barely into their teens.)  At the same time, New York magazine's Tom Wolfe called the 1970s when many Baby Boomers became adults and had Gen X kids "The 'Me' Decade" if that tells you anything (see the article at for more) about the environment for raising kids that Gen X kids grew up in.  With their parents getting separated in droves, many Gen Xers felt the brunt of those separations, being latchkey kids who were left to pretty much fend for themselves.  Take a look at the following chart which visually shows the experience Gen Xers grew up with (see also for more):

That surge in divorce rates can be attributed to the Baby Boomer "me generation's" pursuit of their own self-interests rather than having families and sticking with them.  Then, later, the number of working women grew rapidly, especially following the OPEC oil embargo which more than quadrupled the cost of oil and forced many more women into the workforce just to make financial ends meet.  That meant that the Gen X childhood was perhaps most defined by its high likelihood to have divorced parents (meaning absentee parents), which meant many Gen Xers had a lack of parental supervision, which resulted in most Gen Xers developing a get-tough-or-die mentality.

Incidentally, if you presume that time has changed the Baby Boomer general indifference for the institution of marriage, you'd be wrong about that.  Even today, as senior citizens, Boomers continue to divorce at unprecedented rates (see for more background).  This group's utter disdain for the institution of marriage played a HUGE role in Gen Xers' willingness to accept less conventional forms of marriage because frankly, many Gen Xers felt the brunt of divorce, with mothers of that era entering the workforce and leaving their children behind as latchkey kids who had to fend for themselves.  The Gen X perspective was there was no reason not to permit others into the marriage "institution" because their parents largely helped to destroy it with divorce.

In March 2016, New Hampshire Public Radio ran a short news piece in its "Word of Mouth" segment entitled "Why Gen X Gets Ignored".  They interview Paul Taylor, the author of the book called "The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown", which he wrote along with Pew Research Center where he was formerly EVP.  Mr. Taylor basically credits Millennials with making gay marriage a reality, when the facts clearly indicate Gen X is responsible, with Jim Obergefell being the Gen Xer whose name is assigned to the case being the most notable example of how Mr. Taylor got it wrong.

I take issue with Mr. Taylor on several important points, but there's only so much that can be addressed in an 8 minute news clip.  As I noted, he was basically trying to promote his book.  But I also acknowledge that at least some of what he claims is perhaps partially correct.  I  still found the clip interesting.  Have a listen below, or by visiting

Photo collage: Epoch Times Weekend
Gen X is the generation who made gay marriage a reality.  Thank their Baby Boomer (see below) parents' unprecedented divorce rates for shaping the Gen X perspective on marriage.

Paul Taylor's book makes no mention whatsoever about Gen X, as if the entire generation didn't even exist, leading me to question whether he was really the best party to interview  (he does claim Gen X's modesty is a trait he finds "charming").  No matter.  Note that Mr. Taylor is a Baby Boomer, a generation that is among the most self-absorbed in history (which he basically acknowledges in the interview) but in his book, he dismisses and ignores an entire generation.  He makes a few valid points, but he also makes several critical mistakes/oversights in his dialogue, which I'll elaborate on a bit here.  One of the more important points he glosses over is that several years ago, Pew Research correctly observed (see

"Gen Xers have also gotten the short end of basic generational arithmetic. Due partly to their parents' relatively low fertility rates, there are fewer of them (65 million) than Boomers (77 million) or Millennials (an estimated 83 million assuming a roughly 20-year age span and including those who have yet to reach adulthood).  

But there's another reason that Xers are a small generation: They've been deemed to span just 16 years, while most [other] generations are credited with lasting for about 20 years. How come? No one really knows. Generational boundaries are fuzzy, arbitrary and culture-driven. Once fixed by the mysterious forces of the zeitgeist, they tend to firm up over time.".

That sounds a lot like the type of lame excuse that a self-absorbed, narcissistic Baby Boomer might give for screwing Gen Xers out of some 20 million more people than they are otherwise entitled to.

In fact, Gen X is the group behind several of the key trends Mr. Taylor specifically tries to attribute to Millennials, most of whom weren't old enough to actually do what he credits Millennials with.

Why Gen X Is Bigger Than Its Numbers Imply

As already noted, Mr. Taylor’s former employer, Pew Research, already acknowledged that Gen X was screwed out of approximately 4 years, which accounts for perhaps 20 million additional people.  Based on that, one could argue that Gen X is likely much bigger than its numbers suggest.  That's no small oversight, yet all he says is that generational definitions are "contrivances" even while his books relies on those very contrivances for its central thesis.  Not a good start, Paul.

Photo: Leif Parsons.
Many Millennials mistakenly believe they made gay marriage happen.  They didn't, although they helped.

Mr. Taylor proceeds to perpetuate the "artificial constructs" in his dialogue about Baby Boomers and Millennials.  While its true that Gen X grew up during the Reagan years, his statement that Gen Xers are much more politically conservative is false, and he backs his assertion up with nothing.  When it comes to social and political views, the reality is that liberal Millennials didn't just come from nowhere. Gen Xers were already leaning that way at least on social issues, breaking away from the more button-down Baby Boomers.  The vast majority of credible surveys show that Gen X is very evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters with about one-third for each group.  A more accurate statement might be that Gen X grew up in the aftermath of Reagan, they also helped to elect Bill Clinton into office, proceeded to help get him reelected in spite of a conservative effort to make hay out of the Monica Lewinski scandal (who was a Gen Xer herself), and they were also partially responsible for putting Barack Obama into office (the media love to claim it was all Millennials responsible for that, but fact is that there simply were not enough Millennials who were of voting age when Obama ran the first time to have elected him into office, something he also conveniently fails to mention).

Beyond that is the reality of the world Gen X grew up in.  Frankly, its a mixed story.

Gen Xers' parents left the cities in droves as part of the so-called "white flight" to the suburbs which started in the 1960s.  But at the same time, music was telling a different story.  Gen X learned new forms of musical expression like punk rock (including imports such as the Sex Pistols, which was really fighting the UK establishment) which showed us that yet again, music can play an important role in broader societal changes.  But Xer's musical expression isn't limited to just a quartet of white boys from Liverpool shaking things up, Gen X's musical platform was/is global in nature.

Consider the example of soul music.  While Baby Boomers viewed soul music through the lens of struggle, with voices like Aretha Franklin being a key part of that, Gen X grew up with singers like Roberta Flack.  The difference is where that music originated; rather than struggle of the old south, it was striving in the new south (Roberta was raised in Arlington, Virginia which is an affluent Washington DC suburb), and while Virginia was still segregated until the 1960s, the population was definitely middle-class and decidedly more affluent, living the "American Dream".

At the same time, it was also Gen X who developed hip hop music, something very much rooted in the struggle of African Americans, but a brand new type of voice to express the issue of an entire generation of young, black men (and some women). Both are equally valid forms of expression, but the point is that Gen X witnessed both forms aspirational soul and hip hop musical expression, and others including punk rock, as well as a new form of global rock that their parents helped to start, it was incredibly diverse with voices from all over the globe.

Gen X kids also grew up receiving mixed messages about gender/sexual orientation.  On one side was a major push for gay kids to come out that legitimate politicians like Harvey Milk were helping to encourage (and it largely succeeded).  On the other side was an effort to keep LGBT people in the closet, fueled by religious conservatives like James Dobson.  Dobson co-founded the Family Research Council, a militant right-wing Christian lobbying group focused on criminalizing all aspects of homosexuality.  For its stream of inflammatory propaganda, laced with bogus anti-gay scare stories, the Family Research Council earned its place on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups in 2010, alongside the Klu Klux Klan and the White Aryan Nation.

Hence, many of the adults of today grew up in a time when hurling homophobic slurs on the playing fields wasn't just widely tolerated — it was in many cases encouraged.  Gen X was left to figure things out for itself.

Another Influence Behind Gen X: "The Pill"

Divorce wasn't the only reason Gen X was smaller than the Baby Boom, lower fertility rates spurred by the advent of "the pill" also played a big role.

The FDA first approved the pill (as in the female birth control pill) for contraceptive use in 1960.  By 1962, the pill had become a really big hit for the pharmaceutical industry, and by 1964, an estimated 1.2 million American women were on the pill; three years later, the number had nearly doubled to 2.3 million.  Still, at that time, the pill was still considered by some to be "controversial" and it remained illegal in 8 U.S. states. The Catholic church also declared its use unholy.

None of that stopped American Baby Boomer women from using the pill en masse, and by the mid-1960s, the U.S. fertility rate had plunged significantly in spite of a huge surge of women who were then at child-bearing age.

Baby Boomer disdain toward
marriage is responsible
for the societal changes
behind gay marriage.
All of these things helped make Gen X to be America's neglected 'middle child' as Pew called it.  However, Mr. Taylor is absolutely right that Gen X doesn't really seem to care very much about that.  I certainly don't.  Gen X's goal has never been to be the center of attention, but to make the best of the hand it was dealt, and that includes allowing the legal recognition of groups that have traditionally been marginalized.  That may be one reason Politico (see for the article) has posited that the best way to fix Washington is to elect more Gen Xers and let Baby Boomers retire.

In case you haven't guessed it by now, I'm neither a Baby Boomer nor a Millennial but  a Generation Xer, and true to form, I'm actually happy about that.  I'm middle-aged, but have absolutely no desire to be in my twenties again and struggling to pay my rent.  Not by a long shot.  Now, I can realistically look forward to a retirement which is no longer decades away but only a few more years away.  I'm also not like the Baby Boomer stereotype of the middle-aged Boomer men who bought expensive sports cars and tried to pick up women half their age to maintain their fast-fading youth.  That's how many Boomers dealt with middle-age, not most of the Gen Xers I know, and I know a great deal more Gen Xers than any Baby Boomers do.

No mid-life crisis for me, plus I've been a very good saver (my 401k was a real blessing from a tax standpoint, so I put a great deal into that), so I don't really fear living my golden years in dire poverty as many spendthrift Baby Boomers and even some Gen Xers are/were.  Yet most Baby Boomers and Millennials have no clue (or even any interest) in knowing that an entire generation between them even exists, but news flash: it does.  We're known as Generation X (better known as Gen X).  One thing that defines Gen X is its relatively small size compared to the two groups ahead and behind us.  That means Gen Xers are bookended by two much bigger generations – the Baby Boomers ahead and the Millennials behind us – and both groups are pretty different from one another, except perhaps they both seem to share the notion that they are the only demographic segment that matters.

More on Gen X's Size and the Baby Boomer View of Other Generations

As noted, a big reason for Gen X's smaller size is because there's no consensus on when Generation X actually starts or ends. (One could say that's because the narcissistic Baby Boomers ahead of Gen X thought they were so fucking great that their generation simply never ended.)  As a matter of fact, Gen X has been pegged as starting anywhere from 1961 to 1966, and it's been capped off anywhere between 1977 and 1985.  Probably the most popular range is between 1965-1980 (Pew Research, the Department of Defense, and the Urban Dictionary, and others define it that way).

Baby Boomers initially called Gen X "Baby Busters" (they also called Millennials "Boomer Babies" even though some of them were clearly Gen Xers' babies, if that tells you anything), but as a generation, Gen Xers rejected being branded as something that sounded like Baby Boomers Chapter 2, so we adopted the name Gen X.  I won't get into exactly how that name came to be (Google it if you're so inclined), but suffice to say, it's a unique name and it belongs to us.  Fortunately, Millennials rejected the Boomer Babies AND Gen Y labels for a pretty decent generational name, although some younger Millennials are trying to claim themselves as a unique generation now even if they’re squarely in the same 20-year range as other Millennials are).  Good luck with that, I'll likely be close to death by the time it has any personal relevance to me, so I don't really care.

A July 15, 2016 Wall Street Journal article featured this graphic
which I include now because it visually depicts the fuzzy boundaries between generations.

Back to the fuzzy generational definitions.  The reality is my spouse was born in 1963 and my sister was born in 1964 and they're both definitely Gen Xers; neither could be considered Baby Boomers at all.  It seems only logical that either some of the youngest Baby Boomers and/or the oldest Millennials are most likely Gen Xers, so those people can likely pick their own generation, even if it doesn't count for very much in terms of the raw generational numbers.  I think it's usually more of a mindset.  Gen Xers are from an era where trophies had to be earned because you actually won them; there was no such thing as getting a trophy for participation.  We also watched TV broadcasts on just 3 broadcast TV networks (the Fox network came when we were well into high school) later turn into cable and most recently, into streaming.  We didn't have helicopter parents, in fact, most had absentee parents, and many Xers vowed not to make the same mistake with their own families, effectively becoming helicopter parents to many Millennials themselves.  I don't really think Gen Xers care all that much that there are fewer of us.  The facts suggest we actually turned out very well in spite of having less-than-ideal childhoods, at least if the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research's fact-finding is as reliable as most experts believe it deserves to be (see for more background).

Gen X Contribution: Coming Out, From Scandals to Yawns

Also don't discount the fact that Gen X celebrities including Anderson Cooper, Jodi Foster, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Lance Bass, Sara Gilbert, Ricky Martin and Cynthia Nixon are also all gay (Apple CEO Tim Cook could be a Boomer according to one definition, but as I've already noted, because he's at the tail end of the Baby Boom, he could also be considered a Gen Xer if he really wanted).  It's no accident, rather it’s a huge contribution, that Gen X made to the larger cause of gay rights in the U.S.  What makes each of these particular individuals unique from a historical perspective is that ALL of them came out in very matter-of-fact ways.  Instead of horrible, career-ruining scandals that were splashed on the front pages of newspapers or magazines as was often the case as recently as a generation earlier, these were very open secrets that just were, but they were hardly scandalous and were treated with more of a yawn when they ultimately went public.

That's a very typically Gen X way of doing things, and the understatement of one's personal, sexual orientation definitely helped Millennials and others to finally start treating sexual orientation as less of a news headline and more of the entirely personal matter that it really is, hence understated "coming out" stories are also quite Gen X.  True, there are still occasional fights about a same-gender couple trying to attend a prom together in some conservative locations, but the downplaying of one's sexual orientation from everyone's right to know to a more "that's my business, and I'll tell the public only if and when I want to" is a pattern that's likely continue going forward.  What someone does in the privacy of their own bedroom is no one else's business but their own, unless there are laws that provide rights only if you're married to someone of the opposite gender.  Our government cannot pick and choose which relationships it's going to allow to exist or sanction, they all have to be treated the same way.  At the same time, Gen X recognizes these aren't "special rights" as anti-gay activists tried to depict them, rather they are rights that ALL Americans are entitled to by law.

Silent Generation Was Not Silent: Their Contribution to Gay Rights Is Immeasurable

Note that Edie Windsor, the woman whose legal challenge for more than a half-million dollar inheritance tax bill from her legal spouse (another woman) successfully gutted the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (better known as DOMA) in 2013 was neither a Gen Xer or Baby Boomer, but a member of The Silent Generation which preceded the Baby Boom generation.

The Silent Generation was anything but silent on gay rights, as it produced such memorable gay rights leaders like Franklin Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Jack Nichols, Harry Hay, Rudi Gernreich, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Randolfe Wicker as well some of folks behind the original Stonewall riots (including the late Marsha P. Johnson and the late Sylvia Rivera), and similar protests preceding it in Philadelphia, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles -- think of events like the Dewey's restaurant sit-in, the Cooper's Donuts fight, the Black Cat uprising and Compton’s Cafeteria riot as prominent examples of events that all preceded Stonewall.

Most importantly, until 1973, psychiatrists generally classified sexual orientation toward members of one's own gender to be disordered (actually, The American Psychiatric Association had only listed homosexuality as a "sociopathic personality disturbance" since 1952).  Yet there was little if any peer-reviewed science behind this classification, rather it was based on old Freudian theories, only few scientists ever questioned that; at least not until 1970.  In 1970, activists like Dr. Franklin Kameny started to legitimately question the actual science behind the disordered classification, and the hollow truth was revealed: there was no legitimate reason for labeling an entire group of people as mentally ill, hence the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973.  The American Counseling Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Medical Association, the American School Counselor Association, the American School Health Association and the American Psychoanalytic Association all reached similar conclusions in the years that followed.

While a few homophobic members resented the challenge, and founded groups that continued to consider them disordered (many would support pseudo-science to support that perspective until the 1990s.  For example, in 1992, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality [NARTH] was started by Charles Socarides [whose own son Richard is gay], Joseph Nicolosi and Benjamin Kaufman, which the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded had become the main source for anti-gay 'junk science', see for more detail), the reality is that without valid, peer-reviewed research, that perspective became increasingly fringe.

Those truths would also become revealed in the California Proposition 8 trials which followed years later, and the baseless "science" which supported those viewpoints would increasingly be viewed as little more than animus which motivated gay marriage bans in the first place.

Use of "Culture Wars" and "Dog Whistles" To Motivate Conservative Voters

In the 1990s, DOMA was only enacted once conservative politicians in power sought to motivate conservative voters to re-elect Republican candidates by using so-called "dog whistles" (called that because they are supposedly silent except to those who can hear such coded messages) like gay marriage (described as "family values" or other euphemisms) in an effort to deflect attention from the fact that their economic policies were actually decimating the GOP's white, working class base.

As UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich has correctly observed, the modern GOP is based on an unlikely coalition of wealthy business executives, small business owners, and struggling [working class] whites.  Its durability depends on the latter two categories believing that the economic stresses they've experienced for decades have a lot to do with the government taking their money and giving it to the poor, who are disproportionately black and Latino.

The real reason small business owners and struggling whites haven't done better is the same most of the rest of America hasn't done better: while the output of Americans has continued to rise, almost all of the gains have gone to the very top.  That's a function of Government policy.

Conservative "Coalition" Fragmentation

The GOP's base of white, working class voters may have the last laugh, since they seem to have abandoned the conservative Republican party establishment in 2016 by voting for Donald J. Trump, a news-invented candidacy that now threatens to destroy the establishment Republican party.

Gen X and Gay Rights

To be sure, Gen X didn't start gay rights, but Gen X did help take them to where they were in 2016.  Gen Xers were the ones to help push for gay marriage rights nationwide, and to openly serve in the military and live and raise families in the open, NOT Millennials.  Gen Xers were of an age most likely to benefit from these things immediately, although future generations will no doubt benefit.  It's simply impossible to discount the Gen Xers on this matter.  So no, Paul Taylor, you may credit them in your book for ushering gay marriage, but Millennials did not make that stuff happen.  Millennials were a useful contributing factor, but they were not the reason or even the impetus for making gay marriage a reality, Gen X deserves most of the credit.

Millennials too often receive (and they willingly take) credit for gay marriage rights, and they often seem to bask in the credit as if they're the demographic group singularly responsible for this development, thanks to misinformation from people like Paul Taylor.  Gen X deserves much more of the credit given that they were on the front lines of this culture war battle while Millennials were still kids in grade school.

Sexual diversity is and always has been a fact of life for Gen X. While Baby Boomers were the original instigators of the Sexual Revolution, Gen Xers were its primary beneficiaries, coming of age in an era of increasing awareness of LGBT issues, women's issues, etc.  While most Xers are too young to remember the 1969 Stonewall Riots that gave birth to the original gay rights movement, they grew up amid the rancorous national "debate" about gays' actual right to exist which was fought between supporters of gay rights and socially conservative, but politically-motivated religious groups including the Moral Majority and then-popular, political figures including Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, and Senator Jesse Helms to name a few.  But conservatives' hypocrisy is really what solidified a willingness to abandon those cultural mores.

The fact is that Millennials don't get to claim credit for all this stuff (at least until the last Gen Xer has died), and by then, I'm guessing Millennials won't really care.

January 5, 2016

Closer magazine Proves that Millennials Aren't the Only Demo Buying Celebrity Mags

It's no secret that the entertainment industry has traditionally been fixated on the youth market.  There is some reason for that: first, young people typically spend much more (collectively) on entertainment than do other segments since entertainment is often the main priority for them whereas other groups have other responsibilities.  Also, the youth market has been such a large market segment for years, starting with the Baby Boom, and more recently, with Millennials, which makes it possible to focus on youth and basically ignore just about every other segment.  That may not sound altruistic, but entertainment is an industry like all others.  Music (vinyl records, tapes, CDs and now MP3s) and television and movies (including home video, such as VHS cassettes, DVDs and increasingly, digital/cloud-based content) tend to rely heavily on the youth market for both sales and profits.

It's therefore not surprising that the supermarket celebrity gossip magazines including publications like the Enquirer, Star, People and others all tend to focus primarily on what the youth market is interested in, although youth aren't necessarily in supermarkets buying up celebrity gossip magazines -- their parents are.  Indeed, many older shoppers (including many people with children) complain that they don't even know who the people pictured in the celebrity gossip rags are, therefore they no longer buy these magazines, and who can blame them?

During 2014, there was an acknowledgement (of sorts) that the publishing (and media) mantra of youth at the expense of all else had left some largely untapped opportunities, which represented an opportunity for profit.  Specifically, the Bauer Media Group USA, whose parent company is a global company based in Germany, reached this conclusion and acted upon it.  In the U.S., Bauer publishes a number of magazine titles that are sold primarily via supermarket checkouts across America (some their titles include In Touch and Life & Style magazines, as well as Women's World, Soaps In Depth and a few others).  They concluded that the older market was being ignored by traditional publishing staples, and therefore represented a sales opportunity for them.  The company cited Gen X specifically in their new title's mission statement, although no doubt the new title they came up with was aimed at a market that was larger than Gen X exclusively, even if the Gen X target is likely to be more enduring than the Baby Boom will be, hence naming Gen X in the mission statement.

What was their new title?

Some recent Closer weekly covers
The Closer weekly, which began distribution in mid-2014 in some markets, but was officially launched nationwide in November of that year once the company had penetrated the retail channels completely.  The main point of differentiation is that the covers of Closer weekly doesn't dare feature the likes of Justin Bieber, Miley Cirus or Kim (or Khloe) Kardashian.  Instead, the publication features pictures of older celebrities (including deceased celebs).  Several recent covers featured a young Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, the cast of The Golden Girls as well as celebs who are not (yet) living-impaired including Suzanne Somers, George Clooney, Sally Field & Burt Reynolds and others.

The company says that the Closer weekly merges the feel-good nature of celebrity with the practicality of service for the underserved Generation X demographic, which Pew Research once referred to as "America's neglected 'middle child'" (see for the article).  It features 100% positive editorial (although news of celebrity deaths have been featured) on the A-List celebrities its core readers grew up with.  In addition, it says Closer offers a concise, sophisticated take on the home, health, food, diet and beauty information.  The vast majority of its buyers (for all its publications) are all women, by a fairly substantial margin.  To be sure, the Closer magazine's current demos suggest more than Gen X is buying the publication, as the median age of its readers is 54, while virtually all definitions indicate the oldest Gen Xers just turned 50, as this edition of the Epoch Times Weekend indicates (get the Adobe Acrobat version at

Epoch Times featured an article on Gen X turning 50
(click image to open article)
But, right now the fact is more Gen Xers and younger Baby Boomers are still in supermarkets each week, while the same cannot be said about all Millennials, plus the Gen Xers' household incomes are higher, too.  The Closer's content is supposed to be more uplifting than other celebrity magazines, which often focus on divorces and extramarital affairs, although news of death isn't exactly uplifting, positive editorials might be.

Is this strategy working?

So far, what limited public data that's out there suggests yes.  For example, in 2014, the Closer won both the "Hottest Magazine Launch" by trade publication Media Industry Newsletter (MIN) as well as Adweek's "Hot List" Award.

Whether other big titles will adopt this strategy is unclear.

For example, People, the Star and the Enquirer all tend to have a broader focus on celebrities in general (but they may rely on more negative news, including divorce and the like), hence on one issue, the cover may be an older (but not living-impaired) celebrity, while the next issue will feature a younger celebrity.  Whether that drives sales at supermarket checkouts is less clear, although some titles (like People) can afford to rely more heavily on subscriptions and need not be as focused on retail sales as Bauer's publications do.

Regardless, it's clear that titles focused on older celebrities can still generate magazine sales if Bauer's 2014 launch of the Closer weekly is any indication.  The question remains whether print will continue to be the driver, or whether digital will have a bigger focus for the relatively new publication going forward?  Increasingly, the driver for tablet sales has expanded beyond the affluent and youth markets, with older and less affluent consumers driving more sales of iPads and other tablet devices.  While some of Bauer's publications are focused more on print, we could see a more digital focus for publications like the Closer weekly, which may position the publication to continue to serve the large Baby Boomer population who may not be as mobile as they once were.  But for the time being, it would seem that the launch of the Closer weekly is here for a while.

December 18, 2015

Richard Simmons: Former Fitness Guru Tries to Enjoy Retirement (Without Media)

For people who grew up in the 1980s, Richard Simmons was kind of a staple of daytime television, with his own syndicated TV show known as "The Richard Simmons Show" (which ran in syndication from 1980-1984 (in 1981, the show was nominated for an Emmy Award) and all-too-frequent appearances on the daytime television circuit including various talk shows of the day such as those hosted by Phil Donahue, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin.  He also appeared on TV game shows like Hollywood Squares, he was on TV’s Circus of the Stars, and he even guest-starred on the top-rated soap opera “General Hospital” -- as himself!  He represented the idea that people could do pretty much what he did; lose weight (as a formerly obese guy) by using his self-help methods, and maybe feel good about themselves in the process.

1982 People Magazine Cover
Mr. Simmons was somewhat unusual during the era he was in his prime.  For example, his faith background was/is atypical.  His father was Episcopalian and his mother Jewish; but Simmons later converted to Catholicism for reasons that are unclear.  But the story he likes to tell is that he grew up in the French quarter of New Orleans (where he says lard was a food group and dessert was mandatory) and he weighed 268 pounds when he graduated high school.

After starting college at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, he later transferred to Florida State University. While enrolled there, he studied as an exchange student in Florence, Italy. He graduated with a BA in Art.  After graduation from college, he moved to New York City where he worked in advertising, as a waiter and for the Revlon and Coty cosmetics companies among other things.  In 1973, he then moved to Los Angeles, and his persona and his fitness business grew by filling a previously unmet need in the market, namely fitness for people who weren't already thin.  The now 67-year-old Beverly Hills fitness guru taught not only fitness, but also self-acceptance and personal empowerment.

Richard Simmons said in 2010 that he had kept off his own 100+ pound weight loss for 42 years, had been helping others lose weight for 35 years, and that during the course of his "fitness career" (as he calls it), he estimates that he helped humanity lose approximately 12,000,000 pounds (see the Dr. Oz story at for more).

Sweatin' to the Oldies
Mr. Simmons later rode a wave of VHS (and later still, DVD) home videos, perhaps most famously producing "Sweatin' to the Oldies" along with some of his peers like Jane Fonda whose workout videos were best-sellers back in the day, and even sold a direct-mail innovation called "Deal A Meal" which gave users a deck of special meal cards in which people would play cards representing things they eat throughout the day and when their hand had been fully played, their eating for the day was done.  In 2013, The New York Times observed (see for details) that Richard Simmons was known as many things: "... author, pop culture war horse, late-night talk show piñata, dyed-in-the-wool eccentric, motivational speaker, survivor of nearly four decades in the spotlight."

However, in the article, the NYT also observed "Like a lot of older people in show business, Mr. Simmons has been kind of slow to fully grasp social media.  He got famous the old-fashioned way: he released VHS tapes and DVDs (65 in total), gave radio interviews and trotted the talk television circuit.

Hollywood does it quite a bit differently now.

The web is increasingly where new stars are minted and aging ones are rejuvenated. Mr. Simmons and his shtick haven’t changed, but the way that fan bases are cultivated has.

But if his [relatively] new William Morris Agency endeavor and his new social media managers have their way, he hopes to add another line to his voluminous resume: 'Internet star.'"

Indeed, until quite recently, Mr. Simmons had never completely disappeared (in spite of his age now making him eligible for both Social Security and Medicare) from the pop culture scene, and his relatively new online persona did bring the aging star back into the spotlight again, even if it wasn’t on syndicated or cable television as he was accustomed.  One of his first online videos (on YouTube) was known as “Hair Do” in which Mr. Simmons appeared -- in drag -- to promote himself in the daring new (to him) world of social media, and the new jam was all about hair, which ironically enough, Mr. Simmons seems to be losing these days!  Check it out below, or by visiting

Yet the reality is that Mr. Simmons, at age 67, is hardly the picture of the future anymore, or even the present.  He’s a picture of the past, in spite of how relevant that past may be today with American obesity levels now at record highs.  True, nostalgia is still a viable option, and although it's hard to analyze the profile of someone’s followers without data, at least a few are, well … older folks themselves.  However, that group is very, very large — Baby Boomers alone constitute one of the largest demographic cohorts now in existence.

The money that Mr. Simmons spent with the William Morris Agency seems to have helped him to accomplish at least some of what he was seeking; staying (at least somewhat) relevant with a newer audience (as of the date I am writing this posting, he counted more than 229,400 followers on his YouTube channel).  By adopting social media, he’s also managed to gain almost all of his new followers on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but beyond that, exercise classes at his Beverly Hills studio, which in recent years had seen a shortage of new patrons, are now filled again (he isn’t necessarily teaching the classes himself anymore, but more on that in a minute).  Even more important, social media seems to be a way for him to connect with a new audience, the Millennial population who never witnessed him in the early years on TV, as well as his loyal older fans, and in that regard he brings something valuable to social media, where he combines comic value with genuine values.

Interestingly, in June 2013, around the time of his social media launch reported by The New York Times, he abruptly stopped teaching classes personally at his Beverly Hills studio and he has been shunning public appearances.  Evidently, the Beverly Hills police conducted a welfare check at his home in January 2015 and they confirmed that he was perfectly fine — he was just taking a break from being a celebrity and enjoying the solitude.

"I just want to spend time with myself," he reportedly told them at the time. He said he keeps in touch with the people who matter most, and that the staff at his fitness studio are more than capable of running the show in his absence. "I don’t need to be there," he said.

He's "happily living life outside the public eye," the rep told TMZ (see for details on that), adding that Richard is working "behind the scenes" on charity projects and is committed to helping the "obese and overlooked."

Richard Simmons Today
Interestingly, in spite of avoiding public appearances (such as TV), his William Morris Agency investment is still being used.  Richard remains very active on social media even if he’s staying out of the limelight, he's Tweeting to people and commenting on and doing Facebook posts, with particular interest in people who are trying to do what he did: lose weight.  His online social media involvement takes place almost daily.

Just how relevant Mr. Simmons is online is unclear, he certainly isn't as big as some of the younger YouTube stars, for example, but the important take-away is that he, like many others, sees the future is online.  For example, before she passed away, comedienne Joan Rivers (see my post on her at for more) had her own YouTube channel (the archives are still available online) and a very entertaining YouTube show called "In Bed with Joan [Rivers]".  Mr. Simmons joined the ranks of other former stars who found new life on the internet, including sex guru (who once hosted a top-rated syndicated radio show, and later a television show) Dr. Ruth Westheimer (see, who now counts several hundred thousand followers of her own on her own YouTube channel (more on her some other day).

As for Richard Simmons, he seems to be trying to enjoy his retirement, although his presence on social media proves that he isn't quite ready to disappear completely.

June 21, 2015

TV on the Net

On March 4, 2013, the New York Times featured article entitled "Don't Touch That Remote: TV Pilots Turn to Net, Not Networks" which can be found at It was how the traditional model for show pilots over the airwaves had been disrupted by the internet with new players like Netflix now playing an important role. In that article, the Times wrote:

"Internet-delivered TV, which until recently was unready for prime time, is the new front in the war for Americans' attention spans. Netflix is following up on the $100 million drama "House of Cards" with four more series this year. Microsoft is producing programming for the Xbox video game console with the help of a former CBS president. Other companies, from AOL to Sony to Twitter, are likely to follow.

The companies are, in effect, creating new networks for television through broadband pipes and also giving rise to new rivalries - among one another, as between Amazon and Netflix, and with the big but vulnerable broadcast networks as well."

However, at its core is something I've been saying since I began this blog: Internet-delivered content, combined with the dramatic reduction in content production costs (inexpensive, high-definition video cameras, for example, can be had for a few hundred dollars these days) could soon challenge big media's dominance of TV. Indeed, what we think of as TV may already be changing. These days, many people watch shows on their tablet computers, phones, and just maybe, a traditional television, though that is not as common as it once was.

Content quality for stuff distributed online, on the other hand, is literally all over the map. Some stuff is truly phenomenal, while other things are utterly disposable. Then again, the same can be said about stuff on traditional TV (I have almost no use for so-called “reality TV”). What has changed is that instead of content we watch being firmly controlled by its self-anointed gatekeepers at big media companies, there's been a much-needed democratization of sorts. Today, anyone can produce content and post it on YouTube. And, you can probably watch it on your TV if you really want. Or your laptop, tablet, smartphone or iPod (which many more are doing anyway).

Incidentally, the trend of WHERE we watch TV being redefined isn't limited to the U.S. Sweden, the European country perhaps best known for progressive taxes and the one with the highest quality of life in the world (not to mention the highest levels of affluence in the world, including the über-wealthy Wallenburg family), has taken the bold step of having the TV tax assessed on taxpayers to fund Swedish state television not only on physical television sets, but now includes mobile devices like iPads and tablet computers (see for details) in recognition of the fact that more and more so-called “TV content” is now being consumed on those devices. That’s unlikely to ever happen in the U.S. where there is hardly any public support for state-funded television (PBS being a notable exception, and what exists doesn't fund anywhere near the network’s full operating expenses), but the point is that we’re no longer required to watch content on TV sets anymore. The Swedes rely on an honor system, but the fact that the Swedes are now including devices suggests where things are going.

While I'm not sure we can yet say that Netflix is necessarily the next ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox or CW, we can say that we’re approaching a point where "broadcast" no longer means over the airwaves exclusively. As the lines between TV and online content blur with new TVs and devices like Roku players, we may also soon reach a point where content could be managed from our desktops rather than our cable boxes. We’re not quite there … yet.

"These are the very first lab tests in a very grand experiment," said Jeff Berman, the president of BermanBraun, a media company that makes programming for NBC, HGTV, AOL and YouTube, among others.

As he suggested, the competition from online content has really only just begun, but the distributors are companies including Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft and maybe Google's YouTube.

To be sure, it's still pretty early. At this point, I can safely say that managing all that online content is still a VERY, very cumbersome process, and frankly, Apple's “Apple TV” device does nothing to make managing all that content any easier, it’s just another TV input and it does nothing to help organize all of the disparate content on DVDs, DVRs and online. Google did a bit better with its inexpensive Chromecast dongle (priced at just $35), but a host of others including Intel and Amazon are pursuing similar set-top box (or plug-ins) concepts.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, the NPR show "The Takeaway" with John Hockenberry had an interesting show entitled "More Reasons to Cancel Cable" about how soon, Netflix would have more competition from the likes of Amazon and Microsoft's X-Box (although Microsoft’s studios in Hollywood later shut down), as well as other providers. It discusses the aforementioned New York Times article and more. That can be listened to below, or by visiting

Brian Stelter, media reporter for The New York Times, says that online programming is very likely the future of television -- and that cable networks should be very wary. (Note: one of my previous posts featured an interview with Brian Stelter, see for details).

What streamed content offers is a few things, including no need to worry about editing content that would be unable to be broadcast, as well as programming length. For a half-hour broadcast sitcom, they must allot for several minutes of commercials, which means that the programming is limited to 22 or 28 minutes. That limits what can be covered in each episode. Pay cable programming offered a way around that, and now streaming does, too.

That’s one reason many top producers are actually drawn to do programming online on services like Amazon Prime or Netflix. Co-creator and producer Marta Kauffman said that was one of the things she really liked about doing a series for Netflix (her previous work includes the sitcom 'Friends'). She was speaking about the Netflix series 'Grace and Frankie' (which stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson and the series was just picked up for s second season, catch my blog post on that at for more background)

"What's lovely and what worked so well being able to work at Netflix is if a story can only bear 28 minutes that's fine, and if it needs 37 minutes that's fine. So it allows the story to tell you what it wants. That's pretty awesome, that's a great way to be able to write. I'm sure novelists have that ability to be as long as they need to be (see the interview at for more details). 

The other thing is that content can be more refined to reach particular audiences. That’s created a whole new environment where niche programming can be created cost-effectively without even having a network. No longer limited to traditional confines of television production, the web has enabled a variety of shows to find audiences that way, ranging from immigrant groups, to religious groups to lesbian and gay audiences.

Leon Acord who produces the web series 'Old Dogs & New Tricks' which is now entering its fourth season, told Huffington Post reporter Brad Liberti (see for the article) that the experience of doing a web series had its origins in regular television, but the validation was that producing a web series' had fewer of the restrictions than regular TV does, which makes it very alluring for would-be content producers. That suggests we are still in early stages for web series generally.

Acord had been watching a lot of TV comedy with his father, something they’d often bonded over when Acord was just a kid. We loved 'All in the Family.' Now it was 'Two and a Half Men' in particular that his dad enjoyed, and while the Chuck Lorre half-hour comedy wasn't exactly known for its diversity and or sophistication, it did affirm one thing for the budding writer: "I had fantasized about doing a web series, but I guess I always, in the back of my head, thought, 'No, this kind of stuff you couldn't get away with,' and then watching 'Two and a Half Men', I was like, 'Oh, my god, this is raunchy and on network!'"

In the meantime, sifting through all of this disorganized digital content grows ever more challenging every day. So far, Apple has done little to enlighten or turn this around. Apple TV is, at best, an Apple-branded Roku box offering no major advantages but has its characteristic higher prices. For the moment, a basic PC seems to be the best way to manage content. Maybe we’ll see some innovation in the future. However, the good news is that there’s no shortage of exciting new TV content out there for viewers.

February 11, 2015

Rhinestone Cowboy Takes on Alzheimer's Disease

Glen Campbell, circa 1970
Anyone old enough to remember the late 1960s and early '70s is probably old enough to remember Glen (Travis) Campbell.  His radio hits included such famous melodies as "Rhinestone Cowboy", "Southern Nights," and the "Wichita Lineman" to name just a few.  His roots, of course, are in country music.  Yet he was also one of the first artists to crossover from country to pop, landing hits on both Billboard charts.  As of 2015, Glen Campbell was 78 going on 79 years old, and he’s still alive as I write this, but he has completely left public life and he’s also left the recording industry which made him famous.

Its perhaps no small irony that in the 2015 Grammy Awards, Glen Campbell also won a sixth (and in all likelihood, final) Grammy of his career, as he was honored with Best Country Song at the 2015 Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony, which is the presentation of the off-camera categories not included in the  regular broadcast. "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," is a bittersweet tune he co-wrote with Julian Raymond for a 2014 documentary called “Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me”, and his new song managed to trump songs by Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw with Faith Hill.

What happened to Mr. Campbell may well be his most enduring contribution to pop culture.  Before I get to that, some basics on who this man is or was may be relevant.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Glen Campbell was relatively good-looking, being both clean-shaven and clean cut (the antithesis to where popular culture was in those days, and especially among fellow country artists at the time), perhaps a comparison could be made to someone like today's country star Luke Bryan.  Campbell was native of Arkansas, so could make a legitimate claim that he had country bona fides, plus he was also a high school dropout, not uncommon among country music artists of that era.  But he left Arkansas (and more than 10 brothers and sisters) at age 16, staying for a time in New Mexico before settling in Los Angeles, where he struck it big in the music business.  Note that I previously addressed country crossover artists in a post I did on Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton which you can catch at

Remember, this was in the days before country had gone mainstream.

Before Kenny Rogers.

Before Tim McGraw.

Before Keith Urban.

Before Blake Shelton.

Aside from Patsy Cline, who became more famous posthumously than she ever did when she was alive, hardly anyone in country had even considered going mainstream.  Only a handful achieved crossover success (and usually by accident), including Johnny Cash.  It was kind of an unspoken rule of Nashville music producers (and record labels went along -- as long as artists were selling records) that crossing over was not something the country music industry saw as appropriate or supported.

But Glen Campbell didn't let any of country's traditional taboos stop him.  In the process, he won five (now six) Grammy awards, seven Academy of Country Music awards, and three American Music awards, and sold over 50 million records worldwide.  He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.  He may well be one of the first crossover artists, and was unapologetic about that, unlike some country "purists".  He even once had a TV show "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour", in which he used his commercial clout and down-home Arkansas charm to give face-time to lesser known artists he personally admired, such as Willie Nelson, who was best known for his scrappy beard and generally unkempt appearance.

As part of his crossover appeal, Mr. Campbell once toured with The Beach Boys, and even acted in a few movies – including 'True Grit' with screen legend John Wayne.  But over the years, his story was more one of tabloid fodder, including multiple failed marriages.  In fact, in the late 1970’s, Campbell and rising teen country singer Tanya Tucker began a tumultuous affair which did not end happily if the tabloids were correct.

But in 1982 Campbell married Kim Woolen, who helped lead him to sobriety and stability, though he suffered a relapse in 2004 when he was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to ten days in jail. His problems with alcohol and drugs became headlines for tabloids like the National Enquirer back in the day, but ultimately, he found a spouse who got him to clean up his act.  Supposedly, that also caused him to find God, whatever that means - "finding God" has become a true cliché that many celebrities use, so its unclear what that means.

A Diagnosis With Alzheimer's Disease

In 2011,  in the liner notes to his then-new album, entitled "Ghost on the Canvas", Glen Campbell wrote that this is "the last studio record of new songs I ever plan to make."  At the time, some industry observers noted that listeners could tell his voice really wasn't what it used to be, and that he was showing signs of age.  But they were missing an important part of the story.

When he did his national farewell tour, Mr. Campbell had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, therefore he fully expected he'd be unable to record or perform his music ever again.  Today, Glenn Campbell is living in a Nashville long-term care facility that has people on staff who can care for him around the clock.  Like all Alzheimer's patients, he likely has brief periods of recall, followed by long periods where he doesn't remember anyone or anything at all.  Most famously, former President Ronald Reagan also had Alzheimer's at the end of his life.  In 2004, wife Nancy Reagan said famously at a dinner sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF):

"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."

Mrs. Reagan was, of course, speaking about embryonic stem cell research, something both she and the JDRF both supported.  The term "embryonic" is a misnomer; it involves blastocysts that are created in-vitro (in a laboratory), many created for the sole purpose of reproduction, but which are ultimately discarded as medical waste, usually because the fertilization procedure was successful, although some owners may choose to donate them for the explicit purpose of research.

Mrs. Reagan was extremely critical of then-President George W. Bush's decision to limit Federally-funded stem cell to a only a dozen or so stem cell lines, some of which proved to be unusable, created by the arbitrary date that he announced the policy, but he and his advisor Karl Rove was eager to make a key voting constituency happy.  That type of restriction was championed by social conservatives, yet it retarded a promising scientific avenue.  (California voters took matters into their own hands by starting the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine [CIRM] which is not dependent on the vicissitudes of Federal policy driven by political ideology, but is funded by the State of California, which ranks as the world's seventh largest economy in its own right).  Those initial research restrictions placed on cell lines President Bush were subsequently expanded a bit after President Barack Obama took office, but because this type of research remains controversial in the eyes of some, it remains in a precarious situation because of politics, not because of the science.  For the record, I don't believe Mr. Campbell ever went on record as to what his view on the issue of stem cell actually were.

Back to Glenn Campbell's Alzheimer's diagnosis ....

Glenn Campbell was not shy in acknowledging his new reality, so he felt his farewell tour was bittersweet, both for him and his fans.  Knowing his diagnosis, in his farewell tour, Mr. Campbell allowed cameras to follow him throughout the tour, including behind the scenes.  The result became a feature-length movie called "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me" [] which opened on October 24, 2014.  The trailer can be viewed below, or at

Interestingly, I suspect Mr. Campbell's (and his family’s) transparency about his diagnosis with Alzheimer's could be an even more enduring societal contribution.

During his final tour, he agreed to let cameras follow him to show how Alzheimer's was impacting his day-to-day life, the result being a movie which was released in late 2014.  For example, during that tour, the lyrics were put on a teleprompter so he didn't have to worry about forgetting them.  The movie was created by filmmaker James Keach, with his and his family's permission, and aims to use Glen's illness as a platform to campaign for more and better Alzheimer's research.  While the movie is meant to be a biography of sorts, it spends a great deal of time discussing his new reality which includes Alzheimer's Disease.

In 2012, the Federal Government announced several plans to try and address Alzheimer's, including a move by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to launch a broader BRAIN Initiative, which is a large-scale effort to equip researchers with fundamental insights necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders including Alzheimer's, as well as autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and traumatic brain injury.  Its not limited to Alzheimer's, but that is an important part of it.

Under the program, four federal agencies — NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — stepped up to a "grand challenge" and committed more than $110 million to the Initiative for fiscal year 2014. Planning for the NIH component of the BRAIN initiative is guided by the long-term scientific plan, "BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision" [] that details seven high-priority research areas.

Keep in mind that none of this is likely to help Glen Campbell himself, who has been checked into a long-term care facility in Nashville where his family is still able to visit him regularly but is cared for around the clock, but the publicity and the attention this has brought to Alzheimer's Disease may help people in the future, much as Mr. and Mrs. Reagan's public disclosure did a number of years ago.

For their part, Mr. Campbell and his family seem to be taking things in stride and are not allowing the diagnosis to bring them down too much.  Although Mr. Campbell is now living in a care facility that has people on staff to care for him all the time, the movie, which launched on October 24, 2014, could well do for Alzheimer's what other celebrities including Melissa Etheridge did for breast cancer.