April 11, 2018

Reports of the Death of U.S. Shopping Malls Are Greatly Exaggerated

The shopping mall, for better or worse, is not exclusive to the United States, although the concept arguably was first mass-marketed here, and the U.S. still has more shopping malls than most other countries.

Although there were a handful of others which preceded it, the first generally-acknowledged U.S. suburban shopping mall was the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota which opened its doors in 1956.  Victor Gruen, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria, envisioned the Southdale Center as a solution to suburban America's lack of public spaces.  Southdale Center still exists as a shopping mall, and as of 2018, its operated by Simon Properties, although its been remodeled and expanded from its original design.  Mr. Gruen designed the original Southdale Center as a fully-enclosed, introverted (meaning one where all of the shops face the inside), multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylight — and today, virtually every regional shopping mall in America is a fully-enclosed, introverted, multitiered, multiple-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight.

Victor Gruen didn't design a building; he designed an archetype that was widely copied.  Other suburban shopping malls may have more than two anchor stores (although as formerly-big department store chains have declined in number, mall operators have been forced to find new uses for large anchor stores once occupied by the likes of Montgomery Ward, Sears as well as various regional department store chains), but the basic idea originated with his concept.

But it was the Canadians (not the Americans) who arguably took the shopping mall concept to the extreme by building what was considered to be the largest enclosed shopping center when it was built known as the West Edmonton Mall [http://www.wem.ca/], and it still retains the title of the largest shopping mall in North America and the tenth largest in the world (along with The Dubai Mall, which ties it in terms of leasable space) by gross leasable area.  It is perhaps not surprising that Canada is its home, as the climate there is often inhospitable (particularly during winter months), making a climate-controlled shopping center there very appealing.  Note that the same also applies to Mall of America, which shares a great deal in common with West Edmonton Mall, including some of the developers.



West Edmonton Mall was the world's largest shopping mall from 1981 until 2004, when it lost that title after several newer shopping malls opened in Asia (including in Turkey, China, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Thailand) and elsewhere usurped the title of biggest.  The same family behind West Edmonton Mall also helped to develop the Mall of America located in Bloomington, Minnesota (in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs) was involved in developing Mall of America (ironically, not very far from the Southdale Center noted above), which currently holds the distinction of being the largest enclosed shopping mall in the United States.  Like its Canadian counterpart, Mall of America also features an indoor theme park and various other attractions aside from shopping.  It also shares the distinction of having some brutally-cold winters, not unlike Edmonton, Canada.

However, this post is about shopping malls generally, so I'll skip talking about Mall of America and discuss West Edmonton Mall instead.  To give you just some idea of just how big Canada's West Edmonton Mall is, that particular shopping mall has more than 800 retail stores, restaurants and services under one roof in the compound, plus parking for more than 20,000 vehicles, and more than 24,000 people are employed at the property.  It also has the largest indoor amusement park in the world, and the largest indoor waterpark in the world all located inside the facility, as well as an indoor ice skating rink.

Alas, the concept of the American mall isn't quite as popular as it was during the mid-1950's when they first started appearing nationwide.  One of the reasons for rapid growth in shopping malls in the late 1960's into the 1970's was continued, widespread growth of the suburbs following World War II and more general prosperity of the era which fueled retail growth in the country overall.  But since the 1980’s, virtually all U.S. prosperity has gone to the top income segment, hence there has been less to fuel growth as there was following World War II.

Indeed, the era of the "big-box" retail stores coincided closely with the rise of shopping malls (lagging by only a few years).  But the same factors that led to growth in U.S. shopping malls were also criticized for decimating traditional downtown retail centers (where they existed; in other places, there were no central business districts to destroy because it was literally undeveloped land in far-out exurbs that had no town centers).  Although big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot are most frequently criticized (and those companies certainly deserve a share of that criticism), more general suburbanization also shares some of the responsibility.  During that time, concentrations of capital spilled out along new, federally-subsidized highways, covered old countryside with a new suburbia, and initially concentrated around highway interchanges.  There were the brand new shopping malls, while in gloomy old downtowns nearby, the streets often became empty and taxes rose along with crime rates.

Indeed, I believe that 1970's singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell (herself a Canadian who was transplanted to Los Angeles' famed Laurel Canyon neighborhood, which was home to many musicians of that era) popularized the idea of how suburbanization had a big downside, with a song she called "Big Yellow Taxi"  in 1971 in which she observed that "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot".  That line from her song is perhaps the most relevant observation for what was going on at the time.  Joni Mitchell maintains a website, and has the song there which can be listened to below, or by visiting http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=13.



At the indoor shopping mall's peak popularity (which some have estimated to be in 1990 based on both occupancy rates for for existing malls and the construction of new shopping malls), the U.S. opened 19 of them. But the U.S. hasn't cut the ribbon on a new, enclosed shopping mall since 2006.  It seems unlikely that more will come anytime soon.  According to The Atlantic, there still are about 1,200 malls in America today. But the forecast is that in another decade, there might be about 900. That's not quite "the death of malls" as some have called it.  But it is a marked decline, and it seems to be inevitable.

In 2014, PBS featured an interesting segment entitled "The rise and fall of the American shopping mall" which visits a dead mall called "Rolling Acres" in the ailing city of Akron, Ohio as part of the story.  That report can be seen below, or by visiting http://www.pbs.org/video/2365378735/:



While online commerce is cited in many poorly-researched articles and in news stories as the main reason, a more important reason is there are simply far too many malls in the U.S. to remain commercially viable (at least as retail shopping centers).  The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population did between 1970 and 2015, according to Cowen and Company’s research analysts. By one measure of consumerist plentitude — shopping center "gross leasable area" — the U.S. still has 40% more shopping space per capita than Canada, five times more the the U.K., and 10 times more than Germany.  Of course, Europe has maintained its city centers, whereas in many parts of the U.S. as suburbs without existing retail centers grew more rapidly, more traditional town centers (referred to as "downtown") struggled, often due to limited space for modern retailers to operate.

While some shopping malls continue to thrive (particularly those located in convenient and/or affluent areas, or those targeting fast-growing populations such as Hispanics or Asian-Americans), the traditional model will nevertheless be impacted by the closure or downsizing of some traditional retail outlets.  Sears, Kmart, Barnes & Noble, Macy’s and others are all downsizing as newer, more nimble retailers including Amazon capture more and more business.  A handful have experimented with retail outlets, including Amazon Books, but those are still fewer in number and are acknowledged to be experimental by company management.

But beyond the idea that online shopping has matured enough to kill traditional retail, the story is more complex.  Private equity, in particular, has played an enormous role in killing traditional retailers buy their purchase of many retail icons and loading these companies up with debts that simply cannot be repaid.  In 2017, Business Insider featured an article about that as did the Wall Street JournalBusiness Insider eloquently wrote: "Nearly every retail chain caught up in the brick & mortar meltdown is an LBO queen - acquired in a leveraged buyout by a private equity firm either during the LBO boom before the financial crisis or in the years of ultra-cheap money following it. During a leveraged buyout, the private equity firm uses little of its own capital.  Much of the money needed to buy the retailer comes from debt the retailer itself has to issue to fund the buyout, which leaves the retailer highly leveraged."

Other suburban malls have withered away and died, often as the communities they were located in also suffered big declines in populations and tax bases. 

These days it's very popular to declare, often with little or very limited and selective evidence, that Amazon.com and online retailing is destroying traditional retail, and as of 2017, it's no longer an anomaly to know of "dying malls".  The growth of blogs and websites with names like deadmalls.com, blogs like sickmalls and YouTube channels including the Charles Bell Dead Malls Series and similar pages all seemingly lends credibility to the notion that the suburban U.S. shopping mall and traditional retailing is rapidly disappearing.  Dying (or dead) malls exist in most every state, although they don't always remain in their dead format.  For example, in more urban parts of the country, the properties tend to be quickly leveled so something new can be built at the exact same location because the real estate is so valuable.  In less-populated areas, once-thriving malls are now sad graveyards of retailing and more prosperous times.  Some old malls have been displaced by newer, bigger malls, while others are in areas that have yet to recover economically.

The online magazine Vox.com (see https://www.vox.com/videos/2018/4/11/17220528/american-shopping-malls-death-third-place for the article) had an interesting article (and video, see below) entitled "What the decline of American shopping malls means for social space" which discusses how enclosed, suburban shopping malls occupied a "third place" used for social activity to hang out with friends or meet neighbors which was completely lacking in many newer suburbs.  The video can be watched below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/oooVC3zfDc8.



But Vox notes that malls filled a need for social spaces in vacant or new suburbs, and although social media in the online world fills some of that need today, a need for face-to-face interactions with other human beings suggests that technology including social media will never truly be able to fill that void completely.

The NPR program State of the Re:Union had an interesting discussion about internet (virtual) communities and noted that while those are seldom completely positive or completely negative, they do lack some of what make face-to-face interactions a unique part of the human experience.  And no, virtual face-to-face interactions on Apple Facetime, Google Duo or Google Hangouts, video interactions are not quite the same.  To listen to that, visit http://stateofthereunion.com/internet-communities-virtual-reality/ for more details.

While the era of continued growth in retail shopping malls is likely over, the idea that we will ever succumb to ordering everything from our computers or phones and having or orders shipped to us days later is unlikely to ever completely replace more traditional retailing.  Indeed, while Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods Market is sometimes cited as an example, the reality of food retailing is the need for local distribution.  While Amazon will tinker with how to use its purchase of Whole Foods, big chains like Kroger, Publix, Safeway or Stop & Shop aren't worried that their proverbial "bread and butter business" model faces an imminent extinction threat from Amazon anytime soon.  One could say the same for drugstore chains Walgreens and CVS.  Although mail-order pharmacies operated by pharmacy benefits managers do command a big share of sales for maintenance medicines, the imminent need for something like antibiotics or cold medicines does not enable a time-consuming week-long order and delivery cycle necessitated by mail order pharmacies.

Also, clothing buyers will often find a need to physically try outfits on to see how well a pair of pants, a shirt, blouse or pair of shoes fits before they are willing to buy those items.  Hence, Amazon has not solved that not-so-little problem with digital technology.

So, while the 1950's era of suburban shopping malls is no longer the vision of American retailing's future, it will likely remain with us for some time to come.

For reference, I have listed several relevant articles (in no particular order) on this topic below which may be of interest.

http://vizettes.com/kt/gon/index.htm

http://www.salon.com/1999/08/13/mall/

http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/17/books/cathedrals-of-consumption.html

http://www.metv.com/lists/13-bygone-mall-stores-we-want-to-shop-at-again

http://www.alphabetcityblog.com/2008/12/malls-of-1970s-future-of-retail.html

https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/amazon-is-killing-shopping-malls-right-no-so-fast.html

http://mallsofamerica.blogspot.com/

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/ypa7jj/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-american-shopping-mall

https://www.citylab.com/design/2012/07/shopping-mall-turns-60-and-prepares-retire/2568/

http://time.com/4865957/death-and-life-shopping-mall/

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/growth-development/sd-fi-retailfuture-20170921-story.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2017-03-17/junk-bonds-plus-retail-plus-private-equity-equals-carnage

https://www.wsj.com/articles/vendors-landlords-target-private-equity-firms-in-retail-rubble-1501412401

http://www.businessinsider.com/brick-and-mortar-retail-private-equity-debt-financing-lbo-2017-8

April 7, 2018

Donna Summer's Colorful Life the Basis for New Broadway Musical

Born on December 31, 1948 and raised as LaDonna Adrian Gaines, the disco and pop diva known as Donna Summer grew up as one of seven children.  She was a native of Boston, specifically the Mission Hill area which is located between the much larger neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury Crossing.

Sadly, she passed away at age 63 at her home in Naples, Florida on May 17, 2012.  The official cause of death was lung cancer, although her family made a point to tell the press that Ms. Summer was never even a smoker.  But Donna Summer's legacy looms very large in the music business, and now its on Broadway.  NPR had a relevant clip on her passing, which can be listened to below, or by visiting https://n.pr/JCSTGW:


Playbill from the Broadway musical "Summer" 
After a trial run at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse, now "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical", which is a jukebox musical featuring her songs, has opened at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theater.  Three different actresses play Ms. Summer at various points in her life, depicting her Boston upbringing, her burgeoning success with the producer Giorgio Moroder and her later years.  Similar autobiographical subjects for musical shows have followed a similar pattern.  Summer has received mixed reviews so far, although that will not necessarily limit its success (or failure).

Donna Summer began her music career back in the late 1960's, when she left home and joined a blues/rock band.  Although the band was commercially unsuccessful, her time with the band took her to New York where she made a name for herself with her vocal talents (notably, record labels did not want the band she was in, but several expressed interest in her talent as a solo singer).  Ms. Summer found work singing as a backup singer for 1970's trio Three Dog Night.

While in New York, Donna Summer auditioned for a role in the counterculture musical "Hair" (a movie version would later be released co-starring a young Beverly D'Angelo who is perhaps best known for her role as Ellen Griswold in several "Vacation" movies).  Donna Summer landed the part of Sheila in "Hair", and she agreed to take the role in the Munich production of the show, moving to Germany.

Move to Europe Changes Donna Summer's Career Trajectory

She spent several years living, acting, and singing in Europe (and she learned to speak German while there).  In 1973, she met her first husband, Austrian actor Helmut Sommer, and she gave birth to their daughter (Mimi) Natalia Pia Melanie Sommer.  During her time in Europe, she also first met European music producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, who would later loom large in her career as a singer as her fellow songwriters, producers, arrangers and managers.  Her married surname of Sommer was supposed to be the name used on her recordings, but a typo at her first record label dubbed her as Donna Summer, which is the stage name that stuck.

Following her successful stage role in the musical "Hair" playing in Europe, she would later land a record label contract as a solo singer.  In 1975, the record-label known as Casablanca Records signed the then-new solo artist Donna Summer and the following year, released her album entitled "Love to Love You Baby" which was certified gold.  Casablanca enjoyed a brief period of big-time success in the mid-to-late-1970's, and Donna Summer was big part of that.  The Casablanca label also featured Kiss, Cher (for a time, anyway), Player, Lipps Inc., Tony Orlando, Dusty Springfield (for a time), and Captain & Tennille (see my blog post on that duo at https://goo.gl/9WdWG5 for more), The Village People and many other hit artists during the record label's initial heyday.

Donna Summer's breakout hit song "Love to Love You Baby" was over 17 minutes long, and Casablanca released the song in its entirety as a single (a much shorter version was promoted to radio stations).  In releasing the 17-minute version as a single, Casablanca would help popularize a format that would become known as the 12-inch (the diameter of the vinyl record that contained the extended-play song).  The single became a big disco success during the era when clubs like Studio 54 dominated the time in which younger Baby Boomers' were becoming young adults, and fueling the nightlife and disco era (by going out to boogie on weekends) perhaps best typified by the 1977 hit movie (and corresponding hit movie soundtrack) "Saturday Night Fever".

22 Orgasms in the Single Love to Love You Baby

As noted, the single "Love to Love You Baby" was written by Donna Summer herself, as well as her collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.  That song featured Ms. Summer seductively moaning and groaning (as if she was having sex), and that caused the single to be banned by some American and European radio stations.  According to one tally by Time magazine, Ms. Summer could be heard having 22 orgasms in this track, although she later told Rolling Stone magazine and other media outlets that those sound effects were simply acting.  We know that lines of recordings can be played repeatedly in singles as a refrain, although that mainly applies to lyrics, so its unclear exactly what an orgasmic moan qualifies as in a recorded song.  That can be listened to below.

But, as it turns out, efforts to try and ban the song for being too sexually explicit actually had the opposite effect, and helped to make it a smash hit.  The single went to #2 on the U.S. Hot 100.  Not surprisingly, around the same time, pornography was also going mainstream, with a 1973 movie release named "Deep Throat" gaining a reputation as a "must-see" movie, eventually earning more money than any film had previously (and so far, since) -- I blogged about the mainstreaming of porn at https://goo.gl/9FG5K for more on that topic.

Ms. Summer would quickly release an impressive sting of other chart-topping disco hits in the next few years including "I Feel Love", "Last Dance", "MacArthur Park", "Heaven Knows", "Hot Stuff", "Bad Girls", "Dim All the Lights", and "On the Radio".  Ms. Summer would also record a hit duet with Barbra Streisand.

All told, Donna Summer earned a total of 32 hit singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in her lifetime, with 14 reaching the top ten.  She claimed a top 40 hit every year between 1975 and 1984, and from her first top ten hit in 1976, to the end of 1982, she had 12 top ten hits (10 were top five hits), more than any other act during that time period.  She returned to the Hot 100's top five in 1983, and claimed her final top ten hit in 1989 with "This Time I Know It's for Real".

Casablanca Records: Hit-Machine During Disco Era, Known for Excess


Her first record label Casablanca Records was best known for excess.  The Los Angeles-based record label was bringing in millions of dollars from a string of radio hits (including those by Donna Summer).  Casablanca Records' fall began when the 1980's began. The label was known to spend lavish amounts of money on parties, events, and promotion. There were even rumors of free-flowing cocaine at its parties and headquarters.  As a result, profit margins suffered due to the carefree spending by the label. Casablanca also spent lavish amounts of money on promoting its releases, which made its artists very happy, but not necessarily PolyGram, which later owned a 50% stake in the label.  It would eventually suffer from "accounting irregularities" leading to its eventual sale to the much bigger PolyGram record label which distributed its records anyway.  When Casablanca's lavish spending habits were realized by PolyGram, it quickly made an offer to purchase the other half of Casablanca it did not already own in 1980, but the "good old days" at Casablanca Records were effectively over.

Summer's Move to Geffen Records, And Later, to Atlantic Records

Donna Summer herself left Casablanca Records in 1980 when she signed with another startup known as Geffen Records, then a new record label started by David Geffen.  But she still released the hit single "She Works Hard For The Money" under her old contract with Casablanca.  But because Ms. Summer wanted to go into a different direction with her music; while Casablanca wanted her to keep recording disco and nothing else, she decided to find a different record label, and David Geffen made her an offer she could not refuse.  Ms. Summer also filed a 10-million-dollar suit against Casablanca; but the label counter-sued. In the end, although Ms. Summer did not receive any money, she did win the rights to her own lucrative song publishing.  Her decision to change record labels and focus away from disco proved to be a good move.  With Geffen, she would release the hit single "The Wanderer" although it was still more disco than she wanted.  By that time, she was growing tired of constant recording, touring, etc. so she was ready when to take a break from music.  She would re-emerge in at the end of the decade with a single "This Time I Know It's for Real" (which went to #3 on the U.S. Hot 100) in 1989 which was released on Atlantic Records, then a division of Warner Bros. Records.

Ms. Summer also did some minor acting roles on TV in the mid-to-late 1990's in sitcom "Family Matters" playing the role of Aunt Oona Urkel in two episodes.  However, she will likely always be remembered for her huge role in the popular disco era, with incredibly danceable tracks that were popular in their day.

Although there is no guarantee it will remain available, the Viacom-owned cable network's series "Behind the Music" ran an interesting bio of Donna Summer, which seems particularly relevant in the years since her death.  That can be viewed (for the moment) by visiting https://youtu.be/ZrXepibp22Y.

There was also an interesting interview with Donna Summer done by BBC Radio.  Although BBC Radio no longer has the interview online, another blog/ website has retained it which can be listened to below, or by visiting http://www.musiclikedirt.com/2012/05/18/donna-summer48-12/:

March 20, 2018

Queer Eye: Why A Show From 2003 Is Getting A Reboot in 2018

The focus of this blog is mainly retro pop culture from the 1970's to the 1980's, but it's worth acknowledging that those are generalities.  Perhaps the most notable is because the start dates and end dates are not always clear-cut, and with television, reruns have made moderately-successful network TV shows far bigger hits in syndication.  For example, the TV sitcom "The Brady Bunch" is generally considered to be a 1970's show (as was "Gilligan's Island").  But both Sherwood Schwartz sitcoms were actually much, much bigger in syndication than they were in their first-runs.  Also, both shows first premiered in the late 1960's, hence both shows could technically be considered sixties pop culture and therefore irrelevant to this blog using the original year of broadcast as a cutoff.

I refuse to do that.

Without getting too tied up in specifics on start and finish dates, although the 1990's and 2000's aren't a central focus for this blog, again, because some pop culture (television, movies, music, etc.) carries over from the 1960's or the 1980's, it occasionally does find a place here, too.  This is one such post.

One early 2000's cable program that is enjoying a renaissance (resurrection or reboot) is one of cable-network Bravo's earlier success stories from 2003.  The show was initially known as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (later renamed simply "Queer Eye").  The premise of the show relied upon the stereotype of gay ("queer") men as experts in matters of fashion, style, personal grooming, interior design, and culture.

It's worth acknowledging that Bravo's own history as a cable network is relevant to this discussion.  Bravo began in 1980, and its original focus was on performing arts, drama, and independent films (indeed, Bravo originally claimed to be "the first television service dedicated to film and the performing arts" and a 1985 profile of Bravo in the New York Times observed that most of its programming at the time consisted of international, classic, and independent films).  The Bravo network was acquired in the early 2000's, and it switched its format from focusing on performing arts, drama, and independent films to being mainly focused on popular culture including reality shows, fashion/makeover shows and celebrities.  In those days, Bravo quite literally was throwing things against the proverbial wall to see what stuck, much as the Fox broadcast TV network had done just a few years earlier.  The main difference is that Bravo was done on cable, rather than on broadcast TV.

The concept for "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was created by the show's executive producers David Collins and Michael Williams along with David Metzler through their company, Scout Productions and, as noted, turned out to be a surprise hit for Bravo.

There were a variety of reasons for its success.

One reason for its success was that "Queer Eye" very much stuck to the 22-minute format (which amounted to a half-hour show with commercials) and ran at many different times throughout the day.  Given that there were no story arcs (also called a narrative arc), which are extended or continuing storylines in episodic storytelling in media such as television, with each episode following a dramatic arc.  On a TV program, for example, a story arc would unfold over a number of different episodes.  Without any arcs, there were no expiration or sequence required for airing, making it well-suited for cable.  Arcs were missing from "Queer Eye", lending it to repeated play throughout the day whenever the network needed half-hour content to run.

The original "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" series starred five openly-gay men from New York who conducted a "make-over" (or "make-better") of another person, usually a hapless straight man at the request of his wife or girlfriend, with the cast helping to revamp wardrobe, redecorating, and offering advice on grooming, lifestyle, and food/wine.

Original Fab Five cast from Bravo's version of "Queer Eye"
The opening sequence introduced the gay "Fab Five", outlining each of their particular "specialties" on Manhattan's "Gay Street": Fashion Savant (Carson Kressley), Food and Wine Connoisseur (Ted Allen), Grooming Guru (Kyan Douglas), Design Doctor (Thom Filicia) and Culture Vulture (Jai Rodriguez).  The five men armed themselves with their tool of choice (including Thom Filicia holding a paintbrush, Ted Allen holding a whisk, Carson Kressley holding a shopping bag, Kyan Douglas holding a blow-dryer, and Jai Rodriguez holding a set of music headphones), all in-line with their particular specialty, then put on their sunglasses before we saw the camera turn the corner of "Gay Street" to enter "Straight St."  The opening sequence closed as the Fab Five "power walked" straight toward the camera.

The show also enabled the newly-nascent Bravo cable network to successfully transition to a completely different focus for content (and audience), and established it as a cable network willing to break away from traditional cable network dogma about what was necessary to succeed, as well as having a willingness to break from traditionally-taboo topics, including featuring genuine gay individuals on television.

The original "Queer Eye" series ran perpetually on Bravo in 2003, as it sought to fill 24-hours with new content that was anything but its original content, which was much more like what ran on PBS in those days, and also had a much more limited audience.

The series also quickly attained pretty good ratings for Bravo, peaking during September of that year with 3.34 million viewers per episode according to Nielsen.  The popularity of the series also established the original Fab Five as media celebrities in their own right, with high-profile appearances at the Emmys and a "make-better" of Jay Leno and his The Tonight Show set in August of that year.  Fab Five members parlayed their celebrity into endorsement deals, perhaps most notably Thom Filicia's becoming the spokesperson for Pier 1 Imports, and Ted Allen would later endorse cooking utensils (skillets, for example) sold at retailers.

The American press also generally complimented the series and the Fab Five.   The gay Out magazine listed the Fab Five in its "Out 100", the "greatest gay success stories" of 2003, while Instinct magazine declared Mr. Kressley one of the "Leading Men" of 2004.  The series also won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004.

Mr. Kressley knows it's impossible to disentangle his sexuality from "Queer Eye" and he made zero effort to try and do so.  2003 America was not especially kind to the LGBTQ community.  At the time, "Don't ask, don't tell" banned openly gay people from serving openly in the military, and only a few months earlier, 13 U.S. states had homosexual sodomy laws on the books while heterosexual sodomy was legal (the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated those in the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003).  Kressley says that by introducing America to real queer people, it allowed them to get to know members of a demographic long shut out of most other media, and he is of the opinion that was the show's real power.  His co-star Jai Rodriguez agreed, telling The Hollywood Reporter that the number one thing people told him about "Queer Eye" was that the show helped them come out to their families. "The houses and the fashion, that has never been a takeaway," he said. Though "Queer Eye" didn't have an explicit political message, that didn't matter: "In 2003, being out was political."

Mr. Rodriguez also says that "Queer Eye" also made space for friendships between straight and gay men, a bond that at the time "wasn't OK to be formed" because of homophobic fears of romantic attraction.  On the show, gay and straight men could exist, work and laugh together without strings attached.

Since 2003, the Bravo cable network has changed ownership a few times, and is now firmly in the hands of cable television giant Comcast's NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment business.  But Bravo's days in 2003 were more freewheeling, as already noted, marked by its willingness to try and see what drew in viewers.  The "Queer Eye" gamble paid off for Bravo, drawing a diverse audience far beyond a gay-only viewership, to a more mass-market success.  That also made the show relevant for a broader, American culture perspective.  The cast discusses the impact in the video playlist below.

In January 2017, internet streaming service Netflix announced that it was reviving the series with a brand new Fab Five in a season of eight episodes.  It's part of Netflix's desire to move into the unscripted space, including talk-shows hosted by Chelsea Handler, David Letterman, and soon, former President Barack Obama.

NPR's popular radio show "All Things Considered" covered the "Queer Eye" reboot which can be listened to below, or by visiting https://n.pr/2H5fMnV.

The new "Queer Eye" show is based in the southern city of Atlanta rather than New York.  Netflix does not disclose traditional Nielsen ratings performance indicators as broadcast and cable television do, but on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, as of March 2018, the season held an approval rating of 100% based upon 13 reviews, and an average rating of 7.35/10.  The website's critical consensus read, "Queer Eye adapts for a different era without losing its style, charm, or sense of fun, proving that the show's formula remains just as sweetly addictive even after a change in location and a new group of hosts." On Metacritic, the season had a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on seven critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

The new Fab Five cast on the Netflix version of "Queer Eye"
As noted, the new version of "Queer Eye" does change the locale from New York to Atlanta, and although there is no news (yet) on another season, co-creator and producer Collins said that if Netflix does order more, he hopes to find a new location for the show — and he's thinking specifically of returning to his roots.  He said "I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio, born and raised. I would like to go the tri-state region: Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, because you can base in Cincinnati and go across the bridge to Kentucky and go up the interstate to Indiana. The corn-fed midwestern folk are where I'm from — and I love actually being from Ohio, it's a great place to be from."

Similar to the cast chemistry of the original, the new Fab Five cast for the new version of "Queer Eye" seemingly has pretty good on-screen chemistry, although some important yet relevant changes have been made.

Notably, unlike the show's first iteration, where four of the five stars were white, and all were cisgender.  But it helped open the doors to wider and more diverse queer representation, bringing the Fab Five into millions of homes around the world. That counts for something. Jai Rodriguez, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, notes that his successor in the reboot, Karamo Brown, told him: "One of the biggest things for me watching the show was finally seeing a queer person of color."  Another evolution is that much of this cast comes from lower-income backgrounds, and some even have little mouths (children) to feed.

The new "Fab Five" consists of Bobby Berk (Design Expert), Antoni Porowski (Food Expert), Jonathan Van Ness (Grooming Expert), Tan France (Fashion Expert) and Karamo Brown (Culture Expert).  Of them, Tan is a gay, British-Pakistani Muslim (who happens to be married to an American Mormon cowboy), and Karamo is a gay, African-American man from the South who is also a father of two children, while cast member Bobby has been married to another man for almost fifteen years.  None of that could have been accepted, let alone watched on television, back in 2003.

Updating the original 2003 series to reflect the current social and political climate of today's America was important for Mr. Collins, given how much things have changed. For starters, it feels possible to be a bit more open about the Fab Five's personal lives: "We've evolved in a big way," Collins said. "If you think about the fact that our original Fab Five [didn't use] word 'my husband' or 'my boyfriend' or 'my kids' — America was not ready to handle that. [Now], we get to see that Karamo is a father of two, Tan's a Muslim man married to a Mormon cowboy. And Bobby's been married for almost fifteen years now."

To view a playlist consisting of the original show's intro, the new Fab Five meeting with the original Fab Five, the new show's intro and an interview with the new cast conducted by co-creator and producer David Collins which can be seen below, or by visiting the playlist I created at https://goo.gl/wV4hms:



Author P.S., March 26, 2018:  Entertainment newspaper Variety reports that the Netflix version of "Queer Eye" has been renewed for a second season.  Although a renewal for Season 2 is now confirmed, there is no word yet as to whether it will relocate from Atlanta to Cincinnati as co-creator and producer David Collins said he hoped to do.

February 27, 2018

2018 Sitcom Revival Craze Isn't New But Criticism of Whitewashing Is

On February 22, 2018, Marketplace featured a show segment entitled "Explaining the craze in TV reboots".  Reboot is perhaps an inappropriate term; rather "revival" is likely a more accurate term.  You may listen to that segment HERE, or below.



Also be sure to read the Hollywood Reporter article written by Michael O'Connell who was interviewed in the Marketplace clip.  That story can be viewed at https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/new-economics-tvs-reboot-craze-1086797.

The Marketplace story discusses a recent (as of early 2018) wave of TV revivals either already on the air, or scheduled to be headed to the airwaves very soon.  For example, think of successful reboots already on the air, including "Fuller House" and "Will & Grace."  Indeed, "Will & Grace" currently ranks as NBC's No. 1 comedy of the season, and it trails only CBS' "Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon" on the list of top comedies across TV.  Others, including "Roseanne" and "Murphy Brown," with the original casts still in place, are scheduled to air soon.

"Fuller House" was a revival of ABC's "Full House" with the original child cast now adults rather than children.  That show picks up with most of the original cast, only it was Netflix that took the risk of producing it rather than network television.  Now entering its fourth season, the numbers were solid enough for the streaming giant to continue.  The original trailer can be seen below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/CXuGLswn2l0:




"Will & Grace" Cast Reunion as PSA for 2016 Election


"Will & Grace's" TV revival actually began as kind of a public service announcement (PSA) on YouTube encouraging viewers to vote in the 2016 election.  A mini-episode, if you will, featuring the original cast.  That video remains on YouTube and can still be seen below, or at https://youtu.be/dQZkt7SKtKk:



That 10-minute PSA clip generated more than 7 million viewers in the first few weeks after it went on YouTube (and subsequently went viral on Facebook and other social platforms), suggesting the U.S.audience was still very much interested in seeing the original characters 11 years after the series finale in 2006.  The cast also seemed ready for a revival, and luckily the original set was still in storage (which was used for the 2016 YouTube #VoteHoney PSA), plus the creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan were also ready to revive the original series.

Eleven years after the finale of the original series required a little bit of creative license to revive the show in a believable manner.  The original series finale ended with Will and Grace partnered — Will with Vince, Grace with Leo — all raising children.  Grace had a daughter named Laila with husband Leo (Harry Connick Jr.) while Will was raising a son, Ben, with spouse Vincent (Bobby Cannavale).  But the revival began by acknowledging both Will's and Grace's separations, and Karen (who is known on the show for having substance abuse issues anyway) having and explaining what was a drug-induced hallucination.  The exact dialogue went as follows:


"I had the craziest dream," Karen says, describing the finale scenes. "Will was living with a swarthy man in uniform and Grace was married to a Jew doctor."

"Well, we were, but we're single now," Will replies.

"What happened to the children that you had that grew up and got married to each other?" Karen then asks, to which Will replies that it "never happened".

"Oh, what a relief," she replied, speaking for fans everywhere. "Nobody wants to see you two raise kids."


The revised "Will & Grace" sitcom was originally ordered by NBC for a limited, 16-episode run, but was subsequently renewed for another, 13-episode season.  NBC was evidently pleased enough with the ratings to renew it for another season.

Roseanne Revival Coming to ABC

The 1990's ABC sitcom Roseanne is another revival that will appear on ABC television starting on March 27, 2018.  Like the others, it will feature virtually all of the original cast.  A trailer is available below, or by visiting https://youtu.be/X32lP33kyOs:


2018 Casts of Several Sitcom Revivals















Mixed Track Record of Success and Failure on Previous Reboots/Revivals

Reboots/revivals of one form or another have enjoyed periods of popularity with networks and producers.  There were numerous reboots/revivals of "The Brady Bunch" for example, including 1981's sitcom "The Brady Brides" which focused on Marsha's and Jan's newly-wed lives.  That was followed by several made-for-TV movies including 1988's "A Very Brady Christmas," 1995's "The Brady Bunch Movie" and 1996's "A Very Brady Sequel".  The latter two were movies shown in theaters, and although the characters were identical (played by new actors/actresses and caught in a time-warp), they succeeded because they were intended to be parodies of the original.  Not all revivals are parodies.

In 1980, "The Nude Bomb" (also known as The Return of Maxwell Smart) was a reboot of the late-sixties sitcom created by Mel Brooks "Get Smart" that starred Don Adams, though it was released in theaters initially, and didn't air on TV until 1982.  But another made-for-television revival in 1999 starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 entitled "Get Smart, Again!" was popular enough to prompt a new (but short-lived) TV series, which starred the two original cast members as well as actor Andy Dick.  A 2008 reboot film version starring actor Steve Carrell as Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 hit the theaters, and received mixed reviews from film critics, but did reasonably well at the box office.  But the inescapable fact is that many of the popular gadgets featured in the original series no longer seem so revolutionary today.  For example, the shoe-telephone is now an antique relative to smartphones today, and the "cone of silence" seems like its from another era -- which it was.

Similarly, "I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later" aired as a made-for-TV movie in 1985 and another named "I Still Dream of Jeannie" ran in 1991.  Actress Barbara Eden starred in both, but Tony Nelson initially played by actor Larry Hagman (who was under contract to star in the prime-time soap "Dallas") was played by different actors.  As a result, neither the "Get Smart" of "I Dream of Jeannie" revivals were huge ratings successes.

Finally, how many revivals of Gilligan's Island can realistically be remembered?  Most of the original cast (excluding actress Tina Louise who played the character/actress Ginger Grant on the original series, but was notably absent from virtually all of the reunions) were in each of the made-for-TV movies including "Rescue from Gilligan's Island", "The Castaways on Gilligan's Island" and even "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" not to mention a couple of animated cartoon versions of the sitcom which was more popular in syndication than it ever was in its initial broadcast run.  Each ended pretty much as they began: rescued only to be lost again on an uncharted island - again.

For television, revivals/reboots usually rely on bringing much of the original audiences, although not always with the same casts.  Some featured original actor/actress cameos (for example, Ann B. Davis, who played housekeeper Alice Nelson in the original sitcom made cameo appearances, as did actress Florence Henderson who played Carol Brady in the originals (both actresses have since passed away), while others only briefly reunite the original casts (or many of them; some had to be replaced since the original talent are deceased).  For example, 2012's first-episode reboot of "Dallas" featured many of the original cast members, even featuring actor Larry Hagman who played J.R. Ewing, although he passed away shortly after the first episode of the reboot aired.

Other prior revivals/reboots have been re-imagined with completely new casts and story lines.  One famous reboot flop was 2007's unsuccessful reboot of "The Bionic Woman" which (briefly) ran on NBC.  That featured actress Michelle Ryan as the main character Jamie Somers.  But instead of Jamie being a schoolteacher and former professional tennis player, the new Jamie was a bartender raising her younger sister on her own, and her bionic powers were not implemented by secretive Government researchers, but her boyfriend.  Only 8 episodes of the reboot aired on TV, as a strike by the Writers Guild of America interrupted production.  The series suffered from poor ratings after an initially-promising premier episode, likely attributed to audience curiosity who ended up very disappointed at how dark the new series was compared to the original.

Actress Lindsay Wagner, the original actress who starred as Jamie Somers in 'The Bionic Woman' back in the 1970's, also played no part in the new, rebooted series.  Ms. Wagner said, "On a technical level, it was very good, but I don't think they understood the show. It was steeped in that old-school thinking. It was like a lot of things today, angry and dark."

More recent revivals (distinct from reboots) are using all or much of the original casts that made the initial shows successful.  Although a complicated rights and remuneration can bedevil many revivals or reboots (such as the soaps noted in a previous post, see http://hgm.sstrumello.com/2013/04/can-soaps-left-for-dead-see-new-life.html for that), when original producers are involved, those issues may be slightly less complicated if the producers are onboard with the idea of reviving the show and they own content rights for the original programs.

The TV revival/reboot craze currently going on is not without criticism, although not because the revivals or the shows aren't any good, but because they claim it is whitewashing.  Though they may make us feel nostalgic, they also come at a cost, because diversity is often nixed in favor of the all-white casts of the past.  From the 1980's to 2017, the number of characters of color with speaking roles has nearly quadrupled, up from about 8% in the 1980's to about 30% today.  According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, non-whites are still under-represented on television, although they are better represented in 2018 than at any point in the past.

Are Current Reboots/Revivals Whitewashing?

On February 12, 2018, the New York City NPR station WNYC and Public Radio International (PRI)'s program "The Takeaway" addressed this not-too-minor issue in an episode entitled "TV Reboots and Revivals Bring Nostalgia — And Whitewashing" and it discussed the implications of that.  That was worth listening to below, or by visiting https://www.wnyc.org/story/tv-reboots-and-revivals-bring-nostalgia-and-whitewashing/.


Of course, all-white casts have long dominated U.S. popular culture in spite of growing diversity, and recent gains made by non-white players recently won't necessarily erase generations of U.S. pop culture.  As noted by Michael O'Connell in the Marketplace interview above, the current reboot wave has much more to do with the fact that not much else seems to be working right now from an entertainment business perspective, rather than any sort of systematic effort to erase the gains of non-white programming.  Indeed, although white supremacy has gained visibility since the electoral college victory by Donald J. Trump, as trackers of hate groups note, those groups still remain relatively small in spite of their recent increased visibility (see the Anti-Defamation League's write-up HERE and Southern Poverty Law Center's write-up HERE for more background) lately.  The entertainment industry has no motivation other than profit.

Whether the current popularity of reboots and revivals enables all to succeed remains to be seen; so far, the revivals' success features an unconventional family involving three white men as heads of household and another featuring gay white men with female companions.  Soon, another will star a female investigative journalist and news anchor for a fictional TV news magazine and recovered alcoholic who speaks her mind freely, and finally a blue-collar, working class white family living in rural America.  Only the latter series is even remotely consistent with the Alt-Right.

However, if trips down memory lane work out financially, TV history certainly has a lot to mine, although not necessarily with the same casts and producers.  In the end, Hollywood will be watching how financially successful the latest reboots turn out to be.  If history provides any clues, there will likely be a mixture of success and failure, just as did prior periods of sitcom reboots/revivals.

January 10, 2018

Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Tech

Today's post is a bit unusual for several reasons.  First, it centers on a podcast rather than a TV clip, article, movie or music from a genuine media outlet (like a printed newspaper or magazine).  These days, the number of new online newspapers and magazines has exploded, although not all are legitimate businesses, many are simply mining for web clickbait and may ultimately spam people willing to provide their email addresses.  But the evolving media market is a key part of this story.  My main reservation is that the podcast itself comes from a conservative think tank, rather than a genuine media outlet, so I had some reservations because many such organizations are proven to promote known falsehoods.  But upon listening to the discussion in this podcast, I feel pretty comfortable sharing it.

The origins begin with a new book that will be released on August 14, 2018 entitled "Zero Hour for Gen X: How the Last Adult Generation Can Save America from Millennials" by Matthew Hennessey (available for purchase on August 14, 2018 at Amazon.com, see http://amzn.to/2D1GqPt for detail).  There is a podcast at the end of this post which I am sharing because its interesting and not overtly partisan in nature in spite of coming from a conservative think tank.

Note that the book's author, Mr. Hennessey, is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, which has been owned by Australian immigrant Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation since 2007.  The Murdoch purchase ended a century of Bancroft-family ownership at Dow Jones & Co. (the WSJ publisher) and it put the premier U.S. business newspaper directly into Murdoch's very partisan media oversight, although its worth acknowledging that Dow Jones has struggled financially since being acquired by News Corp.  The difficulty has more to do with a rapidly changing media landscape than the political leanings of its primary owner.  The new media landscape includes adept outlets including startups like Business Insider which began in 2009, plus traditional newspapers like the UK's Financial Times which have expanded into the U.S., not to mention Bloomberg's ubiquitous terminals at firms all over Wall Street which have rendered the WSJ far less important (and less relevant) than traditional newspapers are, with their less frequently updated publishing schedules.

Immigrant Rupert Murdoch's Struggle to Keep Up With Tech

Indeed, the global television and entertainment conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family renamed its entertainment assets 21st Century Fox (including its TV network and movie studio among other things) in 2013, but surprisingly, on December 14, 2017, it announced (see http://politi.co/2qM81PC for the news) that The Walt Disney Co. had struck a deal valued at $52.4 billion to acquire most of the Hollywood holdings of 21st Century Fox.  All that remains of the original conglomerate he created is what he calls "the new Fox" — essentially, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the national Fox sports networks, his broadcast network and a some local stations.  None of "the new Fox" are considered leaders in breaking important news, and in spite of being quite profitable, they have also won fewer prestigious journalism awards such as Pulitzer's compared to their biggest rivals.  Instead, Murdoch's model has been to use media to advance his particular view of conservatism, often by perpetuating biases of his viewers in order to secure their political votes, rather than legitimate news coverage.

Anyway, in Murdoch's core news business, Rupert Murdoch made a number of atypical missteps since taking control of the WSJ, including a completely incoherent pricing strategy for the newspaper itself (aggressive and unjustified price increases among longtime subscribers, who started dumping the WSJ), a poorly-conceived and poorly-executed Weekend Journal that aimed to compete with the New York Times but which failed by most measures, and perhaps most importantly, rapid turnover of the valuable journalism staff of the WSJ, relying instead upon more freelance journalists without much loyalty to the news outlet they were doing work for, rather than the paid staff who had helped to made it such a great American news outlet to begin with.

About Demographic Groups, And Particularly Generation X

With all that said, this post isn't even a diatribe about about Rupert Murdoch's (un)ethical or even business failings, it's about demographics, specifically Generation X (or Gen X) being squeezed out by the loud and self-absorbed generations before and after it.

In spite of having personal reservations about City Journal, which is published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research  a conservative think-tank based in NYC, not too dissimilar from entities including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute  I would just acknowledge that facts (something that the Heritage Foundation in particular seems to have run away from in recent years) should always be considered non-partisan, especially when it comes to demographic trends which are validated by U.S. Census Bureau data and is mandated to be collected by the U.S. Constitution.

I do not dismiss data simply because the source is from an entity whose political leanings are different from my own, although I will not blindly accept them, either (I do the same for more progressive sources) and all media consumers should do the same.

This particular podcast is one I am willing to share because the content is not especially political or partisan, rather it addressed the author's forthcoming book and some of the broader implications of demographics.  In this podcast, Mr. Hennessy discusses with Aaron Renn the fading of the Baby Boom generation, the rise of supposedly tech-savvy millennials (who did not build any of the tech they will be responsible for maintaining), and what he considers to be the challenge for those in-between, known as Generation X and potential implications in the future.

They discuss the fact that Gen X is sandwiched between two large demographic cohorts, and how those cohorts share some similarities in terms of size and the impact their size has on making them both more self-absorbed simply because of their raw numbers.  While some of Hennessey's assertions are more of a warning for his own generation (Gen X), particularly because younger Millennials seem very impatient in spite of their lacking relevant experience and old Boomers refuse to step down even though they really should because they are now too old to continue (especially in governance), the concern Hennessey seems to suggest is that Millennials don't view the world from the conservative perspective that 1980's sitcom "Family Ties" character Alex P. Keaton (played by actor-turned-star Michael J. Fox) is not viewed favorably by younger voters who now outnumber both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Gen X's Ability to Navigate Around Self-Absorbed Generations

In reality, Gen X is not especially conservative from a political perspective, with about one-third being registered Democrats, one-third being registered Republicans and one-third being independent voters.  Also, Gen X has proven itself to be fairly nimble in standing out rather than being swept away by much larger demographic cohort groups before and after them.  Its not that special, but it was a survival skill necessary for a group used to being overlooked, and that's a skill that neither Boomers nor Millennials posses.  It's also a huge credit to Gen X's ability to stand out in spite of the odds which the author doesn't appear to acknowledge.

While it's most likely that Gen X's tenure in political leadership will be short-lived due largely to Baby Boomer unwillingness to step aside and get out of the way, combined with overly-eager Millennials eager to take center stage, its also appropriate to acknowledge that the transition Generation X leadership might prove to be very, very valuable for the country due to several reasons.

As the generation who literally grew up with the computer, one can convincingly argue (successfully) that Gen Xers are the true "digital natives" (the 1983 movie "War Games" which starred a young Matthew Broderick is perhaps the best example) who also grew up in a time of analog television, radio, movies, media, etc. which means Gen Xers are therefore uniquely able to assess the benefits to each way of doing things, and they might more wisely choose a path that seamlessly blends traditional and new methods of doing things than their younger Millennial or older Boomer counterparts.

Beyond that, there's also a degree of maturity that Gen Xers can bring to policy discussions that has been sorely lacking from current Baby Boomer political leadership, which has become overtly partisan and less willing to compromise, which has always been a cornerstone of successful, good governance.  The selfish "my way or the highway" is a hallmark of Baby Boomer leadership in recent years, and its an utter failure in governance.

Also, as already noted, Gen X is neither conservative, nor liberal.  Overall, they are middle-of-the road, with roughly one-third registered as Democrats, one-third registered as Republicans, and the last third as "independents" who are not registered with either of the two major U.S. political parties.

Baby Boomer Ethos: We Don't Care About Fixing Social Security As Long As We Get Ours

There are a number of big challenges on the horizon that Baby Boomer lawmakers have simply refused to address, perhaps hoping to force their younger counterparts to deal with them instead.  One is the ballooning of people their age who are actually eligible to collect Social Security and Medicare.  Privatization is a favored solution offered by many conservatives, but that's really trying to transfer the problem to another party that can take blame for any Boomer failure, rather than a genuine fix.  It's a myth to say that the system will be bankrupt because that's a falsehood; and the numbers prove it.

Social Security Not (Yet) Bankrupt, But Giveaways to Higher-Income Earners Must Stop 

Social Security taxes are paid for by both employers and employees.  Yet for reasons that are unexplained, there is a mysterious cap to earnings that are taxed, which means that Social Security taxes are only paid until incomes reach $128,700 in 2018.  That means for every penny earned over $128,700, no Social Security taxes are paid into the system.  Admittedly, the maximum benefit someone can collect from the Social Security system is also capped, but its always been a tax, not an indemnity life insurance plan or investment.  I would add that the maximum earnings of $128,700 is not especially high, either.  Perhaps it was unthinkable that anyone could earn $128,700 in 1935 when it began, but the few, periodic increases have not kept pace with changes in the cost of living.  Today, that's not even considered a particularly high income level, especially in certain geographic regions of the country.

So the earnings cap for Social Security taxes can and should be increased to a higher level (or eliminated completely), the exact amount is what lawmakers really SHOULD be discussing, with a debate about what that amount should be and why.  We can also discuss whether there should be a certain level of income and/or assets that merit no longer being eligible to receive Social Security benefits.  Remember, its a program to keep the elderly who can no longer work from going hungry or homeless.  But should Rupert Murdoch be entitled to collect as much in Social Security and Medicare as an older widowed woman from Nebraska of modest means gets?  Does he really need or even deserve it?  After all, hasn't he received enough in tax benefits?

Yet Baby Boomer lawmakers have not had a single serious discussion of this matter even now that 10,000 Baby Boomers a day are going on the proverbial dole.  Yet rather than doing anything about the issue, Baby Boomer lawmakers still in office have kept kicking the proverbial can down the road for future American lawmakers to deal with.  The only issue for them is that the solutions future generations make may not necessarily be good for Baby Boomers.  That means middle-of-the-road solutions are arguably the best outcome for all parties involved, except the very wealthy (and the selfish).

Anyway, have a listen to this podcast below, or by visiting the following two links (one is the conservative think tank's "City Journal" magazine article on the author's forthcoming book, the other is the website for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research's podcast).  Although some of the narrative is speculative or uncertain (such as excessive technology use altering the way Millennials' brains process information), or what the priorities will need to be for the future leaders of America known as the Millennials) but most of the conversation is interesting and relatively on-point.  Certainly, there is a risk of cutting Gen X out of the discussion prematurely, which would be a mistake.  I did like the reference he makes to succession in the British Royal Family.

Whether Mr. Hennessey's prophecy is too worrisome is also a relevant subject to debate.  But I believe its an appropriate conversation for America to have.  Failure of society to do so could mean some very useful solutions are overlooked.

From the "City Journal" Magazine: Zero Hour for Generation X
https://www.city-journal.org/html/zero-hour-generation-x-15332.html

Podcast: Generation X, Millennials, and Technology
https://www.city-journal.org/html/generation-x-millennials-and-technology-15409.html

October 2, 2017

The iPhone Didn't Kill the Landline Telephone, the Internet Did

People born after the 1980's really have no idea of just how big or important the company once known as AT&T (an acronym for American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which began as a company back in 1885) truly was.  In fact, the company today known as AT&T was actually one of the original "Baby Bells" (Google that term if unfamiliar) known as Southwestern Bell/SBC, which changed its name to AT&T in 1995, fueled in part by its acquisitions of several (not all) rival baby bells including San Francisco-based Pacific Telesis (a.k.a. Pacific Bell) which served California and Nevada, and Chicago-based Ameritech serving a big portion of the industrial midwest, and Atlanta-based BellSouth which served the southeastern U.S.  It also consolidated ownership of a wireless carrier once known as Cingular and renamed that AT&T.  That means that in spite of having the same corporate name and some of its assets, it's not the same company.

After nearly a century of operating as a "natural" monopoly, Federal antitrust regulators started to investigate the original AT&T's monopolistic, anti-competitive practices starting in 1974, which culminated in the 1982 decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to break the company up (which would happen by 1984), effectively killing the old "Ma Bell" (another term to Google).  That closed a very long and storied chapter in American corporate history.  The original company known as AT&T also gave rise to such important entities as Bell Labs, the historic laboratory which was created by the late Alexander Graham Bell, and the original company was also behind a wide range of revolutionary technologies that are today quite ubiquitous, including radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, the operating system Unix (upon which both the Linux and the Android mobile phone operating systems were built), the C language which currently runs most large Internet servers even today, and the company helped make the internet a reality, with inventions including touch tone dialing, fiber optic cables and more.

Prior to the AT&T Bell System breakup, corded landline handsets were mainly built domestically by a hardware manufacturer owned by AT&T known as Western Electric (part of that would later become a company known as Avaya which today competes in the corporate internet VoIP telephony space), but when that ended, new handset manufacturers emerged, selling cheap, low-quality Asian products (Taiwan was the place of origin for most, as mainland China would not emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub until more than a decade after the historic Richard Nixon visit to China in 1972). What really differentiated Western Electric's phones was their quality construction and the ability to continue working even after extremely tough abuse. All of that came at a very high price, which in 1982 was forced to be itemized as a telephone receiver rental fee.

Even if its becoming an anachronism, most of us can remember the classic landline dial tone, which can be listened to at the BBC's Sound Effects website, specifically by visiting http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk/assets/07022406.wav:


Of course, the classic "busy signal" is also familiar to more than a generation of people, which can be listened to below, or by visiting http://bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk/assets/07022407.wav:



The AT&T archive has an entertaining, short clip of some vintage, 1970's advertisements for some of Western Electric's "Design Line" telephones.  The basic content of those phones were largely identical (they had the same exact dials/keypads, the same ringers, the same handsets, and the same internal wiring), but these were designer versions of landline phones meant to fit into a more modern household of the era.  The ad appears below, or at https://youtu.be/CyVe3dD-1mE:



Curiously, on September 11, 2017, some U.S. media outlets were waxing poetically about how the first iPhone was released 10 years ago … gee, a whole decade ago!  I thought to myself: "who cares?" because I've never had an iPhone, and I don't need or want one today, especially since the newest model costs nearly $1,000.  I'll pass; I can do a lot more with that kind of money than buying a little device that's designed to become obsolete as soon as the next model comes out.  My LG Android smartphone isn't the newest, but it's still functional and completely paid for (no contract).  I don't have to worry about losing or breaking it.  Besides, I've always been more of a Droid user than an Apple fan anyway.  But I remember the days when TV news would show lines of kids (today's Millennials) camping in front of Apple Stores waiting to get the latest, overpriced iPhone.  Although some believe otherwise, mobile phones are NOT the pinnacle of modern technology.  My view of Apple is one of resurrection rather than market domination.  I lived in Silicon Valley when former CEO John Sculley ran Apple at a time when the company was still teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

I have a smartphone, and while it is handy to have when I'm on the go, I'm certainly not attached to it.  Some is due to my age; I struggle to see a tiny screen without magnifying glasses and lasik surgery hasn't fixed that (although Google Assistant, or its better known iOS equivalent known as Siri, or at home with talking computer devices like Amazon Alexa/Echo, Google Home and others could mitigate that in the future).  Plenty disagree with me, but it's hardly a universal opinion.

Smartphones are NOT man's greatest invention for several reasons.  For one thing, the core function of making audio phone calls stinks on mobile phones -- I've never had an uninterrupted call on a smartphone.  Smartphones do a lot of cool things, but making telephone calls isn't one of them.  Plus for plenty of people, call mobility was always just a solution in search of a problem to solve.  That's because cordless telephones solved the biggest limitation traditional landlines suffered from decades earlier (having a cord of sufficient length to move around without getting tangled in it).

In fact, reports on the imminent death of the landline telephone are exaggerated.  That said, traditional landlines aren't exactly making a comeback, but as already noted, iPhones (smartphones) are't what killed the landline telephone, the internet is.

According to data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a majority of telephone lines serve medium and large business, institutional, and government customers, NOT individual consumers or households.  Hence, any discussion of traditional landline services is incomplete without an acknowledgement of who actually buys most of the lines: businesses and government, not households or consumers.  And, most businesses generally prefer landlines over wireless services.  Yet too many writers fail to acknowledge this reality when they boldly assert that smartphones have usurped traditional telephony technology.

Any discussion of traditional landlines is incomplete without acknowledgement of who actually buys most of the lines: businesses, not consumers according to FCC data

Articles written by young authors who grew up with mobile phones assert as fact that the latest trend is to ditch landlines for smartphones and that only oldsters still have landline phones.  Such stories always involve very selective disclosure of the facts.  Unfortunately, the Hollywood media machine has started to go with this narrative, too -- even among much older characters.  For example, in the Netflix sitcom Grace & Frankie about several septuagenarians, the character Frankie portrayed by Lily Tomlin has a conversation she doesn't really want to have with her now-gay ex-husband Sol (played by Sam Waterston), and thinking of how slamming the receiver down used to really hurt the other party's ears, she slams her iPhone down like it was an old Western Electric model phone, only to realize that she hasn't even hung up!

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Also, in spite of widespread adoption of iPhones and Androids, the devices have not improved the nation's productivity, which has limited smartphones' broader societal impact.  The nation's last major increases in productivity followed the introduction of the personal computer and the widespread adoption of the internet (both trends were driven by businesses), but there has been absolutely no productivity gains following the introduction of the smartphone, which says it all.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in the U.S. economy has stagnated in the years (see https://www.marketplace.org/2017/01/10/world/what-killed-us-productivity for more) following widespread adoption of mobile telephones. The mobile phone certainly isn't solely responsible for that, but it hasn't done anything to help matters, so mobile phones don't deserve undue praise, either.

Wireless smartphones were a big disruptor for Apple and Samsung, but not so much for telephone companies.  Based on wireless usage data, we know that 80% of people using mobile phones aren't even talking to anyone on the phone, they're using the mobile computer/internet functions.  But my nearly 50 year-old ears cannot hear the mobile phone ringing even at the loudest volume with a loud and annoying retro-ringtone.  Plus, it's uncomfortable for having a conversation of any duration on a smartphone.  Classic phone designs enabled users to hold the receiver and conduct a conversation without their hands (resting on the shoulder), but it's much tougher to do that with a smartphone.

I'm not naïve, people can be nostalgic for the days of perfect telephone reception on true landlines, but let's not forget, that's only half the story: the other half is that telephone bills were astronomical in those days, especially for long-distance calling. Where I grew up, even a call to a neighboring town was considered a toll call, and a simple conversation to a friend less than 5 miles away could cost $5.00 or more, so it wasn't all wonderful.

Today, it's an economic decision to not get (or switch from) a landline to mobile phone usage exclusively, and it's a rational reason to ditch (or not get) a landline.  The expense is redundant, and if you're not at home anyway, it doesn't serve much purpose.  But contrary to the perspective coming from kids who grew up using smartphones as pre-pubescent kids, mobile phone technology isn't what killed the landline, as I've already noted, the internet did (more specifically, Voice Over Internet Protocol/VoIP technology).  And the migration was driven by businesses who spent a whole lot more money on telephony than the average individual or household ever did.

A handful of better-researched articles [see one at https://seniorplanet.org/how-to-save-money-by-ditching-your-landline/] do acknowledge the impact of voice over internet protocol (also referred to as VoIP) technology, even if their editorial perspective still tries to promote mobile as being a more important driver of the trend away from landlines.

But again, the data shows proof that mobile phone technology is NOT responsible for rendering the landline telephone obsolete, the internet is.  And, as with so many other trends, it began with businesses, not consumers.  For smartphone device-lovers who are convinced that mobile phones are the technology that is replacing landlines, many are surprised and even disappointed to learn that VoIP phone service on the internet is the far bigger technology disruptor than the smartphone is, especially with the business community, although it is impacting consumer phone usage, too.

Data Shows a Less Flattering Picture of Mobile Phone-Only Consumers

It's only been since late 2016 that mobile-only households even outnumbered landlines (that evolution took ±30 years to occur), and only an ever-so-slight majority (one-half of one per cent). While people make the perfectly rational decision that it's a redundant expense to continue paying for both a mobile phone and a landline, the option is most feasible mainly in topographically flat states like Texas, Florida or Indiana. Elsewhere, mobile phone signals may be unreliable so smartphones don't work everywhere, sometimes even in different rooms within the same house.

Rolling hills, lack of cell towers, skyscrapers and many other things interrupt mobile reception in these areas. In more rural parts of the country, you may not even have a cellphone tower around for miles. If you need to make a phone call in those areas, you likely need a landline to do so. Broadband internet usually works in areas when mobile coverage is poor, except in rural, unpopulated areas where broadband may not be available, either.

I live in the biggest city in the country (NYC, with 8.5 million residents), and I don't get a reliable mobile phone signal in my own apartment because the nearest cell tower is blocked by skyscrapers and the others are located in New Jersey or Long Island, so the signal cuts out a lot (luckily, I can rely on VoIP calling at home). Think about that. I live in the biggest metropolis in the country (with more than 8.5 million people living in the same municipality), and I can't even use my mobile phone to make/ receive calls at home. I can only imagine what people who live in flyover country go through!

In spite of boastful claims made by mobile phone carriers and device manufacturers, mobile phones have only recently (and just barely) become a majority of the phones used by consumers in the U.S., and the data reveals more about those who have landlines compared to those who do not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the CDC's) National Center for Health Statistics gathers data on all kinds of trends about the state of Americans' health.  The in-person survey of 19,956 households is part of the CDC's National Health Interview Survey, still tracks landline use in order to assure it has truly representative samples in its ongoing health studies. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

According to the CDC's most recent survey (see https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/wireless201705.pdf for the results to that survey), 50.8% of homes and apartments had ONLY mobile phone service (which admittedly is up from 41% just 3 years ago) in the latter half of 2016, the first time such households had attained a slight majority in the survey.  The share of homes with both landlines and mobile phones was 39.4% (down from 47.7% 3 years ago), while 6.5% of families have a landline without mobile phone service, and 3.2% have no phone service at home at all.  Of note is that the CDC survey is the only one in the federal government's statistical system that is even tracking this estimate, and it plans to keep doing so.  Naturally, the pro-mobile phone folks were all over these results showing their supposed victory over landlines.  But the reality tells a different story.

Renters and younger adults are more likely to have just a mobile phone, so a predictable skew of young vs. old and non-affluent vs. affluent shows up in the results, but that over-simplifies the findings.  For example, rates of mobile phone-only homes were highest in the South, while homes in the Northeast were the most likely to still maintain landlines.  But this finding goes beyond incomes which are inversely correlated to cutting landlines, as well as the regional skews in income, which is higher in the Northeast compared to the South.  Instead, it speaks to a much more practical reality: it's much more feasible to rely only on mobile services in a region like the South where signals are less likely to be interrupted by great hills and skyscrapers (at least in major population centers) that can block mobile phone signals, as is the case in the Northeast.

Mobile phone-only homes have some other commonalities. "Wireless-only adults are more likely to drink heavily, more likely to smoke and be uninsured," even after factoring for age and income, says Stephen J. Blumberg, the study's co-author (and a landline user himself). "There certainly is something about giving up a landline that appeals to the same people who may engage in risky behavior".  Why that's so will require further research.

The picture of mobile-only users isn't terribly flattering overall.  They drink more heavily, are more likely to be smokers and less likely to have healthcare insurance, and are more heavily concentrated in the South.  People with mobile phones exclusively are more to be living with unrelated roommates, and be renters rather than homeowners, and skew more heavily Hispanic and black rather than white.  Not exactly the image that mobile phone device makers and mobile carriers like to present with ads of attractive, young, smartly-dressed, affluent Millennials featured in their advertising, is it?

As The Atlantic reported (see HERE), the overall picture is that the more stable your living situation, the more likely you are to have a landline.  And, just as richer Americans have the means to adopt new technology like mobile phones early, they also have the means to hang on to the old technology they are already attached to, like landlines, longer: Why choose one when you can have both?

VoIP Phones Go Mainstream



Rather than personally going with a mobile phone only (which I don't care for), I personally compromised with a hybrid-solution that works great: a voice-over-internet-protocol (a VoIP-based) solution which uses my broadband internet to make and receive telephone calls (I pay for broadband anyway rather than sharing it with 20 people who live around me) only it's not linked to my internet provider, so I can readily switch from Verizon Fios to Time Warner/Spectrum cable, to RCN or another competitor).

I also find the internet much better at a computer with a real keyboard and big monitor rather than a tiny, touch-screen on a mobile phone, which as an experience leaves much to be desired.  Cable companies and other internet providers now routinely offer "triple play" packages, although I initially went with Vonage, but I then switched to Ooma, slashing my costs progressively with each change to the point that my "landline" now costs me less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Note that the CDC's definition of a landline actually DOES include for Internet-connected phones — also known as VoIP phones — because the question that's asked in the survey is: "Do you have a telephone in your home that is currently working and is not a cellphone?"

U.S. businesses are dumping (or have already dumped) analog phone systems in favor of cheaper, better-quality, internet-powered phone systems.  The average person working for a company impacted by this has no idea, and that's proof of how ubiquitous internet telephony has become.  Voice over internet protocol-powered telephone systems offer lots of features that the phone company once charged extra for (things like Caller ID and Call Waiting) and most are included in the cost of maintaining an internet-connected office network.  Today, businesses can get a sophisticated phone system with many lines for a cost much lower than old phone systems.  Companies like Vonage [https://www.vonage.com/], 8x8 [https://www.8x8.com/], Shoretel [https://www.shoretel.com/] (now Mitel), Jive [https://jive.com/], Cisco, and Avaya all sell VoIP-based phone systems (as do others) which have enabled many companies to replace expensive landlines with sophisticated phone systems that offer all of the same benefits for much less money.  Today, a lot more VoIP landlines exist than mobile plans.  But a few companies that began in the business VoIP telephone market have expanded to the consumer market.  More details follow.

VoIP Telephone Companies for Consumers

Because all VoIP phone companies' business model is to maximize self-service, most won't even offer an option to send you a phone bill by mail (although broadband internet and television services are often billed together and typically send monthly bills), and instead require automatic billing to a payment card or direct deduction from a checking account.  Know that credit cards offer you some protections for unwanted services that debit cards and monthly checking account deductions do not offer under Federal law.

Vonage is the best-known player in this arena [https://www.vonage.com/personal] which is considered to be the granddaddy of VoIP services (although they have both business and residential customers), and Vonage is also one of the more expensive VoIP providers for consumer packages.  Right now, Vonage has a one-year introductory price of $9.99/month, followed by $29.99/month after that.  However, Vonage does pay for the VoIP box needed to make your phones work, so that's a decent savings, and 911 services are included in your monthly charge.  But I don't believe that $29.99/month is all that much cheaper than analog landline telephone services are.

BasicTalk [http://www.basictalk.com/] offers a lower, longer-term cost (the price remains at $9.99/month, compared to Vonage which triples your price after the first year) but with fewer fancy features like call forwarding.  BasicTalk's underlying service is actually provided by Vonage (similar to how both Chevrolet and Cadillac are cars made and sold by General Motors).  Note that it has traditionally charged an account 'activation' fee, which you could say is really the cost to port your phone number over which BasicTalk claims is free.  Most of the other VoIP providers will charge a number porting fee instead, but regardless of what they call the fee, the amount paid out-of-pocket is roughly in-line with their competitors.  Their VoIP box is pretty inexpensive and was sold at Walmart and other retailers, though it may only be carried seasonally.

Ooma Telo [https://www.ooma.com/telo/] is my personal favorite VoIP provider.  With Ooma, you pay slightly more for its VoIP box up-front (around $90), but their services are cheaper in the long-run.  Based on my experience, Ooma's Telo service has been great; the only caveat is that the dial tone your hear in the receiver sounds a little different from the one you're probably used to.  They are more of a VoIP box manufacturer, which explains why they sell hardware.  I switched to them after my Vonage introductory pricing expired, and I paid to port my number over, and now my monthly landline (including 911 services) costs less me than a cup of coffee!  They also offer additional premium features like call forwarding and number blocking for a few extra dollars more each month; I skipped those (if you opt for the free trial, they'll continue billing you for it), but the cost wouldn't be very much to upgrade in the future should you want them.

Google Voice [https://voice.google.com/] is another option from technology giant's Google (now Alphabet), which was originally launched nearly a decade ago with some fanfare when Google bought a phone management tech firm then known as GrandCentral which rings both your landline and cellphone simultaneously and also offers text transcription of your voicemail messages.  Its slightly more complex to set up, but if you read on, I promise the info. will be useful.

When people started dumping expensive traditional landlines or not getting them in the first place, Google Voice services became less relevant (although its international calling rates remain among the cheapest anywhere).  If you already have a gmail email account but not a Google Voice account, you can create a Google Voice [https://voice.google.com/] account at no charge in just a minute, and it does not require a contract.  Login to gmail, then in another browser window, type https://voice.google.com/.  Today, with Google Voice, you can also create a fee-free (mostly, read on....) landline for your home and/or office.  It's done by purchasing an OBi Talk VoIP device [https://www.obitalk.com/info/googlevoice] sold by Silicon Valley-based OBihai Technologies (it's a small box that plugs into your Internet router) for about $50.  Your analog telephone plugs into the modular phone jack on the OBi Talk device itself.  Note that on January 4, 2018, it was announced that Polycom had acquired Obihai Technologies (see the press release HERE).

After an online account setup with OBihai, the OBi Talk device will then connect to your Google Voice account and act as a portal to your Google Voice services much like Vonage or Ooma do without requiring a landline or cell phone that the service needs to be forwarded to (see a good ComputerWorld article about this HERE for more details).  Once done, your computer does not need to be turned on, and you do not need to be logged into Google for it to work.  As a plus, Google Voice service also offers the ability to block particular phone numbers for free, and free voicemail transcription to text and/or email, and some of the cheapest international calling rates around.  The one downside is that 911 isn't included, so you must pay a third-party to provide that service (Obihai offers that through a partner e911 company which bills separately), and I would caution that this is something you really need, because its too late to get it when your house is on fire, or you need an ambulance, so do not casually dismiss it.

Beware that Google has not committed to provide continued official support to VoIP through OBi Talk service forever.  In 2014, the two companies had a legitimate dispute over the security protocols that almost ended this VoIP service (although it was eventually resolved, see http://blog.obihai.com/2014/09/google-voice-and-obihai-update.html for more on the outcome of that) but first-generation Obihai devices became incompatible with new Google Voice security protocols http://blog.obihai.com/2017/11/end-of-line-for-google-voice-on-obi100.html, so there are no long-term guarantees .  Google has also been known to kill very popular services like Google Reader in the past, so just beware that unlike with Vonage, Basic Talk or Ooma, Google/Alphabet could decide in the future that it no longer wants to be in the telephone business, and the service is not guaranteed just because you bought a VoIP box from OBihai.

In the tech world, there's a saying "if you're not paying for the product, you ARE the product" and in Google's case, there's definitely truth to that, as the company makes millions on advertising.  But most people feel that by allowing Google to mine your email and web browsing activity to allow advertisers the ability to target ads more precisely is a fair exchange for Google's many free services.  But if Google cannot monetize a service, it has historically been willing to pull the plug on it.  Google Reader users learned that only too well in 2013 even though the motto of Google's current corporate code of conduct is: "Don't be evil".

OBihai requires that the OBi Talk device must still be under warranty protection to remain compliant with latest security updates that Google requires (if you buy an extended warranty for the OBihai VoIP box, you get around the issue of what OBihai calls ‘firmware updates’, which happen automatically).  Google Voice/OBi Talk does NOT provide 911 service, so you must use a third-party e911 provider for an extra fee to get that (they have a partner which charges $25/year, or about $2/month), or you can simply add the local phone numbers for fire, police and paramedics to your speed-dial list, but dialing 911 won't work so you'll have to tell the police, firemen, or paramedics where you actually live when you call (they can't tell by your phone number).

As far as emergency e911 services, if you have a newer-model AT&T Trimline [https://telephones.att.com/pd/201/210M-White-Trimline-corded-telephone] corded telephone, those phones have buttons for each of these things already built-in (at the top of the handset), you just have to program them into the phone itself.  Or, you can just keep a post-it near the phone with the relevant phone numbers handy if you elect not to pay extra for e911 services.  It's vital to give appropriate consideration to this issue, because you won't have the luxury of waiting if you need an ambulance or your house has been robbed or is on fire!  The FCC has a document on e911 services you can download HERE.

The main benefit is Google Voice/OBihai option gives you a landline where one might not have existed at a very low cost.  Beware of service contracts with VoIP phone companies -- some services have them (like Vonage), others do not.  I also recommend paying for VoIP telephone services with a credit but not a debit card or checking account deduction, as you can dispute charges you have not authorized on a credit card.

Outside of the Google Voice arrangement, Obihai also sells Obi Talk VoIP boxes that do not require a Google gmail account.  These are reliable, and avoid potential Google-mandated firmware updates, but still has the same issue without e911 services being provided.  The service is reliable and inexpensive.

If you still believe that the iPhone killed landline telephone service, you probably also believe fake news found on Facebook and Twitter.  I've offered verifiable facts to prove otherwise.  VoIP is the technology disruptor, not mobile telephony.