Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why Figure Skating Sucks

As the 2010 Winter Olympics come to an end—most likely never to be mentioned again once the medal winners have finished making their appearances on Good Morning America—it seems like a good time to reflect on all the historic Olympic moments we have witnessed as a nation and as a world. Unfortunately, nothing comes to mind, so instead I'll follow the media's lead and complain about the recent brouhaha that occurred over the Men's Figure Skating Finals.

For those blissfully unaware of what happened: Evan Lysacek, a Canadian, was awarded the Gold Medal by a panel of judges for skating around and jumping on a patch of ice. Evgeni Plushenko (Russian, pronunciation unknown) came away with the Silver and immediately issued a series of snippy remarks to the media in which he insisted he won, implied Lysacek wasn't a man, and railed against figure skating's new scoring system, which he said was “because the United States and Canada don't have anyone who can do a quadruple jump."

Well, fair enough. Making self-serving, vaguely nationalist complaints is an Olympic tradition, like the lighting of the torch or protesting on behalf of the host country's oppressed indigenous peoples. But if Plushenko wanted to garner sympathy, he missed a step by complaining about the scoring system in figure skating because whether it's the old system or the new system or a yet-to-be-created system, the way figure skating competitions are decided is utterly incomprehensible.

The image at the top of this post is a scorecard for Plushenko. It serves to remind us why we don't care about figure skating 45 months out of every 48. Figure skating has a lot to offer us—fancy costumes, beautiful people performing athletic feats, drama, even tears from some of the women. But unless the skaters fall, we have no idea how well or badly they're doing until the announcers inform us. Figure skating isn't football or golf or basketball where the rules may sometimes be complicated but the object is simple: get the ball across the line or into the cup or whatever. It's not boxing, where judges sometimes decide the result but the winner is more or less clear to a casual observer (whoever looks the worst at the end usually lost). It's not even competitive eating, which is objectionable for so many aesthetic and health reasons but at least has rules that can be understood by every sentient being.

No, figure skating is like passing a bill through the United States Senate—a task so clouded with rules and complicated ordinances that only a few insiders really understand how to perform it. Curling is usually the sport that gets made fun of for being difficult for the casual observer to understand, but at least curling has points. At least you know which side is winning when you watch a curling match—or you would know if you weren't so busy making fun of it to look the rules up. Curling would never produce that monstrosity of numbers and acronyms that appears above, and curling doesn't rely on judges to decide its matches.

The reason figure skating's scoring is so complex is that it doesn't seem like an activity that should be competitive. When you play pick-up basketball or go out bowling or curling, you compete against the other team or players naturally, as a matter of course. But when ordinary people go ice skating, they just skate around independent of one another. Making it an official “sport” with winners and losers seems besides the point, like making “funny walking” into a Summer Olympic event.

People like figure skating of course, but I doubt they like it as a competitive sport—most Olympic figure skating fans wouldn't argue over the nuts and bolts of the short and long programs the way baseball geeks obsess over On-Base Percentage and Runs Batted In. They like it for the spectacle, the glamour, and the grace of the skaters, and casual figure skating fans would be just as happy to watch the same high-level skaters perform triple lutzes noncompetitively.

Which is too bad for figure skaters who want to be regarded as fierce competitors on the level of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and it's too bad for Evgeni Plushenko in particular, who wants people to care about the difference between a triple and quadruple jump. One of his complaints about the new scoring system was, “Now it's not men's figure skating; now, it's dancing,” which is a weird thing for him to say—for Olympic audiences who can't decipher that scorecard, figure skating might as well be dancing.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Tiger Woods's Life Sucks (and why you should feel sorry for him)

If you have been following the Tiger Woods Affair closely like a good Media Consumer, you will have watched the “press conference” His Woodness held last Friday at 11 am Eastern Standard Time. If you somehow missed it, a transcript can be found here, and if you wish to recreate the experience of watching it live, stand in front of a mirror and read the text in a slow, grating monotone. If you are too busy to watch a 15-minute video of a celebrity athlete standing listlessly behind a podium, here's an 11 word summary: he's sorry for fucking all those women and lying about it. Woods did not take questions after he read his statement, which made the media's presence completely unnecessary--“vlog” would have been a more appropriate term than “press conference.”

Sports columnists who were professionally obligated to write something about the “event”—if that isn't too strong a word for Tiger's speech—reminded those readers who still cared that there were many questions about Tiger Woods's life and shady dealings that have yet to be answered. But to many of us the most pressing question of all is this: why should we care who Tiger Woods fucks?

There is the usual reason to care about a celebrity scandal, other than the natural appeal of an interesting true story—we use these scandals to keep track of our public values. Woods had sex with a bunch of women who were not his wife and lied extravagantly about it, so he is to be condemned, reminding us all that men like him and John Edwards are bad men, and since we aren't like them, we are good men. Sometimes we can excuse our prurient interest in these stories by saying that when politicians are immoral in their private sex lives, they are probably also immoral in their public political lives. When it's an athlete or an actor, we need a different excuse to care about what who put in who where. So we say that these people are role models. Kids look up to Tiger Woods, and there he is, banging every woman with fake tits and a cocktail dress who looks at him sideways. Our young people were told to grow up to be like Tiger, and now “being like Tiger” includes cheating on your wife.

Woods himself seems to buy into this role model theory, saying “I have let down my fans” and “Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.” You can debate whether or not he was really all that important to children around the world—I doubt that after the last scandal-filled decade anyone looks to athletes for moral guidance—but if Woods believes what he said in those two quotes, imagine how horrible his life has been.

There is the usual reason to care about a celebrity scandal, other than the natural appeal of an interesting true story—we use these scandals to keep track of our public values. Woods had sex with a bunch of women who were not his wife and lied extravagantly about it, so he is to be condemned, reminding us all that men like him and John Edwards are bad men, and since we aren't like them, we are good men. Sometimes we can excuse our prurient interest in these stories by saying that when politicians are immoral in their private sex lives, they are probably also immoral in their public political lives. When it's an athlete or an actor, we need a different excuse to care about what who put in who where. So we say that these people are role models. Kids look up to Tiger Woods, and there he is, banging every woman with fake tits and a cocktail dress who looks at him sideways. Our young people were told to grow up to be like Tiger, and now “being like Tiger” includes cheating on your wife.

Woods himself seems to buy into this role model theory, saying “I have let down my fans” and “Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.” You can debate whether or not he was really all that important to children around the world—I doubt that after the last scandal-filled decade anyone looks to athletes for moral guidance—but if Woods believes what he said in those two quotes, imagine how horrible his life has been.

Woods has been practically destined and designed from birth to be the greatest golfer in history. By nearly every possible metric, he's succeeded in that mission. He has achieved the kind of wealth and fame that very few people can even imagine, let alone comprehend. Scott Fitzgerald once said that “The rich aren't like you or me,” and Woods most certainly isn't like you or me. He earns millions just by wearing a shirt with a particular logo on it. He's been nationally famous since before he could drive. If he doesn't play on the PGA Tour this year, the Tour could lose millions, or billions, in ad revenue. How many people can influence the finances of an entire professional sport by playing or not playing?

That kind of celebrity comes with some unique problems. Not that we should feel sorry for the ultra-famous, but Woods couldn't live as a normal person. He had to worry about his “public persona,” his “image,” his “brand.” Maybe kids want to golf like Tiger when they grow up, but no one ever dreams of becoming a product.

Because Woods is like everyone else, of course. He has a wife, a family, and a penis--a combination that has proved dangerous for a great many men both famous and obscure. In his press conference, he talked seriously of “work to do” and keeping his “spiritual life” in balance with his “professional life,” but his problem isn't unique or all that interesting. He just needs to stop having sex with every woman who bats her eyelashes at him.

The only unique thing about the sins of Tiger Woods is he has a lot more to feel guilty about. Normal people who cheat have only a relationship or at most a family to lose (acknowledging that a family is quite a lot to lose). Woods could lose those things too, but he could also lose his sponsors, his image, the admiration of children and people everywhere—his public identity, which is far vaster and more important than that of a normal person, could be completely destroyed. If we assume that Woods wasn't just full of empty words when he said he “let down [his] fans,” it means that he is carrying the disappointment and anger of literally millions of people on his shoulders, or he thinks he is, which amounts to the same thing for him.

Most people want to be famous, or at least important. Most people want to think that other people care about their actions, that they matter to someone else. Usually, we keep those thoughts to ourselves because we know that in the large scheme of things, we really don't matter all. But if we were Tiger Woods and could literally drink a beverage with our name on it and we could call a press conference whenever we wanted and have it become headline news, we would have pretty much no choice but to conclude that we were one of the most important people on the planet. And that's a pretty tough thing to deal with, even if you aren't cheating on your wife.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why the Winter Olympics Suck

When you are forced to wait four years for something, you have the right to expect it to be pretty fucking awesome. If you couldn't have sex for four years--say you were me in high school--you would be really, really, looking forward to having sex with practically any human being on the planet.

The Winter Olympics happen every four years, but just like my first sexual experiences, they're not as good as you imagined they would be, there's a whole lot of confusing stuff going on, and it isn't very much fun to watch on TV. Also, a lot of it happens on a skating rink.

The weirdest thing about the Winter Olympics is that for such a massively televised, supposedly important sporting event, it's remarkably boring to watch. The skiers go down the same hill over and over, the lugers and skeleton-ers (?) shoot down the same icy chute, the speed skaters aren't fun to watch unless they are all on the ice at the same says something about the Winter Games that the most exciting part is women's figure skating, which hardly anyone cares about during non-Olympic years. And let's not even mention the too-boring-to-mention events like curling, the biathalon, and women's ice hockey.

Having weird, boring things on television isn't a big deal—it happens all the time on public access—but the Olympics aren't just boring TV, they're boring TV that take billions of dollars to produce. For instance, there's the cost of importing snow to Vancouver, which only sounds like an unfunny joke. There's the cost of building all of those massive, useless-unless-you're-hosting-the-Olympics sporting complexes and arenas (remember what a problem this turned out to be for Athens?). Then there's the cost of bribing the IOC spending legitimate money to make the city more attractive to the IOC, and the cost of keeping the Games safe from fishing rods, which all adds up to more than 6 billion dollars, including nearly 1 billion for security alone.

That is a lot of money, and unlike professional sports very little of it goes to the athletes, who if they're lucky become famous and get rich off endorsements and if they're unlucky they get seriously injured or die because their sports are dangerous. And none of it goes to the locals, who resent the whole mess.

But why don't we look on the bright side? Well, unlike the 1936, 1968, and 2008 Olympics, these Games aren't helping to support an authoritarian government or the open massacre of civilians. So, hey, that's awesome. And it's unlikely that there will be any more deaths or any more judging corruption scandals. And no doubt the women's figure skating outfits will be dazzling and make a large number of men ask themselves, “How old is she? Does this make me a pedophile?” Although, on second thought, that last item might not be a positive.

The Winter Olympics defy logic. They obviously just exist to counterbalance the Summer Olympics, which may have started as a good, if somewhat naive, idea but turned into another battlefield for the Cold War, which is now over—and that means that the Winter Olympics are the offshoot of a weird undertaking that doesn't have any purpose any more, except to alert the public that speed skating still exists. And, of course, to sell Coca Cola and McDonald's products, which are extremely delicious.

Some people, of course, hate McDonald's, and these people really don't like the Olympics. They do like Rage Against the Machine, however:

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Football, Risk, and Poor Choices

Every Super Bowl has a one-sentence summary attached to it, and for last Sunday's game, that sentence was something along the lines of, “Saints Coach Sean Payton makes some risky moves that pay off.” If you watched the game, you'll recognize what those “risky decisions” were: going for it on fourth-and-goal from the one, that famous onside kick to start the second half, blah blah blah. What courage! What guts! What giant testicles!

It's been said many times in many places, but it's worth saying again: the mainstream football media, especially the announcers, are really bad at evaluating decisions. The classic case is the coach who decides to go for it on fourth-and-short rather than punting. If the attempt fails, the announcers tsk-tsk and talk about how the “safe” play is usually better. If it succeeds, they praise the coach for his confidence in his offence. Either way, they judge the decision by the results it generates, which is like excusing a night of drunk driving by saying, “Nothing bad happened.” Just because things worked out for the best doesn't mean that you made good, or less risky, decisions.

And just because some decisions are unconventional doesn't make them “risky.” Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders says that the math was actually on Payton's side in each of his unorthodox “gambles,” which would technically make the decisions not risky at all, just precisely calculated choices.

Okay, maybe you don't care about probability-based decision making in football, but the larger point is this: when making choices, people consistently misjudge the risks they're taking.

To take another example from sports, the NBA trade deadline is coming up, which means the annual “trade rumors” are swirling around. For those of you not familiar with this phenomenon, trade rumors are articles written by sportswriters who gush about how exciting this all is and how many different teams are “in the mix” and who the “buyers” and “sellers” are this year. Then, inevitable, non of the swirled-about trades happen and everything pretty much stays the same. No notable players move, and none of the buyers and sellers have bought or sold anything.

One explanation for this is that making a trade always looks riskier than not making a trade, and the General Manager gets blamed for the trades he makes, not the trades he doesn't make, much like NFL coaches get blamed for any decision they make that doesn't seem 100 percent orthodox. It appears “safer” to do whatever everyone else is doing, and if you're a GM or a coach who is mostly just trying to keep his job, you usually want to do the safe thing,

Following the crowd, no matter how risky it objectively is, will always seem safer to us, and change will always seem terrifying and dangerous. Ever try to convince a 70-year-old to try Thai food? No matter how awful it is, people prefer the status quo, even if that status quo is actually very dangerous and unstable.

More serious example time: all those traders who traded sub prime mortgages back and forth to make a lot of money and eventually wreck the economy were taking on a lot of risk, but so was everyone else, and that sort of risk was acceptable. The strange, risky-seeming thing was to not play the market the way the majority of people were—just as the risky-seeming thing to do is go for it on fourth-and-one, even though that's a more high-percentage play than punting.

The problem isn't that people are too risk-averse, the problem is that too much of the time, we have no idea how risky our behavior is. And that sucks not just for our individual choices, but for big, public-policy issues. For a lot of people, changing the US health care system in drastic ways seems risky and expensive, but isn't keeping our current system—which is pretty much a disaster unless you live long enough to go on Medicare—just as risky? There's an old saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don't,” but that is pretty fucking awful advice in my book. If things suck, you should try to change them. That goes for NBA teams at the trade deadline, NFL teams at the goal line, and every single human on the planet.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Why Not Being Invited to the Tea Party Sucks

(Image by Kenneth Rougeau)

I've written before about the Tea Party, basically to compare them unfavorably with hippies, but I realized something when I was hearing about last weekend's Tea Party Convention: I'm jealous. The Tea Party Patriots—or the “teabaggers,” if that joke is still funny to anyone—are a dissatisfied group outside the political mainstream who have organized themselves, however haphazardly, around a set of principles and have gained so much steam that they're nearly viable as a third fully-fledged political party. Agree with their ideas or not, that's pretty fucking impressive. For decades, the Greens, LaRouchians, Libertarians and Socialists have been trying to win elections and make the Democrats and Republicans afraid, and then a bunch of old white people from the South who listen to talk radio all the time get together and build a bona-fide populist movement overnight? To quote the internet, WTF?

The thing is, the teabaggers and I have a lot in common. I'm dissatisfied with the two-party system that dominates the country, I'm in favor of responsible spending and scaling back government whenever possible. Like nearly everyone, including Arianna Huffington, I'm not happy with the direction the country is going in, and I think the Democrats are incompetent. On top of everything, I've always wanted to be part of a popular resistance movement that overthrows the corrupt power struggle and defies the odds in a noble, almost cinematic way, just as the Saints did last Sunday.

Yet some of the Tea Party's positions and some of their practices are holding me back. So here's some suggestions for how they could win me, a 23-year-old New Yorker, over to their side.

#1: Promise to end the War on Drugs. It's hard to find a list of policy positions that the Tea Party actually holds, partly because there are many separate groups that form the “Tea Party,” some of whom are at odds with one another over all kinds of issues.But most groups are at least somewhat Libertarian, and they all agree that government should interfere with our lives as little as possible. And Sarah Palin, in her keynote address at the convention, mentioned “common sense,” whatever that means, a lot. So it should be a slam dunk to oppose the most nonsensical, most intrusive, bureaucracy-creating set of policies in the history of our country. Legalize marijuana and at least decriminalize the other drugs and you'd save money, collect a ton of money in taxes (that could reduce the deficit), open up a new area for legitimate entrepreneurs and small businessmen to exploit, and capture the much-prized pothead vote for a generation. And if the Tea Party adopted this as an official position, they would differentiate themselves from either party and broaden their appeal. (Also, “tea” is old-timey slang for marijuana.)

#2: Downplay the conspiracy stuff. If you spend much time poking around the conservative blogosphere, you run into statements like, “I hope and pray that we get the chance to vote Barack Hussein Obama out of office in 2012,” the implication always being that the United States is a couple of statues away from becoming a totalitarian society, when in reality all that happened is a left-of-center president supported a plan for government-subsidized (not government-run, the doctors would not be government employees) health care. When people compare Obama to Hitler or Stalin, it's like when Black Nationalists start talking about how the White Man is the enemy and needs to be killed—an irrational sentiment that makes outsiders think of you as insane, obscuring your legitimate concerns.

#3: Let go of the social issues. If the Tea Partiers were really in favor of keeping the government out of our lives and reducing government interference in private matters, they'd be pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, for much the same reason that they should be anti-anti-drug. Something along the lines of: “Hey, gay people? I think you're going to hell. What you do with your bodies is wrong, and I don't like your choice of music either. But as long as you don't have sex in front of my kids or try to suck me off when we're at the gym, I'm fine with you, since this is America and America is a mosaic of differences. If you can find a church that wants to marry a couple of sinners, fine, just know that it won't be my church. And lady? If you want to have an abortion, I probably can't stop you even by changing the laws. Just as long as it's not paid for with my tax dollars and you know you're going to hell too, it's fine with me.”

#4: Pledge to eliminate the government entirely. Interestingly enough, the platform of the Boston Tea Party is to “reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.” If you take this literally, it means that this one particular branch of the movement, at least, supports the complete elimination of government, which makes a lot of sense. Do these people really think that if they replace one group of politicians with another, slightly less polished group of politicians, suddenly everything will be all right? Or that if they elect Sarah Palin to the highest office in the land that she'll try something that no one has tried before and we'll be able to cut taxes, reduce the deficit, and spend enough money to make us safe from terrorism forever? Were they listening to the halftime show at the Super Bowl? The new boss is always the same as the old boss, and even Ronald “least gay man ever” Reagan increased the federal budget and tripled the national deficit. The only way to get the government to stop spending is to get rid of the government entirely. If the Tea Party wants to do that, they'll have my vote.
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why the Super Bowl Sucks

A few days from now, millions and millions of people will gather in front of their television set to watch a sporting contest that the vast majority of them have no stake in whatsoever. Some of them will have gambled on the game, some of them will be New Orleans Saints or Indianapolis Colts fans, but some of them can't tell a flea-flicker from a hail mary. For some people, this will be the only football game they watch all year. Snacks will be served, and excessive beer consumption will be tolerated at most gatherings, or even encouraged.

The Super Bowl is by far the most popular single-day sporting event in the United States, and it's become so ubiquitous it resembles a national holiday, with traditions of its own: the “Sexy” commercial, the Halftime Show with the Aging Rock Band, the Puppy Bowl, the Lingerie Bowl, and the inevitable Explaining the Game to the People who Don't Understand What is Happening.

It's hard to figure out how the Super Bowl became the consummerist orgy it is today. It has nothing to do with the quality of the football game itself, since historically, Super Bowls have been blowouts. Super Bowl viewership doesn't seem to correlate to high-profile match-ups (like the Patriots-Giants two years ago), since last year's contest wasn't exactly a dream matchup yet drew massive ratings. (it was Cardinals-Steelers, in a game you probably don't remember). The simplest explanation is that the Super Bowl became so popular by being popular.

Huh? Consider the commercials: once upon a time, companies bought ad time during the Super Bowl because millions of people watched the Super Bowl. Then they spent a lot of money making the commercials because it cost so much to get them on the air anyway, you might as well try to make a memorable one. Now there are people who watch because of the commercials (which seems less and less sane the more you think about it), which of course will improve the ratings, which will encourage more and more expensive commercials, and so on until we're living in an Idiocracy-esque world where there will be no football because no one is smart enough to understand the rules.

Then there's the phenomenon of the Halftime Show, which used to consist of a college marching band or two but gradually grew into a twisted version of a variety show—by 1993, things had gotten so out of hand that Michael Jackson performed with 3,500 children, which apparently didn't worry anyone at the time. The Halftime Show is a big event only because it is a big event—it has nothing at all to do with football. This year's performers, The Who, are English, so they probably don't even know what shape the ball is supposed to be.

The Super Bowl, as it exists today, is qualitatively different than the World Series or the NBA Finals or Wimbledon. Its purpose isn't to decide the champion of a sport, but to be such a big deal that every single US citizen will have no choice but to watch—hence the unnecessary halftime performance by a famous band, the two weeks of mind-numbing buildup, and all the other detritus that has nothing to do with football.

In truth, nothing about the Super Bowl has to do with football, except for that fraction of the broadcast when the game is actually going on. It's a bit like Christmas, which started out as a celebration of Jesus Christ's birth but is now a reason to buy things, spend time with our families, and watch animatronic movies about reindeer. And except for a few Christians who talk about the “War on Christmas” and would rather go to church than the movies, everybody is fine with that.

Well, I'm one of those people who, for whatever reason, sort of actually care about the football game. I'm not the only one. Do you think the Saints fans are going to enjoy having their lone title game interrupted for half an hour so the remaining half of The Who can work their geriatic way through “Won't Get Fooled Again?” Are the football nuts anticipating maybe the greatest Super Bowl quarterback match-up of all time going to get excited to watch the E-Trade baby vomit on itself?

What we need is to separate the Super Bowl from football. It will happen sooner or later anyway—by the time Super Bowl 100 rolls around (roman numerals will have been dispensed with because only a few intellectuals will understand them), we'll be telling our tube-grown grandchildren that the Super Bowl used to commemorate a football game, and that football was a sport that got banned for causing brain damage to all of the participants.

Let's fast-track that process. I don't look forward to the constant commercial breaks getting in the way of my football, and I bet there are people who don't look forward to the football breaks getting in the way of their commercials. I want to watch the NFL championship, I really do. I'm just not sure I want to watch the Super Bowl.
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why the Grammys Suck

I feel bad criticizing any awards ceremony, because televised awards ceremonies are so clearly bloated, self-congratulatory affairs that mainly exist to allow female celebrities to wear incredibly expensive dresses. The only people who really care about the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes, et al. are bloggers and critics who get outraged that Forest Gump won too many awards, or Radiohead won too few, or whatever.

The Grammys, however, are a special case. The Grammys are worse than useless—they're actively offensive. If you care about contemporary music, you almost certainly hate the Grammys, and for good reason. Take a look at this year's nominees and winners. There are a shit-ton of them, aren't there? I'll wait while you look through them.

Now, I bet you have some questions about that list--“What the hell?” for example. You might not even have known that Alice in Chains was still in existence, let alone a nominee for Best Hard Rock Performance. You may wonder why there are so many categories, including both “Traditional” and “Contemporary” Folk. You might not understand the difference between the Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year (here's an explanation for that one). You may be unsure what “Traditional Pop Vocal Album” means, although you may have a hunch it means “White.” Finally, you might not understand the difference between an R&B Song and a Pop Song, since Beyonce's “Single Ladies” won awards for being both. (By the way, did you know that it took four people to write that song?)

I don't want to turn this post into a bitchy laundry list of complaints about the individual selections. The Grammys poor taste is legendary, and for me to complain that The Black Eyed Peas are an embarrassingly stupid group that don't deserve to win Best Vocal Pop Album would be pointless. Let's just agree that every Grammy handed out could have gone to at least a dozen more deserving artists, and move on, okay?

But there's something fundamentally wrong with the Grammys' selection process that's worse than any individual poorly picked winner. Every artist who wins big at the Grammys—excluding the dozens of categories, like Best Native American Album, that no one cares about—is also one of the most popular. Do we really need to give awards to “Single Ladies” and The Black Eyed Peas? How is it possible that the best albums of the past year were also the most popular? Do the Grammy voters, whoever they are, basically grade a song on whether it sounds catchy and somewhat familiar, and if that's the case, why can't we replace them with a panel of randomly selected people? And if we did, would the results be any different?

Say what you will about the Oscars—and get ready for Avatar to sweep them this year—but at least some of their selections aren't also the highest-grossing films of the year, and sometimes a nomination or award draws attention to a movie that is better than it is popular. (How many people are going to see An Education now because it has the Academy's seal of approval?) The Grammys, on the other hand, just hand out awards to popular things. If the Oscars were picked the same way the Grammys are, Twilight: New Moon and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would be Best Picture nominees; if we let Grammy voters elect the President, Glenn Beck would be running the country, with Nickelback as his Vice President. We don't expect much of awards shows, but at the very least they should have good, or at least defensible taste in whatever they're giving out awards for. No one has ever accused the Grammys of that.

But on the other hand, Imogen Heap did wear that Twitter dress, so she's got that going for her.

Grammy nominees.
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