Saturday, April 26, 2008

How Wikipedia Conquered my Reality Soap/TV Addiction

I was typing a comment on Uma's post A Bad Habit Called A Reality Soap and realised I had written a comment long enough to be a post :)

Most of the reality shows that I used to watch - I realised I was watching them because I liked seeing who would get eliminated next.

I was lucky, because most of the reality shows I watch are the American ones which come to India a couple of months after they are released in the US. So after losing a couple of hours spent unproductively watching reality shows, I realised that just checking the Wikipedia entry for that season cured me of it.

Wikipedia lets me know who got eliminated and why and who won & thats it, no longer any compulsion to watch the show. Thats because my trigger to watch most of them was the suspense and surprise.

With my location change and different seasons playing in different countries on different channels, I was getting confused with sequence of events on serials like Lost, Prison Break, Desperate Housewives. Wikipedia also helped me catch up on all the seasons of Lost with 3 hours of reading. Same for the other serials too.

Of course there are the shows like "So you think you can dance?" which I watch for the performances but I'm not too interested in the results show the next day because I know I will figure out next week who has been dropped anyway.

I used to be a huge fan of American Idol till Constantine, Latoya, Jennifer Hudson, Melinda, Daughtry consecutively kept getting out, way before their time while lesser performers were still kept on. I just stopped watching each season when my favorites got out because I no longer felt it was worth watching. Proof of the flawed voting system is that only 2 of the winners of this show in its 6 seasons - Kelly Clarkson (Season 1)and Carrie Underwood (Season 4) - have received commercial success while many of the finalists who were dropped on the side have had a better success rate. Season 7 which is currently on does not have a single finalist who seemed interesting enough for me to follow the series and Simon is now more obtuse than brilliant, so I just watch it intermittently.

With Rockstar INXS and Supernova seasons, I had slightly better luck. My favorites made it to the final 3 each season although they lost out to the person I least liked from the entire bunch both times. While I have reconsidered my opinion on J D Fortune, I still think Dilana was the best of the second bunch.

I used to love The Amazing Race till it started blurring the lines with Fear Factor. When competitors on The Amazing Race had to start eating weird stuff it grossed me out too much to follow it.

Each of my favorite reality shows/contests gave me its own reason to stop me from being addicted and obsessing about watching it on time every week. The downside is that I seem to have replaced it with an addiction to Wikipedia.

Published on

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review: The Innocent Man - John Grisham

Also published at

After lying unread on my bookshelf for over 9 months, I finally got around to reading John Grisham's latest offering and first work of non-fiction - "The Innocent Man".

Growing up on a steady diet of Erle Stanley Gardner and in love with Perry Mason, it was but natural that I become a fan of John Grisham's legal works of fiction. But other than "Skipping Christmas" which was moderately interesting, his non-legal fiction did not excite me at all. So I wasn't sure what to expect with his work of legal non-fiction.

Fortunately it was interesting reading for the most part except the botched trial that got really slow and repetitive. Since this was a true story and Grisham was using actual court transcripts, he had to keep it so, but could have edited it a bit to make it crisper. Maybe all the legal serials we watch - The Practice, Law & Order, Boston Legal and others of their ilk have gotten me to expect snappy, sharp detective work, logical but persuasive arguments by counsel and crisp closing statements. The way the case was handled was completely slip shod and pathetic and makes you wonder at the possibility of truly getting justice unless you are in a TV serial.

Little wonder that a libel suit was filed against John Grisham on 28, September 2007, by Pontotoc County - Oklahoma, District Attorney Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent.

This true story, is remarkable for the fact that the main accused Ron Williamson who was framed by the law enforcement team of Pontotoc County was not just a "white" man, he was a semi-FAMOUS "white" man.

Ron Williamson was a local hero on the baseball field and was also the 41st pick in baseball's 1971 amateur draft, a second-round selection by the Oakland Athletics. Due to poor performance, he did not hit the big time but he was still quite a local celebrity when he was accused as the murderer of cocktail waitress Debra Carter.

His co-accused Dennis Fritz had nothing to implicate him except that he and Williamson were occasional "drinking buddies". Ironically Fritz's own wife had been murdered 7 years ago.

The police used forced dream confessions, convicted felons as snitches and witnesses, junk science and other dubious means to get them both convicted. Williamson got the death penalty which automatically set a series of appeals in motion while Fritz got a life sentence.

Through his incarceration, Williamson deteriorated physically and mentally despite the efforts of some good hearted souls until the Innocence Project - (basis for the serial In Justice) helped get them both acquitted after 12 years on the basis of the new technology - DNA testing.

Grisham read Williamson's obituary when he died (5 years after being released) and was inspired to research and write this book.

I started out reading the book, knowing that the main accused was innocent (could the title have been more descriptive?). Grisham wrote the book, knowing that Williamson was innocent. But even someone who didn't know some of the data presented here in hindsight, could have seen that this was a wrongful conviction. And it appalls you that even though the case came up for appeal multiple times, each person upheld the original wrongful conviction.

Hence Grisham seems to have achieved his major goal in writing this novel.

"If you believe that in America, you are innocent until proven guilty, this book will shock you.
If you believe in the Death Penalty, this book will disturb you.
If you believe the criminal justice system is fair, this book will infuriate you"

Friday, April 18, 2008

India's Game, U.S. Spice

I was just watching the start of the IPL today and looking at the cheerleaders in Chinnaswamy stadium, I commented to my husband "I wonder how long it will take for the nari sanghas and so called moral guardians of Indian culture to start protesting against these cheerleaders."

Apart from Brendan McKellums amazing performance and Shah Rukhs exuberance on the side lines, the cheerleaders and how soon they would be shut down was what we discussed. But as the following brilliantly written editorial suggests, we may soon have "cheerleaders" entering the Hindi dictionary :)

I don't have the exact link for this piece, but full credits have been mentioned.

Op-ed in NY Times on the IPL!!

April 15, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
India's Game, U.S. Spice

IN the blink of an eye, India has gone from faith, prudence and chastity to ... Brittany, Courtney and Tiffani. On Sunday, a team of Washington Redskins cheerleaders landed in Bangalore to help create India's first cheerleading squad.

According to the Redskins' Web site, the cheerleaders will "conduct a national audition of Indian women." The aim of the exercise is to set up a squad of indigenous pompom wielders for the Bangalore Royal Challengers, one of eight teams that will play in the Indian Premier League, a rich new Indian cricket league.

"Cheerleading is a unique American spirit and the fact that it is now a bridge into India and their national sport cricket, speaks to the world vision of the Washington Redskins," said an American spokesman involved with the effort. But it speaks to other things, too. It shows how brash India has become, and also how this brash new India has transformed cricket — once the most staid of sports — into a game that is perilously close to a circus.

Yet how paradoxical it is, and how delightful, that Bangalore, a city that has leapt to global prominence on the back of work outsourced by America, is now itself outsourcing from America — outsourcing glamour, no less. How will India respond to cheerleading? An old language scholar I spoke to declared himself unsure of what a Hindi neologism for "cheerleader" might be. He offered "utsaah-pradarshak naari" — "a woman who displays enthusiasm" — as a candidate.

But when I countered that the job of the woman was as much to spur on a crowd as to spur herself on, we agreed that "utsaah-utpaadak naari" — "a woman who generates enthusiasm" — might be more apt. (We ruled out "utsaah-utpaadak-pradarshak naari" — "a woman who displays and generates enthusiasm" — on grounds of unwieldiness, although we have a sneaking suspicion that Hindi speakers will simply import "cheerleader" into their lexicon, as a loan word from English.

Inevitably, moral scolds — of which India, as a society, has a surplus — will write letters to the editor complaining about the vulgarity/anti-Indianness/neocolonialism of the cheerleaders. It is conceivable, too, that there will be demonstrations outside the cricket stadium by women's groups and Hindu fundamentalists.

All this, however, pales when compared to the broader lessons. With the Redskins cheerleaders on Indian soil, one can safely declare that the British cultural influence in India has been entirely replaced by an American one, cricket notwithstanding. India's relationship with the United States — economic, strategic, diasporic and cultural — is now its primary external alliance, with a complex nuclear deal at one end of the spectrum and 12 cheerleaders and two choreographers at the other.

Tunku Varadarajan is a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business and a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

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