Archive for the 'Media & Entertainment' Category

Bucket List Includes Rock & Roll Show

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I admit I don’t have much of a bucket list, besides keeping the floors mopped until the kid spills decrease.

And while I was born in Music City the week Elvis died, I don’t consume a lot of new music. My older sons laugh at how few artists are in my repertoire.

And I definitely don’t think of myself as a rocker, unless it’s on the front porch.

Still, I consider one band iconic. While the group is labeled a rock band, its work cuts across genres and decades. With its latest release, the four-man act has had a Billboard chart-topping album in each of the last four decades.

My wife was a fan long before I. So, she wasn’t a tough sell when I asked her to rendezvous with…drumroll, please…U2. “I was going With or Without You,” she said.

U2’s sweeping anthems have captured generations of music lovers. The songs land the band on Super Bowl halftime shows and outsized music festivals. Think “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

U2’s current tour is called eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE. At the concert, we didn’t hear all the classics. We did experience the heart and soul of U2’s vision and its mastery of technology and artistry.

While U2 scales every rhythm and melody to entertain at the highest levels, its lyrics are what draw me in, particularly the Biblical allusions. Lead singer Paul David Hewson (a.k.a. “Bono”) pens them.

“See the bird with a leaf in her mouth, after the flood all the colors came out” (from Beautiful Day)

“You broke the bonds, and you loosened chains, carried the cross of my shame” (from I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

Historical references reflect how much attention these guys pay to the world around them. They are always on a mission and are deeply affected by human suffering.

“Sometimes, I wake at four in the morning when all the darkness is swarming, and it covers me in fear…Sometimes, I’m full of anger and grieving, so far away from believing that any song will reappear” (from The Little Things That Give You Away)

Bono’s honesty keeps U2 rolling, real and relevant. He connects grief and terror from his youth with events of today. The death of his mother and the 1972 shootings in Northern Ireland impacted his young innocence.

And now, through experience, Bono entreats Americans to restore the American soul. There’s even a song by that name.

On the new album, he writes, “The slaves are lookin’ for someone to lead them, the master’s lookin’ for someone to need him, the promised land is there for those who need it most, and Lincoln’s ghost said, ‘Get out of your own way.’”

“Free yourself to be yourself,” he encourages in the song, Lights of Home.

“I want to be useful,” Bono said recently in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That is our family prayer… It is not the most grandiose prayer. It is just, ‘we are available for work.’ That is U2’s prayer. We want to be useful, but we want to change the world. And we want to have fun at the same time.”

While making good music, Bono and company appear to be keeping the faith, just not to themselves.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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A movie filtering service with promise

Shock and shame. That’s the mixture I felt in my local drugstore earlier this year. I had just picked up a prescription for a sick child and inadvertently walked down the magazine aisle on my way out. Sadly, we’re all fairly desensitized to what we might see there.

But on that day, the cover of an annual “swimsuit issue” made me sick to my stomach. Literally.

“These are the same people who put a kids’ sports magazine in my nine-year-old’s hands every month,” I thought. (It was a gift subscription from a grandparent.) And this is the same outfit that delivers news to millions of people every day: CNN / Sports Illustrated.

As a parent, you learn quickly that the entertainment and media industries are not on your side. Middle men and women can hardly be trusted either. If they could, my four-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to see spread bikini legs advertising the movie “Sex Tape” on her way in to see “Frozen” at our local theater. How confusing it must be to grow up in this age.

And how exhausting it is to try to protect our little ones from the onslaught. The filtered television versions of movies were a helpful alternative for a while until the commercials became excessive and unpresentable. Often, my family will forego media altogether rather than try to fast forward or mute at just the right time. The MPAA rating system is hardly helpful nowadays.

While solid alternatives like “War Room” (in theaters now) have come onto the scene in recent years, I have long wanted to enjoy the redeeming qualities of modern media without enduring the baggage. Enter Vid Angel, a streaming video service that allows you to pick and choose what you see and hear.

I found this company by simply searching for “TV versions of movies.” The Idaho-based group has a network of “angels” that watch and tag movies for profanity, substance use, sexuality/nudity/modesty and violence/blood/gore.

The angels record a brief description of each item tagged and then present you, the viewer, with the ability to turn on or off categories as a whole, or specific instances in part. The process really makes you feel like you’re back in the driver seat as a viewer and as a parent.

Presently, Vid Angel has more than 400 movies available, as well as a handful of popular TV shows including the record-setting Game of Thrones. The service streams through devices like Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV. There are also apps for viewing on Apple and Android mobile devices.

Vid Angel’s payment system is a little clunky but necessarily so. Under existing copyright laws, no one can alter or filter a movie they don’t legally own.

So, Vid Angel requires you to purchase a movie for $10 – $25, but then you can sell it back within twenty-four hours for $1 – $2 less than the purchase price. The net effect is you have viewed a high definition movie for $2 (standard definition for $1.50). These prices are comparable to other video streaming services in the marketplace.

The company is young and the technology is complicated, but I was thrilled that their product worked more or less as advertised. They “swore” that I’d love it and so far I do.

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

Cutting the cable & surviving

It started with my friend, the software engineer. This man knows technology. He recently acquired his own 3D printer. He was hanging at out at Radio Shack before hanging out at Radio Shack was cool. (I know what you’re thinking; I’m trying not to call him a nerd.)

He could land a rocket on the moon (actually, he’s done work for NASA) and he could land a gig at any company in Silicon Valley. But his most inspiring achievement to me? He cut the cable.

Whether satellite or cable, TV is as essential to some people as electricity. It’s a perceived fundamental right of first-world living. Many bachelors would relinquish water and sewer before they’d forego unlimited action movies and 24-hour sports. The old UHF and VHF are as foreign as UFOs.

But let’s be honest. How many TV channels does one need? “I never appreciated home shopping networks 1 through 17, but that number 18…WOW!”

We have all experienced this modern media paradox: The more that’s on, the less there is to watch. You know “channel surfing.” Have you ever heard “channel landing?”

Traditionally, the primary benefit of cable/satellite TV was the reception. The weather affects it less than antenna-delivered TV. That seems to be changing with the advent of digital broadcast programming.

Back to my software engineer friend. Last year, he installed a high-powered 25-foot antenna across his attic. Because of his position in the hill country, he gets Austin stations as well or better than San Antonio stations.

So, when I realized I was paying $700 a year for a bunch of stuff that can ruin my kids’ lives, I cut the cable, too. My antenna now rests proudly in the same conduit where the satellite once sat. My wife thinks it’s a bit obnoxious. I think it needs Christmas lights.

After the switch, I get less irritated when I must scramble to sensor the previews that come on during football. At least I’m not paying for that gunfight or love scene.

And lest you mourn the loss of your DVR to record a show or to pause live TV, another bright friend reminded me of a solution. Microsoft Windows 7 comes with a program called Media Center that acts as a DVR for broadcast TV.

With most movies and sitcoms now streaming via the Internet, the loss of the traditional cable/satellite TV connection is not a huge burden. Even without A&E, Si’s wisdom still finds its way into our home.

Thankfully, the Internet is moving us closer to a pay-for-performance model that allows viewers to subscribe simply to the content they want, not the trash they don’t. It is more precisely picking entertainment winners and losers and hopefully calling both to a higher standard.

Cable/satellite TV still has a stronghold on sports. ABC has moved many games to cable-only ESPN (Monday Night Football, for instance). Major League Baseball awarded one of its league championships series to cable channel TBS. (Fortunately, Sunday’s Super Bowl was still free for all.)

Undoubtedly, these moves are making cable more indispensable for the mega sports fan, not less. Others of us are patronizing sports bars for the big game or discovering that life actually goes on enjoyably without it.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

Is breast cancer awareness being exploited?

Congratulations. You made it to November and, if you’re a football fan, through the pink barrage that was the National Football League’s attempt at breast cancer awareness.

I am all for more education about the ruthless disease that affects the lives of millions of women and their families. A bridesmaid of my wife’s wrestles admirably with the cancer. I have known those who have fought and won and those who have fought bravely in defeat.

Yet, the skeptic in me can’t help but curl an eyebrow at the NFL’s relatively newfound sympathy.

“Isn’t this really just about getting more wives and girlfriends to let their husbands and boyfriends watch more football? Wouldn’t head trauma research be a more fitting cause?” I ask myself.

A modern media mantra states that all publicity is good publicity. In that vein, the more pink, the better. Still, I don’t like to see causes get hijacked. I don’t like immaturity undermining noble purposes. That’s what I see happening with breast cancer awareness.

Teenage boys and quasi-men wear wristbands that read, unabashedly, “I LOVE (enter slang term that rhymes with ‘rubies’).”

The first place I saw this fashion statement was on an employee at a rental car place. I couldn’t help but tell the manager I didn’t think the look would impress many customers.

Then, at the pool last summer. My elementary son was playing catch in the water with a young teenage boy. The teenager had on such a bracelet.

When I noticed his wristband, I asked his mother to ask him to remove it or turn it inside-out. I proceeded to state my opinion that teenage boys are already thinking enough about sexual things and probably don’t need a reminder on their wrists.

The mother, slightly miffed that I would make such a request, explained that the boy’s grandmother was dying from breast cancer. I kindly extended my condolences but retracted neither my request nor my assertion.

She ended up asking the boy to hide the message from my son, and, on her way out, told me she agreed with my perspective.

Largely through efforts like Texas-based Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, breast cancer awareness has never been higher. But neither has breast awareness. How much the two are intertwined is difficult to estimate.

It is not difficult to estimate how much women are objectified in our culture. A short safari into the World Wide Web or a click through cable TV will provide the answer, if a grocery store check out doesn’t give it first.

Exploited Hollywood starlets act ever more bizarrely. Miley Cyrus, for example.

Each iteration brings more squinting of the eyes, more wrenching of the gut, more sorrow in the soul. All the while tens of thousands of impressionable girls absentmindedly follow their destructive lead.

So, when the NFL dots its fields with pink, fields encircled by busty bimbos wearing less than sports bras and not exactly leading cheers, the cause seems conjured, cleverly calculated by a well-paid public relations firm.

The NFL campaign and the “I LOVE RUBIES” bracelets may raise funds that researchers would never have come across otherwise. But I’m not convinced overall women’s health has been best served.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

When the music stars aligned

My folks were slated to be in town from Nashville for their semi-annual visit. So my better half secured us tickets for a concert at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Yes, a Christian concert at a Catholic church – more on that in a moment. 

Then, my wife’s singing/songwriting sister, also a Music City resident, scored us tix for another show at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio. This was shaping up to be a once-in-two-decades-of-childrearing musical weekend.

Don’t judge Sam’s Burger Joint by its name, or its burgers, for that matter. Its comfortable concert hall is a mature, kempt live music venue. 

I’m sure the place devolves into a mosh pit at times. According to Sam’s Web site, the band playing the next night is known for “seething rage and a bruised vulnerability,” two items not currently on my Christmas list.

But on this night, Lori McKenna, a Boston-based singer/songwriter, hung me on nearly every word she sang. McKenna’s thoughtful lyrics and un-bruised vulnerability surprised me. For instance:

“Time does not waste itself / A dream can not wake itself / The truth can not disgrace itself / An unwritten prayer can not save a lost soul // Arms can not embrace themselves / A heart can not break itself / And I can not shake myself from you” 

And this:

“You left a Hallmark card that morning on my bureau / You didn’t know what to write / 
So you just signed your name // That boy that I loved may not have been my hero / But the same is not true / Of the man he became”

Usually, I only enjoy a concert (or church, for that matter) if I have heard the songs before. Not this time. McKenna’s faithfully executed talent turned over a new leaf for me.

Concert #2 featured an evangelical worship leader playing guitar in a Catholic cathedral. To quote another of McKenna’s song titles,  “How romantic is that?” Not very, I suppose, to some veteran members of the “universal church.” St. Peter may have even done a double-take from the pearly gates.

Personally, I’m elated by the evangelical Catholics I’ve encountered in recent years. They’re quoting Scripture, sometimes in English (ha!). They’re reaching out to the community with fun runs and carnival games. This concert was one such effort of these “Charismatholics.” (That’s original fusion, BTW.) 

As I see it, we need to unite for the war against the evil that spirals our culture downward. So I had no problem rocking out with worship leader Phil Wickham, Catholics and Protestants alike. (Note: my definition of “rocking out” is standing up for one-half of a concert.)

Wickham has the vocal talent of Josh Groban and the bravadic passion of Bono. His sweeping anthems gave me hope that if heaven is an eternal church service in the sky (which I don’t believe it is), I will make it through. 

I wish I could tether the deep lyrics of a Lori McKenna with all the worshipping hearts that populate the Christian music scene. I can understand why some churchgoers tire of the karaoke-like repetition of certain modern worship songs. I do miss Rich Mullins. 

Willie Nelson is still with us. I plan to see him soon at Floore’s Country Store. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Help kids reject high-tech lies

ImageWhat are kids learning from the high-tech world they’re growing up in? Lots of fascinating stuff, of course. But child development guru Dr. Kathy Koch (www.celebratekids.com) has also identified lies or “misbeliefs” that Generation Y (aka the Millennials) are absorbing.

Unless these lies are gently refuted by wise and discerning adults, children are in for a long, hard journey. Tragically, the slog is sometimes cut short. According to Dr. Koch, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 11-19 year olds. We must help kids re-interpret these false messages:

Misbelief #1: “The world revolves around me.” We’re all susceptible to this lie, but young people are particularly vulnerable. Everywhere they look, from targeted TV advertising, to customized banner ads, to personalized gear and accessories, it’s all about them. They desperately need a Galileo moment.

Misbelief #2: “I deserve to be happy all the time.” With movies and games that follow them from setting to setting and device to device, kids approach unhappiness like a global injustice. But they don’t need happiness. They need joy and contentment. Here’s the simple truth: What you’re in will bring you short-term happiness; what’s in you will bring you long-term joy.

Misbelief #3: “I must have choices.” No, you don’t, little one. You can adapt to what we’re doing. But tired parents (e.g., this author) often find it easier to give choices and make compromises to avoid fights. Many twenty-somethings are living at home because they can’t make big decisions that would limit their choices.

“You don’t have to turn ground beef into tacos, hamburgers and meat loaf,” Dr. Koch says. “Make meat loaf and let them go to bed hungry if they choose! Life doesn’t come with drop-down menus.”

Misbelief #4: “I need what I want when I want it.” Endless information and constant communication make the lust for instant gratification stronger. Kids are impatient, argumentative and demanding. It’s not necessarily their fault; it’s their culture. We need to teach the difference between needs and wants.

Misbelief #5: “Everything should be easy for me and I should always win.” The “participation trophy” generation has trouble (a) working hard to win and (b) losing graciously. There’s always been a manual for how to beat the video game. You get to “play again” until you succeed. Not in real life. Weak work ethic plus strong entitlement equals difficulty in life and relationships.

Misbelief #6: “Boredom is my enemy so I must multitask.” Dr. Koch says we’re “not so much multi-tasking as semi-tasking.” If kids are constantly entertained away from boredom, they’ll never discover what really lights their fire. Boredom sparks interest. An engaging parent can then fan the flame of passion.

Misbelief #7: “My friends determine who I am and who I will be.” Pleasing people online is so tempting because feedback is instant and widespread. “Friends” like or not like, thumbs up or thumbs down, tweet positively or negatively as soon as you say or do anything.

Therefore, young people will often say things polar opposite from what they said a short time before. Who they are is very much dependent on who they’re with. Dr. Koch calls this dangerous tendency “liquid identity.”

Misbelief #8: “Self-evaluation is unnecessary. Others will tell me how I’m doing.” Immediate and objective feedback from authoritative sources can be a powerful tool for growth. A teenager’s Facebook feedback may be instant, but it’s rarely objective or authoritative.

If we help kids review their own work and behavior objectively, then they can catch their own mistakes before major consequences arise. They won’t flap in the winds of socially mediated whims.

Misbelief #9: “I can solve most problems by ‘rebooting.’” My 10-year-old did this recently when he couldn’t get a DVD player to work. Whenever I make a physical (vs. digital) mistake, I’ll subconsciously reach for the “undo” key in my mind before I realize no such button exists.

Teens and twenty-somethings change jobs, romances, locales and lifestyles more often than previous generations. They are trying to auto-correct and Photo-shop life. Life doesn’t work that way. Behaviors have real consequences.

Misbelief #10: “I am my own teacher because I can find the information I need.” Young people feel powerful because of the data at their fingertips. They perceive non-techie parents and grandparents as clueless and out of touch.

But there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, between information and understanding. Older generations shouldn’t abdicate their authority to train and guide younger generations, no matter how much data the whippersnappers may have.

***

More generations are alive today than ever before. Older generations have friendships, business relationships and marriages based on a commonality of beliefs. They have “belief-based relationships.”

Millennials have “relationship-based beliefs.” They believe things based on the people they’re around. That’s why they feel no dissonance about having one opinion around one group and another opinion around a different group.

This doesn’t mean they don’t have values. The Internet has shown them how broken the world is. They desperately want to improve it. They are innovative, entrepreneurial and creative in their approaches. Dr. Koch says if we help them discern their passion, if we give them a purpose, they will live through the heartache they see in the world around them.

Specifically, how do we enter into relationship with them? Dr. Koch recommends two simple steps: Have (1) digital-free days and (2) digital-free zones (e.g., the car). Kids will enter them kicking and screaming, but they will emerge thrilled by how exciting checkers can be with a parent of undivided attention.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

America, we have issues

An American invention that represents the decline of America: the drive-in restaurant.

My office building backs up to one and I can’t seem to keep my chubby little hands from pushing that bright red button during “happy hour” each day. Drinks are half-price. I’m basically throwing away money if I don’t participate, right?

“Thank you for making my restaurant your restaurant,” the voice rasps through speakers that sound more like Edison’s gramophone than THX surround sound. “Can I interest you in a chili cheese coney dog deluxe this afternoon?”

It’s been nearly a hundred years since that visionary place of man-made miracles, Dallas, brought us the world’s first drive-in eatery. Kirby’s Pig Stand was famous for its pork loin sandwiches. At that time, drive-ins represented the endless innovation possibilities of an advancing industrial economy.

Now, as I await my afternoon tonic at a contemporary iteration, the concept represents the trends of a country on a downhill slide.

1. We’re old. I see as many gray hairs and bald heads driving in as teenagers and twenty-somethings. Their windows may be up and their music may be down, but they’re a force to be provided for in their ever-growing golden years. Send more wage earners.

2. We’re heavy. So heavy, in fact, that the carhops have trouble getting our burger sacks and Route 768s through our car windows. Oh, but it tastes so good, those sodium-enriched tater tots, those chocolate-drenched banana splits.

3. We’re ill. It’s a good thing the always open pharmacy is around the corner. We’re going to need that blood pressure medicine, those diabetes pills. We may be surviving, we may be medicated, but we are still ill. All while health care costs are anything but still.

4. We’re idling. The new economic normal is less than 2% annual GDP growth. Heavy government regulation and taxation discourage the risk-taking required for any greater growth. We’re not dead, but we’re not moving at the pace we once did, even years into a “recovery.”

5. We’re polluting. As we wait for our high-fat, high-cholesterol, high-sugar “sustenance,” our machine motors run, pumping exhaust into the air and dropping oil onto the ground. I’m no greeny, but I know dirty when I see it. Running engines encircling our effective dinner table is not progress.

6. We’re hurried. Too overwhelmed and distracted to prioritize a meal prepared at home, eaten slowly with the most important people in our lives. We’ve consumed our margins, and so our children are being served food by a man with a dragon tattooed on his arm.

7. We’re unpresentable. Tattoos, piercings, dental work courtesy of your friendly local meth lab. An air of desperation marks a generation of humans who can’t see past their next meal, smoke, rent payment or tank of gas. Who will hire them to do more than pass out tater tots?

8. And we’re coarse. From the crude song I hear blasting from the sixteen-year-old’s Jeep to the explicit conversation I overhear from the employees taking a smoke break by the dumpster. We’re a culture on a downward spiral.

All is not lost, of course. There is still a God in the heavens who has made Himself known on the earth. A return to His design is possible. May it start tonight with a laughter-filled, family-friendly, freshly-cooked dinner at home.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.


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