T1IDAI LY DISH
The best of the bad: R. Kelly and Chuck Norris
Everyone's a Critic I Media Column
By Kristin MacDonald
Ken Fischer, University Musical
By Kate Sci
urely you have all seen at least one chapter
of R. Kelly's recent, stupendous (and, may
I add, unironically Grammy-nominated)
masterpiece "Trapped in the Closet." If not,
get thee to the nearest computer and download
the hip-hopera's 43-minute entirety. Poetry has
never been more lyrical, more poignant, more
heart-wrenching than when delving through R.'s
dramatic layers of cheating girlfriends, cheating
boyfriends and pregnant cheating girlfriends
(whose lovers, incidentally, include a male-strip-
per midget). R. Kelly has combed through the
emotional abyss of my soul and truthfully strung
bare the melodrama of my own aching heart.
Maybe not. But let me assure you that
"Trapped in the Closet," if perhaps lacking in
class, boasts other merits. A recent viewing
party with a group of friends illuminated fully
the rich absurdity of Kelly's serious drama,
with all its cliffhangers, ingenious rhymes
("vibrate" with "late," "solve it" with "closet,"
etc.), and obviously high-budget production
values (as indicated in several car scenes by
copious use of blue screen). Make no mistake:
"Trapped in the Closet" is terrible. And yet,
few other cinematic works are equally capable
of gluing a rowdy double-digit group to the
glow of my living room's tiny 13-inch screen.
Not even the most respected of high-quality
films could have proven so mesmerizing; it is
because of "Trapped's" bountiful and obvious
faults that it succeeds as a work of laughter, of
suspense - nay, of genius.
"Closet's" comedic power, of course, lies in
the unintentional nature of its absurdity. Were
Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller to do "Trapped in
the Closet" in full, overblown, tongue-in-cheek
"Zoolander" fashion, the joke would run stale -
somehow there's not so much "haha" in decent
actors pretending for the sake of satire to believe
in an obviously terrible and overly lengthy pro-
duction. But watch "Closet's" DVD behind-the-
scenes footage, in which the hip-hopera's cast,
director and singular star again and again wax
poetic about the beauty and originality of the
watershed project. They believe in "Trapped.,"
and their seriousness renders the video absurd
enough to achieve widespread affection.
Such widespread consensus is usually diffi-
cult to attain. We all disagree on what is good.
Sometimes the most beloved pop-culture prod-
ucts can fail to score the larger ratings popularity
that would turn them into full-blown successes
("Arrested Development," ahem).
But when it comes to the worst, we can agree.
What more consistent source of amusement is
there? My older brother and frat boys nationwide
get an insane kick out of Journey's cheesy rock.
Vegas cornballs like Tom "It's Not Unusual"
Jones could conceivably continue their sold-out
shows until the next millennium. It's all for the
same reason: the bad is wonderful. The bad is
Even this bottom tier of pop culture, how-
ever, maintains a decidedly firm line between
amusing and annoying. The public confessions
of perpetually uncouth Britney and her poor,
dumb schlub K-Fed, for example, entertain us as
Tom Cruise and his showy couch-jumping never
could - the Spears cannot help the hapless,
trailer-park image in which they happily exist,
while Cruise constructs his public persona so
overzealously that he comes off like a egomani-
acal madman along the way. We prefer that our
showboaters expect adoration for their unknow-
ingly pathetic products, not demand it.
Just consider the phenomenon of Chuck
Norris's recent pop-culture resurrection. A dis-
cussion of pop culture's worst would be lacking
without reference to good ole Chuck, an icon of
D-list action heroes so infamous for his wooden
emoting there's an Internet shrine. With every
click of the F5 key, the Random Chuck Nor-
ris Fact Generator (www.4q.cc/chuck) delivers
a series of impressive phrases that inflate the
silly "Walker, Texas Ranger" star to monolith-
ic, demigod proportions. For instance: "Chuck
Norris's tears kill cancer. Too bad he has never
These same one-liners, however, are notice-
ably diminished when paired with any other
celebrity, even if similar in ass-kicking persona.
"The chief export of Arnold is pain" simply isn't
asinine enough; neither is "Jean Claude Van
Damme has two speeds: Walk and Kill." For
some reason, only the ridiculous image of beard-
ed, cheerful Chuck Norris as an emotionless,
death-hungry cyborg thoroughly satisfies. When
it comes to self-described action heroes, Chuck
Norris is hands-down the best of the bad.
It's an honorable title, and one that must be
earned. After all, what exactly is the differ-
ence between R. Kelly's deliciously outlandish
midget-stripper opera and rapper T-Pain's seri-
ous recent hit "I'm 'N Luv Wit a Stripper"?
What makes one so bad that it's delightful and
the other so bad that it's a mere affront to any
notion of "good"?
The task of distinguishing between the two
is admittedly difficult; R. Kelly, bless him, has
made "Closet" easy to categorize. In his cigar-
chomping, self-congratulatory DVD com-
mentary, R. promised another multiple-chapter
installment of his epic drama, and if the Michi-
gan Theater doesn't hail the event with a huge
premiere as it should, I'll just have to get my 13-
inch ready for another screening party.
Kristin can be reached by e-mail at
hile many students attend perfor-
mances at Hill Auditorium, most do
not know the man behind the scenes.
Dluring his nearly 20 years as its president,
Ken "The Fisch" Fischer has transformed
the University Musical Society into an orga-
nization dedicated not only to presentation,
but also to arts education and research. On
a daily basis, Fischer has his hand in
every part of operating one of the
top musical venues in the coun-
try - including marketing,
production and fundraising.
TMD: How did you become
involved with the University
KF: In 1983, I wanted to
hear a particular group per-
form at the Kennedy Center
and I was so convinced that
my idea was good that I rent-
ed the Center myself. On the
day of the concert, there was
a huge snowstorm, but four
minutes before I was going to
cancel, the group showed up.
I sold 400 tickets at the door
and figured, "It can't get any
tougher than this." Between '83
and '87, 1 coordinated 17 perfor-
mances at the Kennedy Center
and had more successes than fail-
ures. Then, in '87, there was an
opening for the presidency of UMS.
They conducted a national search
and in a moment of weakness, they
TMD:How are you able to bring
such renowned musical groups,
such as the Vienna Philharmonic to
KF: We're the smallest town
(on a big city tour), but the largest
audience. Let me tell you a story
about the Berlin Philharmonic's
performance here in '99. We had a
post-concert dinner at (former Uni-
versity President) Lee Bollinger's
house. The conductor Claudio Abbado
agreed to come but before he arrived, he
wanted the speeches delivered and his
food ready. Before he went back to his
hotel, he asked whether it would be all
right if he smoked a cigar and Lee Bol-
linger said, "He can smoke whatever he
wants in this house." He ended up staying
the entire evening. Later, the chairman of
the orchestra, Peter Riegelbauer, sent me
an e-mail saying, "There's nothing like
Ann Arbor. It was the largest crowd and
the best audience and you let us play what
we wanted to play. And you treated us so
well. We've never been invited to some-
one's home before." Musicians feel a real
sense of connection to this place.
TMD: What has been your goal as
president of UMS?
KF: I had a wonderful mentor named
Patrick Hayes. He de-segregated the the-
ater of Washington D.C. and his policy was
E.I.N.O ("Everybody In, Nobody Out").
When I came to UMS, I tried to bring Pat-
rick's philosophy. I looked to the University
community, and the community beyond
Ann Arbor. This is a marvelously diverse
region, with Mexicans, Arabs, African
Americans and Russians. I've tried to reach
out to these communities using four princi-
ples of partnership: cooperation, communi-
cation, vulnerability and reciprocity. What
I learned was that so many people viewed
the University as an arrogant, overly intel-
lectual institution. I tried to counter that
by being vulnerable, by admitting that we
don't know it all, taking the opportunity to
listen and to ask questions. We believe we're
serving this broad group of artists, students
and faculty, as well as our region. UMS is a
vehicle for fostering a better understanding
and appreciation for the diverse cultures of
the world. As we expose the community to
these cultures, we try to do so with honesty
At the same time, we also have a tradi-
tion of offering the best of the Western
canon. I'm just the current steward, but I've
tried to make classical music better here by
doubling the number of concerts.
TMD: How have you accomplished
KF: I hire well. I am lucky to have a
brilliant group of people working with me.
Michael Kondziolka started as an intern in
development, but he's now our program-
ming director. We also have Ben Johnson
who is great educator, Sara Billmann who
received her MBA from Stanford and is in
charge of marketing, Susan McClanahan in
development and John Kennard who man-
ages UMS financially.
TMD: How does this extend to the stu-
KF: A quarter of our permanent staff
is made up of interns or intern alumni, so
we provide opportunities for students who
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Give me my Coke back
You now hat Really Grinds My Gears?
Campus Life Column
By Mark Giannotito
p until one week ago, the Student Pub-
lications Building - which is home to
The Michigan Daily - had one of the
great amenities at this fine University.
When I say amenity I'm not talking about
something common like wireless Internet, good
advising or even a cafeteria. I'm talking about
something so simple, yet so wonderful.
It was a Coke machine that cost just 50 cents
Being a hockey writer and night editor for
the sports section, I have spent my fair share
of time in this building, especially late at night.
And no matter how miserable I was about
my writing, that Coke machine would always
cheer me up.
The ability to buy two cans of soda (not pop)
with just one dollar was enlightening to me. It
harkened back to a time where things were so
simple - the early nineties.
But one week ago, my good friend, the 50-
cent Cbke machine, was taken away from me.
In December, the Daily made the decision to
stop buying Coca-Cola and other Coke products
for the soda machine in support of the campaign
against Coke. One week ago - when the Coke
finally ran out - the products were replaced
with various types of Faygo drinks.
I was furious. Instead of enjoying the smooth
taste of a nice Coca-Cola classic, I was being
forced to stomach generic Faygo cola. And I
barely did stomach that stuff, because it was ter-
rible. Being from the east coast, I had no idea
what Faygo even was.
But what really gets me is that my favorite
Coke machine in the whole world was changed
because of an issue I don't care about. To add
to that, it is about an issue that only a person on
the extreme left of the political spectrum would
care about. Heretofore, I will call these extrem-
You know exactly who I'm talking about. It's
those select few who give this University the
reputation it has around the country. They are
the people campaigning in the Diag with those
little leaflets. The leaflets that most people only
take because they feel bad for the person hand-
ing them out in the cold.
These same people are the reason that when
I attended a recent Michigan-Michigan State
hockey game, the Spartan fans repeatedly
chanted "dirty hippies" to our student section.
But this "hippie" reputation at Michigan
could not be more wrong. Back in the 1960s,
maybe that stereotype was true. Nowadays, the
student body is much closer to the center of the
political spectrum. But because we have those
select few super-libs, we maintain the reputa-
tion of being crazy political activists.
Don't get me wrong, I side with liberals in
most political debates. But these super-libs take
political conscientiousness to a new level.
I would argue that 80 percent of the student
body couldn't care less about the labor practices
of Coca-Cola. I would also argue that the same
80 percent loves to drink Coke products, and
have now only become aware of the issue due to
the removal of Coke products at the University.
Normal students like these 80 percent don't
have time to campaign in the Diag in order to
have their points heard. The super-libs do.
Despite my disdain for the super-libs, I do
have to commend them for their persistence.
They wanted Coke out of this University and
they got what they wanted.
At first these little protests against Coke didn't
bother me. I kind of shrugged it off as super-libs
being super-libs. For fun, I get drunk on the
weekends. For fun, they protest something.
But through all of their protests against Coke,
and its labor practices abroad, the super-libs
argument had one major flaw:
It was obvious that they had never experi-
enced the 50-cent Coke machine. I am almost
positive that if they had, their views would have
Now that the super-libs have stolen away my
Coke machine, I must take action.
In the days following the removal of Coke
products, I tried to start a campaign through-
out the Daily to get things back to normal. But
this plan fell through. I mean, if you've read the
opinion section lately, you'll notice that many
of the aforementioned super-libs write for it.
I don't want to sound defeated, but most peo-
ple on campus are not really going to fight these
super-libs. They have dominated political activ-
ism on campus for years. But I have decided I
will not back down until my Coke is returned,
Many issues should concern the super-libs
more than Coca-Cola's labor problems.
Being against the war in Iraq matters. Being
against the build-up of nuclear weapons matters.
Being curious about whether Bush graduated
from Yale matters. A can of Coke doesn't.
I mean, it's really terrific that these peo-
ple are concerned about the well-being of
exploited workers abroad. But guess what?
Right here in Michigan, there are some more
immediate problems that you could focus
your attention on.
It's pretty hard not to notice the ridiculous
number of homeless people who make their
residence on the streets of Ann Arbor. I don't
think there's a day that goes by when I don't
have to give the uncomfortable "I don't have any
change" response to someone.
And look at the auto industry in the Detroit
area. In recent months GM and Ford have laid
off countless employees. Maybe these super-libs
should pay attention to some of the labor issues
in their own neck of the woods.
In the words of one of my elementary school
classmates: Mind your own business.
But to be completely honest, most of my
qualms with the super-libs involve my favor-
ite Coke machine. I really just want it back
because the Faygo I've been drinking tastes
Giannotto can be reached by e-mail at
The Weekend L ist
Down the Line
-The Chicago country troupe Down
the Line comes to The Ark. The acous-
tic rock'n'roll quartet is joined by Note
to Self. Doors open at 7:30 for the 8 p.m.
all-ages show. Tickets are $11 and avail-
able online at www.theark.org.
The Gold Diggers
The University's Department of The-
atre & Drama presents "The Gold Dig-
gers" - a lighthearted play by Avery
Hopwood. The show begins at 8 p.m. at
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are
$9 with a student ID and are available at
the Michigan League Ticket Office.
Jazz Festival Concert
The School of Music presents the
Kenny Garrett Quartet and the Univer-
sity Jazz Ensemble under the direction
of Ellen Rowe. The concert begins at 8
p.m. at the Power Center. Tickets are $10
with a student ID and are available at the
Michigan League Ticket Office.,
The Love Bang
The Blind Pig hosts the Love Bang -
a night of dancing and indie rock music.
Doors are at 9:30 p.m. for the 18-plus
party. Tickets are available at the door for
$10 for those under 21 and $7 for every-
U.mn(a\T 21r_ 06
The Shapiro Undergraduate
Library presents a study break
filled with students' reading their
work. The break begins at 8:30 p.m.
at the UGLI. Admission is free.
The Handsome Family
A husband-and-wife Ameri-
cana duo form New Mexico -
The Handsome Family - comes
to the Ark. Florida native Jim
White accompanies them on their
tour. Doors open at 7 for the 7:30
p.m. show. Tickets are $15 and
available online at www.theark.
10B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, February 9, 2006
The Michigan Daily