Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sympathy for Children: An Outmoded Concept?

Last Saturday, my cousin and I headed out to Parramatta Stadium to watch our beloved Eels take on Manly. The Eels lost (as expected), but that wasn't the only thing that sent us home a bit aggravated. My cousin, who is 25, entered one of those 'catch-the-ball' competitions that takes place at halftime. The competition works like this: a guy launches a few balls high in the air, and each competitor takes turns in trying to catch the ball. It works out like a spelling bee - you are eliminated once you make an error (in this case: not catching the ball). Well...that's how it SHOULD work out. You see, there were three other competitors lining up against my cousin - two adults and one child. I'm guessing the child was aged between ten and twelve, give or take one year.

In the first round, my cousin caught his ball, as did one other competitor (one of the adults). Despite this, the two people who failed to catch the ball were given second chances. It soon got out of control, and I lost track of how many times various people had caught or dropped the ball. All I know is that my cousin caught every single ball that was kicked. He even beat the other three in a race to catch the ball (which was dubbed 'the final round'). This was the point where the competition runners, comedians Tahir and Rob Shehadie, should have ended the competition and declared my cousin the winner. However, they informed the competitors (and the crowd) that there would be one more round! The final round would be contested between my cousin and the child. The kick from Rob Shehadie went up. It was a fairly shocking kick, and neither competitor had a chance of taking it on the full. Despite this, my cousin was chasing the ball along the ground, and was just about to grab it until it was kicked away from him by Tahir. Can you guess where the ball ended up? Yep, you guessed it! In the kid's arms. The kid was declared the winner of a Parramatta Eels jersey which could be signed by a player of his choosing.   

My cousin later revealed to me that Tahir and Rob even admitted that they would let the kid win, that "that's just how it works." Well, my cousin was fuming. And so was I. My cousin has supported Parramatta for his whole life. He bleeds blue and gold. He attends practically every home game - not just for the first-grade clash, but for the Toyota Cup match as well. He even made sure that his engagement would not take place on the day of an Eels game. And what does he get in return? He gets robbed of victory by two guys who think it's 'cute' to let the kid win. "Oh, he's only a kid." TOUGH FUCKING LUCK! When my cousin entered this competition, it was stipulated what he had to do to win. I'm sure the kid was fully aware of the rules, too. It really doesn't matter what the prize at stake was. It's a matter of principle. My cousin did what he was told to do, expecting to receive what was promised to him, but was hard done by in the end. How is this fair? Why don't they just open the competition to kids only if they're solely interested in pleasing the younger fans? Or, if they really had to, they could have given my cousin the prize on the field, AND given the kid the same prize behind closed doors. It's just wrong to lay out a set of rules or guidelines and then tweak them at your discretion because you're persuaded by sentiment. My cousin said he'd be ringing the club to complain about the incident. I'm not sure if he's gone ahead with that yet, but if he has, I hope they've given him what he deserves.

Now for some general thoughts on the topic of kids always getting their way. I realise that children have especially fragile emotions, and sometimes we are required to give them what they want so they don't complain...or throw a tantrum. But the issue here is not how we should treat children individually; it's how we should treat them in comparison with adults. In essence, we should not give kids an air of superiority just because they're kids. We should not assume that, as children, they agree to being given unfair advantages. Some precocious kids would argue that it's unfair to be given the upper hand based on age. What do we do when we want to reward a kid but that kid happens to be a disrespectful little rascal? And yes, there are plenty of children like that. Should we just ignore the more righteous, older person under the assumption that "they won't want it as much"? As a society, we need to stop judging people based on demographical information, like age, and start judging people based on character. If children grow up getting everything they desire, then how are they going to adjust to adult life, where borrowing a dollar off your parents for the ice cream truck becomes sitting down with your partner, pondering how you are going to pay off the mortgage? As children, we need to learn that, in life, not everything will be clear skies and rainbows. There will be hard times when only you, the individual, can solve a problem.

I've always loved Red Symons' role on Hey Hey It's Saturday, as the mean-spirited, cynical judge in the 'Red Faces' segment. When a child comes on stage and sings, Red does not fall to his/her charm. He assesses the performance realistically, and if it is less than satisfactory, he is not afraid to say so, and may rate the act a two out of ten. We need more people like him in the world.   

Monday, August 1, 2011

"It's Catchy"

It's no secret that I am not a fan of the contemporary music landscape (see My Thoughts on Today's 'Music'). From both a technical and lyrical standpoint, I feel that many of today's 'artists' just don't cut it. Note: 'many', not 'all'. Of course, taste in music is a subjective matter, and plenty of people listen to and thus endorse the music that is found in your typical Top 40 chart. And to each their own. Whilst I may have an abundance of problems with modern-day pop songs, I do not deny the right of others to listen to such music.

Despite my libertarian views on music taste, there is one reason for liking contemporary pop songs that irritates me. Ask a friend why he/she listens to Kesha or Katy Perry, and I can almost guarantee that one of the reasons, perhaps the first they list, will be "their music is catchy." This begs the question: is catchiness a positive quality to have in a song? I believe it's a double-edged sword. A catchy song can perpetuate an artist's name in the industry. If you write a song that people will *remember*, you are likely to develop a fanbase who will demand new material and stick by your side. People will recognise your song if they hear it playing in a supermarket. You may even have your song featured on Australia's Funniest Home Videos during some montage of cats doing funny things. You will not fade into obscurity anytime soon.

The downside of a catchy song is that it will generally receive excessive radio play, and as we all know, overplay is a sure-fire way of killing the authentic freshness of a once-vibrant song. Also, and this may be a big call, a catchy song is a form of musical propaganda. Some artists are aware that their songs don't contain much artistic merit, so they insert a contagious hook to obscure their flaws. That way, consumers of their music may bypass the horrid lyrics. They may not pick up on some casual pitch problems (Auto-Tune should take care of these, anyway). I believe that such a move dumbs us down as consumers of music, under the assumption that we do not want substance in our music, and that we're only after a "sick beat." The truth is: some people ARE after exactly that, and nothing more. Some do not care for original arrangements and profound, challenging lyrics. That is fair enough, although artists should not assume that everyone is after mindless music that's only good for moving your feet to.  

Am I saying that catchy songs are bad songs? Not at all. I just feel that a song shouldn't be worthy of praise because is it 'catchy'. It should be 'catchy' as a result of its good qualities. I happen to love many songs with contagious hooks, but I don't hinge my love of those songs on those hooks alone. A few days ago, I added a Lady Gaga song to my iPod for the first time ever. That song is The Edge of Glory. I like how it builds to a climax, features a nifty saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons and exhibits Gaga's vocal talents. Yes, it is catchy, but as a pop hit, it really works, and I feel that Lady Gaga has improved dramatically since coming into prominence. She is now more conscientious about her craft, and has been successful in carving out an image for herself. She also seems genuinely appreciative of her fans. Here is the performance that convinced me that she is talented. Enjoy.