And you thought you had exciting summer plans!

Michael Perlstein and 12 students embark tomorrow morning (Thursday, May 14) for nine days on the road, chasing the ghosts of the blues. The class, Travel and Culture Journalism, has studied the history and happenings of this culture all semester, taking day trips to memorable music points here in the city. And now they’re heading out to Hazelhurst, Miss., the birthplace of blues legend Robert Johnson and headquarters of the foundation and museum that bear his name. Stopping at various scenic and historic points along the way, they’ll wind up in Memphis – for obvious reasons – to sample the cuisine and sounds of Beale Street. They’ll meet up with John Snyder, Loyola music business coordinator, when they arrive.

There’s a scheduled stop on Sunday morning at Al Green’s church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle, in south Memphis. Then it’s on to Clarksdale and the Delta Blues Museum.  And then they’ll head for the B.B. King Museum in Vicksburg, with intermittent stops at folk art museums and other points of interest along the way.

Sure, it’s a great trip and a fabulous way to end the semester, but it’s not all fun and games. The students will be working – blogging about their experiences as they go and taking notes and photos in preparation for publishing their final projects, which include major stories for local media.

Based on last year’s class trip to Belize and the works that resulted in a huge layout in The Times-Picayune, I know we’re in for a treat as we follow them – virtually – on their journey. We (jealously) wish them bon voyage and wait anxiously to see the end results.

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One thing I really look forward to each summer is the chance to read. My definition of the perfect summer vacation involves a beach and a book (really, a whole lot of books).

You’d think that after nine months of reading academic journals, news articles, research papers, media releases, test answers, e-mails (etc. etc. etc.) I’d rather turn on the iPod and escape from the written word for a while.  Nope. Not me. Bring on the books.

Let me confess up front that I read a lot of trash. My grandmother used to ask me why I wasted my time with “all that light reading,” and I had to admit, it was because I liked it! Still do. Sure, I sprinkle in a touch of nonfiction (heavy reading) from time to time. But give me a mindless whodunnit or a bodice ripper, and I’m good to go.  Someone told me not long ago that reading trash is a good way to help “turn off your brain” at the end of a long day of deciphering all the messages that come our way each day. I agree.

In anticipation of my impending summer reading, I’ve started to stockpile books:  from the library, used bookstores and friends. I’ve got action adventure trash, romance trash, vampire trash, British trash, Southern trash…nothing that’s going to tax my brain cells. I won’t be able to tell you much about the plot when I’m done because it doesn’t matter. I’m not reading it to write a term paper; it’s just for fun!

I don’t belong to a formal book club, but most of my friends read, and we lend each other books and share reviews. One circle of friends became an informal reading group by passing around a copy of James Patterson’s “The Beach House.” Six years and several hundred miles later, we still recommend titles to each other.

I stumbled across a Web site not long ago that allows you to list and rate your readings. It’s called goodreads.com, and I accidentally invited my entire address book (one day I’ll figure out how to stop doing that) to join. I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from friends who’ve gone to the site and rated their own books, and I’ve added new titles to my ever-expanding personal reading list.  Who knows, I might even begin to like something that doesn’t feature Fabio or a skull on the cover!

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I LOVE movie musicals. I grew up on “The Wizard of Oz” and  “Singin’ in the Rain.” I know every song in “The Sound of Music,” even the ones that were in the stage version but got left out of the movie.

Musicals deal with subjects we might otherwise find uncomfortable to discuss. Rodgers and Hammerstein talked about prejudice in “Oklahoma” and “South Pacific.”  Musicals cover relevant topics. “White Christmas” was a love letter to American GIs serving in foreign lands. Musicals tell great stories. “Bride and Prejudice” combined a Jane Austen classic with contemporary Bollywood production numbers.

But musicals don’t seem to have the same draw for today’s younger moviegoers they have for me.  With few exceptions, audiences fail to embrace movies that erupt in song at the drop of a hat. Oscar winner Nicole Kidman sang and danced her way through “Moulin Rouge,” and the movie yielded only $57 million. The stage version of “Rent” (like “Moulin Rouge,” based on “La Boheme”) won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, four Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards. The movie grossed a paltry $29 million.

I recently watched “Across the Universe,” a 2007 musical  set in Vietnam-era America. In a time with no cell phones, no computers, no facebook accounts cluttering up the days, folks had time to sing and dance, practice free love and worry about being drafted. The creation of Julie Taymor (the genius behind the Broadway sensation “The Lion King”), “Universe” combined Beatles songs with pretty, young stars and a “Big Lebowski” dance number in a bowling alley. But even the Fab Four couldn’t save this one. The movie fell flat on its financial face ($24 million). To put it in perspective, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” took in $38 million.

The weekend “Universe” opened, its competition included “Transformers: The Movie.” A train wreck of a film, it grossed $319 million. To add insult to injury, “Universe” got a single Academy Award nomination (costume), and “Transformers” got three (sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects). Apparently, Hollywood’s movers and shakers and Oscar voters don’t care much for musicals either.

The heyday of movie musicals  was the ‘30s and ‘40s, when depression, war and fears about the future preyed on Americans’ minds. You might not have any gas for your car (if you had a car), but you could feel good for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoons at the moving pictures. A little romance, some adventure, a few memorable tunes to hum on the way home – musicals gave weary citizens something to smile about, to rally around when things were looking hopeless, a promise that the sun would indeed come out tomorrow.

With things looking equally grim today – the country at war AGAIN, Depression 2.0 in the making – we need the distraction, the magic, the hope that musicals provide. So I say, Andrew Lloyd Webber, call your old pal Tim Rice. Dust off your keyboard and create us some happiness. I can see it now: “Harry Potter – The Musical,”  dancing Dumbledore and all. Bring it on.

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Today I found out about The Mountain Goats because the Denton Police Department started posting everybody they arrest on Twitter and Twitpic, and The Mountain Goats wrote a song called The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton about Jeff and Cyrus, and then I created a Mountain Goats channel on Pandora, because I couldn’t remember my last.fm logon, and I learned about the Weakerthans.

Yesterday, before I found about The Mountain Goats, I found out about @twitterfiction, because there was an article about it on Mashable, which I had started following on Twitter, but because @mashable posted way too often, I unfollowed @mashable and downloaded their free iphone app instead, which I thought would make it easier to keep up with Mashable, but it didn’t, so I deleted the app and put Mashable in my Google Reader, which I like a lot better now that I am using the Google Redesigned add-on for Firefox.

The Young Orphan Herbert

The Young Orphan Herbert

The day before that, before I found out about @twitterfiction and @smallplaces and @arjunbasu, I was updating my online summer class (CMMNX236, Understanding Media) on Blackboard, and I found out about James Grimmelmann’s brief on the Google Book Search project’s proposed settlement, because I was reading Ethan Zuckerman’s post about whether or not it’s a good idea to send mosquito nets to Africa like Oprah, and Zuckerman is connected to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which I misremembered as the Berkeley Center (which it isn’t) and got linked to Pamela Samuelson, who is Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology and who had posted something on O’Reilly Radar about the Google Book Search project and Google not having permission to use the photographs and illustrations in orphaned books — and did you know, although Mickey Rooney didn’t play him in Boy’s Town, that Herbert Hoover was an orphan?

So that’s what I found out about.

And now you can too.

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Burger King has a long history of disastrous alliances with ad agencies that just can’t seem to get a grasp of this whole fast-food thing. Despite being named one of the “top 3 industry-changing advertisers within the last three decades” by AdWeek, BK has – via their agencies – provided us with such industry-changing ad campaigns as Herb the Nerd, the Whopper virgin and Dr. Angus.

That creepy, voyeuristic, big-headed clown they’re currently using as a mascot is bad enough. But now we’re being subjected to a campaign combining a children’s cartoon character – SpongeBob SquarePants – with a remix of a sex rap – Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” – in an attempt to sell BK’s 99-cent SpongeBob Kids Meal. It closes with the rapper himself stating, “Booty is booty.”

Seriously? Do the creative geniuses at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, not to mention the Burger King Corporation, think this is appropriate by any definition?

The objections started pouring in after the ad ran during the NCAA men’s basketball championship and other programming in early April. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is demanding Nickelodeon and Burger King pull the ad immediately, saying BK apparently cares little about the children they’re targeting and that the ad “promotes objectified, sexualized images of women.”

BK’s response is that the ad is targeted to adults, requires an adult meal purchase and that the ad ran during adult programming.

Yeah, right. Will the next BK campaign feature a happy meal with condoms?

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The 2009 Bateman team from Loyola has once again made the Top 3 (out of 77 competitors) in the national public relations case study competition put on annually by the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Team members – and mass comm majors – Janine Sheedy (account executive), Vicki Voelker, Sarah Makota, Ashley Sutton and Heather Miranne, led by adviser Dr. Cathy Rogers, have spent the last year juggling school, work and social lives to respond to the challenge set by the sponsor, The Consumer Bankers Association, and the client, Hit the Books Running.

The goal of Loyola’s campaign, “The Bling Starts Here,” was to make middle schoolers aware of resources for and benefits of a college education.

Along with the other finalists (Michigan State University and University of Maryland), Loyola will present their campaign in person to CBA representatives in Washington, D.C. in May. So their work is by no means done.

The 2009 team joins a long list of previous Bateman competitors who’ve reached the national finals and brought glory and honor to the School of Mass Communication (and its predecessors). Loyola took first place in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2008, second in 2001 and 2004 and third in 2002. The 2007 team made honorable mention, and the 2006 team was a finalist in local campaigns.

Regardless of how they stand in the final rankings, this year’s Bateman team is already a winner. We salute you and wish you the very best of luck in D.C.

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April 20 marks the beginning of Turnoff Week 2009. (There’s another one starting Sept. 20.) It’s an effort by the national nonprofit organization TV-Free America, founded in 1994 to raise awareness of our couch-potato society’s increasing obesity and to generate interest in activities that are more literate, productive and engaged than watching Gilligan’s Island reruns.

According to the Center for SCREEN-TIME Awareness (www.screentime.org), “On average, people watch 4 hours of television and then spend another 4 plus hours with computers, games, video, iPods and cell phones.  According to Nielsen, the average World of Warcraft gamer plays for 892 minutes per week!  The company that owns Second Life…claims that its users spent over 1 million hours on line.”

Across the nation, schools and bookstores, along with municipalities and activists, are planning events to encourage us to turn off our TVs and get more active. Here in the NOLA area, the Metairie location of  Barnes & Noble is planning special activities to celebrate Turnoff Week, including story times, games and costume parties. (Hmmm, sounds like a Harry Potter book release!)

In conjunction with Turnoff Week, Saturday, April 25 is The Great American TWEET-OFF.  Organizers are asking tech junkies to “consider leaving that computer off for the day, staying away from the cell phone and doing things you just don’t normally do.”

Turnoff Week has been around since 1994, but efforts to make us less media dependent, if only momentarily, go much farther back. In 1971, John Denver exhorted us to:
“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own.”*

If you’re at JazzFest on May 2, you’ll hear local favorite Cowboy Mouth remind us that:
“Jenny says turn off the radio
Jenny says turn out the light
Jenny says turn off the video.” **

Just don’t forget to turn the TV back on and pick up that newspaper. Journalists across American need the jobs!

* by John Prine “Spanish Pipe Dream” 1971
** by Fred LeBlanc “Jenny Says” 1992

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At Thursday’s Spring Fiesta we recognized our outstanding mass comm majors, students who have received scholarships and will receive awards during Honors Day ceremonies.

It made me realize the SMC is home to many students who are engaged, involved and outstanding in media jobs, extracurricular activities and other areas of their lives.

This year’s Maroon staff continues to bring home awards for their writing, editing and photography work. Most of the staff members also work off campus in print, broadcast and online media. One Marooner is off to Hawaii for a summer newspaper internship.

In my PR Writing class, two students are active in theatre. One will be directing a senior one-act soon, while the other is performing with Southern Rep. Class members also belong to sororities and fraternities, work with UPB and tutor in the WAC lab.

Advertising majors are selling ads at The Maroon, raising money for worthy causes through fundraisers, working with the Louisiana State Museum and promoting events around town.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. (I’m exhausted thinking about it.) Mass comm majors set the bar for other Loyola students, and we are proud of them and their accomplishments.

On a side note: April is National Donate Life Month. Are you a registered donor?

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If you didn’t make it, you missed a great opportunity! Networking Night (April 14) brought together more than 100 media and communication professionals and mass comm students from around the city. The Press Club and the SMC co-sponsored the event, designed to allow students and professionals to meet, greet (and eat) as they made important connections for internships, mentorships and possible future jobs. Studio A morphed from a classroom/video production facility into a reception hall, thanks to some strategically placed snacks and trees donated by Hike for KaTREEna, a local nonprofit whose goal is to replant the 100,000 trees lost during Hurricane Katrina. (The trees will be planted this week.) Reviews were glowing, so we hope to make this an annual event.

We’re not done yet! Thursday is Spring Fiesta, our outdoor celebration of spring and student recognition program. It’s another meet-greet-eat opportunity for mass comm majors to rejoice in their accomplishments over the past year. Student scholarship and award winners, as well as club officers, will be highlighted. We’ll have door prizes and live music to make the event even more festive.

And while they won’t be there at the Fiesta, we salute the Ad Team, our student advertising competition team, off to Baton Rouge to present their campaign. Part of the American Advertising Federation’s National Student Advertising Competition, the Ad Team will be competing against other schools in the district for the right to go on to the national competition. Congratulations to Temple Ruff, team adviser, and the team members. We know you’ll do us proud.

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It is entirely feasible that, more or less soon, your life — your entire life — can be recorded and stored.  Instead of posting the occasional Twitter update, instead of compiling the sporadic online photo album, why not just leave your own personal digital recorder constantly on?

Further suppose this recorder — embedded in your necklace, your earring, your wristwatch — communicates with all the other digital devices in your environment.  If you type at a computer keyboard, for instance, your recorder captures what you type and stores that file.  If you drive within range of a city traffic camera, your recorder copies and stores whatever images of you are on that traffic camera.  When you buy tickets to a Saints game, your recorder is there, noting your ticket price, your seat number, your barcode.

Digital storage is virtually infinite.  Digital storage is virtually free.  Why not just store everything in the cloud and then, whenever you like later, sort out the good stuff?  Would you want to do that?  Would you want to have a complete and total record of your life?

If you don’t, somebody else might.  Your mother, maybe.  Your employer, maybe.  Your government, maybe.

Currently, everything — EVERYTHING — you do on the web is recorded somewhere, by somebody, for some reason.  The difficult part of this task is not in the recording and the storing; the difficult part is in the accessing.  You remain anonymous on the web, for the most part, because what is being recorded about you looks identical to what is being recorded about everyone else — and you are hard to pick out of that big crowd.  But if someone really wants to find your individual little needle in that big digital haystack, they can do it.

Look at it like this:  If they can find Jason Bourne, they can sure as heck find you.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  You might think, for instance, that cookies on your computer are a good thing.  These cookies save you time; they point you in the direction of products and services that you want to buy and use.  These cookies make you easier to identify, to find, and, perhaps, to serve.  Or, perhaps, to prosecute.  Or, perhaps, to prosecute severely.

New media offer us a great variety of ways to communicate with one another.  Do these new media offer us the same opportunities to NOT communicate with one another?  Social media applications can quickly become oppressive in the degree to which these new media applications — MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, even multiplayer online games — promulgate conformity, convention, and a bully-boy, celebrity culture.

Idiosyncrasy and dissent — perhaps, even, in some cases, radical dissent — have proven important catalysts to creativity, innovation, and change.  Curious George knows this well — regardless of any rules laid down by Men in Hats.

Still, I wonder how curious a Curious George might be willing to be — or might be allowed to be — under the Homeland Security Act and the auspices of an NSA armed with lots of little digital recorders turned constantly on.

Less Curious George, more Circumspect George.

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