Idol Chatter

Could 30 days walking in someone else’s shoes change what you believe? That’s the premise of what is perhaps the one truly intelligent reality TV series on the tube this summer–Morgan Spurlock’s (“Supersize me”) FX series “30 Days.” Premiering for its second season last night, “30 Days” tackles cultural hot topics by bringing together two people on polar opposite sides of an issue to live together for, that’s right, 30 days, in the hopes of teaching them a lesson about tolerance and understanding.

The cultural hot potato of illegal immigration was the focus of last night’s episode, in which a border patrol volunteer, Frank Jorge–who just happens to be a legal immigrant from Cuba– moves into a one-bedroom apartment with an illegal immigrant family of six in east Los Angeles. He has to give up all of his I.D., work the same back-breaking jobs that they do, and make the same measly amount of money. Even as Frank eats, sleeps, and goes to church with the Gonzalez family, he remains resolute in his belief that it is better for America if millions of immigrants are returned to their homeland instead of taxing our society’s resources. The Gonzalez’s oldest daughter, Armida cannot understand this logic, because she is equally as passionate about her family’s desire to achieve the American Dream.

Unlike much of reality TV, there is not a huge payoff or special twist at the end of each episode. In the case of Frank and the Gonzalez family, while Frank becomes emotionally attached to the family, neither side really changes their beliefs. Frank does decide to give up working with the Minutemen patrolling the border, but he still does not approve of the Gonzalez family’s “undocumented” lifestyle.

But this is why “30 days” is as frustrating as it is fascinating–there are always more unanswered questions than answered ones at the end of each episode. But perhaps most importantly, the series–which promises to tackle topics such as abortion, atheism, New Age healing, and outsourcing in future episodes–embraces the notion that perhaps we can incite change in our culture one person at a time. It just may take a little longer than 30 days to see the results.

So, if you could have a life-changing experience by walking in someone else’ shoes for 30 days, whose shoes would you choose?

At first, it sounded like an unfair bureaucratic issue. Paula Kerger, the new President and CEO of PBS, has been speaking publicly about her fear that PBS may face fines for violating the “fine print” of FCC laws in its upcoming presentation of Ken Burns’ World War II documentary. At first glance, it would seem unfair for the FCC to dictate how the story is told, let alone issue fines of over a half a million dollars per incident.

But it turns out that the issue is not about politics or historical bias: it’s about language. Basically, PBS wants to cuss. As Kerger said, “In order to tell some stories, we may need to use language that the FCC may not think is so appropriate.”

The issue is coming months after a PBS affiliate was fined $15,000 for using two common cusswords in its “The Blues” series. In June, President Bush signed off on the significant increase of the maximum fine.

I think it’s about time for more significant restriction of television cussing. One of the cusswords in “The Blues” was about the most gross and vile of all cusswords. The other is so common it is often shouted loudly at sports events. Parents are well-known for correcting their kids when they cuss–especially at young ages–but rarely consider how often their kids hear cussing in the neighborhood, at school, in music, in movies and on live television.

There once was a time when television–especially during prime viewing periods–was a safe respite from the neighborhood’s foul language for a young person to be entertained and (especially on PBS) even educated. They deserve it back. To think that history can’t be re-told without cussing is like saying Sex Ed. can’t be told without pornography.

And if adults require the R-rated language version, let them make the donation receive the unedited DVD in the mail!

In the age of user-generated videos distributed to your computer via,, and, employers might want to consider adding “forgiveness” to their list of hiring pre-requisites. Melanie Martinez is the perfect example of what the future will look like if they don’t.

Martinez, the former host of the PBS Sprouts network’s “Good Night” program, was let go after she let executives know about one of two shorts she starred in entitled “Technical Virgin.” The film is 30 seconds long and features Martinez comically explaining the things that a girl can do to technically remain a virgin. (She remains fully clothed throughout–the video is more sophomoric than risque, and actually kind of funny.)

By no means am I condoning the message conveyed in the film, but I am a firm believer in forgiveness. Martinez made the film seven years before PBS even knew she existed. I assume that her motive for making it was pure entertainment of the Saturday Night Live variety. This 30-second clip shouldn’t be used to judge the content of her character.

It would be one thing if she was moonlighting as a pamphlet distributor on the streets of New York encouraging teenage girls to fornicate, but she isn’t. It takes seven years for debts to be cleared on credit reports, so why not let seven be the magic number of years for forgiveness? Why not forgive her for her trespasses?

We live in the age of user-generated content that can be created as easily as we receive it. We also live in a country where we are supposed to be protected by the first amendment’s promise of freedom of speech. Are you telling me that the millions of people putting content on the web (some less appropriate than others) can one day expect to get a pink slip from their job because of a “for entertainment purposes only” video. I am not sure whether to abide or revolt. It’s comparable to the ridiculousness of using someone’s MySpace page as a character reference for a job application.

Verily, verily I say unto you, this revolution will be televised!

When the fragrance company Coty asked Russell Simmons, the hip hop zillionaire and yoga junkie, to create an alluring perfume for women, God was the furthest thing from their minds. This week’s New York magazine reports that Coty expected something sultry and sexy, along the lines of Simmons’ ex-wife Kimora Lee’s fragrances. Imagine their surprise when Simmons made a potion of “spiritual” oils and called it Atman, Sanskrit for “divine self” or “God.”

Coty freaked. “We had quite a standoff,” Simmons told New York. “They told me God doesn’t sell, God isn’t sexy. I think God is sexy.” But Coty relented when they saw that testers actually liked the stuff. A Coty exec told New York: “God wasn’t something that we thought was mainstream, but Russell was so passionate about it… and now it makes perfect sense.”

It seems like the Coty execs just don’t get what’s happening with the mainstreaming of Eastern-tinged spirituality. Every bottle of perfume sells more than a scent–or we’d all just put on some nice-smelling baby powder and be done with it; it’s selling a promise. And up till now that’s been the promise of alluring pheromones, sophistication or naughtiness, class, and wealth. But now serenity, balance, and radiant inner beauty are what’s hot–and Russell is a genius to put those in a fancy bottle and sell it at Macy’s.

You can get your own God-in-a-bottle in September; Simmons will donate his proceeds to charity.