Thursday, December 3, 2015

Meta-Sitcoms: The Future of Television?

There is a very specific superhero craze going on right now. I'm not referring merely to the abundance of television shows and films, which our society has pretty steadily been into for a long time. I am thinking specifically of the crossover.

Marvel laid the groundwork with their heroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, connecting them all with the Avengers franchise. Then they made the jump into television with Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Following this is the Captain America movie Civil War which pits Captain America against Iron Man. There's even early buzz right now that Spider-Man might make a cameo in The Avengers III, connecting that whole other movie franchise.

DC Comics has jumped in on the game with their Netflix deals on DareDevil and Jessica Jones, both set in the same universe, as well as The CW shows Arrow and The Flash, the characters of which both frequently visit one another's cities. And of course who could forget the upcoming Batman v Superman movie which though not technically a crossover in the same vein as the above experiments (Ben Affleck, this movie's Batman, has never been Batman and is bouncing off the mega popularity of the Christopher Nolan series), still gets crossover appeal for putting two of the best known comic book heroes in the same story.

Who knew it would be so popular to connect movies and shows? Viewers get rewarded for watching multiple shows and movies and making connections between characters and their interrelated histories. What used to be a self-contained unit (either a TV series or a movie series) is now a dynamic meta-set of stories.

So if this kind of stuff can work with fantasy, why not do it in other genres?

Sitcoms are primed for this. For years, television has produced spinoffs, launching Frasier from Cheers, Mork & Mindy from Happy Days, etc. Some have succeeded, successfully carrying the audience from one show to another. Others have failed, like the short-lived Three's a Crowd (from Three's Company). But at the heart of it all is the crossover appeal.

What if a series of sitcoms came out that all overlapped and had crossover appeal? Off the top of my head, I think that if the children from The George Lopez Show, Fresh Off the Boat, and Everybody Hates Chris all went to the same school, it would make one crazy meta-television experience. Right now, these shows pretty much exist as islands, pandering to their specific minority's experience. But of course, while these shows are generating a lot of interest and mass appeal that TV execs never thought possible, keeping the camera on any one particular family isn't what the American experience is all about.

The school sitcom has been done. Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, Girl Meets World, Head of the Class, etc are well traveled territory. But we never really knew those characters' back stories. They were largely two-dimensional. But if you take the kids from existing shows, put them in a school together, you could get an unparalleled television experience.

Imagine! Exploring a particular character's life within a school-based sitcom would mean opening the door to that character's family-driven sitcom. Based on the success of the Marvel/DC franchises, I can't help but think that this would be an incredible venture in situation comedies. A meta-sitcom, an uber-sitcom, whatever you want to call it, could make for bold new television.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Paris: Merely a Litmus Test?

The front page story of The New York Times today explores the finances of the terror group ISIS. With reserves in the millions and perhaps in the billions and an estimated 900,000,000 in regular annual revenue, the group isn't likely to be going anywhere anytime soon.

I think the bigger message from the article is that ISIS is learning from the model of the West. Tickets for broken tail lights? That trick is straight out of the West's playbook. How many times have people gotten a speeding ticket only to complain afterward that the police should be out there stopping real crime? ISIS has studied how the West (particularly its local, state, and national governments) has inflated its coffers and successfully duplicated its practices. 

The real question now is: What else are they learning from the West? 

Awful as it sounds, I can't help but think that Paris may have been merely a litmus test for these guys. Station several hundred operatives across the world's major cities, attack Paris, and see what happens. Which services go down first? How fast? How many? Is there a pattern to it? How much is reported on the news versus what people are seeing in person?

Write it all down, report back to HQ.

What really strikes me is how detailed the process must be. I mean, tail light tickets? Folks, ISIS is taking notes. Really detailed notes. And while I applaud efforts to "study the enemy," I think trying to understand how they understand us is at least as relevant.

Monday, November 23, 2015

More Ideas About Curtailing ISIS Recruitment

ISIS recruits members from the West. They look for the downtrodden, of which, unfortunately, there are many.

I don't know the numbers, though. They might be getting more people who are just showing up on their doorstep rather than people who are actively sought out and lulled into the group. The real danger, as the various attacks around the world have shown us, is converting an otherwise ordinary citizen into a harbinger of unspeakable atrocities in the place where they're living.

To address this internal threat, governments have been monitoring, monitoring, monitoring. Sure, do some more of that. There's no telling when intelligence will become crucial. No argument here. But these ISIS trolls still appear to be finding young people and convincing them of their ideology. This has got to stop.

Here's a radical suggestion: encourage high schoolers to reach out to ISIS.

Right now, ISIS is finding these young people around the world because they're easy to find. But what if there were 1,000,000 more fake personalities out there crying for help? It would be seriously difficult to find the real people susceptible to extremism with a deluge of fakers.

Our government doesn't have the time to pull off a plan like this. They don't have the manpower either. But teens? I can't think of a group with more time to kill. Train them, prepare them for craziness, let them pretend to be someone else online, and then hand over the fishing pole when they bring in a big fish.

With so many fake cases out there, it would be a complete waste of time for ISIS to scour the internet looking for real people. And if they found someone, how could they trust them with so many fakers out there?

This would effectively bring an end to local US enrollment (or any other government willing to do it). As for the rest of ISIS, I'll get back to you.

Friday, February 20, 2015

ISIS and Curtailing Recruitment

This past week, the Islamic State, better known as ISIS, made international headlines by releasing a video tape of the beheading of twenty-one Christian Egyptians along the Libyan coast. They are gaining ground in the Middle East, and their enrollment numbers are also increasing. Take a look at this map of ISIS (in gray) on the wiki site to see specifics.

From all of this has emerged a conversation about why some people turn to radicalism and others don't. The New York Times ran a video about three friends, two who are working normal jobs and the third who left to join ISIS. It doesn't really offer any specific reasons why the third friend left home. The video just chronicles someone whose personal beliefs were no longer in sync with his friends'.

I don't think this line of inquiry - trying to understand the why of radicalism - will be a particularly fruitful path. So what if you discover the ins and outs of one particular person's reasons for joining ISIS? A thousand people might have a thousand reasons for doing the same thing.

In the short term, better to focus on a strategy to curtail enrollment. For that, look no further than our country's own relationship with home-grown terror: the Ku Klux Klan. They too enjoyed high enrollment for a while. But what happened?

As the story goes, one man infiltrated their organization, learned all of their secret code words, handshakes, whatever, and aired them over the radio on children's programming. That was it. Over time, with children repeating all of their mumbo jumbo, the mystique of the Klan was broken. It became a bad joke to join the KKK. For more of that story, read here.

My idea is to do the same with ISIS. Make a video of some clowns talking about clown jihad. Have a kid saying that challah is great. Make some Weird Al remake of some of their youtube releases. Above all, make the entire thing ridiculous.

You get the world laughing at these clowns, and their numbers will tank.