Posted in Life on November 20, 2008 by Adam Sapiro


PEOPLE always chant it, and it’s simply accepted as a matter of fact, but it’s bullshit. The U.S.A. is not No. 1. It can’t be. Not when so many people living here are living in hell.

With all the crap that’s happened in our country over the past decade, you really only have to point to one event to prove that America is not the greatest country in the world: Katrina. I’m pissed the whole disaster got politicized, because the red-vs.-blue debate pulled our attention away from a sad truth: There are great numbers of people in this country whose poverty is killing them.

Every week, I see two reminders of this sad truth. I’ve been tutoring two fifth-graders in New Haven, Conn., two boys at a college-prep middle school for inner-city, mostly minority youths. I grew up outside New Haven, and figured it would be a good way for a relatively well-off white guy to give a little back, and to see if teaching was something worth exploring careerwise.

What I expected wasn’t what I got. I figured I’d be tutoring two kids who were struggling with math and reading. Turns out my two 11-year-olds are pretty bright. They both read well, and they both love math (one even declared that he’s a “math nerd” but that he hides it because being smart isn’t cool.) They talk about their college ambitions occasionally, and between lessons they sing and dance. They’re relatively happy kids.

But every week, they remind me of what’s fundamentally wrong with their world, and our world. Every week, without fail, they talk unprovoked about the loved ones they’ve lost to bullets or to prison. A few weeks ago, I showed up for class and one of the boys had more bad news — his cousin had just been shot and killed that week. He was devastated, obviously, and we talked about it for a while. My other student shared his own story — his 14-year-old brother had been shot in the head while riding his bike (somehow, he lived).

Teaching math and reading seemed irrelevant at this point of our session. I momentarily thought of telling them that knowledge and college could be their ticket out of this life of violence, but I stopped myself. Even in my head, that just sounded like patronizing white-guy bullshit — these kids are gonna have to dodge bullets for another seven years before they can get to college, and that’s if they can even afford it.

I asked the two boys — remember, they’re 11 years old — how they could end this cycle of violence. In unison, they answered immediately: “Leave.”

“You shouldn’t have to leave your home to be safe,” I said. But “home” must not mean the same thing to me as it does to them. Not if they fear it, not if they want to run away from it.

This past weekend, the boy whose cousin was shot dead broke my heart a little more. He told me he can’t wait till next year, when he’s old enough to join “the battle” and help get revenge on those who killed his cousin. I’m there to teach math and reading, to keep these kids on the path to college, and he’s talking about “the battle.” That’s the path he envisions for himself, at least for the immediate future. College is an abstract goal, the war is real.

I reminded the boy about how sad he is to have lost his cousin, and that even his cousin’s killers have people who love them and would be heartbroken if they were killed for the sake of revenge. I talked to him about the futility of this self-perpetuating violence.

But what the fuck do I know about this world they live in? I just know that it exists, and it’s hell. And it’s in the same city as Yale University, one of the greatest learning institutions in the world. And it’s a couple towns over from where I grew up alongside beautiful farmland. And it’s in Connecticut, the wealthiest state in the country. And it’s in the U.S.A., one of the greatest nations in the world.

And as long as this hell exists, we don’t get to brag about being No. 1. Not when we should be trying so much harder.



Posted in The Popular with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by Adam Sapiro


I LOVE how movies can take you back to another time and place, I bygone era you might have lived through — or only ever posterheard about.

I just watched one such film and was transported all the way back in time — to the early 2000s. It was “Spider-Man,” a movie that has aged worse than guacamole at a summer picnic.

How can it be? The thing is only six years old — they’re still making sequels — yet it already feels like a relic from another time.

Where do I begin? How ’bout the wrestling scene, Peter Parker’s coming-out party as Spider-Man. It’s the first time we really get to see him in action, and he’s wrestling? With Randy “Macho Man” Savage?? Somewhere offscreen, did Superman spin the world back to the 1980s?

macyThen there’s the scene in Times Square, where folks are celebrating “World Unity Day” or something. Who’s entertaining the crowd? None other than recording artist Macy Gray! No, she’s not singing that one song you kinda remember by her from when she was popular for a few months. It’s some tuneless crap called “My Nutmeg Phantasy” (worst song title ever?). Don’t worry if you forgot that she was in the movie — even she doesn’t remember being in it.

It doesn’t help matters that during the drawn-out Times Square scene, cingular2we see a ginormous, conspicuously product-placed billboard for some old-timey company called Cingular (kids, ask your parents), or that the Green Goblin shows up and wreaks havoc on New Yorkers. (Crime in Times Square? How retro!)

And what’s with all this newspaper stuff throughout this flick. Like, Peter is a photographer for the school paper. Do schools even have school papers anymore? And he’s using a film camera! Dork. Later, he goes to work for the Daily Bugle, a newspaper that’s actually hiring people! Talk about bygone days …

paperAnd I swear, this has to be the last movie to use the spinning-front-page newspaper montage for exposition. Seriously? Newspapers aren’t even how moviegoers get their news anymore.

Another way this superhero flick shows its age? There’s only one villain! You can’t get away with that today: “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” have roughly 35 villains between them. Even last year’s “Spider-Man 3” upped the enemy count. A superhero movie with only one bad guy won’t fly with today’s ADHD audiences.

Right to the end, “Spider-Man” dates itself. The crappy closing credit songs sound even worse than they did in 2002, which is saying something. Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger “sings” “Hero” in that croaking, ’90s Pearl Jammy way, and Sum 41 (that’s the number of minutes they were popular) sound like warmed-over Beastie Boys. Great stuff if you want to clear a theater quickly but don’t want to yell “Fire.”

What about the oft-repeated mantra of the movie, its theme, if you will? “With great power comes great responsibility.” After two terms of George W. Bush, we now know that’s bullshit.

It’s funny — an early trailer for the film prominently (and unfortunately) featured the World Trade Center. Supposedly, the WTC scene was never intended for the final film. But it might as well have been included. “Spider-Man” feels so last century already.


Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , , on November 13, 2008 by Adam Sapiro


AS someone who has heard his relatively simple six-letter last name pronounced about 47 different ways, I always try to make sure I get other people’s names right. But there are a bunch of celebrities whose names I’ve mangled over the years (I thought it was Charlize “thur-RONE,” for example.)

It’s still somewhat common for actors and singers to take easier-to-pronounce (and often less-Jewy) stage names. (Would Jon Stewart be as popular if he were still Jonathan Leibowitz? Probably, actually — he makes it no secret he’s Jewish, and a lot of people think his last name is Daily anyway. But you get my point.)

So I give these folks below a lot of credit for sticking with these names (most of which I’ve mispronounced — or just completely avoided saying out loud):


rice-cubMary Lynn Rajskub: Surly “Chloe” on “24.” You know, the only person at CTU with a personality. It’s “rice-cub,” by the way (which is a lot easier than saying “surly Chloe” ten times fast.)

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Great actor who played a terrific bad guy in “Serenity.” HEAR his name pronounced here

Ryan Phillippe: I thought it was “fill-EEP.” Doesn’t that sound classier anyway?

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: “Mr. Eko” on “Lost.” The hyphen is actually a rest stop.

Saoirse Ronan: Some say it’s “SEER-shuh,” others say it’s “SER-shuh.” Pick one and stick with it, or I’ll just keep calling you “sow-eerse.”

Don Cheadle: Am I the only one who wants to say “CHEE-ad-ull?”

Shia LeBeouf: I wouldn’t have even bothered learning this one, but it looks like this guy isn’t going away any time soon.


John Mayer: As in McCheese, not Oscar. (Geez, am I hungry or what?)

Sufjan Stevens: That’s “SOOF-yahn” to you.

Ciara: It’s “Sierra.” Her last name is pronounced ”  .”sade

Sade:  I remember everyone pronouncing her name “shar-day” back in the shar-day. Apparently, even her record company printed “pronounced shar-day” after her name on the labels of her first releases in the ’80s. But it’s “sha-day,” as in “Sha” Na Na. Hey — now there’s a great idea for a collaboration!

(BONUS: As long as I’m embarrassing myself, I used to think grunge band Mudhoney‘s name was pronounced “mud-hoe-knee.” Sad, huh?)


Posted in The Popular with tags , , , , , on November 10, 2008 by Adam Sapiro


I’M announcing to you all right now that I’m retiring from blogging so I can concentrate on keeping track of young celebrities who announce their retirements.

Take Joaquin Phoenix. Please. phoenixTo rehab, preferably. Late last month, the 34-year-old Oscar-nominated actor formerly known as Leaf announced (well, mumbled and slurred, actually) that he was leaving acting to focus on his music. I don’t think Phoenix even had the reporter in focus when he announced his decision. (There’s a “Walk The Line” joke in there somewhere.)

A week ago, on a red carpet, he made sure dyslexics got his message too, with “Bye! Good” written on his fists.

Don’t worry, Joaquin fans — this Phoenix will rise again. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that young celebrities who announce their retirements are usually back to work before we can even start missing them.

Like superstar rapper Jay-Z. He made huge news in 2003 when he announced he was retiring from recording at the age of 33. Wonder whatever happened to that guy.

Daniel Day Lewis announced he was leaving acting in the late ’90s (he did qualify his retirement with a “semi-“) to focus on woodworking and shoemaking in Italy. Midlife crisis much?

How ’bout M.I.A.? The Sri Lankan rapper announced at this year’s Bonnaroo that she was pulling the plug on her career of being splooged over by music critics and making albums that no one else heard. Turned out she was just pregnant, and then a song of hers got popular because of the “Pineapple Express” trailer and voila — she was back on the job! M.I.A., my ass.

Four years ago, Hugh Grant said in a charmingly befuddled way that he was retiring because, for him, film acting is a “miserable experience.” Try it from our end, Hugh.

Eminem announced in 2005 that he would be taking a break from performing to focus on producing, and that his “Encore” disc was “certainly the cap on this part of his career,” as his manager put it. But would he retire? Slim chance, Slim Shady. Look for his new CD, “Relapse,” under your Christmas tree.

Sean Penn announced his retirement from acting in the early ’90s and was never seen again — except for “Carlito’s Way,”  “Dead Man Walking” and the 20 or so other movies he’s been in since. And who retires from acting and then does a couple episodes of “Friends”?

Everyone should take a cue from Clint Eastwood. The guy cut back on acting years ago to focus on directing, and he hasn’t acted for any other director in more than 15 years. But did he ever feel the need to tell the world? No. There were no announcements, no photo ops, no messages scrawled on his hands. He just kinda slid over into directing without calling much attention to himself — he did it so quietly and confidently that few people even noticed he wasn’t acting that much anymore.

So, Joaquin: Act, don’t act. Work, don’t work. Stay, go away. But show us, don’t tell us. Let your work speak for itself. And if it’s good, we’ll pay attention.