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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why 'Avatar' Might Not Be as Successful as You'd Think
By Jack Mathews

Astronauts may have debunked the age-old myth that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space, but if they were to take a look right now, they might be able to see James Cameron's 'Avatar.' His blue giant has been circling the globe in a neon blur for nearly four weeks now, vacuuming coin-of-the-realm out of the hands of moviegoers from Argentina to the Ukraine.

But, wait. Before we declare 'Avatar' the Greatest Attraction in the Solar System, let's acknowledge the sizable minority of Earthlings who are not impressed.

-- There are people, like myself, who have pointed out that 'Avatar's' supernova box office numbers are skewed by hefty surcharges on tickets to its 3D and IMAX showings, of which most are. If people were paying the same for a ticket to 'Avatar' that they pay to most first-run movies, its current domestic rank would be in the 30s instead of No. 5, where it is now (so, closer to films like 'The Sixth Sense' and 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' than 'Titanic').

-- There are critics, both professional and armchair (not to mention YouTube video producers), who insist that Cameron's script is a rip-off of Disney's 'Pocahontas' and of numerous other adventure tales where a conscience-stricken white man rescues innocent-as-driven-snow natives from his own imperialist people.

-- And there are those increasingly loud voices of people offended by what they believe are 'Avatar's' anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-American messages. And, some say, the thing is so Al Gorishly pro-environment, it's a wonder Cameron didn't paint the Na'Vi green.

-- Finally, there is a loud contingent of critics who say 'Avatar' is downright racist, that the blue, 10-foot-tall Na'Vi are analogues of American Indians, African natives, Maori and every other indigenous people whose cultures were deemed naive, backward and inferior by white settlers and colonists.

How Big Is Its Box Office, Really?
There is no question that 'Avatar's' bulging box office numbers, which currently have it ranked second behind 'Titanic' on the all-time worldwide earnings list, are largely due to the high, sometimes doubled ticket prices being charged for 3D showings. Typically, 3D prices are from $10 to $15 per adult; the national average for all movies, according to Exhibitor Relations Inc., is $7.50. So far, nearly 80 percent of 'Avatar's' $429 million domestic gross is from 3D or 3D IMAX showings.

A smaller percentage of foreign theaters have 3D capability. Still, 60 percent of the more than $900 million in foreign ticket sales also came from 3D showings. And as word of mouth has spread, the percentage of people seeing 'Avatar' in 3D has increased in the U.S. and Canada from 71 percent during its opening weekend to 80 percent over its fourth and most recent weekend.

To demonstrate how dramatically the inflated ticket prices affect the relative popularity of 'Avatar' and 'Titanic,' consider these figures: When 'Titanic' hit the $429 million mark in ticket sales in 1998, the average ticket price was $4.69, which factors out to about 90 million tickets sold.

Breaking 'Avatar's' ticket sales into separate 3D and 2D categories, and using respective average ticket costs of $12 and $7.50, the number of butts in seats would be between 35 and 40 million. If each of those people paid the $7.50 average, 'Avatar's' current gross would be between $290 million and $300 million, ahead of 'The Hangover's' $277 million and behind 2009's third-biggest hit, 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' ($302 million).

But the fact is most people who see 'Avatar' are not paying $7.50, and if the movie's total passes 'Titanic's' $601 million, it will own the domestic record. Still, I venture that when all is said and counted, 'Avatar' will have been seen by many millions fewer people than 'Titanic.'

Cameron Can't Write, Can He?
No one, other than, perhaps, James Cameron, would describe 'Avatar's' author as a great writer. He is a great technological innovator, but the scripts attributed to him as sole writer -- 'The Abyss,' 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' -- are barely more than the infrastructure for his flights of technological virtuosity. His dialogue is banal and generally humorless, his characters are thin archetypes and the man is tone-deaf when it comes to knowing when a scene has gone on too long.

Other than embarrassing snubs from fellow writers when Oscar nominations are announced, his literary ungainliness has not been a problem for Cameron. 'The Abyss' was nothing more than a B sci-fi movie set in ocean depths, but the invented aliens found there -- remember that crazy, transparent worm? -- were pure dazzlements.

With 'Titanic,' all he needed to achieve was something others had tried and failed to do -- make the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic look real! That his stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, managed to enthrall young viewers with their tragic love story was a bonus that, through repeat viewings, carried the movie to its colossal worldwide box office success.

As for the lack of originality in the 'Avatar' script, it is pretty much guilty as charged. Whether it reminds you of 'Pocahontas' or 'Dances With Wolves' or some other White Man Saves the Day Western, it's excuse for a love story is as fresh as the oldest boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back romance you've ever seen. But the love birds' setting on Pandora, well, you haven't seen anything like that before.

For all its weaknesses, I think critics are too harsh on 'Avatar's' story. Its dramatic arc was old before movies were born. I don't think Cameron is that interested in the nuances of his characters; they're there to get you on the roller coaster and, at that, his skills seem even greater than those of Steven Spielberg.

So, no, 'Avatar' will not win an Oscar for original screenplay. Nor will anyone in the cast land on a best acting ballot. But when you're in the theater watching it, especially in 3D, your eyes and mind are too busy taking in the view and the action to care.

Why Does Cameron Hate America?
The conservative political pundit/sometime film critic John Podhoretz foamed at the pen while discussing 'Avatar's' 'mindless worship of a nature-loving tribe and the tribe's adorable pagan rituals, its hatred of the American military and American institutions, and the notion that to be human is just way uncool ...' He went on to say how 'Avatar' is an 'example of how deeply rooted [its] standard-issue counterculture cliches in Hollywood have become by now.'

It is odd to me that the adjective 'knee-jerk' is only applied to liberals. What is it if not knee-jerk that makes conservatives react so quickly to perceived anti-Americanisms buried like so many IEDs throughout Hollywood scripts. Sometimes a story is just a story. There have to be both bad and good guys in drama and it would be a very short story indeed if a human were to venture into an alien environment and be eaten by the natives.

Of course, Podhoretz and his confrere might see that story ending with the American military using overwhelming force to wipe out the cannibals and hang Old Glory from the highest tree. Me, I like my action movies to end with the good guys beating the bad guys, even if -- as in 'Avatar' -- the bad guys are Americans. (Well, Blackwater-type mercenaries working for a corporation that is out to plunder another world for its unique fuel source.)

Get a grip, guys. It's just a movie!

Is 'Avatar' Racist?
I have to admit that I do not find the Na'Vi princess Neyteri attractive. She's blue, she's 10-feet tall and she has a tail. Also, she's not human, which would make sex risky even on Pandora. But if the descendants of indigenous people take the fictional Na'Vi for analogues of actual natives, then they should speak up, as many have, and let the debate begin.

As my Moviefone colleague Gary Susman wrote on this site Monday, 'Avatar' has been seen as being racist against both native cultures and the white man. It's racist against natives, some argue, because it treats the Na'Vi as backwards, naive, marginally civilized, and -- let's get some missionaries in here quick -- pagans. Of course, it's racist against whites because every white in the film -- if you don't count the good scientists and the redemptive hero Jake Sully -- is evil.

Cameron has not made this defense, but let me point out that the closest historical parallel to 'Avatar's' story line may be the arrival in the Western Hemisphere of the three-ship fleet of Christopher Columbus. His mission was to find and bring back gold to Queen Isabella. The corporation in 'Avatar' is on Pandora to find and bring back an energy source that doesn't exist on Earth.

The Na'Vis, like the Caribbean natives visited by Columbus, fear disease from the intruders, and like the Caribbean natives, they face slaughter if they can't or won't give the intruders what they want. I don't know, call me anti-Columbia, but I like the 'Avatar' ending better.

It seems that the most common charge of racism against 'Avatar' has to do with the perception of 'white guilt,' whereby whites try to assuage their guilt over their ancestors' (or their own) sins against people of color by having white heroes rescuing white-abused or oppressed natives. Those offended by the concept of a white knight say that it paints all natives as helpless victims, and in many instances, that's true.

But history is, in fact, replete with acts of human decency among the privileged class acting out against racism and oppression. I don't see that as an entirely bad thing, certainly not in the case of 'Avatar.' The Na'Vi are not treated as backwards people. They're treated as the intelligent life in the universe we've always wondered was out there.

If we ever discovered actual intelligent life in the universe, the creatures would probably look more like the transparent worm in 'The Abyss,' but 'Avatar' is a movie, man. It's just a movie.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cat helps blind dog

May 2008. I came across the story of Cashew and Libby on our Orange County Guide Dogs of America website. It’s the story about Cashew a 14 year old yellow lab who is blind and deaf. You may be wondering how does Cashew get around? Cashew’s best friend is a cat named Libby who acts as Cashew’s Seeing Eye Cat and helps Cashew avoid obstacles and leads her to her food.

Here’s the full article on Cashew and Libby:

An Eye On You

Cashew, the 14-year-old lab is blind and deaf. Her best friend is 7-year-old Libby, her seeing-eye cat. Libby steers Cashew away from obstacles and leads her to food. Every night she sleeps next to her. The only time they are apart is when Cashew goes for a walk. Without this cat, Cashew would be lost and very, very lonely. Amazing but true: this is one animal that knows what needs to be done and does it day in and day out for her friend. - - Terry Burns

That’s an absolutely amazing story. I’m currently raising Stetson to be a Seeing Eye Dog for Guide Dogs of America. He will be trained and hopefully someday become a full fledged guide dog. However, this cat has taken it upon herself to step into the role of Seeing Eye Cat. So, I guess it’s true that some animals choose to and enjoy working as assistance animals. Libby proves it by helping her friend Cashew day in and day out.

What do you think? Do you know of any other incredible stories like this one? Do you know of another seeing eye cat? If so let me know in the comments area…or send me an email and I’ll post it in my blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mother, Baby 'Die' in Labor but Are Revived
Dan Elliott
The Associated Press

Mariah Tauger, The Colorado Springs Gazette / AP
Tracy Hermanstorfer cradles her newborn son, Coltyn. Doctors said mother and son "died" during childbirth but revived.

DENVER (Dec. 29) - Mike Hermanstorfer was clutching his pregnant wife's hand when her life slipped away in a Colorado hospital on Christmas Eve, and then he cradled his newborn son's limp body seconds after a medical team delivered the baby by cesarean section.

Minutes later he saw his son come to life in his arms under the feverish attention of doctors, and soon he learned his wife had inexplicably come back to life.

"My legs went out from underneath me," Hermanstorfer said Tuesday. "I had everything in the world taken from me, and in an hour and a half I had everything given to me."

Hermanstorfer's wife, Tracy, went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing during labor on Thursday, said Dr. Stephanie Martin, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, where the Hermanstorfers had gone for the birth of their son.

"She had no signs of life. No heartbeat, no blood pressure, she wasn't breathing," said Martin, who had rushed to Hermanstorfer's room to help. "The baby was, it was basically limp, with a very slow heart rate."

After their miraculous recovery, both mother and the baby, named Coltyn, appear healthy with no signs of problems, Martin said.

She said she cannot explain the mother's cardiac arrest or the recovery.

"We did a thorough evaluation and can't find anything that explains why this happened," she said.

Mike Hermanstorfer credits "the hand of God."

"We are both believers ... but this right here, even a nonbeliever - you explain to me how this happened. There is no other explanation," he said.

Asked about divine intervention, Martin said, "Wherever I can get the help, I'll take it."

Tracy Hermanstorfer, 33, was getting prepped for childbirth at the hospital Thursday morning and her 37-year-old husband was by her side when she began to feel sleepy and laid back in her bed.

"She literally stopped breathing and her heart stopped," her husband said. Pandemonium erupted as doctors and nurses tried to revive her with chest compressions and a breathing tube, but nothing worked.

"I was holding her hand when we realized she was gone," Hermanstorfer said. "My entire life just rolled out."

Doctors told him, "We're going to take your son out now. We have been unable to revive her and we're going to take your son out," he recalled.

After the Cesarean section, some of the team rushed his wife to the operating room while the others attended to Coltyn.

"They hand him to me, he's absolutely lifeless," Hermanstorfer said. The doctors went to work on Coltyn as Hermanstorfer held him, and soon he began to breathe.

"His life began in my hands," Hermanstorfer said. "That's a feeling like none other. Life actually began in the palm of my hands."

Martin said Tracy Hermanstorfer's pulse returned even before she was wheeled out of the room and into surgery. She estimates Hermanstorfer had no heartbeat for about four minutes.

Hermanstorfer remembers getting sleepy and closing her eyes in her hospital bed, then awakening in the intensive care unit.

Friends have asked if she saw a light or had other experiences described by others who have survived near-death experiences, but she didn't.

"I just felt like I was asleep," she said.

When doctors told her what happened, "I'm like, 'Holy cow, was it that bad? Wow.'"

The Hermanstorfers returned Monday to their home in Security, just outside Colorado Springs about 65 miles south of Denver.

Both Mike and Tracy Hermanstorfer worry that she might have a recurrence. Martin said she can't offer the Hermanstorfers much advice because she doesn't know what caused the original problem.

On Tuesday, the couple celebrated a delayed Christmas with their 3-year-old son Kanyen and Tracy Hermanstorfer's 11-year-old son, Austin, from her previous marriage.

She plans to tell Coltyn about his birth when he's old enough to understand.

"I'll tell him everything ... that he's my miracle baby. That he had a tough time coming into this world, that he's my miracle baby and he's still here with us," she said.

She said Austin is worried and confused but the experience is improving his already-close relationship with Mike Hermanstorfer, his stepfather.

Kanyen doesn't understand much except that doctors had to work on his mom in the hospital, she said. His reaction was, "OK, we got the baby, let's go home now."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The burden of responsibility lies on Kris
Manila Bulletin

The raging issue today about the domestic squabble of husband and wife Kris Aquino and James Yap is a sad thing.

When it should have been a private matter, the public feasts on every detail of the controversy, as always, inevitably plunging private individuals (however guilty or innocent they may be) into the monstrosity of public scrutiny and ridicule.

Although everyone knows that discretion is not exactly a trait of Kris, it shouldn't be discounted that whatever action she undertakes has a bearing and repercussion on the people around her, especially those she professes to love and protect.

In this particular issue, she should have thought that going personally to the house of the woman she suspects of ill motive on her husband, being the very public figure that she is, will not go quietly.

Even in the most passionate of negative emotions, she should have thought of her responsibility to show her husband respect (because that is what all husbands want from their wives, regardless if they deserve it or not) being a prayerful and highly devout Catholic wife that she professes to be; and how the issue will again be hurled against the candidacy of her brother, Sen. Noynoy Aquino as a presidentiable (which she is working hard for).

What Kris conveniently forgets is that, in the same way that her "popularity" (read: Campaigning) greatly helps the candidacy of her brother, so will the "notoriety" (read: Controversies) of her actions will have an adverse effect on the same.

It is so easy to say that her issues are domestic and are not at all political. But who draws the line, may I ask, about what is personal and professional in a career that is highly public such as what she and Noynoy have?

After much hullabaloo, there is a fact that can be derived from the incident. Kris's decision tends to "emasculate" the men in her life. If you ask us, to go to the house of a girl fan and advise her to stay away from her husband (or to that effect), against the advice of her husband, her family and her closest friends, did more harm than protect the people she says she loves. It shows that she doesn't give a cent about what her husband thinks, and two, her brother's political concerns come only second to her emotions.

And as far as her making public again, the fact that she and James are again on a "temporary separation because she doesn't want to fool the public," this is another wrong choice. Kris should start thinking that the public does not live with James. The public is not married to James. They don't sleep with him. So, to make public all those wrongdoings of her husband are not forgivable to them.

They cannot just forget and decide to live with him again when the "space" has already given them enough air to breathe. And these are the choices that a wife should be making under the circumstances, no matter how hard.

That is precisely the reason for the great wisdom behind "keeping things private in a marriage" whether you are a public figure or not.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Deciphered etching sheds new light on Bible's origin
By Fadi Eyadat,
Haaretz Correspondent

Torah scroll

Did the writing of the Bible begin as far back as the 10th century B.C.E., during the time of King David? That is four centuries earlier than Biblical scholars currently believe - but an inscription recently deciphered by a scholar at Haifa University indicates that for at least some books of the Bible, the answer may be yes.

The inscription, written in ink on clay, is the earliest yet found in Hebrew. It was discovered about 18 months ago in a dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Emek Ha'ela. While it was quickly dated, its language remained uncertain until Prof. Gershon Galil was able to demonstrate that it was an early form of Hebrew - containing roots commonly found in Hebrew, but which are very rare in other Semitic languages.

The content, Galil said, "which relates to slaves, widows and orphans," is typical of the Biblical text, but reflects ideas virtually unheard of in the surrounding cultures.
Galil said this discovery disproves the current theory, which holds that the Bible could not have been written before the 6th century B.C.E., because Hebrew writing did not exist until then.

Moreover, he added, the inscription was found in what was then a minor, outlying community - so if scribes existed even there, Hebrew writing was probably sufficiently well developed to handle a complex text like the Bible.

When Was the Bible Really Written?

The University of Haifa
A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible was written.

By decoding the inscription on a 3,000-year-old piece of pottery, an Israeli professor has concluded that parts of the bible were written hundreds of years earlier than suspected.

By decoding the inscription on a 3,000-year-old piece of pottery, an Israeli professor has concluded that parts of the bible were written hundreds of years earlier than suspected.

The pottery shard was discovered at excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa near the Elah valley in Israel -- about 18 miles west of Jerusalem. Carbon-dating places it in the 10th century BC, making the shard about 1,000 years older than the Dead Sea scrolls.

Professor Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa deciphered the ancient writing, basing his interpretation on the use of verbs and content particular to the Hebrew language. It turned out to be "a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans," Galil explained in a statement from the University.

The inscription is the earliest example of Hebrew writing found, which stands in opposition to the dating of the composition of the Bible in current research; prior to this discovery, it was not believed that the Bible or parts of it could have been written this long ago.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, current theory holds that the Bible could not have been written before the 6th century B.C.E., because Hebrew writing did not exist until then.

English translation of the deciphered text:

1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Celebrity blogs: more trouble than they’re worth?
By Johanna D. Poblete,

Blogs and networking sites like Twitter have bridged the gap between celebrity and fandom -- fans garner insight into their favorite celebrities’ lives, and celebrities have a direct line to their fans, for better or worse.

The upside for fans would be a semblance of intimacy with their idols (something as harmless as monitoring celebrity activity online without actual engagement, a mild case of celebrity stalking sans malice), whereas idols have a medium of self-expression and can communicate anything under the sun -- and even get paid for it. After all, an army of followers can be translated into a consumer base (just ask Oprah’s book club).

Money grows on tweets

A recent E! Online UK report validated that some celebrities do get paid for personal endorsements online. Notably, reality TV personality Kim Kardashian -- who has 2,747,763 followers on Twitter -- generates $10,000 for every promotional tweet according to (, whose job it is to connect tweeters with ad partners. (The pot of gold, apparently, is $20,000 if either Britney Spears or P. Diddy decides to cash in on tweeting.)

Some of that cash will come in handy in the ongoing legal battle between Ms. Kardashian and a Dr. Sanford Siegal over weight-loss cookies -- the 29-year-old bombshell objected to a link (already deleted) in the Cookie Diet web site that gave the "false impression" that she endorsed the brand, and verbalized this on Twitter -- "Dr. Siegal’s cookie diet is falsely promoting that I’m on this diet. NOT TRUE! I would never do this unhealthy diet! I do QuickTrim!" -- provoking a defamation lawsuit from the other party.

The proliferation of endorsements in the US via independent blogs has prompted the Federal Trade Commission to revise its "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." Bloggers or other "word-of-mouth" marketers who receive cash or in-kind payment to review a product must disclose the "material connections" they share with the seller of the product or service, or else face being fined. According to the FTC, celebrities in particular have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside of traditional ads -- that includes social media such as the Twitter or Facebook.

It takes some doing to police the online community however -- the regulation may be in place, but this can only be enforced on a case-to-case basis. To say that it’s "difficult" to crack down on every celebrity -- or nonentity turned quasi-celebrity by dint of notoriety online -- who gushes about a product, would be an understatement.

At your discretion

Celebrities who’ve made the blogosphere work for them -- and not necessarily in a monetary way -- include Neil Gaiman, whose online journal ( is about as personal as it gets while being a faithful document of his professional goings-on, and whose tweets as "neilhimself" are generally good-natured and humorous ("You have succumbed to my otherwise bland white mug advertisement" he recently joked to one follower).

Talk show host Ellen Degeneres is also a "twitizen," proudly proclaiming "my tweets are real" on her T-shirts (you’ve got to hand it to her; she made merchandise out of simple fact). Her followers are entertained with quips like "ROBERT PATTINSON IS HERE TODAY. WRITING IN ALL CAPS SO YOU CAN HEAR ME OVER ALL THE SCREAMING." And more recently, "I haven’t broken any of my New Year’s resolutions yet! I can’t wait to get started, though."

There are a number of local celebrities, including fashion designers, musicians and filmmakers, on Multiply (singer Lea Salonga’s motto in her blog -- -- is "live, love, laugh"), Twitter and Facebook. There is a concerted effort in blogs to be positive, fun-spirited and wholesome. Check out The Diary of a Supergirl Wannabe ( by Big Brother talk show host Bianca Gonzales, the photo-heavy Lemon.Chamomile ( by KC Concepcion, and the travelogue Oohhh LaLa!!! Come waste your time with me!! ( by TV host Patty Laurel.

Definitely, personality shapes the blog. Walk This Way ( contains the informative, witty and fiercely opinionated musings of host/travel guide Carlos Celdran, who on occasion has disagreed with Writing on Air blogger and APO Hiking Society member Jim Paredes (, also a vocal political sort, and not hesitant to say so on Facebook. Meanwhile, writer Jessica Zafra, "pumping irony since 1994," doesn’t disappoint in her personal blog (

Rajo’s Blog (, the online journal of fashion designer Rajo Laurel, was originally supposed to be a venue for documenting his 15th anniversary collection. Then he went off into tangents about food, jewelry, and generally started "paraphrasing" his lifestyle.

"I enjoy doing it because it’s another way to express myself really... It enables me to connect to a wider audience. I basically become more human to them. I reach out to people who are interested in what I do and in who I am as a person," he told BusinessWorld in a phone interview, admitting that the blog can also be a means of promoting his work and a way to build a network for followers and clients.

"The risks would be you become more open, they are able to get into your psyche. But I am really a positive person, and my blog is full of the joys of life. Blogs in the Philippines have a bad rap, that they’re used as a way to destroy people. But I use my blog to celebrate people, celebrate good things," he added.

Getting too personal

There is the odd fanatic, who feels closer to his celebrity idol if he sleeps in the same brand of PJs, but too much information on the Web has a downside in that it could tarnish the idol’s image -- they do, after all, have their very human moments. A number of celebrities have cause to regret disclosing too much of themselves out there for just anyone to pick up.

Case in point, American teen idol Miley Cyrus and her love/hate affair with Twitter. The euphoria expressed in the early days -- "TWEET! TWEET! TWEET! I JUST TWITTERED. I LOVE TWEETIN’" -- soured after a spate of bad publicity spiraling from her online ruminations. Upon exiting the micro-blog, Ms. Cyrus uploaded a YouTube rap-rationalization, stating, "Everything that I type, everything that I do, all those lame gossip sites take it and they make it news. I want my private life private. I’m done trying to please. I ain’t living for tabloids; I’m living for me... I’m done with all that, and the truth is I’m too busy." Unfortunately for her, a video parody and more tabloid fodder spun off from that post.

There have been controversies over heated comments and postings online -- there was the Demi Moore and Perez Hilton Twitter feud over the latter’s derogatory remarks over a photo of the actress’s daughter, potshots and f-bombs on Twitter thrown at Kanye West by fellow celebrities over his highly unpopular rant during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, and locally, Janice de Belen obliquely berating her ex-husband on her Facebook blog, and Gina Alajar, also on Facebook, commenting on the alleged affair between Manny Pacquiao and Krista Ranillo, addressing her remarks to Jinkee Pacquiao.

Not that the tabloids can be faulted for reporting information that’s already in public view.

"In itself, the business is volatile; put it in an arena where there are no rules... yes, [the Web has] democratized communication, but it has also made us vulnerable," observed The Buzz! and SNN (Showbiz News Ngayon) host Boy Abunda, the undisputed "king of talk" after 16 years of showbiz hosting, with the dual role of talent manager, currently handling the likes of Ai Ai de las Alas, Mariel Rodriguez, Bianca Gonzales, Drew Arellano, Ruffa Mae Quinto, Dawn Zulueta, among a score of other Filipino luminaries.

"There has to be community standards and legal standards. We are still struggling to regulate; in the US there have been two cases won against abuse from the net. I’m amazed at how it can be good... we saw what it did for Charice Pempengco and Ralph Salazar, Arnel Pineda. It can be a rich source of many things if it is used right. But showbiz, it can be fun, but it can also be nasty, especially in a landscape with no rules," Mr. Abunda told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

A way out?

Some celebrities minimize or abstain entirely from the social interactions on the Internet -- there are a number of Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolies out there on Twitter and Facebook, all of whom seem to be impersonators. (A dead giveaway would be the photos uploaded by these public personas, as well as the followers or friends they’re associated with.) Other celebrities play it safe -- Britney Spears, for example, hires a team of social experts to twitter for her, whereas actor Piolo Pascual prudently stays incognito even if he has a number of fan pages dedicated to him.

There have been instances when a celebrity can’t help but put himself out there -- either that or allow someone else to use his name or publish untruths. Actor/director Zach Braff found this out the hard way. On his official website (, you’ll find him announcing his facebook profile ( in May 2009, noting, "There are so many ’fake’ me’s on Facebook that I decided it was time to start an official page."

In October 2009, Mr. Braff also had to deal with the fallout when a fake CNN webpage declared his death by drug overdose -- a prank meant to be limited to a small set of people in 2007 that somehow resurfaced and turned viral. Mr. Braff posted a video in his Facebook account (later disseminated on YouTube) shooting down the false bulletin and calling out the prankster, Chris Laganella, with "you win my first ever ’douche of the day’ award, for making my mom upset." Mr. Laganella has since apologized (

The ability of Web sites to spread information at warp speed could be very helpful (in disaster responsiveness and philanthropy, for example, along the lines of Kevin Bacon’s, but when the information is false, this raises a host of problems. When it comes to celebrity news, local showbiz talk show hosts agree that any material mined from the Internet ought to be backed by solid research "offline."

Mr. Abunda, who employs a team of researchers and has a direct line to a network of well-connected people who supply him with information, finds that there is little need for him to personally scour the Web. However, as a talent manager, he does encourage his talents to utilize their personal blogs and social networking accounts for visibility for that particular target audience.

"I recognize the importance of the medium. My talents are really savvy. When we negotiate for contracts now, we don’t talk multimedia but virtual platforms. No way that I should not know these platforms," he said, while maintaining that any web presence -- even his official website care of ABS-CBN ( -- is someone else’s doing.

Similarly, showbiz talk show host Tim Yap, who moderates Tweetbiz (a play on TwitBuzz, which is an auto-tracker of the memes posted on Twitter), a panel discussion on celebrity issues airing everyday on Q Channel 11, vows that majority of research is done "offline," directly tapping the celebrities themselves, and but a percentage of relevant, verified content online is used for the show.

Nevertheless, he lauds the virtual world’s capabilities when it comes to communication and information dissemination, having maintained a Multiply site ( himself, and currently enamored of the Twitter model, which he finds very convenient. In the past, he was the target of defamation in someone else’s blog; he says being out there, being open, allows people to see the truth about his life. He currently has 25,333 followers, and in turn, follows radio/TV host Ryan Seacrest and author Deepak Chopra, among others.

"The celebrity has to have the right mindset to not tweet their dirty linen; they have to know that it’s public. Otherwise, they would use the privacy setting, right? Twitter serves as their communication line, between themselves and their followers. People have a direct line to the stars. It connects us from the Philippines to Oprah, to Ryan Seacrest, it allows a sneak peek, it’s a little keyhole into their lives," Mr. Yap told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

"Fan pages, official fan clubs, it’s a campaign, a marketing tool, aside from being a goldmine [for the fan] to access everything about the celebrity. In the US, stars are very protective of their privacy; it’s a predator and prey relationship [between paparazzi and celebrity]. Here, people like to flaunt their private lives, so it’s a symbiotic relationship, the media need celebrities for their news reports, and the celebrity needs media for publicity. There it’s a tug-of-war, here it’s a love affair," he added.

But if the plunge into the Web inevitably results in vulnerability, what would be the defense? Mr. Abunda believes in strength of character -- openness tempered by maturity. "How do they stay public and sane? It’s really tough. There’s no formula. Hone what you do. Fight smart. Fight from the point of view of truth. Only respond to what is true about you," said Mr. Abunda.

Gaming After the Apocalypse
An obsession with the end of our species as an interactive entertainment experience.
by Charles Onyett

January 4, 2010 - The world blew up and it's your fault. Maybe you weren't instrumental in the apocalypse, but being a part of the society that made it possible, you're at least guilty in some respect. The deserts are all glass, the cities broken and scattered, the forests charred to dust. You emerge from an underground vault, fall off a truck, or peek out from some other corner of civilization gone. Maybe you've got a knife. If you've got a gun, you definitely don't have much ammunition. Chances are, whatever you find first is going to want your spine as a trophy, and on your back are little more than rags. What to do first in an angry, broken world?

It's a question asked as soon as the action begins. The setting isn't merely a backdrop for conventional gameplay mechanics, it's instrumental in keeping you motivated. The quest goals, the characters, the story; they're all stitched into the theme of the world. If it's Fallout (the first one), you're tracking down a water chip necessary for your people's survival. If it's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, you're trying to find a notorious, peculiar character. If it's Left 4 Dead, it's actually set during the apocalypse, and you're simply trying to escape. In every case, there is but one elementary goal: survive. As you get better at that, the interest in the initial goal is muddied as exploration and discovery give way to elements far more curious and bizarre.

What draws us to a setting so fraught with horrors and death? It's not the glory of victory in battle, something reserved for games like Infinity Ward and Bungie's firework display first-person shooters. It's not to rack up headshots and bloat persistent statistics or to obsessively chase that shiny armor drop from a dungeon boss. Instead, it's a more elusive, subtle goal, something served best by an open-world approach layered with first-person shooting and role-playing game mechanics. Item acquisition, character building, and statistical progression give you an identifiable sense of growth as you move through wastelands. A first-person perspective puts you up close with the environment, keeping it a primary focus of the experience. In a post-apocalyptic game, after you're given your main goal and decided what to do first, the play experience is more about the details. How did this disaster occur? How long ago? What are its lingering effects? When's dinner? What's that growing on my left arm? How do I know if that guy wants to shake my hand or poke out my eyes?

Fallout 3: Why is this a world we want to explore?

The beauty of the post-apocalyptic setting is in its resonant authenticity often quite literally rooted in its foundation. Busted structures jutting like teeth up through a dusty terrain and hidden alcoves buried under rubble packed with artifacts and capsules of culture past. It's grounded in the shared reality of our history, something we automatically accept when we load it up, and from that history the designer projects the fiction forward. Often it's a vision that elicits shame. We had a world, an entire planet, that we let rot, spawning juggernaut forces like the all-consuming sea of corruption in Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind or the grim desolation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. We had a shot at building a society and assuring our continued existence, and we blew it.

In this respect, games appeal to us because, as only games can, they give us an outlet to take control. Their interactive nature means we don't have to sit helpless on the sidelines while we're bombarded with rhetoric about the best possible course forward and how to avoid tweaking the tempers of too many people. In games, we decide. We plot the course forward. If someone's causing trouble in our private virtual space, we can attempt to be diplomatic, attempt to find the most mutually beneficial solution, or we can just slap a bomb collar on them and blow them to bits. It's such an empowering feeling to retreat from the incessant electric buzz of the topic of the day and sink into an unsettlingly plausible, twisted mirror world where the only will that matters is our own. A place where we jump in after the Earth's already been smashed, feel no real responsibility for the calamity, and can take part in reshaping a piece of the future or melting it into nothingness. What a gleefully consequence-free, escapist style of entertainment.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Evils and dangers both metaphorical and literal.

The environment is unrelentingly harsh, but you don't have to worry about your 401k performance. That got wiped out with every other financial institution with a finality that would impress even Tyler Durden. It's a life where you trade in the worry and aggravation over the performance of man-made institutions for a simpler, far more hostile kind of existence. Food, water and weapons, those are your chief concerns. Social roles are distilled into basic hunter and gatherer functions. Everything sophisticated is again raw and savage and primal. Everyone got knocked back to ground zero, and there's every indication that the way you used to behave didn't exactly matter when the clouds caught fire. Is this new world to be a place that gives rise to new resources, like The Zone's artifacts in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or like Mad Max, will it only intensify existing needs and consumption cycles? Are we a race doomed to repeat our mistakes, and do we meet this knowledge with a flippant nonchalance and nihilistic acceptance? Do we only aim to survive when a Tank zombie hurls high speed asphalt chunks at us and three friends, or do we blast deeper to discover a root cause?

There isn't a big picture answer here. There are the small victories. Save your son. Find your dad. Make it to an escape vehicle. Then, occasionally, you may meet a paranormal wish-giver or charge across the ruins of Washinton D.C. alongside a giant robot spewing lasers and anti-communist sentiments. Even with one threat vanquished, thousands more exist. Nothing ever returns to TV sitcom or episodic drama "normal" at the end of an experience. There's only the dynamic path of survival.

It's a path that seems to be swinging more and more into the stream of reality. In the United States, we're fighting in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and have been for some time. We see reports on the news of roadside bomb attacks with smoking craters next to sheared vehicles. While the post-apocalyptic environment is an escape and a chance to start out fresh, echoes of the present like this flutter through the experience, such as dropping down mines for enemy patrols in Fallout 3, the Cylon infiltration and covert attacks aboard the Battlestar Galactica, or the shock and awe, preemptive strike military reasoning exemplified in James Cameron's Avatar that led to something of a spiritual apocalypse. It's difficult enough trying just to stay alive, but by leveraging familiar conflicts and layering the frame of reference, it's made all the more potent.

Left 4 Dead 2: A bloody slice of an apocalypse in progress.

The very idea of the explosion as a catalyst for change is built into the very base of our culture. The Big Bang started it all, and it's far easier (and according to the dinosaurs, more plausible) for our race and culture to be detonated in a fiery spectacle than to slowly waste away as the universe expands and cools or our sun finally goes red giant to swallow and burn everything we've ever produced. It's a message that blares from TV sets on science specials (deadly asteroids!), weather channels (deadly storms!), and tabloid programs (deadly gossip!). At this point, after decades of the threat of all-out nuclear war and fear mongering, we've been browbeaten into believing an apocalypse to be more of an eventuality than a possibility.

So far the Fallout series is the closest we've come to something resembling a videogame equivalent of Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz (though some may argue specifically for Wasteland, which preceded it, instead). It'll be particularly interesting to see how it develops from this point forward since the franchise was successfully revived by Bethesda with the well-received third major installment. Looking forward, there's yet another Fallout game on the horizon, Fallout: New Vegas, which hopefully will present a new angle on the cycle of destruction, mutation, and renewal the franchise is known for.

There's also id Software's RAGE, an entirely new game property from one of the most venerable developers operating today, which coincidentally is now also under Bethesda's parent company Zenimax's umbrella. For id, RAGE represents a huge departure from its standard corridor-shooter fare. It's to be a more open world, to feature terrain traversable by vehicles, and to feature an abundance of story elements. It's a post-apocalyptic world where the disaster was not man-made, where society was obliterated by a rock from above, and how id manages to handle how things play out in a world we shouldn't feel guilty for destroying will ideally result in a different style of experience, both for fans of post-apocalyptic games and id's products.

The Road: A good premise for a game? Too bleak and barren? Would such a thing make Cormac McCarthy's head explode?

I've heard talk of how people are tired of this kind of setting in games, especially when you see how some titles (Borderlands) adopt a post-apocalyptic kind of look without incorporating its themes. Considering the alternatives (the 70 bazillionth game where you play a space marine / invincible supersoldier / hardened war hero), shouldn't we be encouraging this sub-genre even more than we already have? At a time where millions of Americans and others worldwide are affected by merciless economic downturn, the sophistication and effectiveness of weapons systems grow at exponential rates, and the planet on which we live appears to be melting thanks to artificial heating, what better way to laugh at our follies and consider its lasting effects than by jumping past the point of calamity, starting over, and having the power not only to interpret events, but to interact and shape the vision of how it should all be?