Sunday, September 14, 2008

Up to no good

Today my fiancée and I visited Universal Studios. (We took her nephews there last December and got tickets that gave us limited free admission for the whole of 2008, so it was an inexpensive outing.) Primarily we were interested in checking out the new Simpsons Ride (which was still under construction during our last trip), but we also took in some of the other attractions.

No trek to the park would be complete without going on the studio tour, which (for those who don't know) involves riding a tram through the Universal front lot and back lot areas. Although there is a live person at the front to point out the various sites along way, there are also short pre-recorded videos featuring Whoopi Goldberg that are shown on overhead screens during between areas of interest on the tour.

We've been on the tour at least four times in the past three years, and have sat through Whoopi's bits every time. Those have not changed. However, during this visit there was a moment that struck us that never had before.

Whoopi used the word "uppity"; that term took on a certain spotlight recently when Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland used it to describe the Obamas, which was interpreted as racist by some, but certainly was used in a pejorative way.

I wish I could recall exactly the sentence Whoopi used, but I think it was in this context: After the tour has taken riders through areas that mimic areas like the Old West or a European city, she pretends to hear a question from a girl on the third car asking if they can mimic the ocean. This is intended to introduce the Falls Lake area on the back lot which has a huge wall next to it and (apparently) doubles as the ocean for filming purposes. However, Whoopi feigns a tone of well-look-how-smart-you-are, clearly intended to be joking. (She even uses "Missy" to refer to this hypothetical inquirer.)

Again, we'd heard that three times before. It means nothing more now than it did on each of those previous visits. I don't believe Whoopi intended it as an insult; moreover, I don't believe NBC-Universal would allow the footage to be used on the tour if there were even the slightest perception of it possibly being interpreted as offensive to anyone. (Hell, it's entirely possible that they came up with it in a script for her.)

We were not offended. I didn't pick up on any of the tourists around us being offended; they were too busy trying to video tape the empty lake next to the giant blue wall (despite it being one of the less interesting parts of the tour from a visual standpoint, in my humble opinion).

But my fiancée and I did notice it. This time.

Is it simply because an elected official said something stupid? I'd say no; I'm quite certain politicians say stupid things with alarming regularity without it altering my experience in familiar situations.

Is it because the mainstream media jumped all over the story so that I pretty much could not avoid becoming aware that a politician said something stupid--despite the story's ultimate importance was only that it pointed out that a politician said something stupid--as though that, in and of itself, justifies saturating the coverage of the story when really it merely indicates the 24-hour news channels have too much time to fill and feel the need to sensationalize any story they can in an effort to try to compete in the contemporary market?

I'm not eliminating that as a possibility.

It's kind of like how the last episode of The Sopranos changed hearing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" for months afterward, only without any potential artistic merit behind it.

Just like how eventually the song ceased to have that association, it stands to reason that down the road when I hear Whoopi Goldberg's three-year-old videotaped quips for theme park rides I won't blink at any particular term she includes. But today I did.

I guess the only real solution is to avoid the media altogether, but that's somewhat unrealistic. And I'm reasonably certain it will only be a matter of time before there's another such story that changes a pre-existing association for a while, so I may as well just get used to this sort of thing. That is ostensibly what the public wants.

It's unlikely there'll be any changes to the content of the studio tour. No, that would only occur if there were protests against Universal in response to this, all because somebody said a word three years ago with which no one had a problem until a man from Georgia used that word to put down another man who was running for president.

But no one has protested, at least as far as I can tell. And a protest, in and of itself, would not bring about any change unless... it became a story for the media to run into the ground.

Not that I'm ruling that out. But I'm certainly hoping it doesn't come to that.

I suppose solace is found in remembering the sentiment of a George Harrison album name: All things must pass.

Perhaps that's an uppity sort of thing to say.


On a side note: The Simpsons Ride is a nice update on the Back to the Future ride it replaced. I don't care if that's an uppity opinion.

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