Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Improv, SNL, babies and 30 Rock — Fey’s giant juggle act

Tina Fey’s already best selling book is not so much a memoir as an explication of her philosophy of being a modern woman, writes Mahima Kaul

At first, a full disclaimer: I have, like possibly millions of other women, a complete girl-crush on Tina Fey. It began with a special edition DVD of Mean Girls, which cemented my Fey Fandom, and since then she has not failed to disappoint. Sarah Palin impressions on SNL, her award-winning show 30 Rock, even the film Date Night...her career has marched to the beat of its own drum, and this is one loud, celebratorial drum!

So, this brings us to her book, a loose autobiography. Fey has departed from the standard format and divided the book into various sections that cover the people and moments that have defined her life. And its decisions such as these and the million anecdotes in the book that make you realise this woman knows exactly who she is, and the confidence is electric.

To the book! Fey writes about the first moment she became aware of the millions things that can be considered "incorrect" on a woman's body. I remember mine — it was Aishwarya Rai, saying in a TV ad, 'if only our stomachs could be as flat.' Fey is clear about the traps society sets women. She rejects them outright, hilariously listing out body parts for which she is grateful, and this sets the tone. This actually is a book that deals with Fey's philosophy about being a woman in the 2000s. It is not really a memoir, which was a little disappointing.

She does on to describe her foray into the world of improvisational comedy (improv) — listing out rules for the uninitiated — and describes the thrill of performing for an audience. This is where Fey hits her stride. She talks about interviewing for Saturday Night Live and meeting her future mentor, Lorne Michaels. From a geeky kid growing up in the suburbs, she suddenly morphs into a career gal who is quite aware that her chosen profession is in truth a boys' club. A very quoted part of the book, when Amy Poehler slams Jimmy Fallon for not finding her funny — "I don't ***king care if you like it" — is a "cosmic shift" for Fey because she internalises this comment. Just because someone else doesn't like it, doesn't mean it isn't good. She advises women to do the same — "Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you're in charge, don't hire the people who were jerky to you."

Bossypants reveals Fey's love for her coworkers, and I suspect this deep connection can be found in her improv roots. She talks about leaving SNL and coming up with the concept for 30 Rock, all while pregnant with her first baby. Her decision to lampoon Sarah Palin on SNL, and her description of the incredible media coverage that followed, are the best chapters in my opinion. It is the eternal question when looking at a woman as successful as Fey: how does one act, write, executive produce, raise a baby and continue to look as relaxed and pretty as she does, all at the same time? There is a confidence to Fey that comes from an impressive understanding of the world she operates in. Her description of posing for magazine covers, when she reveals her willingness to be Photoshopped rather than opt for cosmetic sugery, is so endearing that you can't help but like her. I absolutely love that she writes about Amy Poehler's rapping during Sarah Palin's SNL guest spot: "The moment most emblematic of how things have changed for women in America was nine-month pregnant Amy Poehler rapping as Sarah Palin, tearing the roof of the place." If you haven't seen this clip, you need to Youtube it, because it is a phenomenal few minutes of entertainment television.

I had been searching for a chapter on Mean Girls and felt a bit cheated when I didn't find it. But, after I slept on it, I realised the book actually continues the philosophy she espouses in the movie -- if women are bad to each other, then it signals to the men that it is okay to be so too. She is brutally honest about her decision not to breastfeed, about the awkward relationship between a working mother and her babysitter (she means nanny) and finally, about deciding to have another baby at 40 and the many complications this brings in terms of her career.

The final verdict: it is an incredibly witty and honest insight into the life of a successful woman executive in the entertainment industry in the US. It is also not a book meant to talk about her life per se; she has glossed over her scar, the fact that she was a virgin until 24, and her romance with her husband. Instead, she's focused mainly on that personal development which led to professional development. By all accounts, the audio book might be funnier, as Fey's reading of the chapters include mimicking Alec Baldwin and Tracy Jordan. If not, watching her hour-long discussion with Eric Schimidt (available online) to see these stories come alive. Because, if anything, Tina Fey is a performer, and by god, Bossypants is an excellent performance.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

OBL's death puts Twitter on overdrive

Osama Bin Laden may have tried to duck technology, but it ultimately caught up with him. A fairly large house in a well-to-do suburb without connectivity? It was just a matter of time before the inevitable alarm bells rang. In 2011, it is absolutely foolish to not be connected to the internet, and in OBL's case it was downright lethal. (OBL is the acronym Bin Laden goes by on Twitter.) Just how connected are we?

For starters, the fact that OBL's neighbour, Sohaib Athar, was live tweeting the raid, and in doing so, he outed the operation, is impressive: "Since taliban (probably) don't have helicopters, and since they're saying it was not 'ours', so must be a complicated situation." He wasn't alone. After a successful operation, Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tweeted, "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn." This tweet went viral and in a short amount of time, thousands and even more thousands of people started logging on to Twitter, speculating and circulating whatever news they could find.

An online poll conducted by Mashable.com revealed that the majority of people were getting their information off social networking sites, with TV operating in the background. Ask anyone, and the answer will echo that sentiment.

Twitter went into electric overdrive (if that is even a phrase), and official estimates state that right after President Obama finished his remarks, there were 5,008 tweets per second. This means 300,480 opinions per minute. This is second only to the spike witnessed in the aftermath of the Japan tsunami, which peaked at 6,939 tweets per second.

It has been widely recognised that OBL's death has officially put Twitter's influence as a news source above the mainstream media's, with major journalists tweeting away as well.

Not to be left behind, Facebook has seen close to 500,000 people join a group called "Osama Bin Laden is DEAD". Taking advantage of this clear expression of interest, links to Osama's death video have been sent out by hackers via email and social networking sites in an effort to steal sensitive personal information or infect computers. The virus is so widespread that even the FBI has put out a statement cautioning against clicking on the links.

In India, OBL's death has brought up another controversial subject, Indo-Pak relations. Twitter lists out "trending topics" on the right side of the page that indicates the topics being discussed the most, and the group @Trendsmap India tabulates the results for India. Here, the conversation went somewhat like this: #osamadead, #abbottabad, #dawood, #kasab, #zardari, #bombers, #afzal, #assassination and so on. These topics make it very clear that unlike the US, which was more concerned about proof of Osama's death, and despite the large conspiracy theories floating online, Indians were primarily reflecting on their own war on terror. And this demographic has great untapped potential. Half of India's population is under 25, and 2/3 are under 40 years. In a figure released by Antti Ohrling of BLYK this week, a company that works in the sphere of mobile-based marketing, just over 50% of Indian youth accessed the internet in the past three months. Even if a healthy number of these use or begin to use Twitter as a way of expressing opinions, this will give traditional media a run for its money.

Social media's appeal has been widely discussed in the media. I think it has been best described by Patrick Ruffini, when he tweeted, "last night, the real time flow of text on a 3 inch display proved more compelling and addictive than the moving image." The thing about social media is that the narrative keeps shifting and adjusting according to new information and opinion that appears online. So, if someone were to ask, "how did they identify OBL's body?" it is only a matter of minutes before another person links to the New Scientist's article explaining how. The speed at which new information gets updated on social media, and the variety of sources it links back to, is unprecedented. That is why the computer/mobile screen has come to become a hotbed of interactivity that newspapers and televisions simply cannot compete with. And they don't need to since the phenomenon of "Social TV" has arrived.

This is when viewers watch the mainstream and report it on social networks, therefore connecting those who are on social networks with the mainstream. It is also the reason why most television channels and newspapers have a social media component, and why government and politicians are getting social media accounts. And what makes compelling reading is the mixture of news, opinion, jokes — "so OBL is dead... amazing what the Americans can do when they Playstation Network is down" — and personal anecdotes.

As for OBL, his death is historic for many reasons. But the unexpected one is that people went to Twitter first to talk about it. And even bigger, Twitter told them about it first.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

New Delhi reacts!

My little byte in this video by Global Post:


"Whats after Bin Laden?"