Syndicate content

Shannon's blog

Posted by Shannon

CBC’s Q debate over whether theatre patrons should text during the show reflects a general cluelessness about online content. If it’s unpaid then it's marketing and promotions so, yes, of course theatres should create a space for tweet monkeys. They labour for free on behalf of the PR department.  Just segregate them from patrons who actually want to watch the show sans screen-glare. 

If I were directing a theatre company I’d comp a cadre of 20ish tweet monkeys just the way companies drop swag on teen haulers and fashion bloggers. I’ve long wondered why the arts world, which is forever bemoaning its greying audience, has been so slow to embrace blogging, influencer marketing, and social media. In the quest to get young bums in seats it seems an obvious choice.

- Read more

Dr. Divi's angels

09 May 2012
Posted by Shannon

I think of alternative medicine practitioners as healthcare’s answer to climate-change deniers, so I was surprised recently to find a medical doctor advocating magic over medicine.

I tripped over Dr. Divi and her angels at Vancouver’s Wellness Show, where she was counseling an audience on how communing with spirit guides could get at the “real” source of an ailment. As I relate in last month’s Tyee column, Dr. Divi takes her imaginary friends literally, and is happy to consult with them on your behalf, starting at $99.

- Read more
Posted by Shannon

The New Yorker’s entirely wonderful TV critic Emily Nussbaum just made the job of training tweet-monkeys infinitely easier with her brilliant one line description of what the best TwitterSpeak should be

 “It’s a way of speaking that lies between writing and conversation, intimacy and theatre.”

That insight was hooked to a review of HBO’s hot new show Girls, in which we see a character rewriting and editing a tweet about her personal angst, instead of delivering the sort of impulsive brainfart for which the medium is known.

It reminds me of good actors, who have learned how to reveal their most intimate selves in ways that engage an audience as no mere display of narcissism can. It may seem raw, but there are layers of artifice and craft in a good performance and I notice that many actors bring the same delicate techniques to their online personae. Even when their posts are mostly (if not entirely) self-serving they feel like a gift for the audience. It’s true of both Hollywood actors and those who tread the boards on local stages. 

In calling Twitter a form of theatre Nussbaum noticed what I’ve often observed but n’er said so well: actors are the masters of social media because updates are performances that only resemble interpersonal conversations. Most marketers don’t understand this. Or publicists. Certainly not writers. Surprisingly, many performers are gaffe-prone in social media. Just as in real life, dancers are often indiscreet. And most broadcasters – whom we might expect to have a handle on this sort of thing – are among the worst. In tone, they either lecture us from on high or blurt TMI.

- Read more

Dust & Lust

30 Apr 2012
Posted by Shannon

dust and lustdust and lustThe annual conspiracy to turn spring into the season of housework shouldn’t go unchallenged, so I gave it my best shot over at Calgary’s Swerve magazine.

Dust & Lust – the erotic aspect of housecleaning – is the ideal justification for merely flirting with a mop instead of employing it. And if you need further resolve on an anti-scrubbing campaign, there’s always inspiration to be had in Mad Men. The season five opener has the new Mrs. Draper cleaning in her scanties…but not for long. 

- Read more

Mad Men research

25 Mar 2012
Posted by Shannon

I was thrilled to learn that my piece on how Mad Men is as much a how-to course as an entertainment was on the reading list of Concordia University’s Political Science 368 class, “Media, Technology and Politics.”  My theory is that there’s a real life Don and Peggy behind the show seducing audiences into buying clothes, books, and all manner of product tie-ins via some of the most dazzling marketing communications ever seen.

Mad Men is the ultimate in postmodern entertainment – it shows us how and why we’re susceptible to The Sell all the while suckering us in ways we find delightful.

So as season five kicks off tonight, I’ll be watching. Only I call it research.

- Read more
Posted by Shannon

The chatteratti are so mystified by NBC’s dreadful Smash, set in the world of Broadway producers, that they’ve dubbed it Flop after just a handful of episodes. Little wonder, since the scriptwriters seem to have never seen the inside of a green room.

But my pal Mark Leiren-Young, a TV writer himself, spotted the will-of-the-suits in that bad script. 

“It feels like there’s another pilot out there – the one that got greenlit and that everyone signed on for – and some network exec declared that the characters weren’t likeable enough and sprinkled them all with icing sugar,” he groused on Facebook.

So he went Googling around to test his theory. Sure enough, he found the blog of a TV critic who reviewed the pilot and moaned over how unlikable the characters were.

And therein lies the secret to reworking this clunker: Make the songwriters’ evil, switch-hitting assistant the star. I see a young, hot, ambitious guy who comes to New York hiding his smarm beneath a veneer of folksy, midwestern charm. He gets hired by the desperate songwriting duo (who had an accidental hit years before, a sort of Springtime for Hitler, and are now feeling that sophomore got-no-talent slump). They’re grasping at straws and snap up his banal Marilyn idea, which quickly devolves into a Spiderman-style fiasco.

- Read more
Posted by Shannon

My pal Kevin – a profound believer in the importance of  common sense -- was driven to ranting recently when he saw a society of foodies whose members ignored the warning to thaw vacuum packed fish sans packaging.

In an online discussion thread they speculated on why this warning existed. Certainly the fish tasted as good if you ignored the warning, a couple volunteered. (Yikes!) Maybe the concern was for crushing the delicate meat?

It’s just that degree of mind-boggling ignorance about basic science that is inclined to enrage the normally patient Kevin.

Kind-hearted soul that he is, he worried these dimwits might kill their children. (Personally, I feel this can only improve the gene pool, but he scolds me for airing such views.)  He tried to post a warning only to be met with a demand that he join the society first. Then he began that cool-headed ranting of the sort only the scientifically inclined can do.

I think it’s a public service to post his email here.

- Read more

Shadow Work

05 Feb 2012
Posted by Shannon

I’m mystified as to why so many people have embraced the Tom Sawyer-like scheme to work for free on behalf of corporations, and I took a look at the problem in last week's Tyee column

Whether we’re checking out our own groceries and robbing cashiers of a job, or becoming data entry clerks contributing personal information to Facebook and Foursquare we’re remarkable suckers. 

As individuals, we could refuse to use one platform or another, and certainly it helps to raise people’s awareness of social media hazards. But since many jobs require employees to use the three most popular sites – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn -- the only real solution is legislation to protect the public interest. - Read more

Posted by Shannon

My latest column at on the decline of old-fashioned TV watching prompted a poster to make an excellent point: Ironically, some of the best television ever produced is airing right now.

And as we’re all watching it by other means, it’s important we tip our friends to what’s good. I’ve started a list of the stuff I’ve loved, and would welcome any recommendations.


This is the single best TV show I’ve seen since Mad Men (with The Wire and Deadwood being my other benchmarks). I might have missed it because the story of a trigger-happy U.S. Marshall assigned to work hillbilly Kentucky couldn’t interest me less. Or so I thought. It was inspired by an Elmore Leonard short story, and features some of the most disciplined TV writing anywhere. The episodes fly by and the taut scripts leave you wanting more -- along with the great acting. It stars Tim Olyphant who played Bullock in Deadwood and a couple of characters actor who will look vaguely familiar, but you probably can’t place. Season 1 is good, with the fascinating Walton Coggins as Boyd, the cracker criminal who is the flip side of Olyphant’s Marshall character Raylan Givens. But Season 2 is brilliant, in no small part due to Margo Martindale, who plays Mags, a sort of Ma Barker of the hillbilly set. Season 2 just hit DVD, and Season 3 kicks off this month on FX. It was created by Canadian Graham Yost.

- Read more
Posted by Shannon

Kudos to the sharp writers at for noticing self-promoting “technology columnist” Amber MacArthur is bragging about doing Brand Journalism for the Ford Motor Company as a special information feature on the Globe and Mail site.

MacArthur explained how this new take on advertorial works to Marketing magazine.

“Since a few of us have worked in the journalism field,” she said, “we are confident that these storytelling skills will be absolutely essential as brands try to reach out with more authenticity online.”

After I stopped laughing, I asked around to find out if this was satire. But I have it on good authority that the Powers That Be at the Globe have no sense of humour. Although I’m not so sure about that: they do run Margaret Wente.

- Read more