June 25, 2006 | 9 :00 p.m. ET

The movie the blogosphere adopted (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

It hasn't even started playing yet at a theater near you— but it's already got a buzz you can hear right through your computer screen. I'm talking about "Snakes On A Plane."

I'm not won't waste time explaining the plot of "Snakes on a Plane." The title pretty much gives it away.

What started as a fairly inconsequential film somehow caught fire in the blog world.

It's got planes, it's got snakes, and it has Samuel L. Jackson. Who wouldn't want to see this movie?

New Line Cinema
Kenan Thompson in "Snakes on a Plane."
In a kind of perfect storm of viral promotion, bloggers adopted "Snakes on a Plane" and began offering their own suggestions on how to script and market it.

New Line, the studio behind Snakes On A Plane, had no idea any of this was coming...in fact, it's the kind of free promotional campaign most studios only dream of.

And so New Line's marketing department just kind of relaxed, while what can only be described as sheer madness began.

Don't believe me? Check out " Snakes on a blog." There's amateur artwork submitted by bloggers. And the clothing, the graphics, the fan sites, and the videos... you've already seen the official trailer. But bloggers have submitted many of their own — from low-tech to live action, to much more elaborate. Some people sent in songs to be included in the film. 

There's also one line of dialogue that many, many bloggers wanted to hear Samuel L. Jackson say in the movie, and film-makers agreed to put it in. Dateline will not let me say that line (hint: it uses dirty words) but that doesn't mean you should go see the movie. Trust me-- great films are rarely written by committee.

Wired magazine has already named it the "best worst movie of the year."  The snakes are set loose, August 18th. My guess is audiences will be doing most of the hissing.

So my advice is wait for cable.

And then, when it runs on cable, go to the movies.

June 3, 2006 | 8 :00 p.m. ET

15 downloads of fame (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

We talk a lot about celebrity. But I want to introduce you to the concept of e-lebrity.

Take the “Backdorm Boys.” I can't watch their video without laughing. Students at a Chinese university, guys who don’t speak a word of English—except for the lip-synched lyrics to this Backstreet Boys” song.  The video flew through cyberspace. They're famous on the Web, and now, they’ve been signed for a Pepsi commercial.

They’ve become “e-lebrities.” It’s a term I first heard at the video website Break.com. An e-lebrity is someone famous only on the Internet.

But sometimes, an e-lebrity is someone who doesn’t want to become famous. One young man is known the world over as the “Star Wars Kid” — doing his own lightsaber routine using a piece of golf equipment. He never intended for the video to be posted and downloaded and when it was, again, and again, he sued the high school friends who had posted it. The parties settled out of court.

Gary Brolsma was 19 when he posted this video of himself lip-synching to a Romanian techno-pop song.  He apparently did not intend the Numa-Numa dance to become easily the most popular viral video ever, downloaded millions of times. The attention reportedly made poor Gary something of a recluse in his New Jersey home.

If that’s true, I think it’s a shame. I love the Numa-Numa video. It’s funny, and it’s charming. And I actually like the Backdorm Boys way more than the original Backstreet Boys.

Here’s the thing about e-lebrity: it’s the Internet equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle. It is impossible to replicate.

In the future, everyone will become an e-lebrity... for 15 downloads.

May 28, 2006 | 8 :00 p.m. ET

What does Memorial Day mean to you? (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

What will you be doing on Memorial Day? A family barbecue? “The Da Vinci Code”? There’s almost certainly a big sale at the mall. It’s Memorial Day. Does that mean anything?

In the blog world, there’s a lot of talk about it...as the unofficial start of summer.

“As we zoom toward Memorial Day, I am reminded that it’s almost time to break out all that fantastic white denim.”

To some, it’s just a welcome day off.

“Since there is nothing going on for Memorial Day, who all would be interested in doing a 'Star Wars' marathon at my place?”

Truth is, a lot of us have forgotten what Memorial Day is really all about. It’s not about supporting the troops, the president, or whatever war we happen to be fighting at the time.
It is about honoring our war dead, the men and women who didn’t make it home.

Memorial Day officially began in 1868, to honor those killed in the civil war. After World War one we expanded it to include all casualties of war, meaning that tomorrow will honor the memory and sacrifice of more than 1.2 million Americans....

Patriots like Nathan Hale, who regretted that he had only one life to give for his country.

Or Colin Kelly Jr., who in the first days after Pearl Harbor, gave the crew of his crippled bomber time to bail out while he died at the controls.

Lori Piestewa, who went to Iraq saying she didn’t want to be a hero, but ended up dying as one.

Somehow, Memorial Day has gotten lost. It is a holiday to commemorate something sad, and we don’t like sad in this culture. These days, the Pentagon won’t even let us take pictures of the coffins coming home.

Back in 1971, our government made a terrible decision, moving Memorial Day from May 30th and making it simply the last Monday in May, and therefore part of an annual three-day weekend. That was great for retailers, for car dealers, and the charcoal-briquet industry.

But it pushed the real purpose of Memorial Day into the background.

Some bloggers understand:

“We have troops dying each day and yet when Memorial Day rolls around, we jump in the pool and fire up the grill without giving much thought to those who have died for our country or the families that have been torn apart by their loss.”

“You folks need a refresher course in history.”

And generally, big cities need that refresher course more than small-town America, which in a lot of places, still does Memorial Day right.

So by all means, fire up the grill tomorrow. But just take a moment, and think about all those people who went off to fight for you— and who never came back.

Maybe you’ll get along with your own family a little better.

April 30, 2006 | 7 :50 p.m. ET

Pain at the pump (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

How are you getting to work tomorrow? Public transportation, or carpool? Good for you.

But if you’re one of the more than 100 million Americans who commute alone in your car... you’re probably already in a bad mood.

Across the country, gas prices are up, and on the blogs, everyone is whining.

“I’m going to have to get a part time job just to fill my tank and go to work.”

“I have a 9-mile per gallon truck. Not good.”

“Oh, god, is it over yet?”

The answer is no. Gas prices are going to continue to rise . And whose fault is that?

It’s convenient to blame the oil companies: Exxon just posted its biggest first-quarter profit ever: $ 8.4 billion dollars. But as a lot of bloggers point out, they had our help in doing it.

“Blaming big oil for high gas prices is a little like blaming McDonald’s for obesity.”

I agree with that. We don’t conserve, we don’t carpool, and we keep clinging to the idea that big cars make us seem tougher or cooler.

An ad is now running for the Hummer.  The H2 is so heavy, it doesn’t have to report its fuel efficiency. Filling the tank costs about $93.

Politically, this is hardest on the president, who’s a big believer in the free market and whose vice-president met secretly with energy companies back in 2001 to develop national energy policy.

What did they talk about in those meetings? Well, if they told us, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?

But that’s what fuels the belief on the net that the rise in gas prices is some sort of conspiracy. Both the president and vice-president are former oilmen.

On the other side are bloggers who say Democrats are keeping prices up by blocking Arctic oil drilling and by refusing to compromise on gas taxes or clean-air issues.

Maybe you’ve gotten a chain e-mail, urging a gasoline boycott to get prices down. Just fyi: it’s been in circulation since 1999. See how well it’s working?

Maybe I’ll start carpooling tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll really save gas, and just stay home. Thank me later.

April 9, 2006 | 7 :50 p.m. ET

Gawker and celebrity stalkers (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

Here’s a question for you:What rights do celebrities have to be left alone? The same as the rest of us?

We worship fame in this country and our celebrities both pay for that and get paid from it. The tabloid press has never been as aggressive as it is today, sometimes downright invasive, battling for the shot that will sell a magazine cover.

One— and only one— of the places those photographers get their information about where to find celebrities is from a blog called Gawker. Gawker encourages readers to e-mail tips of star sightings which are then posted in its Gawker-Stalker column and plotted on a map of Manhattan.

George Clooney has gone to war against Gawker, urging his friends to email the site with phony celebrity sightings so no one will be able to use it as a tool to locate the real stars. Clooney and others say the issue here is safety and that Gawker-Stalker makes life easier for actual stalkers.

Is this just Clooney’s attempt to stage-manage his own publicity? Gawker’s readers, at least, aren’t buying what Clooney’s selling. But I think Clooney has a point. Covering the celebrities is one thing most stars know that kind of comes with the territory. But encouraging people to chart their locations on a map... well, that’s kind of creepy.

The editors of Gawker defend it all as harmless fun. The truth is, they don’t know who’s e-mailing them, who’s reading those posts, or what they do with that information. There’s no indication that any real stalkers have been helped by anything on Gawker— at least, not so far.

But as I thought about it, there are plenty of good reasons for the general public to avoid some celebrities: I’m talking about Naomi and the maid, Russell and the hotel clerk, Naomi and the assistant, and Lindsay behind the wheel.

Maybe we should take Gawker’s star map as a guide to places you should avoid.

And if you really want to see celebrities, just do what I do: go to the movies.

April 2, 2006 | 7 :50 p.m. ET

Juggling jealousy smackdown (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

There’s a nasty battle brewing in the blog world. But it’s not about immigration or the war. It’s about... juggling.

Meet Chris Bliss, star of a video that’s flying around cyberspace. Set to music, Bliss’ performance is more than four minutes of crowd pleasing moves. Bloggers loved it. I saw it when someone e-mailed it to me. It didn’t seem exactly controversial.

But it turns out that on the ‘Net, a juggling jealousy smackdown is only a click away.

Jason Garfield, another juggler, used the audio track of the Chris Bliss performance to do his own routine. On the ‘Net, it's know as the Chris Bliss Diss video.

The big difference? Bliss keeps three balls in the air. Jason Garfield uses five, and at one point, ten. His point? That despite the applause, Chris bliss isn’t that talented. On his Web page, Garfield wrote, “If you think he’s a good juggler, you are wrong.” To him, the Bliss routine is too easy and lacks grace. But Bliss says it’s uplifting and gives people a feeling they hadn’t had in quite some time.

I’m no expert, but I thought both routines were pretty impressive. What I was really surprised about was how much hostility was generated just from a piece of tape of a guy juggling.

But then I saw something on Jason Garfield’s blog about why he went after Chris Bliss: “Penn dared me, and I delivered.”

Penn, as in Penn Jillette, the talking, juggling half of the team of “Penn and Teller.” “Penn, who taught me how to get laughs by shoving a fork into my eye.”

I spoke with Penn Jillette via Webcam. “It’s just all in fun,” he said.

And fun means starting a fight.

“If there is room for Chris Bliss and there is, there’s also room for Jason Garfield to make fun of him,” Jillette added. 

Penn, as you may have guessed, rarely misses a chance to have fun at someone else’s expense. “One more thing ... and in the end, Josh, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”

If you care, the only thing I’ve ever juggled has been girlfriends. Perhaps we’ll talk more about that another time.

March 26, 2006 | 7 :30 p.m. ET

The blog awards (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

Video: Blog awards We like awards in this country. We like giving them, we like getting them, we like watching other people get them.  So you shouldn't be surprised that there are now awards in the blog world.

The 2006 Weblog Awards are out — known as the bloggies. Technorati says there are an estimated 30.6 million blogs. Out of that came 30 winners.

The best British or Irish blog is called “Girl with a one track mind.”  She likes to write about her sex life. Trust me, there's plenty to write about.

The best European blog is called “My boyfriend is a *word Josh can't say on Dateline NBC.”

Winner of the most humorous blog is "Overheard in New York." It's actually not bad, the blog is filled with funny or bizarre sentence fragments heard on the street and e-mailed in, like: “Today was the first day I took a Celebrex since the pogo stick thing.”

And Boing-Boing, which is the only one of the winning blogs that I have ever actually read, won a lifetime achievement award. Just for comparison, on the Oscars, Director Robert Altman won a Lifetime Achievement Award. He's 81 years old. Boing Boing is 6. But in the blog world, that's apparently a lifetime.

Now the big winner (can you just cut the virtual tension with a virtual knife?):  The best American blog and also blog of the year is something really interesting, called “ Post-secret,”in which people anonymously send in postcards bearing their secrets.

“I have never played a round without cheating.”
“I'm scared to drive.”
“My best friend keeps me around for my pot connection.”

Here's my secret: I have nothing close to the amount of time it would require to read most of these blogs. And I truly wonder whether anyone else does, either.

Clearly, there are some well-known blogs with a lot of traffic. Some people seem to be writing just to themselves and a few close friends... some of whom, I think, might be imaginary.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Most of the winners of the 2006 bloggies get a cash prize of 20 dollars and 6 cents.

And best of all, you don't have to listen to the acceptance speeches. And for that I would like to thank the Bl-Cademy.

March 12, 2006 | 7 :30 p.m. ET

When big corporations enter the blog world (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

One of the things I like about blogs is that they’re kind of cool and subversive. Anyone can contribute anything, and the private thoughts of one person are posted right next to the latest pop-up from corporate America. But of course, you can block pop-ups.

Which brings me to Exhibit A: This video is flying around the blog world. If you’ve ever watched “The Simpsons,” then you by now know that the video circling the Web is an expertly-made, live-action copy of the animated opening of the show. Video shows Homer working at the nuclear plant, Bart on his skateboard, little Maggie getting scanned at the supermarket --- and bloggers can’t get enough of it.

Here’s how ingenious it really is: It looks like a cleverly done amateur video, maybe a student film. But then you realize producing a film this good isn’t cheap— so it would have to be a student with a huge trust fund.

And so who’s really behind the Simpsons video? Fox. The video was done to market British Sky broadcasting, a TV network owned by Rupert Murdoch.

That doesn’t make it any less clever. In fact, maybe it’s more clever, because it’s really just another commercial. And instead of fast-forwarding through it or going to the fridge, people have been watching this ad over and over.

Blogs, the very symbol of the Internet counter-culture have become just another tool of corporate marketing.

Exhibit B: this blogger is singing the praises of Wal-Mart and contacted bloggers who support them on issues from labor to health insurance to communities that want to keep Wal-Mart from locating there.

It turns out some of the language on those blogs is taken straight from Wal-Mart’s own e-mails.  It’s not really a big secretmbut it’s worth noting that what might seem like a little piece of independent blogging was actually written by the publicity department at a big corporation. (Btw, right no,  there are over a 150,000 blog postings about Wal-mart.)

We’re owned by a big corporation, maybe the biggest in the world, and G.E. just started its own blog. Check out other corporate blogs: HP, Boeing, McDonalds, and Nike.

Fox, Wal-Mart, General Electric: Doesn’t quite fit the image of the blogger as a sort of Internet pirate.

The culture has collided with the counter-culture. Who are you betting on?

March 3, 2006 | 3:30 p.m. ET

A thought about the big Oscar day (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

Sadly, the Oscars and the Super Bowl have replaced Election Day as national cultural moments, times when you know exactly what everyone else in the country is doing. We don't all vote anymore — not even close— but we do all watch television.

And with that choice has come some serious consequences. Imagine how much better off we'd be as a nation if we took as much interest in our elections as we do in the NFL, and in the comings and goings of celebrities. Think of it: In that alternative universe, we might actually know where John Kerry stands on the Iraq war. At least, that would get as much coverage as Brad, Angelina, and Peyton.

Sunday night, our focus — quite rightly — should be on the stars we've created and the work they've done. Since it's on national (make that international) television, it's hard to believe anyone who's invited to Hollywood's biggest party would miss going.

But that wasn't always the case.

In 1942, my grandfather was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Original Screenplay. The script was a thinly-veiled send-up of the life of William Randolph Hearst, called "Citizen Kane," and it won. However, Herman Mankiewicz was so sure that he wouldn't win that he didn't go to the ceremony. He was at home, in his bathrobe, listening to the radio [NBC didn't put the Academy Awards on TV until 1953], when he found out he'd become part of Hollywood history.

I didn't know him, but I suspect he later wished he had attended.

Congratulations in advance to all the winners... including those who don't show up.

February 5, 2006 | 7:55 p.m. ET

Oprah story is not over in the blogosphere (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

Here in the mainstream media, the Oprah story is over. Newspapers and TV have moved on to other things. But check the blog world — it’s not over.

Type “Oprah” into Blogpulse or Technorati. And you’ll see a chorus of online voices carrying on about how she first endorsed James Frey’s work, then brought the author back to body slam him on live TV.

So far, Oprah is also taking quite a hit on this. She’s caught in the middle. On one side, people who bought both the book and Oprah’s initial over-the-top enthusiasm and who now feel betrayed... not just by Frey, but by Oprah for leading them astray. Some quotes from e-mails Dateline viewers sent us:

“Oprah failed to do her homework and wants to blame it on Frey.”

“Somehow, the American people have given her way too much power and its gone to her head.”

“You put your name on a product, it better be what you say it is.”

On the other side are a lot of people—also loyal fans, who still like the book and feel Oprah went too far by using her TV show to even the score with Frey:

Suddenly a host who could do no wrong can’t do anything right.

“She was wrong and knew better”

“Shame on you Oprah.”

“What more did she want from him... blood?”

Keep in mind that on the ‘Net, it’s always been cool to slam people who are on top.

How she dealt with the shock of the Frey affair is a surprising miscalculation for a woman whose strong suit is her uncanny ability to connect with her audience.

It’s all a sort of dent in that intimate relationship she has with her viewers, who look to her for daily guidance on how to dress, what to read, and how to behave in a crisis. After all, nobody’s buying Montel’s favorite things.

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