July 9, 2006 | 9 :00 p.m. ET

Do Americans really care about soccer? (Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline correspondent)

Everyone tells me soccer is gaining in popularity. But honestly, have you been watching the World Cup? If you’re like me, NO. Let’s face it, most Americans don’t really care about soccer.

They might as well call it, “the REST of the World Cup.”

Check the blogs on the subject of the World Cup, and you’ll find a lot of people who think soccer is simply too dull:

“Is it just me, or is soccer incredibly boring?”

“In honor of the World Cup....yawn!’

“We already got sports. They take up the whole year. Why should we import another one?”

That’s an interesting question. It’s the world’s most popular game, but although a lot of Americans who grew up in countries where soccer is the only game in town still love it, it’s never really caught on here as a spectator sport.

The truth is, soccer is something American adults only watch when their kids are playing it.

And let’s face it: it can be really dull.

But is it duller than baseball? That’s debatable, but baseball has more than a 130-year cultural head start.

Also, a baseball game can’t end zero-zero, but a lot of soccer games do.

The result is that most of those soccer players from grade school grow up to become bigger fans of something else.

Around the world, the fascination with the World Cup is so extreme that some fans are watching it on their cell phones.

In the U.S., one of the World Cup soccer telecasts pulled in exactly the same TV ratings as WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown.

If they want soccer to really catch on here, someone might have to give it the same kind of makeover that wrestling received a few years back.

Why can’t soccer have good guys and bad guys, and girls who occasionally appear in Playboy Starting to sound like something you might watch?

I’ve got one more idea: We know professional athletes make too much money… what would happen if soccer players only got paid for winning and losing teams got nothing?

Or this “sudden death” rule change, suggested by one blogger:

“Wouldn’t it be more interesting if they played by ‘Aztec’ rules? You know, where the losing team gets ritually sacrificed at the end of the game. I’d watch that.”

So would I... and I think that might be the end of the scoreless tie.


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.

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