Pop Culture Bracketology

The wonderfulness that is March Madness is once again upon us, though I will admit that I am just not as invested this year as I usually am. Part of the problem is that my kind-of, sort of alma mater (if one year of graduate studies counts) the University of Connecticut is banned from participating in the NCAA tournament this year due to subpar academic performance. Having been a teaching assistant at the school during my brief tenure for a class that included players from the 1999 National Championship team, let’s just say I am not all that surprised.  Without my team involved, some of the bloom is off the March Madness rose.

I’m also at a disadvantage this year because I have not paid one lick of attention to college basketball this season, so I really have no idea who is good and who isn’t. Even when UConn isn’t facing sanctions I don’t watch nearly as much college ball as I used to; I’m far more invested in football (NCAA and NFL) now than I used to be and I just don’t have the time to keep up. I don’t listen to much sports radio anymore either, so I haven’t even caught cursory discussions of who might be a contender. So when I went to fill out my bracket this year, I was shocked that my nemesis Gonzaga was a #1 seed. How did that happen?

It is helpful that my legitimate alma mater (in that it gave me an actual degree) and current employer, the University at Albany, has made it to the tournament. They are facing Duke, which is not good luck for them, but at least it brings a little excitement to the area. Plus almost everyone hates Duke, so the Great Danes have a lot of people rooting for them to defeat the Blue Devils. I may or may not have convinced my boss that we need to take an extended lunch on Friday so that we all can watch the game.

So I don’t have a ton of confidence in my bracket this year – I just kind of guessed in a lot of places and checked Nate Silvers’ bracket to see who he picked for a few  games that I was really undecided on. There seems to be a lot of parity this year, so perhaps random guessing isn’t the worst strategy in the world.

 

Probably not a winning bracket

Probably not a winning bracket

 

Brackets, however, aren’t just for college basketball. I’ve noticed this year that all sorts of pop culture topics have received the March Madness treatment. It is a fun way to decide things – I’ve working on a bracket system to determine what affectations my friend Dan will assume. This all started with a discussion of pocket watches and culminated in my apparent determination to turn him into Mr. Peanut. So if college basketball just isn’t your thing, but you don’t want to be left out of incessant talk about the status of your bracket, check out these pop culture alternatives:

Fictional Presidents Tournament (No Ticket Sports)

Star Wars Character Tournament (Lucas Films)

Worst Celebrity Style (Go Fug Yourself)

Musical March Madness (MTV)

Tournament of Books (The Morning News)

Greatest Sci-Fi Show (io9)

Martini Madness (Slate)

Favorite Public Radio Show (89.3 KPCC)

March Musical Madness (Boradway.com)

2016 Presidential Candidates (The Fix)

Best TV Duo – nonromantic (Buddy TV)

90s Cartoon Characters (The FW)

Ultimate March Pop Culture, Food and Sports Bracket (Bleacher Report)

Hair Band Madness Tournament  (Culture Brats)

Middle-Earth Madness (The One Ring)

Swear Word Bracket (Deadspin) – outstanding!

Teen Movie Madness (Forever Young Adult)

TV couples (Zimbio)

It Girl Bracket (Nylon)

South Park March Madness (Screen Invasion)

And for the truly meta crowd: Battle of the Brackets (Salon)

And just because I love the show, here’s a Mad Men March Madness supercut – who knew the folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce were such basketball fans?

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Almost Vacation Edition

Just when I thought that winter might finally be behind us, Mother Nature decided that we needed one last storm (I hope!) to make things all snowy and white. I am not a fan. The only thing making this bearable is the knowledge that in less than a week I will be in Florida with some of my favorite people and watching baseball. The idea of sitting in the sunshine and not having to wear a winter coat make me positively giddy. Plus it has been five dark and lonely months since I last saw my beloved Yankees, which feels like a lifetime. I’m ready for our reunion. But never fear, dear readers – you won’t be without the blog while I’m away. I’ve got some posts ready to go up in my absence. I’m just that dedicated.

So while I dream of warm weather while I scrape ice and snow off my car, here’s your biweekly round up of some of the pop culture stories that you might have missed.

  • Today would have been Mister Rogers’ 85th birthday

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  • Christopher Meloni has been cast in a new pilot from Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) based on the book I Suck at Girls.
  • Jimmy Fallon and Selena Gomez performed “Mario Kart Love Song” last night on Late Night:

 

  • I’m not sure that anyone was asking for it, but Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is getting a sequel (my guess is without Jeremy Renner).
  • If you’ve got nothing to do this weekend, MTV will be marathoning old seasons of The Real World. The Real World: Portland will debut on March 27th.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed director has been tapped for Jurassic Park 4. I really enjoyed Safety Not Guaranteed – worth checking out on DVD. A sweet and quirky indie.
  • A Walking Dead/Homeland mash-up:

 

  • This dog does indeed resemble Samuel L. Jackson:

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  • The actor who played Captain Peacock on the British comedy Are You Being Served? has passed away.

 

  • The Funny or Die website is venturing into the world of feature films. Their first product is iSteve, a comedic biopic of Steve Jobs and starring Justin Long (which has got to be better than the not intentionally funny Ashton Kutcher version).
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s production company released a cool short film:

 

  • The blog Thumbs and Ammo has replaced all the guns from TV shows and movies with actors giving a thumbs up. The result is surprisingly positive.

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  • Check out this LEGO paper plane folding machine (it took 600 hours to build):

 

  • I didn’t understand a word of this “March Madness explained with Star Wars” video

 

  • You can watch the first three minutes of the new BBC America show Orphan Black online. The show debuts March 30th.
  • Sigh. I really didn’t need to stumble upon this website of pop culture tribute prints.
  • A Good Times movie is being developed. Not so Dyn-o-mite, though I bet J.J. Walker is available.
  • HBO has released a trailer for the second season of Veep:
  • Vampire Weekend has released two new songs: “Step” and “Diane Young.” Their new album Modern Vampires of the City is out May 7th.
  • Listen to a mix of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” and Daft Punk:

 

  • What every home needs – A Breaking Bad terrarium. I’m not kidding – I would put this in my living room.
  • Filming for the third season of the BBC’s Sherlock has begun.  A fourth season is happening as well. More Cumberbatch for everyone!
  • A Shining/Dumb and Dumber mashup:

 

  • Beyoncé has posted a new song on her Tumblr:

 

  • A new red-band trailer for Kick-Ass 2 has been released:

 

  • This is a good dad – a game developer hacked Donkey Kong so his daughter could play the game as a female character that rescues Mario
  • Whoa – Pete Campbell from Mad Men and Rory Gilmore are getting married (well – the actors that play them are, anyway)
  • Watch Usher and the Afghan Whigs perform together at SXSW:

 

  • I can sympathize with Hitler’s reaction in the video I linked to above – I love Google Reader and am very bummed that it will be retired soon. It’s what I use to keep track of all the links that I share with you in these roundups.
  • A new trailer for Despicable Me 2 has been released:

 

  • Cedric the Entertainer is the new host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
  • And finally – The Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones:

March Madness

My least favorite time of the year is February up until mid-March. The weather is usually crappy and cold here in upstate New York, people tend to be depressed about Valentine’s Day and it marks the lull between the end of football season and the beginning of baseball season. For a sports fan, this can be a bleak time indeed. Every year I say I am going to start paying attention to hockey, but that just doesn’t seem to ever happen. The NBA generally holds no interest for me, though I did briefly get caught up in the Jeremy Lin hullabaloo this year. I don’t think you could pay me to care about NASCAR. So usually I just slog through.

And then, just when things look bleak, the NCAA basketball tournament begins. And all is right with the world again.

There is just something so exciting about March Madness. It snaps me out of the winter doldrums. Almost everyone gets caught up in it, even those who don’t usually follow college hoops or sports in general. I think it is the filling out of the bracket that engages so many people. It provides order to the process and since a winning bracket usually is equal parts skill and luck, you don’t have to know a lot about basketball to do it. In my experience, there doesn’t seem to be that strong of a corollary between paying attention to the regular season and how well you do in the tournament. I’ve done just as well on my bracket the years where I have watched a lot of basketball as the years when I haven’t been as attentive.  There are upsets every year which makes the outcomes difficult to predict, even for those sports fans that are in the know. So if you are picking your teams based on mascots or the school colors, you may still win your office pool (I’ve seen it happen). That makes March Madness accessible to a lot of people who wouldn’t usually be very invested in sports.

And that communal experience is what makes March Madness a lot of fun. When I was an undergrad, the only time that televisions were rolled into our dining hall was during the tournament. The first two days of the tournament are the best as there are so many games to watch and it is early enough in the tournament that most people still have active brackets and are therefore engaged. One of my favorite nights of the year to go out is the first night of the tournament — it is easy to meet new people just by asking them about their bracket and it is more fun when everyone in the room is focused on the same event, if not necessarily the same game. It’s also great when everyone is rooting for one team to lose (usually Duke, who most people love to hate) even if that means that their brackets will be destroyed. We have been lucky here in Albany that not only have we hosted some of the opening round games in previous years, but there are usually some local teams in the tournament (Siena, University at Albany) which also increases the interest in the area. Syracuse University also has a huge following here and since they are one of the favorites this year, I expect there to be heightened excitement as well.

I love March Madness so much that when it came time for me to select a graduate school, I based a lot of my decision not on academics but on the strength of their men’s basketball program, which is why I ended up (briefly) at the University of Connecticut for my doctoral studies. I only lasted there one year before I transferred, but I was lucky enough to be on campus when UConn won their first NCAA men’s title (some of the players were even my students). That made what was otherwise a miserable experience totally worthwhile even though being an UConn fan now puts me at odds with the majority of my friends and neighbors who bleed Syracuse Orange. Being a part of that is one of my favorite sports memories of all time, though it does shed a light on my questionable decision making criteria.

So as I fill out this year’s bracket, I send a thank you to March Madness for getting me through these last few weeks before my beloved Yankees take to the field and providing some much needed excitement to a generally blah time period. Go UConn!

**Updated with my bracket**

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