Culture Clips: “Alexa, What’s a First Down Anyway?”


It’s that time of year. The time when some of us build our weekend schedules around football games, both college and pro. Bowl games. Championships. Wild Card showdowns and Divisional Rounds. And soon … the Super Bowl.

For some of us, we can’t remember a time when we didn’t know what a fist down was, or a PAT, or a holding or pass interference call. We know the game’s rules by heart. (Well, mostly, the ones they don’t keep changing every year. Like the catch rules.)

But what about those who don’t know the rules? (Kinda like me with soccer or hockey … how could anyone really be offsides when they’re everywhere!) For them, American football can look like an exercise in violent chaos. (With lots of commercials.)

Well fear not: Amazon has teamed with the NFL to use its digital assistant Alexa to tutor the football unlearned. Now Alexa, using a man’s voice instead of the normal female one, will help the unlearned get up to speed. “The idea was what if we created kind of a decoder that while you’re watching the game you could just ask the NFL anything you wanted to know about football,” Dan Hogan, vice president of engineering, media services for the NFL, told USA Today. So for those of us lately trying to puzzle out what the run-pass option is, I guess there’s hope.

Meanwhile, buzz about Netflix’s original movie Bird Boxwhich we reported on here last week—continues to dominate the entertainment news cycle. Though some were skeptical that 45 million subscribers actually watched the Sandra Bullock horror thriller, the ratings gurus at Nielsen have announced that many millions—26 million unduplicated viewers, by their arcane measurements—did in fact tune in during the movie’s first week of availability in late December.

Elsewhere in Bird Box news, though, fans imitating the film’s blindfold-wearing characters (lest they see monsters so scary that they’d immediately die) by wandering around blind earned a warning tweet from Netflix itself.

Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don’t know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.

Another Netflix broadcast, an episode of the series Black Mirror called “Bandersnatch” that gave fans a Choose Your Own Adventure ability to influence the ending, prompted Motherboard writer Jason Koebler to observe that Netflix’s influence has ushered in a level of choice in TV programming that’s mindboggling. He writes,

“Bandersnatch” is getting lots of deserved hype for pioneering a format that could usher in the dawn of “interactive TV.” In many ways, though, “Bandersnatch” is a microcosm of the current entertainment and media landscape. We have the unprecedented ability to choose from thousands of shows across network TV, cable, and streaming services. If you like watching YouTube, the possible universe of entertainment becomes millions of shows made by millions of people all over the world, about every possible topic. In 2017, there were 487 original scripted programs across television and streaming services, according to data from the FX cable network. In 2018, Netflix alone planned on releasing 700 original TV shows and 80 original movies worldwide.

Netflix may have more TV and movie offerings than just about any other provider, but Disney still reigns as the studio that creates the most culturally pervasive ones. MediaPost reports that the Mouse House pulled in a record $3 billion in U.S. domestic box office revenue as of Dec. 26—good enough for a whopping 26% of the total movie market in North America. That success was driven by chart-topping success of Black Panther ($700 million), Avengers: Infinity War ($678.8 million) and Incredibles 2 ($608.6 million) which clocked in at 1-2-3 on the 2018 domestic box office movie list.

But don’t think for a moment that Disney’s feeling charitable toward its fans. Disneyland just announced an 8% price increase for tickets in advance of the opening of its much-anticipated summer opening of it’s new area “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.”

Elsewhere in the entertainment world this week, the movie Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book were both upset winners at this year’s Golden Globes. And though the evening was largely free of the political rhetoric that’s often marked such awards shows in recent years, actor Christian Bale gave a shout-out to Satan for inspiring his portrayal of former Vice President Dick Cheney in the dark comedy Vice.

Lest we end things on such a grim note, however, let me circle back around to football. Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey drew criticism for missing what would have been a game-winning field goal in the Bears Wild Card match against the Philadelphia Eagles. (“Alexa, what’s a Wild Card game?”). The busted kick was eventually ruled a block after video evidence showed that the ball was touched by Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.

Relevant reports, “Cameras caught an interesting moment as the players walked off the field. Even after the miss, Parkey pointed toward the sky. Minutes later, he joined players from both teams on their knees for a post-game prayer.”

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only thing I know about football is that Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins was in Hootie & the Blowfish's music video for Only Wanna Be With You and guest-starred in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. I know tons more about basketball, but then again I stopped watching it once Michael Jordan left the Bulls for good in 1998.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think Amazon owns the Alexa products, not Apple...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know jack about football, so Alexa might actually be of some help, for once.....(I once asked her if she was Skynet, and she replied "No. I work for Amazon. Don't worry, you're safe" *gulp*

Saw Bird Box. Was not that impressed. The ending was extremely disappointing.

-David The Clown