Friday, February 19, 2016


The Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City is one of the Midwest's greatest showcases for music, art, literature, and comedy. What began as a small local festival has transformed into a mini-Lollapalooza, drawing big names and talent to a neck of the woods that seldom sees A-list performers who aren't named Donald Trump. Naturally, I hate it.

More specifically, I hate that this year's headliner sold out before I even knew it was happening. Mission Creek draws great bands but even better lecturers, and this year they somehow managed to pull in director Kevin Smith for one of his legendary Q-&-A sessions. I am a huuuuge Kevin Smith fan. His movies can occasionally be hit-or-miss, but his weekly podcasts fall somewhere between raindrops-on-roses and whiskers-on-kittens on the list of my favorite things. If you see me in my car and I'm laughing hysterically to myself, I promise you I'm not insane -- I've got just a Kevin Smith podcast on. It's the comic oxygen that gets me through any given week. Smith once read one of my letters on his Hollywood Babble-On podcast and it remains among my finest hours.

But here I am, thinking I'm an ardent fan, and I had no idea he was even coming to Iowa until I saw it on Facebook. After skillfully executing the obligatory "WHAT THE...?!" double-take and racing to the website, I was greeted with the two suckiest words in the English language: SOLD OUT. I am seriously gutted.

The GOOD news, though, was that I managed to score a couple tickets to see the festival's OTHER headliner, comedian Marc Maron. That's a pretty decent consolation prize. Maron's been one of my favorite comedians ever since the early days of Conan O'Brien, and his cultural skewering has become even more refined since. These days, he's best known for the weekly podcast he hosts out of his garage where he interviews pretty much anyone and everyone that you've ever considered cool, from Zach Galifianakis to President Obama.

But in MY world, he's probably best known for stealing things from me in my dreams.

The act of dreaming is one of the most complex neurological wonders in all of biology. While our body rests, parts of our mind light up and take us on a revelatory journey without any limits whatsoever. In the dream world, anything is possible and boundaries cease to exist as you ride a wave of pure imagination into a land of absolute possibility.

So what was MY dream about the other night? I was sitting at a desk looking up news stories on the internet.

Yes, the dreamscape -- where I could be flying a chartreuse dragon across wind-swept fields en route to a golden palace filled with an infinite number of Katie Holmeses. A reality where I could scale Mt. Everest or dive to the deepest depths, travel to parts unknown, save the world from killer robots, or even turn INTO a killer robot and destroy the world. The possibilities are endless.

And given those endless possibilities, I apparently opt to sit around and surf the internet. If this is what a being a mature adult's all about, I'd like a do-over on my childhood, please.

So within this world's most boring dream, I'm sitting there Googling news stories when I come across a recently updated headline that reads: "COMEDIAN MARC MARON SHARES MIXTAPE; SOME DECLARE IT TO BE WORLD'S BEST." The accompanying article explains how Marc Maron sent out a tweet that simply said "ENJOY!" along with a link to a 90-minute music mix that was setting download records, trending on websites, and was rapidly becoming the toast of the internet. Reviewers were applauding its bravery in song selection, the depth of meaning and intricate symbolism behind each chosen track, and describing how this simple mixtape was bringing people out of chronic depression and shedding a new light on the human condition. Basically, this mixtape was my dream's equivalent of the music of Bill & Ted's Wyld Stallyns.

Even in my dreams, I'm still a music nerd, so I had to hear it for myself. Imagine my dream-surprise when I dream-downloaded it and quickly dream-discovered that it was one of MY mixtapes. And ooh, was my dream self upset. And then I woke up. The end.

NOTE: In the real, non-dream world, I really DID meet Marc Maron once. Well, except that I didn't. And yes, I realize this column is starting to resemble the plot of Inception. Let me explain. Years ago, I ran an online indie music blog, and we once launched a very ambitious project. To celebrate Valentine's Day, we asked some of our favorite bands to contribute love songs and then we put them online as a free giveaway album. It was a neat idea, but I wanted something to tie the songs together, so I randomly e-mailed Marc Maron to see if he'd be willing to contribute some spoken word bits that we could include with the download. To my surprise, he wrote back within the hour and sent us twenty minutes of brilliant off-the-cuff material, for which he still has my eternal thanks.

The one thing he does NOT have, however, is my mixtape. Few people on Earth have ever been graced with a Shane-curated mixtape, and those people fall squarely into three distinct camps: girlfriends, crushes, and fellow music nerds. My DREAM self, however, apparently remains convinced that I repay celebrities for their assistance with the currency of home-recorded music of questionable legality.

So what was the most unsettling part of this absolutely pointless dream? Was it the realization that, given a free ticket into the endless void of possibility, the best I can come up with is dream-Googling? Or perhaps it's the disturbing reality that I dream about making mixtapes for middle-aged male comedians? No, I think what TRULY deserves careful examination and deep psychological analysis is the tiny piece of my subconscious that apparently believes I'm capable of making a mixtape that cures depression, heals humanity, and elicits universal critical acclaim. This seems a bit far-fetched, although I DO make a mean mixtape...

Perhaps, come this April, I'll go to see Marc Maron in Iowa City, and as he's leaving the stage, I'll be able to yell, "Hey Marc, remember a decade-and-a-half ago when some guy e-mailed you and asked you to donate some material to a website that you'd never heard of? And then you said okay? And then you did it? Yeah, I'm that guy. And let me tell you, I had the craaaaziest dream the other night..." and then we can all have a good laugh.

Or maybe I should just keep my dreams to myself. Either way, I'm still mad about missing Kevin Smith. If you've got a hookup for tickets, e-mail me. There might just be a mixtape in your future.

COLUMN: Caucus

Last week, I mentioned the real reason I became a columnist: To one day leverage my fame in order to rule the world. Well, I've thought about it some more and I've changed my mind. Someone else can rule the world. It clearly takes too much work.

The strangest thing happened to me tonight. I got home, kicked my shoes off, sat back on the couch, and turned on my Campaign Ad Box like always. But oddly enough, I kept looking at the screen and it didn't play a single political ad. Instead there were all of these people and images and NONE of them were Donald Trump! After some investigation, I learned that these things are called "television programs" and "product commercials" and they apparently serve as filler between elections.

Who needed TV when we had the greatest soap opera in the world taking place right across the river? Nothing beats a reality show where twelve contestants are stripped from society and forced to survive a solid month in the harsh Iowa winter with only the clothes on their backs, a mobile command center, and several million dollars in SuperPAC money.

Last week was the season finale of "Survivor: Iowa," and it certainly didn't disappoint. After the tribe was slowly whittled down from twelve to five, the remaining contestants made their final pleas to the jury, who then voted on two winners. In a shocking twist, we could've just skipped everything and flipped a coin six times to determine a winner (which is obviously the ideal way to make ALL political decisions.) Coin flips aside, it was a ratings bonanza and I'm pretty sure "Survivor: Iowa" is going to get renewed for another season come 2020.

At 9:34 p.m. last Monday, Ted Cruz was announced the winner of the Iowa Republican caucus. At 9:35 p.m., residents of Illinois looked up to see twelve planes flying to New Hampshire as quickly as their SuperPACs could finance them. Once again, Iowa can sleep soundly knowing that the rest of the country doesn't care about them one bit.

I'll admit it, I get sucked into the buzz of caucus season whenever it rolls around. After all, it's refreshing to see the Quad Cities show up on national newscasts for something other than mass flooding. It's exciting to eat lunch at Ross' and know there's a chance someone famous could bust through the door for selfies and handshakes at any given moment. I try to stay somewhat engaged in national politics, so when it shows up in our back yard, it's kind of thrilling -- at first.

But that thrill fades fast, especially when you live in Illinois and aren't really invited to the party. It's more like when your next door neighbor's party gets too loud and you want to call the police but you can't call the police because they're too busy directing traffic to a Donald Trump rally. When every candidate is peacocking around the state desperate to make the news, you eventually yearn for a commercial break. When every commercial IN that break is a candidate telling how you they're going to save the country, it gets a little old. When every commercial starts telling you that the other candidates will destroy the country, it becomes absolutely unwatchable.

I was invested in this year's Iowa caucus because I was, and still remain, undecided. I'm just not sure who I'd like to see take the reigns come November. Some of the candidates I really like, some I really don't, and one or two I'm downright terrified by. So I watched some debates and saw some rallies. I wanted something to make my mind up. I'm still waiting for that something.

One thing I SHOULDN'T have done, though, was donate money. I might not have a candidate, but I DO have a party of preference, and late last year, I gave them ten bucks so I could get a bumper sticker (which never arrived.) Back in November, I thought I had my mind made up and gave an additional ten dollars to one candidate to get yet another bumper sticker (which DID show up, but I've yet to stick it to any bumpers.) In December, I changed my mind and gave a whopping $3 to a different candidate (who sent me a bumper sticker without me even asking.)

If you've ever wondered what investment level would be required to drive someone insane, the answer is $23. Apparently those campaigns used my $23 to hire someone to harass me for even more money. In the past 30 days, I have received exactly 476 e-mails requesting monetary donations. If you don't believe me, hand me your e-mail address and I'll be happy to forward them all your way. It's mail with subject headers like "Don't Let Your Country Down!" and my personal favorite, "ALL HOPE IS LOST!" (As it turns out, hope is only lost if I DON'T contribute an additional $20. I don't plan to. Sorry, all hope.)

How did it come to this? Did our founding fathers really envision a future where candidates would beg for money in order to afford to continue begging for money? In a perfect world, no political advertising would ever be allowed and everyone running for office would just share their platform in a concise, easy-to-read document. We could even hold some debates and rallies, provided none of them impede my ability to park in downtown Davenport. Of course, those political ads you see in the paper help fund my paycheck, so I should probably just pack up my soapbox and back away.

Running the world might be an awesome dream, but I'm just not cut out for the campaign trail. I can't professionally pander like these people do. What must it be like to shake HUNDREDS of hands in the course of a day? I'd need a SuperPAC just to fund my Purell budget. And every one of those hands you shake is attached to a pair of lips that want to tell you a sob story and expect you to fix it. I can barely fix my own dinner, let alone people's problems.

I still wouldn't mind ruling the world, but only if you people just hand it over to me. I don't want to have to work for it, and I certainly don't want to send you 476 e-mails begging for it. Until that day comes, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied in my role as president of my living room (though I fear my cats may be mounting an independent campaign to unseat me. Send me money before all hope is lost.)

COLUMN: Classin' It Up

I need to class things up a bit.

This column began with one humble goal: to one day rule the world with a cold iron fist. It's a simple plan, really. Win the hearts of America with my nerdy charm, then leverage that fame into valuable cash prizes and eventual global conquest. I don't ask for much.

Honestly, though, things are not going well. I'm now 45 years old and have yet to receive a single invitation to high society. The way I had it figured, I'd be hob-knobbing with the social elite by now, filling my calendars with wine and cheese parties while chortling as Reginald and Gloria VanDerRichpants recount their summer in Monaco.

If I want this plan to work, I need to step up the game. I should already be receiving invites to Diddy parties in the Hamptons. Donald Trump should be asking for MY support. I should have dated at least 1.7 Kardashians by now. I'm running way behind schedule, and I think I know why.

As it turns out, high society does not beckon to those who write about cats and Netflix. I need to broaden my horizons a bit, methinks. High society does not enjoy a 3-part column on the video game Rock Band. High society likes the finer things. This column can no longer rely on flatulence jokes and Tom Cruise insults. If I want to woo the culturally elite, I need to produce fine art.

With that, I begin my new career... as a future poet laureate. I've never written poetry before, but I reckon it can't be too hard. I just need to concentrate and paint beautiful pictures with my words -- and with great labor and mental expense, I think I just pulled it off.

Prepare to welcome me with open arms, high society, as I present to you my first creation, an evocative piece I call,

"An Ode To The Guy I Caught Peeing In My Yard Sunday Night."

When I open my back door,
There are many things to see.
But what I didn't expect
Was you having a pee.

I don't know your name,
so I feel kind of silly.
But based on last night,
I choose to call you Willie.

It was quite cold that night,
The wind sure was blustery.
Why didn't you at least opt
for a bush or some shrubbery?

Modern life is frantic,
there's no time to dally.
But perhaps hit the men's room
Before tromping down my alley.

We've all had full bladders,
It can be quite a plight.
But please don't relieve yourself
right here in plain sight.

I don't mean to be rude,
I don't mean to be crass.
But I didn't need your help
watering my grass.

The big storm missed us,
We avoided that woe.
So at least you couldn't write
your name in yellow snow.

Live life to the fullest,
That's my credo, I mean this.
But please live it without
Showing me your... smiling face.

So now my lawn has cooties.
If I could, I would boil it.
All because you
Couldn't wait for a toilet.

I'm sure everything's fine,
Grass is nothing if not durable.
But next time might I suggest
A room with a urinal?

Don't try it again,
Cause now I'm aggravated.
I just bought a flood light
That's motion activated.

I know life is short,
so Willie, have a ball.
Just pick a different yard
next time you heed nature's call.

Classiness, thy name is Shane. Columbia University, you may send my forthcoming Pulitzer Prize to the usual address.

COLUMN: Revenge of the Nerds

Every four years, I can't help but wish I lived a little further away from Iowa.

The campaign ads are officially starting to wear thin. Every time I turn on my TV, I'm reminded of what a horrible state our nation is in, and how only so-and-so is the right man or woman to fix it. More than one of the Republican candidates say that America needs to return to the values of yesteryear. One keeps bringing up Ronald Reagan. Well, I just transported myself back to the Reagan era for a couple hours, and if what I saw were the "values of yesteryear," I'll keep to the modern age, thanks.

Remember the other night when it was eleventy billion degrees below zero outside? I decided to spend that entire day in denial, holed up under a blanket watching an unhealthy amount of bad TV. At one point, I started browsing through HBO's on-demand movies and came across a flick I hadn't seen in its entirety since its 1984 heydey: "Revenge of the Nerds."

Warning: I am about to spoil the ever-loving heck out of a 32-year-old movie. If you're one of the four people out there who hasn't seen "Revenge of the Nerds" and still want the wonder of discovery as to whether or not the nerds actually get their revenge, stop reading now.

A description I found online describes the movie thusly:

"Two lovable nerds form their own fraternity, woo the ladies, and seek revenge against the jocks who bully them mercilessly."

Well, I just re-watched "Revenge of the Nerds" for the first time since 1984, and I'm now convinced that a far better capsule summary would read:

"A cautionary tragedy about a football team who fail in their efforts to protect their college from a vengeful group of sexual predators."

In the 90 minutes I spent re-watching this cinematic clunker (and it really IS a bad movie, even by 80s standards,) I quickly realized that "Revenge of the Nerds" might be the most morally deviant film of its time. Seriously, this thing makes "Porky's" seem like "Mary Poppins." Don't believe me? Let's run through the basics.

The movie begins as Lewis and Gilbert, our two nerd heroes, arrive at Adams College, a prestigious university ruled by the Greek system where no one ever goes to class ever. The boys are quickly ostracized by the resident jocks and cheerleaders. Betty is the head cheerleader and a ruthless bully, but Lewis falls in love with her regardless, because in THIS movie, women are little more than walking sex toys.

After striking out on their own, Lewis and Gilbert bond with other outcasts, rent a house, and form their own fraternity. At their first party, they're joined by a nerd sorority called Omega Mu (because the girls are all fat and unattractive. Mu. Moo. Get it? Oh, the hilarity!) The party is a failure (presumably because I'm not there to DJ) until one of the boys pulls out a hefty supply of marijuana. Next thing you know, the boring party descends into a hedonistic nerd orgy. Moral of the story? If you're failing with the ladies, try drugging them.

Unfortunately, the orgy is broken up when the jocks and cheerleaders unleash a herd of pigs into their house, because every college student has handy access to an adundance of farm animals. The nerds then retaliate by storming the sorority house, thieving undergarments, chasing after topless girls, and installing a complex array of surveillance cameras throughout the sorority house. They then spend their days glued to a closed-circuit TV watching naked sorority girls as they sleep, because that's not at all creepy and in no way illegal. Oh, and did I mention one of the nerds is 12 years old?

Eventually, the nerds realize that the key to success is to ascend to the head of the Greek Council, which can only be accomplished if their fraternity wins the homecoming Greek Games -- which they proceed to do via a delightful array of cheating, rule-breaking, and a few assorted felonies.

The first event is a tricycle race where contestants have to stop and chug a beer every lap, because all colleges like to encourage binge drinking at campus events. The nerds win by doping their guy with a chemical that nullifies the effects of alcohol, thus giving him the sober advantage to easily win the race. Moral of the story? If you need to win a sporting event, use performance enhancing drugs.

For the javelin throwing contest, the nerds use their expertise in aerodynamics to create a special javelin that easily sails past the competition. Moral of the story? If you're painted into a corner, tamper with the equipment. (Clearly, Tom Brady was paying attention.) At the charity fundraising competition, the nerds easily win with a booth selling pies -- because UNDERNEATH each pie is a topless photo of Betty that the nerds snapped with one of their many spy cams. Moral of the story? Slut shaming is awesome, especially if it's for charity.

You'd think Betty would be mad at such a gross invasion of her privacy, but she's got other things on her mind. Betty's boyfriend is the head jock, and he's dressed up like Darth Vader for his charity booth. Sensing his opportunity, Lewis absconds with the jock's cape and mask and follows Betty into the carnival funhouse. Assuming that he's her hunky boyfriend, Betty leads the masked Lewis to a bounce house, where the two immediately get freaky-deaky while she's none the wiser. In other words, the hero of this film finds the girl of his dreams... and rapes her.

Once the deed is done, Lewis rips off his mask, and Betty, who should probably be screaming and blowing the nearest rape whistle, instead falls immediately in love with the nerd, presumably owing to his unbelievable sexual prowess. Moral of the story? If you rape someone well enough, they just might fall in love with you.

WHAT KIND OF SICK, DEMENTED MOVIE IS THIS? Where was Gloria Steinem in the 80s? Clearly not at the cinema.      

From there, it ends as all good 80s movies must, with some mild cross-dressing and a wicked breakdance number. Gilbert changes his name to Dr. Mark Greene and gets a job as an ER doctor in Chicago, while Lewis & Betty live happily ever -- they even get married in one of the many sequels that followed. I'm sure it'll be a charming story in the future when their kids ask them how they met. "Well, your father pretended to be my boyfriend, and, well..."

Candidates are saying we need to restore our nation's morals. I'm hoping they don't mean to THIS. If "Revenge of the Nerds" is any indicator of the values of yesteryear, I'll stick with my own modern moral compass. But hey, maybe this movie is an exception to the rule. Maybe traditional values DID exist during the Reagan era, and I just need to find them. Oh, I know, maybe I should re-watch America's most wholesome 80s TV offering, "The Cosby Show." Now THERE'S a guy with high upstanding... what's that, you say? Seriously? He did WHAT? Never mind.  

COLUMN: Powerball

Well, I'm sure it's happened by now.

By the time you read this, somebody out there will be a newfound billionaire-and-a-half. Hint: It's not you.

I'm still living the dream, because I'm writing this from the past. As I type, it's currently 6 p.m. on Wednesday night, and the Powerball numbers haven't been drawn yet. There's never a guarantee in life, but I'm pretty sure I've got this locked down.

I know what you're thinking. You can't possibly win, Shane. The unbelievably remote odds are 1 in 292,000,000. But here's the thing: I bought FIVE tickets. I'm pretty sure that means I'm a shoe-in, right? I'm no fortune-teller, but I can tell you that I'd like a fortune.

All week long, they've been playing up horror stories in the media about lottery winners whose payday ruined their lives. There's the guy who blew all his money on drugs. The girl who gambled all her winnings away and now lives in a trailer out in the woods. The co-workers whose winning lottery pool ended up in litigation. Winning the lottery can create a world of problems. I, for one, would like to take my chances in that world.

I think I'm together enough emotionally to handle the cumbersome burden of becoming an instant billionaire. And if it turns out that I'm NOT, I could probably hire someone to fix me, because I'd be a freaking BILLIONAIRE. And hey, if worse came to worse and I ended up broke in a trailer in the woods, I'd at least have some killer stories to share with my new woodland friends.

Many people I know have turned into Powerball poo-heads. You've probably got a few of them in your life, too. The ones who look at you with disdain when you dream about winning. The ones who steadfastly refuse to participate in the pool at work. The ones who post on Facebook about how you've got better odds to be struck by lightning. To these no-fun-niks, I place my tongue squarely between my lips and salute you people with the raspberry you deserve.

I'm as much of a realist as the next guy. I don't remotely expect to win the lottery. But when my co-workers come around collecting money for a pool, I duly chip in -- only because the idea of everyone I work with EXCEPT me winning a billion dollars is perhaps the worst thing I could possibly imagine.

But I don't play to win. Instead, I play to DREAM of winning, and if the price of that daydream is a $2 ticket, so be it. And since the entirety of North America seems to be doing a really lousy job of late at picking winning numbers, I've now had two solid weeks of daydreaming under my belt -- and this guy's got plans.

Let's say that I win the whole shebang. $1.5 billion, minus lump sum penalty and federal and state taxes, which becomes... Well, okay, I'm lousy with math. But whatever it is, it's still a LOT of money. More money than I ever deserve to have, so let's spend it.

First thing's first: Pay off the house, pay off the car, and make sure my family, friends, cats, and favorite charities are set. What's next? Buy a mansion? Nah. My small house already feels too big sometimes. I don't need an echoey ghost-filled palace. The longer I live, the more I realize what I need to be happy: A roof over my head, a home to call my own, and a person I can pay to come clean that home since I'm clearly incapable of doing it myself. Then stock every room with a television big enough to frighten the elderly and a sound system capable of challenging the structural integrity of the house. THEN we can start being creative.

The first thing I would do is place a call to the iWireless Center, rent that puppy out for a week, and host Shane-a-palooza. I'll bring in all my favorite bands and have the most wicked week-long concert I can possibly muster. If you don't like the lineup, you don't have to come. Morrissey has long said no amount of money would cause him to ever reform The Smiths. Let's put that to the test. Same goes for Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfunkel, and a hundred indie bands you've never heard of but TRUST ME are amazing.

Now, I'd also have to hire a PR firm to handle my public image, since a random billionaire throwing away a fortune to hold a week-long concert for his own pleasure MIGHT be construed as a touch shallow and self-serving. Instead, I'll need a team to spin my image into that of a mysterious, eccentric, and misunderstood benefactor with a heart of gold. You know, the kind of guy Leonardo Dicaprio would either want to hang out with or portray in a movie.

This kind of notoriety would inevitably get me invited to A-list Hollywood events, which I'd skip in order to cultivate the air of mystery that constantly surrounds me. This would all work towards my final goal, which is, of course, to woo the affections of actress Katie Holmes, who IS my soulmate but for some reason never phones. I'm not QUITE sure how I'm going to pull this part of the plan off, but I figure being an eccentric billionaire can't hurt. It worked for that Christian Grey guy, and he's 50 shades crazier than me.

Meanwhile, the real coup de grace will be going on behind the scenes. All the while that I'm throwing concerts and wooing Katie Holmes, my friends and I will be hard at work burying a substantial amount of my winnings. I'm talking at least ten million, in a treasure chest, buried in the ground at a secret location. Upon my death, the first clue to its location would be revealed to the public.

What better hobby could there be for me & my nerd friends than to create the world's craziest treasure hunt? We're talking Indiana Jones meets National Treasure. I want complex clues, indescipherable cryptograms, coded messages, Temples of Doom, you name it. I want the kind of infamy where people in chat rooms twenty years from now will banging their heads against the wall while analyzing the lyrics of my favorite songs to look for hidden meanings.

In other words, I don't want much. Only the greatest concert ever staged, the most beautiful girl in the world, and global infamy after my death. That's not asking for too much, is it? The first step is to... to... crud.

I took too long writing this thing. They just announced the numbers and I didn't win diddly. Sigh. Fine, back to my life as a thriving hundredaire. Whoever DOES win, hit me up. I've got some good ideas. But you can't have Katie.

COLUMN: Stanford Band

Well, it's 2016 -- and as per usual, the world's in turmoil.

Conflict continues to plague the Middle East. North Korea claims to be testing hydrogen bombs. Gun violence rages. Human rights violations run rampant. Upcoming elections showcase the ever-widening political rift in our own nation. Extremist terror. Oregon militias. Gender inequality. Racial profiling. Homophobia. These are crazy times.

But this past week, social media has shown us the REAL trouble plaguing our fragile world:

I speak, of course, about the growing threat we face from the international terrorist organization known as the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band.

If you were on Facebook this past week, you would have thought that the antics of this pack of college musicians was THE most abhorrent, reprehensible, and shocking thing to ever be broadcast on national television. Sorry, Janet Jackson's right nipple -- you've been dethroned.

Like most timeless tragedies, I bet you remember where you were when you saw it. I was in the bathroom, because that's what one does at halftime. I am NOT a sports guy in the slightest, but even I had the game on last weekend. After a Cinderella season, the Iowa Hawkeyes footballed their way to the Rose Bowl and a final matchup against the Stanford Cardinal -- who were, as it turned out, a wee bit better at footballing than Iowa.

Funny, though, that few Hawkeye fans on my Facebook feed were discussing the actual game. Instead, all anyone could talk about were the antics of the Stanford marching band. Known for their tongue-in-cheek performances and rebellious streak, the Stanford band took to the halftime field with some kids in a dancing cow costume, marched in the shape of a sad frowny-faced guy in a straw hat, and centered their performance around mocking the existence of (yes, it exists) the dating site It was a quick five-minute send-up of bad Midwestern stereotypes designed solely to make us look like a bunch of hick yokels.

And I, for one, laughed my head off.

But it seems like I was the ONLY one in the Midwest laughing. Friends of mine who I normally consider to be intelligent, rational people were suddenly up in arms, launching letter-writing campaigns, demanding apologies, and calling for everything shy of heads on spikes and public floggings.

I don't get the big deal. Was it dumb, juvenile, and classless? Absolutely. Could they have used a better comedy writer? For sure. But would YOU have laughed if the Iowa band had come out with a dancing cable car and a horn section belting out the Rice-A-Roni jingle? Absolutely.

Musicians and rebellion have gone hand-in-hand for years. Did you know that Mozart once wrote a piece called "Difficile Lectu" with lyrics in Latin that went "lectu mihi mars"? Now, those words don't mean much in Latin, but Mozart knew that this song would be performed by a popular baritone singer named Johann Peyerl. Peyerl sang with a thick Bavarian accent, and Mozart knew that with a Bavarian accent, "lectu mihi mars" would sound a lot like "leck du mich im Arsch," which is German for something we're not allowed to say in a family newspaper (apologies to any German families reading this.) Mozart was a cheeky bugger.

Yet we're all supposed to be outraged when a pack of goofy college kids tries to inject some rock-n-roll rebellion into the otherwise wholesome, family-friendly, high class world of football? Yes, let's all write letters because poking fun of farmers doesn't belong in the same upscale world as concussions, victory dances, trash-talking, and an audience that's been tailgating since daybreak.

I loved the Stanford band's performance, and not for the juvenile antics which were fairly pedestrian at best. I liked it because the kids in that band looked like they were having a blast.

I was in marching band for a little while in junior high school. We were pretty good, in fact, and took home many a statewide trophy back in the day. It was also one of the most miserable times in my life. Our band director was a wiry little chain-smoker who taught through fear, intimidation, and bullying. Over time, he turned me into a pretty great drummer. He also darn near taught me to hate music, which is one of the reasons why I dropped out of band before high school.

The Stanford band represent everything my junior high band didn't. Before you trash-talk these kids to death on Facebook for their admittedly cheap shots at the Midwest, know a couple things about them:

First off, they let ANYONE in. If you want to join the Stanford band, all you have to do is show up. They don't even care if you know how to play. "Just show up to rehearsal at 7 p.m. on Monday nights," their website says. "We'll have an instrument for you, as well as people willing to teach you how to play it if you want."

"Imagine a shiny, neatly packed precision marching band stepping in time to a single snare drum, silently advancing onto the football field," their site explains. "As they unfold into their first geometric formation and the first notes of 'Sonoran Desert/Rocky Point Holiday: A Tribute to the Music of Ron Nelson' are heard, an audience member comments to his 67-year-old companion that this is the pinnacle of organizational discipline. Now imagine the opposite of that and you've got the Stanford Band."

No auditions. No uniforms. Practice just once a week. Their drum line includes pots, pans, and stop signs. Anyone can join. Their mascot is a raggedy old tree (for no discernable reason.) They're entirely student run. They pick their own music and write their own dumb, juvenile, classless bits. But most importantly, go watch that performance again. You can't find ONE kid without a smile. I probably would've been kicked out of my junior high band had I dared smile mid-performance.

Sue me, but I think it's fun watching people have fun. It was sure more fun than watching your local team take a beating. I'm no fan of bullying, and if I thought the Stanford band's performance had truly crossed that line, I'd be joining the miffed Midwest masses on Facebook. Instead, I look upon them with jealousy and wish my alma mater had given me an outlet to go bang on pots and pans once a week.

We live in a world that's in desperate need of fun -- so for now, can we unruffle our feathers and give the Stanford band a pass for their dancing cow?

COLUMN: Best of 2015: TV

They say this is television's greatest era, and honestly, I'm getting a little sick of it. Occasionally, I like to have a life with my life. But this year, I've found myself shirking friends and activities in order to race home and watch one of two dozen absolutely un-missable shows. My DVR can't even keep up. Last year, I decreed the teen-targeted "Vampire Diaries" the show of the year. It's barely faltered in quality this year, but it didn't even make my Top 10 in 2015. That's how good we have it right now. So many good shows, so little time. Here are my picks for the best TV of 2015.

10. UNDATEABLE LIVE (NBC) - Okay, let's be clear here. This is a horrible sitcom. The premise is generic, the plotlines are generic, the jokes are generic. Yet it's easily the most charming show on TV today for one reason alone: Each episode is broadcast LIVE as it happens. If an actor flubs a line, you see it in real time. The writing might be painfully unfunny, but the gifted ensemble is amazing, and the live element makes it easy for them to veer wildly off-script, break character, crack each other up, and create a genuinely good time for cast and audience alike. More shows like this need to exist.

9. THE FLASH (CW) - Superhero shows tend to only come in two forms: Either they're SO hokey and silly that you can't bear to watch, or they're SO dark and brooding that there's absolutely no fun to be had. The CW's take on The Flash finally gets the balance right. Complex story arcs, a surplus of bad guys, and the whole thing's presented in a breezy way that's instantly watchable. It's intricate enough for the adult in me but downright fun enough for the kid in me who just wants to watch a guy run at the speed of sound.

8. GAME OF THRONES (HBO) - I feel a little bad for HBO. A few scant years ago, they were the only cable channel able to compete with the majors when it came to scripted original programming. Nowadays, it seems like every cable network has its own slate of critically-acclaimed shows while HBO has lagged somewhat. Good thing, then, that they have one of the greatest shows of all time to fall back on. As per usual, it was a season of lies, betrayal, back-stabbing, front-stabbing, and, well, just a lot of stabbing. Now that the TV show has caught up with the books, though, it'll be interesting to see where things go from here. Winter is coming.

7. ALONE (History) - I'm pretty sure survival shows aren't quite the life-or-death scenarios they portray. "Survivor" shoots every season with an army of producers, cameras, and medics just off-screen. The "remote island" that the family on "Alaskan Bush People" calls home actually has a population of 1200 and neighbors who live just around the bend. The History Channel's experiment with "Alone," though, seems a little more legit. Ten survivalists get dropped off on the rainy hellscape of Vancouver Island with minimal supplies and cameras they have to run themselves. The last man standing without tapping out claims a million bucks. The toll on the contestants is visible, and the drama is palpable -- especially while you're watching from an air conditioned TV room eating a Pop-Tart.

6. PEEP SHOW (Channel 4) - "Peep Show" has been bringing its modernized take on "The Odd Couple" to British audiences for over a decade now, and the show just wrapped its ninth and final season. It might just be another show about mis-matched roommates, but I don't ever recall seeing Oscar eat a dog or Felix skipping the birth of his child to play video games. It's raunchy, ribald, cynical, sneering, and the only show to ever make me laugh so hard that I nearly passed out. Put the kids to bed, then accidentally wake them up minutes later with your laughter. The previous 8 seasons are available stateside on Hulu and Netflix, and it's worth the trouble to find the ninth online.

5. NIGHTWATCH (A&E) - This show, which follows third shift cops and EMT techs in New Orleans, could easily be just another gore-sploitation vehicle to show off America's trashier side. But "Nightwatch" is helmed by Dick Wolf, the creator of "Law and Order" and a guy who knows a little bit about drama. Here, the shock-and-awe voyeurism is tempered by a purposeful focus on the day-to-day lives of the officers and EMTs, who show off a remarkable amount of charisma. These are the REAL superheroes of our world, and in an age where negativity and mistrust of the police makes headlines, a show like this reminds you why we need these people in our lives. If I ever have the misfortune to be shot, stabbed, or impaled, I hope it happens in the Big Easy so these folks can come to my aid.

4. MASTER OF NONE (Netflix) - Aziz Ansari is one of the funniest comedians on the planet, but the one thing he's never displayed to the world is heart. That all changed when "Master of None" showed up on Netflix. Co-creator Ansari plays struggling actor Dev, who navigates the hipster enclaves of New York with relative ease. In reality, the wide-eyed Dev is little more than a vehicle by which the comedian can explore heavy topics like racial and gender constructs, generational entitlement, urban life, modern dating, and more -- but with a thoughtful approach that celebrates the silliest bits of our society. And as Ansari's girlfriend on the series, Saturday Night Live cast-off Noel Wells has officially become my newest crush.

3. THE RETURNED (A&E) - In a sleepy mountain town, the dead are coming back to life. A handful of folks both long and recently departed suddenly return to their families with no memory of what happened or how they were resurrected. Is it a miracle or something far more sinister? And why are they constantly hungry? This could be the plotline for a great movie, let alone a fantastic TV show. And its helmed by the co-creator of "Lost"?  There's NO WAY this show could fail -- except that it did, and A&E cancelled "The Returned" after one phenomenal season and a cliffhanger never to be resolved. The good news is that the A&E version was closely modeled on the original French "Les Revenants," which DID get a second season that's happening right now and available in the US on Sundance (if you can take the subtitles.)

2. PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC) - The saddest moment of the year is right here, knowing that this is the last time I'll ever be able to put "Parks and Rec" in a best-of list. What started as a less-funny clone of "The Office" rapidly became one of my favorite TV shows of all time. In its farewell season, the show time-jumped five years into the future and didn't disappoint as it wrapped up the storylines of the unsinkable Leslie Knope and her thankless job in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana. In its too-short seven season run, Parks & Rec was the smartest comedy on TV and made bonafide stars out of Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, and Chris Pratt. Pawnee, may you live on in our hearts forever.

1. MR. ROBOT (USA) - If somebody had told me a year ago that the best show on TV would end up coming from the USA Network, I'd have eaten my hat (and I really like my hat.) But Mr. Robot is a claustrophobic thrillride miles above anything else on the tube in 2015. Elliot Alderson, played with expert depth by the amazing Rami Malek, is a computer security expert by day, self-styled cyber-vigilante by night. Oh, and he's also a paranoid delusional drug addict with social anxiety disorder. And when he gets recruited by a group of hackers intent on bringing about nothing less than global economic anarchy, the ride begins. It's a futuristic film noir that's as dark and bleak as midnight on Mars, with plot twists so shocking that I once found myself jumping up screaming "NO WAY!" to my television set and two very startled cats.