All posts filed under: Current Events

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POP CULTURE: The Campaign To Buy Neverland Ranch

In most cases, I would say this was pretty good on the bullshit-factor scale.  BUT this is real, folks.  A fundraising campaign on GoFundMe has begun to purchase Michael Jackson, the now-deceased, self-proclaimed “King Of Pop”‘s mansion.  The asking price is 75 million U.S. dollars; the campaign has thus far raised $430.00 in a 7 day span. This is the work of Mr. Mark Blackwell, former Senior Editor of SPIN Magazine, Editorial Director of Raygun Publishing, co-founder of Nylon Magazine, screenwriter for such modern classics as “Just My Luck” and because I know these things, an early member of the late, great SENATOR FLUX.  He’s also an all-around good egg.  The campaign is designed to help maintain Neverland’s now-mythological status and should this somehow succeed, contributors will be able to visit and spend time, etc.  at the (forever haunted) estate. To understand the details, go here: http://www.gofundme.com/BuyNeverland If you think this is your bag, by all means – contribute.  Imagine the possibilities of owning a little piece of Jackson’s land…

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Interview: David Grubbs of Squirrel Bait

Before Louisville was associated with Palace, though after, I suppose, Hunter S. Thompson chronicled its seedy decadence during the Derby, there was Squirrel Bait, a nascent punk group of area teens churning out intricately layered but surprisingly accessible post-hardcore gems, a group of seemingly-always-do-wells who drew rave reviews, and rightfully so, from the likes of Husker Du’s Bob Mould and Big Black’s Steve Albini. Rumor has it that even the likes of Kurt Cobain worshipped at the altar of the group’s 1985 debut. Though bands like Languid & Flaccid and Maurice, two other great Louisville bands from the 1980s, circled in and around Squirrel Bait’s orbit during its heyday, it became even more renowned as time worn on in the decades that followed. Two of the band’s members, David Grubbs and Brian McMahan, went on to form Slint, Bastro, Gastr del Sol and The For Carnation and, in Grubbs’ case, pursue notable careers solo. Filmmaker Lance Bangs recently released a documentary on the rise of Slint, timed with a re-release of the group’s epic Spiderland, …

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MOVIE REVIEW: “The Internet’s Own Boy”

It isn’t enough that we live in a time of “Big Brother is REALLY watching you” with downloading documents from the internet and having authorities at your door a minute later.  Such is the tragic case of Reddit co-founder and technology prodigy Aaron Swartz, who tragically committed suicide in January 2013.  The Internet’s Own Boy is a very fine, very detailed look at his life, his amazing aptitude towards technology from a young age, his alleged crimes and the theories of what ultimately drove him to take his own life at the age of 26. In-depth interviews with his family members, friends, co-workers and legal experts paint a portrait of a not-all-too-complex but very forward thinking individual. The film shows the timeline of Aaron Swartz’ involvement in helping to develop RSS feeds to the beginnings of Reddit; he was very much a giant footprint in the internet’s rapid development and advancement.  Most salient is his laboring over  issues such as social fairness, justice and political organization, which led to a two year legal hell. You’ll …

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Keep It To Yourself: 50 States of Grey

Just so you know, this isn’t a sexy article.  It’s about recent legal developments concerning grey market goods; not some pervy tycoon and his obsession with nubile coeds.  Sorry! Now then, what are Grey Market goods?  In a nutshell they’re legally made products that are sold through unauthorized channels.  For example, drugs imported from Canada can cost a fraction of what you’d pay your local CVS under your fabulous health care plan.  They’re the same meds in the same packaging, but the price is far less than what Pfizer can charge domestically for them.  Their “greyness” is determined not by their authenticity, but by the fact that they’re distributed unofficially, or in a manner that the manufacturer did not foresee or intend. Black Market goods, by contrast, are products that may not be sold legally, either because they’re counterfeit (think $50 Rolexes) or of a type that may be genuine but are officially verboten to traffic in.  Weapons of Mass Destruction, say.  There are also Green Market goods, which used to mean recycled or refurbished …

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PopSmarts: Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

It’s been a little more than a week since Slate published a piece that — across your Old Professor’s little corner of the Internet, anyway — touched off a firestorm. Ruth Graham’s article is cheekily titled “Against YA,” but the click-baity headline is even more blunt: “Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed About Reading Literature Written For Children.” Graham throws down in no uncertain terms, exhorting grown-ups to take off the training wheels and read something age-appropriate. “[T]he enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia,” she says. “Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this.” Though her presentation is intentionally provocative, it’s not hard to sympathize with Graham’s argument. Young Adult fiction dominates the bestseller lists, and film franchises based on YA series — that is, the ones that aren’t based on comic books, another form of literature originally meant for children that’s been co-opted by grown-ups — have been reaping box office gold. But it’s not The Kids who …

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PopSmarts: Come On, Pilgrim

Critical objectivity can be difficult to sustain. As members of the family, we have an implicit contract with our readers to consider each work on its own merits, without undue preconceptions; to determine what a given project is trying to do, and base our critique on how well it accomplishes its goals. Our only bias — not just acceptable, but necessary — must be to favor good work over bad. Recognizing that true objectivity is probably impossible, we must, like judiciary officials, acknowledge our prejudices insofar as we are aware of them. And when those prejudices prove insurmountable, we must recuse ourselves. Such was the case for your Old Professor earlier this week. I was tucking into a newly-collected, critical acclaimed work — it would be unfair to call it out by name — in a peculiar, specific subgenre that I generally enjoy, from a creator now coming into her own after years in the field, who brings a distinctive and appealing voice to her medium and has become an inspirational figure to a broad …

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PopSmarts: Wave a Red Rag

There’s a feeling you get. You know the one. You’re listening. It’s a song you’ve heard before, maybe many times. Heard it, but really never listened. One of those songs that always just sort of been there. But this time, on your hundredth hearing, or your thousandth, something is different. Something jumps out at you: a lyric you’ve never caught, a familiar snatch of melody repurposed, some quote or allusion or reference that gives you a shock of recognition. And this song, this evergreen, this classic-rock chestnut, this battered and clapped-out auld whorehorse becomes something wonderfully fresh and new. And a secret unfolds in your mind. No: Not unfolds. The opposite. Something opaque and featureless assumes new form and contour, a blank sheet of paper resolving into an origami swan. That feeling. There must be a word for that. It’s difficult, in practical terms, to define your Old Professor’s precise field of academic interest — turns out you can’t actually get a degree in Being A Smart-Ass, more’s the pity — but Modern Languages was …

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PopSmarts: What Becomes a Legend Most?

The second season of Vikings, last year’s basic-cable breakout hit, is coming into its homestretch, and the intrigues are piling up. Handsomely shot on locations in Ireland and Canada, and boasting magnetic lead performances, Vikings tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, a semi-legendary Danish chieftain and raider who plundered his way up and down the English coastline in the dawn years of the 9th Century. Vikings is the first scripted drama created for History — formerly known as the History Channel, but rebranded, like so many cable networks, to blur the distinction between the thing being disseminated and the vehicle for its distribution — but its historical provenance is doubtful, at best. That’s because the historical record is itself exceedingly thin. Although the Vikings had a written language, rendered in runes, it was reserved only for ceremonial inscriptions. The Norsemen relied on oral transmission, and there was a lively tradition of bardic poetry and song. It wasn’t until the simultaneous introductions of Christianity and the Latin alphabet in the 12th Century that the Vikings thought …

PopSmarts: Fractured Mirror

There’s a new top dog on the Young Adult block. The film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s bestselling YA novel Divergent opened a couple of weeks ago to stellar box office returns. The first in a projected trilogy of movies, Divergent may mark the start of a new killer franchise — or it may just be a way for teen audiences to mark time ‘til the next Hunger Games movie. Because make no mistake: Katniss Everdeen casts a long shadow across Roth’s literary dystopia. Divergent, like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, takes place in an ugly future where the lives of young people are treated as disposable commodities. In a postapocalyptic Chicago, society is cloven into five castes, or “factions.” The peace-loving Amity do the nurturing work of farming; the Erudite, for whom intelligence is the greatest virtue, are planners; the Candor, brought up to be truthful in all things, are the lawyers, and so forth. The labeling is familiar to kids brought up on Harry Potter. But Divergent adds an element of free will to …

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Keep It To Yourself: The Hawking Dead

My very first KI2Y column on PopDose was this clever bit about how rights of publicity might attach to dead celebrities.  Do rights to famous folk’s images survive their tragic demise, or do they rest in peace in Hollywood Forever Cemetery?  Let’s revisit this question now because a recent decision has added a new twist to this already kooky area of intellectual property law.  And, it involves our favorite Woodstock casualty, Jimi Hendrix! My attractive and urbane readers know that there is no uniform federal right of publicity – the law varies widely all over the country.  Just over half the states have rights of publicity laws protecting living stars; only a handful have laws pertaining to the deceased ones.  In New York, post mortem rights of publicity law are not recognized at all.  This is an important quirk for us because although Hendrix expired under dodgy circumstances in a London hotel, he was a resident of New York when he joined the 27 Club. A little background: Hendrix was a favorite son of Seattle, Washington. (This was …

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Beatlefest 2014: And?…

So it came to pass that this weekend is the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in the United States.  It is well established what their coming meant – for music and more importantly, for society – which would impact the following generations.  Certainly, a momentous occasion for me, having loved the band my whole life (yes, we all know that I go for long stretches without listening to them, but no matter what, I always come back). I decided since it is a once-in-a-lifetime event, I would go to the 50th Anniversary celebration at this year’s Beatlefest, held in Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt hotel.  I had always mocked anyone who went to these things as no different than sci-fans who go to the various conventions.  I went with the best intentions that I would hear interesting discussions – perhaps sociological discourses on The Beatles’ impact on society, not just music, etc.  I had hoped it would not be a swarm of “rabid fan” nonsense. I arrived early on Friday night; the first evening.  I just …

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PopSmarts: Two Thumbs Up

The art of film involves many collaborators, the most important of whom — as I’ve written before — is the audience. We are more than passive receivers. It is we, the audience, who bring the movies to life. Writers and directors create scenarios, and actors play them out, in immersive environments created by composers, designers, and cinematographers. But it is inside the viewers’ heads that a film truly lives. In our heads, and in our hearts. Great filmmakers know this, and enlist the audience’s collaboration by crafting films that engage our intellect and emotions. Not-so-great filmmakers grasp the same principle, but engage with it in a different, far more crass way — by monetizing it. Film is unique among the arts in that its mode of presentation has been in constant flux from its inception. While styles of contemporary painting, say, have changed tremendously since the 1890s, the experience of looking at a painting in a museum or gallery is still recognizably the same; but a host of technological advances have fundamentally altered the way …

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PopSmarts: The Politics of Haunting

It’s a holiday tradition; the low murmur of the stereo in the corner of the kitchen, filling the house with the sounds of Yuletide cheer.  And in our house that means that — along with Bing Crosby, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and the ongoing freak parade of Mellowmas — we’ll be hearing the audiobook version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The three-hour-plus performance was released by UK publisher Penguin as a free podcast back in 2006, and quickly became mandatory listening for us. The reader, Geoffrey Palmer, has a vast range of accents and timbres at his disposal, and he’s not afraid to go big. A Christmas Carol is as shameless a crowd-pleaser as Dickens ever wrote, and Palmer utterly sells it all — the gooey sentiment, the broad humor, the flashes of horror — with sobs and cries and peals of laughter, and without ever condescending to the material. Hearing Dickens read aloud is a revelatory experience anyhow. Many modern readers have trouble with his ornate prose — the elaborate syntactical construction …

PopSmarts: It Only Begins With L-O-L

Thanks to the fortunes of History and the inevitable bending of the Universe’s moral arc towards justice, our children, gay and straight, are growing up in a world where it is easier than ever to be queer-positive (though nowhere near as difficult as it ought to be queer-negative; one unintended consequence of “tolerance” as an ideal for diversity is that it tacitly permits even people of good will to let bigotry go unchallenged in the name of tolerance — tolerance of the intolerant). We’ve a long way yet to go before we’re anywhere near full parity — hell, we’re a long way from even basic goals like appropriate and proportional media representation — but the progress even in my lifetime has been remarkable. It’s hard to remember, now, just how prevalent the closet was, and how rare it was for any LGBT individual to be out of it 100%. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, it was still common for gays and lesbians to be out only to select subgroups within the circles of …

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PopSmarts: Trouble Shooting

I talk about a lot of different iterations of pop culture in these columns — film, literature, music, comics — but even the casual reader will notice that there’s a big video game-shaped hole in the Old Professor’s discourse. I offer no defense. My advancing years constitute no excuse, as there are plenty of guys (and gals) my age and older who learned their way around a joystick while I was highlighting key passages from the Monster Manual. I know, because when I visited their houses I would sometimes play Frogger or Pac-Man on their Atari 2600s, or marvel at the advanced graphics of ColecoVision. But not at home. My folks didn’t have any moral objection to video games, mind you; but I was the late-in-life child of parents who remembered the Great Depression, and their habits of frugality precluded investment in anything whose worth was at all in doubt. My mother, in 1963, famously proclaimed the Beatles to be “a flash in the pan,” so these were not people who were easily impressed by …

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PopSmarts: Yellow Perils

We’re well into Movember now, the month-long event wherein thousands of men worldwide grow mustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Count your humble Old Professor among that number. I usually keep a trim beard, but every November 1st I scrape my big dopey mug down to a shiny pink, and with the canvas thus made blank, I start workin’ on a sweet Fu Manchu. I first encountered this ornamentation — the King of All ‘Staches, and as far as I know still the only one to be named for a fictional character — on the face of the eponymous Devil Doctor himself, in the pages of a Marvel comic called Master of Kung Fu. Not a title to inspire confidence, I know; it seems to promise the newsprint equivalent of the shoddy chopsockey programmers that lit up many a ‘70s grindhouse. But among the cognoscenti, MoKF — which made its debut in 1973, forty years ago this month — is legendary. At its peak, the book delivered high adventure with unabashedly arty leanings, …

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PopSmarts: A Reputation For Difficulty

We who take it as a vocation to criticize the efforts of others must take great care to keep our own behavior above reproach. It is particularly bad form to take a fellow critic to task when he or she makes a judgment that seems eccentric or even outright mistaken. Judge not, lest ye be judged; because we all do it — oh, boy, do we ever — and what goes around comes around, and karma’s a bitch, and I would rather not have the razor-sharp critical mind of a Laura Miller or a Matt Zoller Seitz turned to the task of enumerating my failings, thankewverymuch. Which presented me with a bit of a dilemma recently while I was catching up on recent (-ish) films. I had occasion to watch the 2011 adaptation of John LeCarré’s thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I was immensely impressed, so much so that I did something that I hardly ever do; I immediately rewatched it. Three times in the space of twelve hours, in fact. It’s a remarkable piece …

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Popdose Politicks: Debt Ceiling! Shutdown! Fight, Fight, Fight! (Again)

Dw DUNPHY: Well, now that Syria has vanished from the front pages, Big Tea has refocused on the fight they really wanted: Running the government into a brick wall. Praise the lord and pass the ammo. JON CUMMINGS: Unfortunately, the polls show that Republicans have attained one of the key goals of their “governance”-by-crisis shenanigans of the last three years: Large numbers of Americans now believe that government is incapable of playing a healthy or positive role in dealing with the big issues, such as job creation, health care and rising income inequality. Operating on Chaos Theory since 2011 – since 2007, really – the GOP has convinced the public that chaos is all that’s possible. The flipside of that is that senior and/or sane Republicans (and when we’re calling Mitch McConnell “sane,” we’re really off the reservation) recognize that a government shutdown or a credit default would be too much chaos for the public to bear. If the GOP were simply to make no waves between now and November 2014, the midterm election of …

PopSmarts: Heavy Elements

So this week the geek world (Doctor Who division) is abuzz over the announcement that cussy Caledonian Peter Capaldi has been cast as the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor. Capaldi will surely bring a new energy to the venerable British sci-fi institution — the show is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — and at 55 years of age, with a portfolio of morally ambiguous characters on his résumé, promises a hard-edged take on a property that has, under the direction of showrunner Steven Moffat, trended increasingly warm and fuzzy. Now, geeks are a contentious lot, and any possible casting choice was bound to be a disappointment to someone — especially to people (your own Old Professor among them) who feel that if the immortal Doctor can regenerate into any form, then there is no reason why he cannot incarnate as a woman, or a person of color. Science fiction is a literature of infinite possibilities, and to celebrate the casting of a white man in his 50s to take over the role from a …

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PopSmarts: The Cautionary Tale of Vitorino and Macarena

It’s high summer, and we’re in the midst of wedding season. And if you’re going to a wedding this summer, then there’s a chance you’re going to find yourself doing the Macarena. This is especially true if you’re attending that wedding in flyover country. The coasts, of course, are generally far too cool for this line dance-cum-hand jive, beloved of white people because it does not require them to move their feet. But in Middle America, the Macarena has carved out its place in the wedding DJ canon alongside the Hokey Pokey, the Chicken Dance, and the Electric Slide. The Macarena has been around for such a long time now (the first Spanish recording of the song, recorded by Spanish lounge act Los Del Rio with a more traditional Latin feel, was released twenty years ago), and was once so ubiquitous and now such old hat, that it can be hard to remember that it was once a new, kinda-hip thing — even a little underground. Its Continental origins gave it an air of sophistication, …

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PopSmarts: The Theory of Aesthetic Stasis

I’ve been catching up on the Entertainment Geekly podcast this week (which is my own damned problem, I suppose), and I was struck by an odd conversational turn during a discussion of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. The book’s author, Sean Howe, was talking about how he came to comics as a teenager via The Uncanny X-Men, specifically writer Chris Claremont’s long tenure on the title. That sounds familiar. Since its début in the early 1960s, the X-Men franchise has been the gateway drug for generations of adolescent readers. Indeed, it might just be the platonic ideal of teen-friendly serial fiction, especially when written by Claremont. Not only did he serve up a devil’s brew of soap-opera turns and reversals, dysfunctional family dynamics, sci-fi trippiness, and old-fashioned melodrama — in his stories of superhuman mutants, hated and rejected by a world that fears them, there lurked an all-purpose metaphor for adolescent alienation: What teenager, gazing at his own acne-riddled face in the mirror, has not felt like a misunderstood freak? Chris Claremont worked with a …

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PopSmarts: Sting’s Library

Like a lot of people, I have trouble taking Sting seriously — as seriously as he takes himself, anyway. But I must admit that I greeted the news of his upcoming album and theater piece The Last Ship — his first original pop material in ten years — with unalloyed glee. Regardless of whether the music is any good — and after detours into Renaissance lute music and a Police reunion tour, that’s very much an open question — every Sting record promises an impressive reading list. Songwriters draw inspiration from all kinds of places, of course, from films and plays and paintings, from poems and novels and the daily news. But few songwriters have been so ostentatiously literary as Der Stinglehoffer. And it’s hard to overstate how revolutionary that was. These days, Lana Del Rey can straight-up drop lines from Lolita into her manicured dance-pop, and nobody raises an eyebrow. But in 1980, when the Stingmeister namechecked “that book by Nabokov” on “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” you’d have thought the sky was …

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PopSmarts: Let Nothing Come Between Us

One of the most anticipated television events of the summer is Under the Dome, a 13-week summer series adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name. Under the Dome, which premieres June 24 on CBS, has a high-concept sci-fi hook; an entire town is unexpectedly encased in a semi-permeable force field, cutting the whole place off from the rest of the world. While a small group of citizens look for a way to escape their confinement, life inside quickly degenerates into a reign of terror as a nefarious local wheeler-dealer seizes power in the absence of any outside authority. In short, Under the Dome looks like the kind of small-town-under-siege thriller you’d expect from Stephen King. If the premise sounds vaguely familiar, well, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in another Stephen King story. It’s a dependable formula that’s worked well in Salem’s Lot, It, and Needful Things, among other works. The transparent dome, as the characters themselves note, functions like a terrarium or a fishbowl — and the characters are specimens under …

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PopSmarts: This Summer I Hear the Drumming

Last week saw the anniversary of one of the most horrific events in American history, the shootings of four unarmed college students by National Guardsmen on the campus of Ohio’s Kent State University. Four casualties may not sound like much of a body count, in a world where collapsing factories kill 900 workers and suicide bombers can wreak havoc in crowded public spaces. Hell, as I write this article, at least 35 people are dead in India after their bus crashed through a guard rail and into a gorge along the Beas River. Thirty-five lives snuffed out, and each of them precious; 35 people, each of whom had hopes and dreams for the future, hopes just as valid as those of Sandy Scheur, or Allison Krause, or Jeff Miller, or Bill Schroeder. But the Kent State massacre was a uniquely traumatizing incident in the social history of the United States. Three days of ugly antiwar demonstrations had escalated into full-scale rioting, with wholesale property damage culminating the torching of the University’s ROTC building. Some student …