All posts filed under: Current Events

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 …

Macarena-post-3

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, …

PopSmarts_10

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 …

PS_08_thumb

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 …

PS_07_thumb

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 …

Ps_06_thumb

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 …

PS_05_thumb

PopSmarts: Looking for God in “Toy Story”

It’s not a revelation to anyone, anymore, to point out that Hollywood is no longer in the business of original ideas. It takes a great deal of money to make and market a movie — any movie. And the Powers That Be have long ago figured out that the best way to ensure a return on their investment is to make films that are pre-sold, inasmuch as such a thing is possible — that is, movies with built-in name recognition: adaptations, sequels, reboots, reimaginings. Movies where name recognition alone will be enough to put butts in seats. Everybody does it, simply because it minimizes the colossal risks of filmmaking. It’s just smart business sense. So it is not unexpected — but still disappointing — to see Pixar fall into line behind this conventional wisdom. From its 1995 debut feature Toy Story onward, the computer-animation studio has mostly concentrated on making original films. Of the ten movies put out by Pixar between 1995 and 2009, only one was a sequel; and yet all were immensely profitable. …

PopSmarts_04_thumb

PopSmarts: Going Clear with William Burroughs

The works of William S. Burroughs are often lumped in with the Beat school; but although he was friendly with leading figures in the movement, his works were far more dark and paranoid than those of his compatriots. While Jack Kerouac tasted freedom in the blissed-out travelogue of On the Road, Burroughs brooded over the systems of control encoded into our very thoughts. Employing the imagery of pulp sci-fi, he characterized language itself as “a virus from outer space,” an intangible invader engineered to keep human minds enslaved. His distrust of language led him to the “cut-up” method, literally taking a scissors to his texts and reassembling them at random. Only by breaking the ingrained patterns of language, he argued, could we break the programmed patterns of our thoughts. From his youth, Burroughs despised all institutions of control — which makes it rather surprising to find that he spent almost a decade enthralled by the Church of Scientology. During the 1960s, while living in England, Burroughs took many courses at the church’s UK headquarters, and …

slave

Keep It To Yourself: The Writing On The Wall

So I’m standing on the 7th Avenue subway platform in lower Manhattan, circa 1983.  Two knuckleheads are discussing a picture of a baby in a circle.  The primitive image is drawn in white chalk on the black paper pasted over an advertising billboard mounted to the tiled wall.  “I think it means: No Babies On The Tracks,” says the dumber of the two.  After considering that for a moment, the other fool says, “Uh…it looks like a wristwatch.”  All the while your humble narrator was thinking, “Would you chumps mind stepping aside so I can try to get that Keith Haring original off the wall before my train comes?”  They didn’t so I couldn’t. I’m wondering, had I been able to remove the drawing, if I’d be able to do anything with it besides hang it in the private galleries at stately Keepit Manor.  And I’m wondering about that now because, thirty years later, the question has come up in connection with a mural by street art superstar Banksy.  Check it: ‘Slave Labour’ shows a poor urchin sewing Union …

PS03thumb

PopSmarts: The Judas Gospels

 And so we come, by the turning of the year, to the end of Shrovetide and the beginning of the Christian liturgical calendar. When I was a choir director, these three days of Easter were my favorite time of year. This is the time when Christendom enters its annual long dark night of the soul, and the rites of the Triduum still play out like a ritual drama. When programming music for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, I favored stark, direct songs — old folk hymns like “When Jesus Wept, the Falling Tear” (sung here by Waterson Carthy) and “What Wondrous Love Is This.” The Passion narrative packs quite enough punch without slathering on the cheap pathos, and those rough old English tunes are sturdy things — tragic without shading into melodrama. If you’re thinking that it would be a tall order for any rock ‘n’ roll song to capture that mingled mood of heartbreak and solemn awe, you’d be right. And if you’re thinking that Irish bombast-mongers U2 are unlikely candidates to pull …

PS_02_thumb

PopSmarts: Damned By Dawn!

It’s coming on St. Patrick’s Day now. That’s when all the amateur Irishmen come out for a night on the piss and an annual flirtation with Celtic folk music. In particular, the Pogues will come out for their yearly spin in the CD player, and it is to them that we turn our attention this time — and to an odd bit of trivia to both enhance your listening pleasure, and to give you an air of sophistication as you spend the evening getting schnockered with your cronies. One of the first pieces I wrote for Popdose was this guide to the Pogues, and what I strove to emphasize — what still strikes me now — is the band’s vast, omnivorous musical reach. It’s an injustice to think of them as “only” an Irish folk group. Oh, they had a greater command of (and reverence for) the Irish folk tradition than their detractors — or even some of their fans — would care to admit. But the Pogues were always chameleons at heart. At the …

2001_Bowman

PopSmarts: The Camera Always Lies

I’ve always been a know-it-all. I was the kid who actually did read the encyclopedia for fun, and I carried my reputation as a fount of useless knowledge into adulthood and into the workplace. Break-room conversations would wind into arcane corners, until someone would say, “Ask Jack — I’ll bet he knows.” And I’d find myself grappling with questions like why Easter moves around so much in the calendar, or why riders of show-horses wear those puffy trousers, or how a faulty car came to be called a “lemon.” I’ve been asked to end arguments, to settle wagers, or simply to satisfy someone’s curiosity. And I’ve always done it — sometimes willingly, sometimes not. For one glorious week, I found a way to make it pay, parlaying my mastery of trivia into a winning stint on Jeopardy! But my true calling has always been as the Office Explainer, telling you everything you could possibly need to know about the ephemera of art, science, and history — and slightly more than you might need, in fact, …

kimble

Book Review: “Profiles in Courageousness” by Rep. Jack Kimble

Political satire is usually pretty lead-footed. It’s hard to do well, with the result usually falling into the realm of smug, obvious, and overwhelmingly direct (Capitol Steps), or fear-mongering and overwrought (Bob Roberts). It also has a limited shelf life, because politics also have an innate sense of urgency. (If I’m even three days late on an SNL episode, I’ll skip the political cold open because it’s no longer relevant and/or the jokes are so obvious.) This is why Rep. Jack Kimble, R-California, 54th District is so wonderful. He’s a self-made Internet star with a YouTube channel and Twitter account, both of which he uses to parody the medium-specific ephemera of the 24-hour/online news-cycle and political ramblings of self-proclaimed political crusaders and moronic idealists with too much power. And now he’s released the e-book Profiles in Courageousness, a fake political memoir. It’s the kind of flag-waving, values-praising, extremely carefully worded, praising-a-past-that-never-was, written-by-committee “autobiography” ever candidate has ghostwritten for them 11 months before the first primary. (Kimble, of course, isn’t real. California doesn’t have 54 districts; he’s a …

jan

An Open Letter to Manti Te’o, from Jan Brady

Hi, Manti Te’o. It’s me, Jan Brady! I’m a sophomore at Westdale High School in California. I live with my three brothers, two sisters, and parents. Oh, and Alice! Don’t forget Alice! (She’s our maid, but she’s more like one of the family.) We’re a real bunch. A “Brady bunch!” Ha-ha-ha-ha! I think it’s really neato that you play sports. My favorite sports people are Don Drysdale and Joe Namath, and it’s too bad that you didn’t win the big championship game, but I bet you’ll still be the Big Man on Campus until you graduate. But that doesn’t mean that you can go around and tell people that you have a girlfriend who isn’t real, and that she died. Lying is wrong, Manti. And you shouldn’t lie to people to try to get them to like you. If you have to pretend for them, do you really want them to be your friends? But we Bradys don’t judge, Manti. Also, I understand. Even me, the great Jan Brady, lied about having a boyfriend! I …

frodo-the-ring-still

Keep It To Yourself: My Precious

In a hole in the ground there lived a lawsuit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet lawsuit, filled with the ends of contracts and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy lawsuit with nothing interesting in it to read: it was a Hobbit copyright lawsuit, and that means…money. Actually, there are a couple of recent infringement suits involving the new J.R.R. Tolkien-based flick and we’ll take a look at both.  Right, off we go to Ye Magickal Lande of District Court! In the first suit, Tolkien’s estate sued Warner Brothers for copyright infringement of the super popular Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books.  The complaint – for $80,000,000 – was filed just before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, first in a trilogy of films Warner Bros. will somehow wring out of JRR’s original Middle Earth novel.   Also named in the suit are Warners’ New Line subsidiary as well as the Saul Zaentz Co., which owns certain LOTR/Hobbit film and merchandising rights.  (But that’s not really news because everybody likes to …

nude--300x450

Keep It to Yourself: Just Desserts?

  I scream, you scream, we all scream for hardcore pornography! Hippie royalty Ben & Jerry were not amused when L.A. smut merchants Caballero Video released a series of dirty DVDs with names and packaging mimicking their wholesome family treats.  The naughty flicks have titles like ‘Boston Cream Thighs, ‘New York Super Fat and Chunky’ and ‘Hairy Garcia.’  [Cue my teenage daughter: ‘Ewww!’]  The line of adult features is promoted under the name “Ben and Cherry’s XXX Ice Cream” (‘Porno’s Finest’) and looks like this: A lawsuit ensued.  I hear my smart, attentive and attractive readers collectively breathing, “So what?  Isn’t this just garden variety parody?”  Answer: NO.  Let’s briefly talk about trademark dilution, specifically tarnishment. Ahem.  Trademark dilution is “the lessening of the capacity of a famous mark to identify and distinguish goods or services, regardless of the presence or absence of (1) competition between the owner of the famous mark and other parties, or (2) likelihood of confusion, mistake, or deception.”  In plain English, dilution law protects a trademarked product when someone makes a …

House_Everybody_Lies_Wallpaper_1680x1050_wallpaperhere

Numberscruncher: Of Course, Mitt Romney Lies!

It’s a given: Mitt Romney has issues with the truth. I think it’s cultural. People in business learn to lie, and in the big-stakes, big-money worlds of consulting and private equity, the truth isn’t all that valuable. In my investment banking days, one colleague told me that I should never say “I don’t know” when asked a question. That made me look weak. Always act like you know what you’re doing and say something  One of my bosses said that I should focus on marketing stocks. If there wasn’t new information to get people excited, just invent something! A third boss said that no one can get ahead in business until they learn to lie. It may be worse in finance than other businesses, but Dilbert’s pointy-headed boss is too familiar to too many of us. It’s not like these are bad people, they are just playing the game. Mitt Romney doesn’t seem like a guy who would lie to his wife or kids, but he would tell shareholders what they needed to hear for …