Published: Mon, 23 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2017 22:28:40 -0500
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:05:00 -0500There is precedent for this president. There was another man who leapt directly from pop culture into politics, using showmanship and populist rhetoric to draw huge crowds to his rallies while the pundits pooh-poohed his chances of winning. He was a businessman and radio star named Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, and he was elected governor of Texas in that state's bizarre election of 1938. I wrote about O'Daniel in a Reason story about a year ago. With Donald Trump now assuming the presidency, it's a good moment to remember a man whose rise looks a lot like Trump's: When it became clear that something big was afoot, [newspaper writers] argued that no one could tell whether the crowds consisted of supporters or just gawkers. Did those mobs actually agree with O'Daniel's vague platform? the pundits asked. Or were they only there to enjoy, in the words of the syndicated columnists Drew Pearson and Robert Allen, "a mellifluous radio voice that women gush over and a hill-billy band that delights both young and old"? When the Star-Telegram finally acknowledged that Pappy was attracting "larger and more enthusiastic crowds than any other candidate," it added that many members of those audiences were nonvoters and wondered whether the movement was a "bubble." ...and whose reign may well turn out to look like Trump's as well: When re-election time rolled around in 1940...he hadn't gotten much done at all other than alienate a great deal of Austin. That and start a newspaper. Declaring that "no recent governor has been so unfairly dealt with as the press has dealt with me," he launched The W. Lee O'Daniel News. There and on his radio show, he blamed his failures on evil outside forces—and not just the big failures. When two musicians quit his band, Pappy informed his listeners that "the gang of professional politicians" had "struck another blow at your governor." The sunny side of Pappy's populism was starting to give way to something darker. There are some notable differences as well, starting with the contrast between O'Daniel's moralistic persona and Trump's hedonism. It's hard to imagine Pappy bragging that he grabbed anyone "by the pussy." (O'Daniel's original band, the Light Crust Doughboys, did record a double-entendre song called "Pussy, Pussy, Pussy." But that was after the group and the governor had parted ways.) Still, the parallels are pretty strong, and I've just scratched the surface of them here. To see more of them, you can read my article. In the meantime, since it's Inauguration Day, here is O'Daniel's radio broadcast from August 3, 1941. The governor had just won a special election to the U.S. Senate, and this show went out the day before he took his oath of office: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/inJQ7swZxuw" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> And here, along with a nice collection of photos from O'Daniel's career, is Pappy's band playing his theme song, "Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/w2RlFA8tSq0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> One more tidbit for you, though this one isn't a parallel so much as it's a strange coincidence. When O'Daniel's band recorded "Please Pass the Biscuits," the singer on the record was named Leon Huff. Many years later, another musician named Leon Huff co-wrote a tune called "For the Love of Money"; and many years after that, "For the Love of Money" became the theme song for a show called The Apprentice, hosted by one Donald Trump. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)[...]
Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:15:00 -0500Comments during yesterday's oral argument in Lee v. Tam, a First Amendment case in which an Asian-American dance rock band called The Slants is challenging the federal ban on registration of "disparaging" trademarks, suggest a majority of the Supreme Court is inclined to overturn the 71-year-old rule. In addition to skeptical questions from three conservative justices, Deputy Solicitor General Malcom Stewart's defense of the trademark policy faced strong challenges from two left-leaning justices that he had trouble countering. Justice Stephen Breyer asked Stewart to identify a legitimate government interest served by the Lanham Act clause barring registration of trademarks that "may disparage...persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols." Stewart said the rule is aimed at avoiding terms that "distract the consumer from the intended purpose of the trademark qua trademark, which is to identify [the] source" of the product or service. Breyer was clearly not satisfied by that response, saying he could come up with "perhaps 50,000 examples of instances where the space the trademark provides is used for very distracting messages, probably as much [as] or more so than the one at issue." Later Breyer repeatedly summarized Stewart's position in a way that suggested he did not think much of it. Justice Elena Kagan emphasized that the disparagement clause draws a distinction based on viewpoint, since it allows positive messages but prohibits negative ones. "I always thought that government programs were subject to one extremely important constraint, which is that they can't make distinctions based on viewpoint," she said. Under the ban challenged by The Slants, she noted, "you can say good things about some person or group, but you can't say bad things about some person or group....I would have thought that that was a fairly classic case of viewpoint discrimination." Stewart conceded that a trademark restriction approving praise of politicians but forbidding criticism of them would constitute viewpoint-based discrimination. But he argued that the breadth of the disparagement rule, which applies to all groups of people, makes it less problematic because it means the government is not trying to suppress specific messages. "That's like saying it does so much viewpoint-based discrimination that it becomes all right," a skeptical Kagan replied. The point is crucial because viewpoint-based speech regulation is subject to "strict scrutiny," which makes it presumptively unconstitutional. It can pass muster only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Even if we assume that preventing consumer distraction "from the intended purpose of the trademark qua trademark" is a compelling government interest, a rule that applies only to disparagement is clearly not narrowly tailored. Stewart himself conceded that the disparagement rule cannot survive strict scrutiny, meaning it will be upheld only if the Court decides it is not a viewpoint-based speech regulation. The government maintains that the disparagement clause is not really a speech regulation because it merely sets a requirement for obtaining benefits the government has no obligation to provide. Chief Justice John Roberts was unpersuaded. "I'm concerned that your government program argument is circular," he said. "The claim is you're not registering...my mark because it's disparaging, and your answer is, 'Well, we run a program that doesn't include disparaging trademarks, so that's why you're excluded.'" Pressed by Justice Samuel Alito, Stewart admitted that "it would be unconstitutional to deny copyright protection" for a book that was deemed disparaging. But he argued that copyright "is much more tied to First Amendment values" than trademark because "the incentivization of free expression" is one of its main functions. By contrast, he said, "trademarks generally have not historically served as vehicles for expression." Justice Anthony Kennedy did not seem to buy that distinction, observing that "we have a c[...]
Wed, 18 Jan 2017 16:16:00 -0500
Can the U.S. Patent Office deny trademark requests it deems disparaging or offensive, or is that a violation of the First Amendment? The Supreme Court will decide in the case of Lee v. Tam, which began oral arguments today.
The case, which Jacob Sullum wrote about earlier today, centers around an Asian-American rock group called "The Slants," which attempted to trademark its name in 2011 but was denied on the grounds that it was offensive.
"When I first heard about this," the band's founder and bassist Simon Tam told Reason's Meredith Bragg, "I though it was a practical joke."
Ironically, Tam says, the name was intended "to flip the slur around" and convey a "positive, self-empowering" message to fans.
Interview by Meredith Bragg. Cameras by Joshua Swain and Mark McDaniel, who also edited the video. Music by The Slants.
Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:01:00 -0500In 2004 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agreed to register Heeb as the name of a magazine covering Jewish culture. Four years later, the PTO refused to register Heeb as the name of a clothing line conceived by the magazine's publishers, because the term is "a highly disparaging reference to the Jewish people." Such puzzling inconsistency is par for the course at the PTO, which since 1946 has been charged with blocking registration of trademarks that "may disparage...persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute." A case the Supreme Court will hear today could put an end to that vain, vague, and highly subjective enterprise, which sacrifices freedom of speech on the altar of political correctness. The case involves an Asian-American dance rock band called The Slants, a name that self-consciously repurposes a racial slur. In 2011 the band's founder, Simon Tam, tried to register the name but was rejected by a PTO examiner who deemed it disparaging to "persons of Asian descent." An administrative appeals board affirmed that decision, even while conceding that the band's name was "an attempt not to disparage, but rather to wrest 'ownership' of the term from those who might use it with the intent to disparage." The board said "the fact that applicant has good intentions underlying the use of the term does not obviate the fact that a substantial composite of the referenced group find the term objectionable." In 2015 a federal appeals court agreed that Tam "may offend members of his community with his use of the mark" but noted that "the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech." The court ruled that the ban on registration of disparaging trademarks amounts to viewpoint-based speech regulation, which the Supreme Court has said is constitutional only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The interest in this case—protecting the feelings of people who might be offended by an outré trademark—does not even qualify as legitimate, let alone compelling. The PTO maintains that it's not really regulating speech, since Tam is free to call his band whatever he wants. But denying him the trademark-protecting benefits of registration clearly imposes a burden on his speech, analogous to denying copyright registration for a book that bothers a bureaucrat. The PTO also argues that trademark registration should be viewed as government speech, similar to messages on license plates. But as the Cato Institute notes in a friend-of-the-court brief (which was joined by the Reason Foundation, publisher of this website), that contention is pretty implausible when the list of registered trademarks "includes such hallowed brands as 'Capitalism Sucks Donkey Balls' and 'Take Yo Panties Off.'" Those examples also appear in a brief filed by the corporate owner of the Washington Redskins, which is engaged in its own legal battle over an allegedly disparaging trademark. The brief lists hundreds of arguably disparaging registered trademarks, including band names such as N.W.A., White Trash Cowboys, Whores From Hell, Cholos on Acid, The Pricks, Barenaked Ladies, and The Roast Beef Curtains. Since disparagement is in the eye of the beholder, registration decisions vary with the moods and sensibilities of the PTO's examiners. It is therefore not surprising that "the PTO's record of trademark registrations and denials often appears arbitrary and is rife with inconsistency," as the appeals court found. Among other examples, the court noted that "the PTO denied the mark HAVE YOU HEARD SATAN IS A REPUBLICAN because it disparaged the Republican Party…but did not find the mark THE DEVIL IS A DEMOCRAT disparaging." The PTO "registered the mark FAGDOG three times and refused it twice." Uncertainty about the PTO's decisions has a chilling effect on applicants' choices, encouraging them to steer wide of trademarks that might be controversial. In fact, avoiding controversy is the whol[...]
Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:59:00 -0500Nat Hentoff, the prolific critic, journalist, and civil libertarian, passed away yesterday at age 91. His son Nick reports that he "died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday," which I suspect is exactly how he wanted to go. Hentoff wrote many things, from young adult novels to the sleeve notes of an early Bob Dylan album. But he was most famous for two great passions: his defenses of the Bill of Rights, especially Amendment One, and his enthusiastic writing about music, especially jazz. When people talk about old-school liberals who'd defend to the death your right to say anything you want, chances are good that Hentoff is the fellow they've got in mind. In his columns for The Village Voice and The Washington Post and in articles for countless other venues (including Reason), he pounded away at the evils of censorship, and he didn't care if the censor had a left-wing agenda or a right-wing one. If anything, he seemed especially perturbed when people he expected to share his values started stomping on individual liberties. Hentoff was less likely to be called a liberal later in life. That's partly because his brand of free-speech absolutism was growing less common on the left, and it's partly because of his heterodoxy on abortion. (Hentoff was pro-life, arguing against abortion on the same grounds that he argued against capital punishment and war. Or, at least, against some wars—he eventually rended his seamless garment to support interventions in Rwanda and Iraq.) But you couldn't really cast him as a man of the right either: Besides his intense distrust for the police agencies that conservatives tend to revere, he was a longtime democratic socialist who held onto a lot of his leftist economic ideas in old age. It's not even quite right to call him an ACLU liberal, because he kept butting heads with the ACLU. (The nation's most prominent civil libertarian organization wasn't always civil libertarian enough for him.) Best to think of him as his own man, with at least a couple of views to offend pretty much anyone. He would have left a substantial legacy even if he had never written about politics at all, thanks to his work in the music world. His criticism covered several genres—one of my favorite articles of his was an appreciation of the country singer Merle Haggard—but his great love was jazz, a topic on which he wrote whole volumes. He produced several jazz albums too, by artists ranging from Max Roach to Cecil Taylor, and he had a hand in the great 1957 TV special The Sound of Jazz, which my colleague Kurt Loder once called "a landmark of televised jazz that has never been surpassed." (Watch it here.) But it was his political writing that left its biggest mark on me. I grew up reading Hentoff's attacks on censorship and surveillance, and whatever disagreements I sometimes had with him on other topics I learned a lot from his uncompromising consistency on those issues. For a taste of just how committed to free speech he was, I'll wrap up this obit with a video of him attacking the existence of libel laws, a hardcore position that even some of the fiercest civil libertarians aren't willing to accept. (For the record: I think he's right.) The video, shot in 1986, shows him debating the Objectivist philosopher David Kelley, who argues that we need libel suits to protect our "right to a reputation." When it came to regulations on speech, Nat Hentoff could make even a Randian look like a big-government guy by comparison: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ge57bIoTXoY" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">[...]
Fri, 06 Jan 2017 12:18:00 -0500
When states started enacting general sales taxes in the 1930s, it wasn't long before there were songs complaining about the new levies. In 1934, the Mississippi Sheiks recorded "Sales Tax," which starts with a spoken skit in which the band is alarmed to learn that they now need to pay three cents more for their cigarettes.
"They say that's the government's rule," one of the Sheiks explains.
"The government's rule?" another replies. "Well, there's lots of things sold that the government knows anything about." And then the bluesmen break into a song where even the bootleggers and prostitutes are now charging extra for their services:
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2hv7xxrmyh8" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">
You might be curious why anyone would still be buying liquor from a bootlegger in 1934, a year after the Prohibition Amendment was repealed. Answer: These were the Mississippi Sheiks, and Prohibition in Mississippi lasted a lot longer than Prohibition nationwide. It was the last place to keep a statewide alcohol ban on the books, eliminating it not in 1933 but in 1966:
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 08:15:00 -0500As the year drew to a close, we asked Reason's staff to select some of the best books, movies, and other media released in 2016. Our picks range from a novel about economic apocalypse to a sitcom about aliens, from a book about cocktails to a film about Hannah Arendt. Dig in. —Jesse Walker Eric Boehm, reporter With Painkillers, former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon leaves his Springsteen-meets-the-Replacements roots for a folksy-rock exploration of failed relationships, nostalgic romances, and the freedom that comes from letting go of the past, even if you'll never be rid of it. "You can't make me whole, I have to do that on my own," Fallon sings on the album's introspective closing number, a reference in equal parts to his recent divorce and to the breakup of his band. The simple Americana arrangements here put Fallon's skills as a songwriter—and he's one of the best out there right now—in the spotlight, particularly on "Rosemary," "Among Other Foolish Things," and "Smoke." He may be going in a new direction, but Fallon spends most of Painkillers looking back, examining hazy memories or half-remembered dreams of what might have been. There's borrowed cars, girls who love whiskey, and Rites of Spring. The good times, Fallon sings, are "lost in the songs they don't write anymore." Shikha Dalmia, senior analyst Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, a documentary by the Israeli director Ada Ushpiz, may not be the best offering of 2016, but it is arguably the most relevant. The West is experiencing a rise of demagogues, fuelled partly by right-wing populist movements. It is possible that in resisting them, Western liberalism will strengthen itself. It could also collapse into something horrible, as Weimar Germany did. The film, which hit select American theaters this year, offers a glimpse into the mass psychology that would allow that to happen. Arendt, a Jewish philosopher, fled to America from Nazi Germany. The documentary delves into her thought to understand how the land that produced the greatest minds in philosophy, literature, and music collapsed into the barbarism of Auschwitz. It excavates rare footage of Germany during Hitler's rule to show the campaign to dehumanize Jews that preceded the Holocaust. But the more crucial step, per Arendt, was the triumph of what Frankfurt School philosophers call instrumental or technocratic rationality over critical rationality. The film depicts Arendt's 1961 journey to Israel for The New Yorker to cover the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi accused of war crimes. After observing months of testimony, Arendt coined her phrase "banality of evil" to convey that Eichmann, a diminutive and soft-spoken man, wasn't motivated so much by hatred of Jews. Rather, he believed that his job was to find the most efficient way to execute his assigned tasks, not raise big questions. Arendt was condemned for soft-peddling the Satanic nature of the Nazi regime. But the documentary shows that she was laying bare something still more horrible: how ordinary people can stumble into unspeakable evil when they let their civilizational guard down. Anthony Fisher, associate editor Louis CK blew up the concept of the 30-minute sitcom with his FX show Louie, where the main character's backstory would change without explanation and where excruciatingly painful situations could be both hilarious and cathartic. Now he may have blown up the episodic television show itself with the eight-part miniseries Horace and Pete, originally released on his own website but now available on Hulu. Though occasionally funny, this is no comedy—in fact, it's as much of a horror show as a drama. Set in the hellscape of a 100-year-old Irish bar in Brooklyn, the show's depiction of boredom, dumb arguments, sexism, familial abuse, mental illness, and pathological self-destruction make for perhaps the most honest depiction of barfly culture ever prese[...]
Mon, 19 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500Before they took a turn toward the psychedelic in the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys were about as uncontroversial as you could get in American pop music. But what was acceptable for teenyboppers in the early '60s may be too sexually taboo for today's college campuses. University of Kentucky (UK) journalism professor Buck Ryan claims he was sanctioned for singing the Beach Boys' 1965 single "California Girls" while in his official capacity as a UK representative. The university's Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity found Ryan violated federal Title IX guidelines against sex-based discrimination and harassment by using "language of a sexual nature." "If my case is any indication, then everyone concerned about discrimination and sexual harassment should be alarmed," wrote Ryan in a letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan also pointed out that he has never, in a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, "faced a complaint of sexual misconduct from a student." Ryan, a tenured associate professor with an impressive resume—including an array of international awards, eight years as director of the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications (from 1994 to 2002), and the 2003 recipient of UK's Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching—said he was reported to Title IX officials for conduct that occurred while he was a visiting professor at China's Jilin University. Ryan claims it was singing the Beach Boys song at a closing ceremony that got him reported by fellow UK faculty on the trip. But the school disputes Ryan's characterization of the complaint against him. "In short, Professor Ryan's account is manipulative of the facts and, unfortunately, not based in reality," says UK spokesman Jay Blanton. "Faculty who accompanied him on the trip in question were deeply concerned about his conduct." An October 2015 letter from Patty Bender, UK's vice president for equal opportunity, to the dean of the communications school states that "more than a preponderance of the evidence" revealed Ryan to be "in violation of the discrimination and harassment policy prohibiting inappropriate touching and language of a sexual nature." The Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity reccommended that Ryan "not be funded by the University of Kentucky to represent UK in any travel abroad," that a recent award which would require overseas travel be forfeited, and that Ryan be required to attend equality training. According to the letter, Ryan's transgressions did include causing "concern and embarassment" amongst his colleagues by singing a modified version of "California Girls" at a closing cermony while "inserting the names of Chinese cities" into the lyrics. He is also accused of having an "inappropriate," albeit non-sexual, relationship with a Chinese student. Evidence of this inappropriate relationship includes the fact that the student was seen wearing one of Ryan's sweatshirts as they were walking together and that he spent time in the student's suite. Ryan allegedly responded that he was helping the student with her English, that there were always other students coming and going from the suite, and that he didn't see anything inappropriate about the relationship. The heavily redacted letter does not say how old the student was, nor whether she was in Ryan's classes, though it does make clear that it was UK faculty who complained about Ryan's relationship with the student, not the young woman herself. Blanton says the school offered Monday to make all documents related to Ryan's case public if he would permit it, a move Ryan declined. The University of Kentucky is currently involved in a legal battle with student newspaper the Kentucky Kernel related to Title IX records, specifically those involving former UK professor James Harwood. The trouble started last spring, when student journalists sought redacted copies of "any re[...]
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:30:00 -0500
(image) Ever since word went out that Robert Ford shot Jesse James, there have been legends that the dead man was really someone else and that the outlaw secretly survived. Alan Lomax ran into one of those tales when he toured the South with a tape recorder in 1959. Neal Morris (*), an Arkansas banjo player, told Lomax that the James brothers had often hid out at his grandfather's place ("because nobody expected them down in Arkansas, don't you see") and that grandpa had given him the scoop on the robber's alleged death. Jesse James wasn't even in that part of the country when Bob Ford supposedly shot him, Morris claims; instead, "Quantrill was the man that the Ford boys killed."
Morris presumably means the Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill, who had fought alongside James in the Civil War. Historians say Quantrill died at the end of the war, but there were rumors that he survived his reported demise too. So Morris has managed to combine two secret-history stories into one: Quantrill didn't die in 1865, and then in 1882 he died in Jesse James' place.
Morris wraps up his account by singing the ballad "Jesse James," which presents the more familiar tale of Ford blasting James in the back. "That's the story that's been told, don't you see," he says at the end, "but us people, a lot of these people in the mountains, don't believe it."
I'd call this "fake news," but the whole thing is so wonderfully strange that I'd like to hold out a tiny smidge of hope that against all odds it's true:
src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/295889135&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">
In 1948, an Oklahoma man called J. Frank Dalton claimed that he was really Jesse James and that the fellow killed by Robert Ford had been a Pinkerton named Charles Bigelow. You can read all about that here. The body of the man shot by Robert Ford was exhumed for DNA tests in 1995; you can read about that here. To listen to Woody Guthrie turning that "Jesse James" ballad into a song about Jesus, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.
(* It's spelled "Neal" on the Association for Cultural Equity's online archive of the Lomax recordings. When Atlantic Records released a selection of those tapes as an anthology called The Sounds of the South, they spelled it "Neil." I have no idea how Mr. Morris himself spelled it, or if he cared.)
Thu, 17 Nov 2016 12:15:00 -0500
(image) Ever tried to bring attention to an issue close to your heart, but didn't quite have the star power to do it? Well fret no more because rap supergroup Run the Jewels is here to help.
Through the music website Daylight Curfew, the famed duo of Killer Mike and El-P are offering an exclusive "Self-Righteousness for Sale" package, where for the price of $350,000, the two artists promise to spend six months "pretending to care about whatever you care about."
This pretending to care will include "eloquent and timely speeches," a co-authored info packet, a "heartfelt" video about the purchaser's cause, and travel to a maximum of three events. As if all of this weren't enough for any cash-laden social justice warrior, Run the Jewels will even compose an original song entitled "WE'VE GOT TO BRING _______ TO AN END" as part of the package.
Some terms and conditions do apply. The offer is apparently not available to "terrorists or cops" (sorry, #bluelivesmatter). Run the Jewels also reserves the right to "not fulfill any of its obligations as outlined in any package priced at 35k or more" which would, of course, include the self-righteousness package.
Run the Jewels' offer to basically be a super PAC for hire, even if not actually redeemable, is patently hilariously and an excellent send-up of so much of today's celebrity activism.
It's also a little bit ironic given that Killer Mike was a vocal supporter of former presidential candidate and vociferous super PAC critic Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). If Sanders had his druthers when it came to campaign finance restrictions, Run the Jewels' self-righteousness package might be illegal as well as phony.
Update 11/17/16: This article originally listed Sanders as a Democrat. He is apparently still an Independent.
Fri, 04 Nov 2016 15:30:00 -0400Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love. Reelz. Saturday, November 5, 9 p.m. People Magazine Investigates: The Long Island Serial Killer. Investigation Discovery. Monday, November 7, 9 p.m. With the world a good bet to end Tuesday—at least, if we're lucky—this is not the week to be wasting your dwindling time on esoteric PBS costume dramas or earnest public-access-channel poetry slams. Go with your primal instincts and wallow in tabloid culture as God and Jerry Springer intended. The purest essence of tabloidiana, of course, is the true-crime show, a cruelly underserved market in the United States. It's hard to believe we've gotten along all these years on a thin diet of Forensic Files, Dateline NBC, The First 48, Wives with Knives, The Hunt with John Walsh, Dead Silent, Swamp Murders, and a scant two dozen others. Fear not, though. People Magazine Investigates, in which the Woodward-and-Bernstein of botched boob jobs and celebrity liposuction turns its keen journalistic eye on crime with the same relentless energy with which it has pursued The Sexiest Man Alive and 100 Most Beautiful People all these many decades. People's true-crime adventures start with a two-hour episode on a serial killer known variously as the Gilgo Beach Killer (for the remote coastal strip of Long Island where he's stashed some of his bodies) or the Craigslist Ripper (for the place he apparently found his victims in the escort-service ads). As homicidal maniacs go, the Gilgo Beach Killer isn't a bad candidate for true-crime TV investiture. Between 2007 and 2010, he strangled (not ripped; the true-crime community isn't over-obsessed with literalism) at least four women working as escorts, then wrapped their bodies in burlap and hid them in the brush just off the beach. Because the women all disappeared from different jurisdictions—and perhaps also because missing hookers aren't necessarily a high police priority—nobody even realized a serial killer was at work until a fifth escort suffered a paranoid meltdown while at the home of a client near Gilgo Beach and ran off into the night, babbling that "they" were plotting to kill her. The search for that woman, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, led to the discovery of the other four victims—and, eventually, six other bodies not necessarily connected to the Gilgo Beach Killer. Serial killers apparently compose one of the major local demographics, and I'd guess it won't be long before they're pressing for tax breaks, crop subsidies, and speech codes establishing their right to be referred to as de-metabolizers rather than murderers. Unfortunately, People magazine's long immersion in what might be termed the soft-core side of tabloid culture ("FAMILY SECRETS: BRAD AND ANGELINA'S EMOTIONAL BATTLE OVER THEIR KIDS!") has left it without ability to generate the clipped, quasi-sociopathic narrative punch necessary for a story like this. The show can't even sort out which of the victims died at the hands of the Gilgo Beach De-metabolizer, much less anything about him. The script has more potholes than a Bill de Blasio freeway, including an off-handed mention near the end that one of the main on-screen interviewees got murdered a couple of months ago by the sister of one of the victims. In the end, I drew two lessons: 1) despite what you probably think, there's a lot more to true-crime shows than cheesy recreations and mournfully tinkling piano riffs, and 2) the CDC should forget about zika and try to find a vaccine for whatever they've got in Gilgo Beach. If true-crime is the meat and potatoes of tabloidiana, anorexia show-biz martyrs are its dessert, to coin a really unfortunate metaphor. Cue to the Reelz cable channel's documentary Karen Carpenter: Goodbye to Love, a breathlessly melancholy account of the crack-up of the soprano balladeer who[...]
Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:40:00 -0400
If you want to watch a rock movie this Halloween weekend, I can't think of a more appropriate pick than The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital. The title tells you what you're getting: A punk band plays a concert at a psychiatric institution. But that doesn't get across the ecstatic weirdness of a show where the audience wanders freely onstage and it's not entirely clear which people are the patients and which are the band's usual hangers-on. I want to believe the guy who takes the microphone shortly after the 13:30 mark is a patient:
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Fat2rswNJ1k" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">
It just keeps getting better as it goes along. The picture is only about 20 minutes—the full show was longer and featured a second band, the Mutants, but this was all they got on tape.
Vice did a story about the video last year, and if you're curious about what the hell is going on here I recommend their write-up. The quick version is that it was 1978, and an activities specialist at the hospital thought this would be therapeutic. And who's gonna say he wasn't right? I'm not in the habit of quoting YouTube comments, but this one is on point:
Sun, 23 Oct 2016 15:05:00 -0400
(image) Forget what you've heard, kids.
Life "doesn't get better" when you graduate high school, says Frank Portman, one of the great chroniclers of adolescent angst and alienation over the past 30 years. Or, as he titles a recent song, "High school is the penalty for transgressions yet to be specified." Still, he's not completely downbeat: "You get better at navigating it, or fighting it off."
Portman is a novelist (King Dork, Andromeda Klein) and musician (The Mr T Experience) whose latest project is a soundtrack for the new paperback edition of his third novel, King Dork Approximately. Writing a soundtrack for his book is an attempt to recapture a uniquely intense and focused multimedia experience that the California native fears has gone missing in an age of information overload. (You can buy the book and download the album immediately here or get the book and a download code at Amazon.com.)
Like his earlier literary offerings, King Dork Approximately drew rave reviews for its honest, urgent, and wickedly funny take on the big and small ways that our high-school years mark us for the rest of our lives.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Portman talks about his literary inspirations (including Philip K. Dick) and musical heroes (Pete Townshend of the Who and Ray Davies of The Kinks), and whether the world is getting more tolerant of oddballs and weirdos or increasingly more repressive of kids and adults who think and act differently. As a musician who made his bones in the post-punk world of the Bay Area before becoming a best-selling writer, Portman brings an absolutely perspective on contemporary American cultural and political life.
Produced by Ian Keyser.
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Fri, 14 Oct 2016 10:40:00 -0400It's April 1980. You live in Toronto. You're going to see future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan play a show at Massey Hall. Of course, you don't think of him as future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. You think of him as a hippie rock star who's just pissed off vast swaths of his fan base by converting to evangelical Christianity. Hopefully you weren't expecting to hear his old hits, because Dylan doesn't sing any of those. Instead he plays a bunch of his new religious songs, and at one point, with the band vamping behind him like he's a preacher and it's Sunday morning, he lets loose a little sermon. "In the Bible," he says, "it tells you specific things, in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, which just might apply to these times here." And he talks about Afghanistan and he talks about the Antichrist, and while he's standing there playing the prophet you start to realize that future Nobel laureate Bob Dylan isn't just into Christianity; he's into some freaky endtimes shit. But damn if he doesn't make it compelling, and somehow it all builds to a revved-up performance of "Solid Rock." Check out the whole thing here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TPEv1y_Navk" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> I'm already on record as a fan of Dylan's Christian albums, and I'm not gonna recycle my arguments for them here. I wrote a piece for No Depression back in 2003 that makes my case, and if you're interested you can check that out. I'll just note that I'm not a Christian myself, so I'm not inflating their quality because I agree with them. And much as I love Dylan's best work, I'm definitely not the sort of fan who eats up everything he puts out, so that's not the issue here either. I honestly believe that Slow Train Coming is one of the great American jeremiads and that Saved is 43 minutes of good-and-sometimes-great gospel music. But I do have one little bias that might be magnifying my affection for this stage of Dylan's career. It's the window it opens on that Carter-era apocalyptic mood, when everything from the Afghan war to the Jonestown massacre—yeah, Dylan mentioned Jonestown in that sermon too—felt like a sign that Armageddon was near. Every era of American history has its own set of apocalyptic fears, a particular collection of cataclysms that seemed to loom at that specific moment. Inevitably, someone combines those historically contingent threats with the more long-lived tales Americans tell each other about the endtimes, so that, say, whatever happened that week in the Middle East is imagined as an event foretold in the Bible. Such exercises always look a little ridiculous in retrospect, once the crisis has passed without the world ending. But try to look past the ridiculousness. Try to suspend your disbelief and take them seriously, the way you might when you watch a horror movie. If you can do that, you'll find they're a valuable portal to the past. If you want to understand how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan felt as it happened, you have to take yourself out of the mindset that sees that incursion as the beginning of a nine-year war that ended nearly three decades ago. You have to imagine how it looked to someone who had no idea how this was going to end, someone who caught a whiff of Armageddon in the air. Someone who might talk about the invasion as though he was just a few years removed from doomsday, not 36 years removed from winning a Nobel Prize. And if he can wrap up that talk with a solid song, all the better. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For the Orson Welles version of Carter-era apocalypticism, check out the second and third videos here. For the far end of the period's endtimes fears,[...]
Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:06:00 -0400
Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.
Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.
If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?
Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.
Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.
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