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Published: Mon, 26 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2017 03:01:05 -0400

 



Gene Simmons Wants to Trademark a Horns Hand Sign

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:20:00 -0400

(image) Kiss bassist Gene Simmons is trying to trademark the hand sign made by holding the thumb, index finger, and pinky up while holding the middle finger and ring finger down, sometimes known as the Sign of the Devil. His application illustrates how artists often abuse intellectual property privileges, using them not just to secure their own work but to try to curb the work of others.

The gesture that Simmons is claiming is also American Sign Language for "I love you." In a music context, a slightly different version of the gesture—with the thumb holding the middle and ring fingers down—was popularized by Black Sabbath's Ronnie James Dio before Simmons adopted it. (According to Variety, Dio said in the 1990s that he picked up the gesture from his Italian grandmother, who used it when someone would give her or her grandchild the "evil eye.") The thumb-down version of the gesture is also used by fans of the University of Texas at Austin.

Simmons argues that his gesture is substantively different. "What I started [before Dio] involved the thumb outstretched," he said in the '90s, according to Variety. "Check our first poster, in 1974. I started doing it because of comic book artist Steve Ditko, who created both Spiderman and Dr. Strange, who both used the same hand sign. Spiderman used it upside down when he shot out webbing, and Dr. Strange used it as a magic incantation. I was paying homage." Simmons said that it wasn't until later that he learned the symbol was ASL for "I love you."

Simmons' acknowledgement that his gesture was borrowed from other pieces of intellectual property, namely Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, ought to be enough to to reject his application—and should've been enough to convince him not to apply in the first place.

Intellectual property attorney Victor Sapphire told Variety that Simmons would have a tough time defending his application because the gesture would have to be associated with a "single source of entertainment services." That isn't the case for this gesture, which has many uses.

"While there certainly may be a route to registration for this mark, this question may ultimately render the mark unenforceable, in which case the process of applying for registration will appear to have functioned as either another of Mr. Simmons' brilliant publicity-generating moves, a vanity exercise, or perhaps a bit of both," Sapphire said.

Simmons' application ought to spark a conversation on the need for IP and trademark reform. Complex laws, often promoted by vested interests, do more to thwart the progress of arts than promote them. Spider-Man and Dr. Strange could tell you a bit about that, too: Marvel shares a trademark on the term "superhero" and has tried to use it to suppress other comics work.

Bonus video: "How Should Libertarians Think About Intellectual Property?"

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The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock—and of Libertarianism [Reason Podcast]

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 18:00:00 -0400

"There's not a-vote-for-this-party type of politics" in progressive rock, says David Weigel, author of The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, "There is a utopianism about it....'Let's create a new world....It was very much a music and lifestyle where you tuned out, where you went to a festival, where you got into an arena. And a time where there were fewer distractions, as well. Weigel's history of a musical genre that includes bands such as King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Genesis, and more is a rich journey into one of rock's least-appreciated moments. The former Reason staffer (archive here) who now covers national politics for The Washington Post argues that many subsequent forms of music owe significant but often-unacknowledged debts to the organ-centric sounds of prog rock. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie, Weigel weighs in on politics in the Trump era. "There is not a lot of space for libertarianism in politics right now...except on the issues where libertarianism intersects with the donors who have done the most for Donald Trump. I feel like my friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute are pretty happy about Trump's positions on climate. [CEI's] Myron Ebell [has] literally joined the administration," he says. "But the criminal justice reform side of libertarianism has kind of retreated to the states, where it's doing okay but has no clout in DC anymore." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/328079549&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. THIS IS AN UNCORRECTED RUSH TRANSCRIPT. PLEASE CHECK AGAINST AUDIO FOR ACCURACY BEFORE QUOTING. Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie, and this is the Reason Podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today we are talking with David Weigel, he's a politics reporter at the Washington Post, a former Reason employee, but the reason that we're talking today is he's the author of the incredible new book, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Dave Weigel, thanks for talking to us. Dave Weigel: Thank you for having me to talk about it. Appreciate it. Nick Gillespie: All right, well let's get right to it. The rise and fall of Prog Rock, of progressive rock. What is the thesis of The Show That Never Ends? Dave Weigel: It's that rock history, which I take pretty seriously, which honestly occupied a lot of my mind before I got into covering politics like I do now. That rock history had cut out what I thought was actually really dynamic, important, informative music, the progressive rock movement. And I also, I kind of lean in...right, the book in arguing that the progressive musicians, Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel. These people invented a lot of stuff that was happily taken by more let's say critically approved bands. You know, the stuff that is credited to electropop or to punk, I mean a lot of that these guys did first, and they did it in a very popular and arena-filling way that was left out once people said, actually that was garbage, we're going to go with punk. And by people I mean like...it's a really clear decision by the record industry and critics. We can get into that. Nick Gillespie: Well, define...what are the core elements of progressive rock? You know, how do we...and throughout the book you kind of talk about how like Led Zeppelin, which in many ways certainly, probably the biggest selling band of the period from about '68 to '78 or whenever they broke up. But it's true that ELP, Emerson, Like, and Palmer, Yes, Genesis, they could fill stadiums as well, they were gigantic. But you point out that Led Zeppelin is not pr[...]



Katy Perry Is Very Sorry She Once Wore Her Hair in Cornrows

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 15:44:00 -0400

Katy Perry has made a public apology. She's been filmed making a mea culpa. She has confessed to having made "several mistakes" in recent years. So what exactly were her moral crimes? Did she get embroiled in a drug scandal? Is she a tax-dodging queen? Did her spat with Taylor Swift cross the line from tweets to violence? Nope. She once wore her hair in cornrows. The cultural appropriation hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that celebs are now apologizing for hairstyles. In an interview with DeRay McKesson, Black Lives Matter activist and host of the podcast Pod Save The People, Perry fessed up to her many "mistakes," including sporting cornrows in the video for "This Is How We Do" and rocking the geisha look at the 2013 American Music Awards. In the world of the cultural-appropriation fanatic, who frowns viciously upon any borrowing from a culture other than one's own, such behavior is tantamount to blacking-up and singing "Mammy." Perry has now learnt the lesson of her crazy foray into cultural imperialism and arrogant white-lady hairstyle theft. "Why can't I wear my hair that way?," she asked herself when "This Is How We Do" caused a Twitter-stink. Luckily for her, "empowered angels"—B.S. spiritual talk for politically correct people—were on hand to give her an answer. It's because there is "power in black women's hair" and white women can't just steal that. Acknowledging that her whiteness means she will never fully grasp this mystery of black women's hair-related power, Perry says she's nonetheless trying to redeem herself for her crimes against cultural purity. "I will never understand, but I can educate myself, and that's what I'm trying to do," she told McKesson. This act of moral self-flagellation, this very public confession of wickedness, confirms how widespread the cultural-appropriation panic has become. When even someone as pop as Perry, who has more Twitter followers than most countries have citizens, is playing the awful game of bowing and scraping before cultural dividing lines, you know the P.C. madness has gone mainstream. Will other celebrities follow suit? Will Beyonce finally apologize for that time she wore a sari, which Teen Vogue, fashion mag turned mouthpiece of P.C. silliness, held up as proof that India is treated as "a shallow vessel that exists for Westerners to find themselves"? Will Zoe Saldana beg forgiveness for using darkening make-up to play Nina Simone, which one mag branded an act of black appropriation whose "degree of wackness… can't be overstated"? And how about Ke$ha, who in the video for "Crazy Kids" wears not only cornrows but also a grill and enough bling to make Mr. T balk? The clampdown on cultural appropriation has gone crazy. Campuses forbid the wearing of sombreros lest Mexicans feel culturally violated. Britain's Glastonbury music festival has banned the sale of Native American headdress. Authors are warned against writing characters of a different race or culture to them, which I'm pretty sure would make the entire enterprise of literature impossible, or at least pointless. Anthony Horowitz, British author of the wildly popular Alex Rider teen novels, was advised not to include a black character in his latest story because that is "not [your] experience." Imagine if all authors wrote only from personal experience. All of Shakespeare's plays would be about people who grew up the sons of glove-makers in sleepy Stratford. More importantly, the very humanity of literature, its capacity for finding the universal in the particular, for uncovering some of the truth of human life across the racial, gender, and sexual board, would be destroyed. The aim of the sanction against cultural appropriation is actually pretty sinister. It is to keep us in our cultural lanes. It is to lock us into our racial boxes. It's a plea for cultural purity, a rehashing in P.C. lingo of that dark, old 20th-century idea that biology or heritage should count for more than our shared humanity, and that blacks and whites will never really[...]



Brickbat: Blacklisted

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Ron Janicki planned a music festival featuring politically outspoken artists this summer at Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown. But California State Parks says he has to get buy-in from the Chinatown Business Improvement District, among other organizations, before it will permit the festival. And George Yu, president of the CBID doesn't seem to be buying in. He says Janicki's efforts to draw attention to the Chinese government's censorship and harvesting of organs is "anti-China."




Montana Supreme Court Cites Biggie Smalls, N.W.A., Scarface

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 11:18:00 -0400

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled against Bruce Glass, who is serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for distributing methamphetamine. Glass argued that a state charge of possession of the same meth constituted double jeopardy. The court disagreed, citing a lyric from Biggie Smalls' 1997 song "Ten Crack Commandments." "'Don't get high on your own supply' is a long-established rule of the drug trade specifically because such conduct is inconsistent with the criminal objective of distributing drugs for profit," Justice James Shea wrote for the majority. "To that rule, we now add the legal caveat: 'Don't get high on your own supply, 'cause double jeopardy don't apply.'" The decision cited the line's appearance in "Ten Crack Commandments," as well as a 2002 episode of The Wire, the 1987 N.W.A. song "Dopeman," and the 1983 film Scarface. (Biggie actually offered a slightly different version of the adage—"Never get high on your own supply"—but this minor misquote is not grounds for an appeal.) The state had originally charged Glass with both drug possession and distribution, but Glass moved to dismiss the charges, arguing double jeopardy applied. State prosecutors conceded the distribution charge was not permitted, but they challenged the contention that the possession charge was also double jeopardy, arguing that possession for personal use "did not involve the same criminal objective as Glass's federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine," as Shea summarized it. The courts agreed. The whole affair illustrates many problems with how the war on drugs is prosecuted. Beyond the fact that state prosecutors filed a charge they later admitted was inappropriate, why exactly were state and federal authorities working the same one defendant accused of selling 8 pounds of meth and keeping 8 ounces for himself? There's an argument to be made that meth wouldn't be so popular in the first place if it weren't for the drug war. "Increased enforcement of drug laws, backed by increased penalties, led to higher prices and decreased availability of preferred recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine," Mark Thornton wrote in 2011. "High prices and periodic shortages led drug dealers and consumers to find substitutes—ersatz goods that would produce similar results but at a lower cost." Enter meth, which is relatively easily made with relatively easily available ingredients. More than 40 years after Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, drugs are often cheaper and more potent than ever before; drug use in the U.S. recently hit an all-time high (as did the U.S. prison population). Where it has been tried, legalization has reversed some of these trends—teen marijuana use in Colorado has gone down since marijuana was legalized there, and opioid use has decreased in states that permit medical marijuana. If the judge is quoting Biggie, I'll quote Tupac: "They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me." Hopefully one day that line, and Biggie's song, will be quaint anachronisms.[...]



Theft: A History of Music

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 12:00:00 -0400

"Classical musicians borrowed from each other all the time!" a historian declares. "It's like an insane game of musical Chutes and Ladders." An actual game of Chutes and Ladders follows, with annotations explaining where Beethoven borrowed from Handel, Brahms from Beethoven, Mahler from Brahms. Sampling and remixing, we're reminded, are a lot older than hip-hop.

That sequence comes about a fifth of the way through Theft: A History of Music, a 259-page comic about an art form's evolving interactions with markets, technology, and the law. With a scope that stretches from medieval troubadours to modern rappers, Theft shows not just how common borrowing has been but how music is shaped by the social context that produces it. In the baroque era, for example, composers created pieces for particular occasions, so it was widely seen as acceptable to revise an old tune for a new setting. Later composers started to make money from sales of sheet music, and—in a related development—"original genius" became more prized.

The text does its share of borrowing itself: There are allusions to everything from Kafka to The Jetsons. Some of the jokes fall flat, but the book has only one big drawback: It can't play the music it describes. Some creative borrower should turn it into an animated movie.




Long Strange Trip: The Grateful Dead's Radical Anti-Authoritarian Streak

Sat, 27 May 2017 10:45:00 -0400

The Grateful Dead, a band forged during the Bay Area Acid Tests of the 1960s that grew to become one of the most popular live acts in American history, is the subject of a new 4-hour documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Amir Bar-Lev. Using a trove of archival images, Long Strange Trip follows the band over three decades, delving into the group's history, music, and fans.

"There is sex, drugs, and rock and roll," Bar-Lev told Reason. "But also a different attitude towards fame and the relationship with fans that I think people–whether you like the band or not–are going to find informative and interesting."

At the heart of the Grateful Dead's unique connection with fans was founder Jerry Garcia's emphasis on community over hierarchy. During a 1981 interview with New Musical Express, Garcia explained that "a combination of music and the psychedelic experience taught me to fear power. I mean fear it and hate it."

"I think Jerry was radically anti-authoritarian," says Bar-Lev. "All the guys are in the band. So when people began to elect them to be authorities, they had a natural concern and skepticism around that. I think that's healthy. I wish more people in power were concerned about power and wielding power."

Bar-Lev sat down with Reason to discuss the film, why he considers the Grateful Dead "the musical Statue of Liberty," the implications around the band's decision to allow bootleggers to record and trade their music, as well as his thoughts on conservative Deadheads Anne Coulter and Tucker Carlson.

Long Strange Trip is now playing in theaters and will become available for streaming through Amazon on June 2.

For more on the Grateful Dead, read: "Come Hear Uncle Sam's Band: The hippie capitalism of the Grateful Dead."

Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Austin Bragg, Paul Detrick, and Alexis Garcia.

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Police Investigate a Cult Killing; It Turns Out to Be a Rock Video

Fri, 12 May 2017 12:01:00 -0400

(image) "It all began one peaceful Michigan morning," narrator Rafael Abramovitz explains, "when a farmer named Robert Reed woke up to check on his corn field. Farmer Reed looked up towards the sun that morning and saw something strange floating across the sky. It wasn't the usual flock of Canadian Geese. It looked more like a UFO, if you ask him."

So begins the tale of the time the FBI investigated the death of a man who was in fact still alive, as told by the tabloid show Hard Copy. It was 1989. The UFO turned out to be some weather balloons with a Super 8 camera attached. After they landed on his farm, Reed turned his find over to the police, thinking it might be a surveillance camera searching for marijuana. When the cops developed the film, they discovered what they took to be a cult murder or some similarly grisly crime.

A yearlong investigation followed, and in the course of it the FBI was called in. Eventually, the police figured out the truth: The supposed snuff film was actually lost footage from a Nine Inch Nails video. The crew had attached the camera to the balloons to get some low-tech aerial shots, and their helium cinematographers then blew away. The "murder victim" was Trent Reznor, and he was very much alive. Indeed, he was somewhat famous.

In the Hard Copy report, Reznor is amused by the whole thing. The cop they spoke with also seems a little amused. The one person trying very hard not to seem amused by the mistake is Abramovitz, the reporter, who's intent on making Reznor the villain of the piece, blaming him for a "wasted year of police work that could have gone into solving some real crimes." And if Abramovitz had anything to do with the tongue-in-cheek "reenactments" that accompany his narration, I suspect that deep down he was chuckling about it too.

The report aired in 1991, complete with some closing comments about the alleged dangers of rock videos. It is a work of art:

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(Via Dangerous Minds. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)




Boujee, Bougie, Bourgie: Who's Appropriating Whose Culture? An Answer in 12 Songs

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

In order to empower "a culture of controversy prevention," administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser "Bad(minton) and Boujee," a pun on the popular Migos song "Bad and Boujee." AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as "appropriating culture." "Which culture?" asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. "Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?" Administrators weren't clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin "burgus," which described a castle or fortified town. This evolved into the French "bourgeois," for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That's why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism. Over time, "bourgeois" morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, "bourgeois" was shortened to the colloquial "bourgie ," alternately spelled "bougie" or "boujee," used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe's after yoga class, for example). The "boujee" variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That's hardly this spelling's exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, "boujee" is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That's how language works. It's fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages. Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on "controversy prevention." More likely, they just heard "frat event named after rap song" and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, "are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection." But back to bourgie. Google defines it as "exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality." Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they're both shades off from the "Bourgie, Bourgie" folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," or Discobitch's 2009 "C'est Beau La Bourgeoisie," or Jacques Brel's 1962 "Les Bourgeois," or Prince's 2013 "Da Bourgeoisie." I've heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it to describe anything that might be quintessentially suburban or "basic." Sometimes bourgie might be a big-ass McMansion, sometimes a pumpkin spice latter, a snotty attitude, a $10 burger, Manuka honey lozenges, Sheryl Sandberg-style feminists, picnicking on a first date, or ordering first-date food that's too fancy. So, yes, the term might mean certain things in American black culture that it doesn't among lower-class [...]



Meet Eric July

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 07:00:00 -0400

It starts out as a typical music video. A camera follows a rapper into an abandoned warehouse with urban hieroglyphs spray-painted on the walls. Inside, artists thrash their heads in time to a Richter-magnitude rock riff. A guitarist dressed like a skateboard punk leaps into the air as if performing a half-pipe aerial. But this is no ordinary rap-metal group. Listen close and you'll hear the black M.C., Eric July, rapping about how taxes are theft: "They say, 'Who's going to build the roads?' without taxation / So you give them a reason to confiscate my payments / And that's exactly what the state needs / for you to think you need them." This is Backwordz, a band that bills itself as "the libertarian Rage Against the Machine." The song in the aforementioned video is called "Statism," and it appears on the Dallas quartet's debut album, Veracity. Backwordz recently signed to Stay Sick Recordings, the record label of Chris Fronzak, singer of the immensely popular metalcore band Attila. Fronz boosted Backwordz's profile by guesting on another single. The video for that one, titled "Self Ownership," depicts a disillusioned government employee telling protesters outside city hall that politicians won't save them. Other songs on the album, which sold more than 3,000 copies in its first week, rail against handouts and preach self-reliance. It's music that won't be showing up on the Bernie Sanders Spotify playlist anytime soon. Last fall, Stephen Humphries talked to July about his intellectual journey from Obama supporter to advocate for liberty. Reason: Tell me about your upbringing and how you wound up at the University of Memphis on a track and field scholarship. July: It's just a typical story: Young black kid, no father around, ends up being a knucklehead. My mother was working two or three jobs at a time just for me. I was getting in trouble a lot. She put me in Mansfield Summit [secondary school in Arlington, Texas]. She gave me her car to drive me out there to go to a much better school. It's funny, because we [libertarians] talk about school choice. We had to go through back ways in order to get admitted into a school by using other people's addresses. I was gangbanging. I never really got into the thing of selling drugs and wasn't around people that did all that. But I never turned down a fight. I was beefing on people because they were on another side of the city. It was that childish. I saw a lot of people that I would hang around get shot and killed. The person I was dating...ended up getting put in harm's way. Some guys rolled up on us when I was just hanging out, and I thought, "If they start shooting at me or they jump me, she's right here with me." The reality really set in. It was a life-changing experience. During the latter half of my senior year...I wanted to make a change. I was a good track runner. Track and field was my ticket out of the boneheaded stuff I was doing in high school. You campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008. What's your view him and the legacy he's left? I look back at my photos of Barack shirts and it's so embarrassing! The thing that was attractive to me was the same thing that was attractive to a lot of young black folks in college—that he was a black guy. He had the swagger and he was one of us. The legacy he left us is [bad] not just from an economic standpoint with precedents like Obamacare. He expanded government, expanded power, he was a warmonger, and he bombed more countries than [George W.] Bush. But because he was one of us, we didn't hammer him like we did Bush. Tell me about how and when you became a libertarian. I always credit economics. I had never heard the word libertarian until I went to college, [but] I wanted to know about black economists. I had a friend at the time, Bab, who was going through that same phase of getting intere[...]



Donald Trump's Fantasy World (Reason Podcast)

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:30:00 -0400

"We're using the rhetoric of cuts, and fiscal responsibility, and Republicans pairing things down to the bone for a budget that's not actually smaller than its predecessors," says Reason magazine Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward.

And thus we lose.

On our latest Reason podcast, Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, and Nick Gillespie discuss a preliminary federal budget that "takes the things that lefties like and dumps it in to the things that righties like;" the "strangulation of Big Bird in his nest;" the existential despair at three-year-old birthday parties in Washington, D.C.; Jeff Bezos and the coming of the robot overlords; Chuck Berry as our cultural Apollo project (or is it Wikipedia?); the coming, extended, nauseating theater of the Gorsuch hearing; and the greatness of pop music as "an endless parade of freaks differentiating themselves."

Click below to listen to the conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes and never miss an episode.

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/313470559&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

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Remix Culture Meets the Scolds

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 09:30:00 -0500

(image) These days the internet is littered with political remix videos, but they were still novel when Don Was made "Read My Lips" in 1992. So PBS aired the item—which dinged President George H.W. Bush for breaking his no-new-taxes pledge, among other complaints—and then invited a pair of eminences to discuss this strange new thing they'd just witnessed.

The video itself is only mildly interesting—it may be an early political remix, but it wasn't the first and it's far from the best. But the roundtable is pretty amazing to watch today. Bill Moyers opens, in his TV-for-people-who-say-they-hate-TV way, by asking what "happens to the political sensibilities of young people watching a political discourse like that." The publisher of The Hotline replies that the video "debases the process"; the dean of the Annenberg School for Communication calls it an "invitation to cynicism that I think is very unhealthy." And they both go on from there, condemning in advance the entire media landscape of 2017. I'm not sure 1992 has ever felt as distant as it does while I'm watching this:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gvmrLuw4l0g" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)




Songs of the Presidents

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 09:40:00 -0500

Usually we mark Presidents' Day here with some sort of quiz or game, but this year I thought I'd play DJ instead. Below you'll find some songs about our nation's chief execs, from Washington to Trump. Needless to say, this just scratches the surface of all the presidentially themed music out there; you are encouraged to recommend more tracks in the comments. George Washington Cox and Combes, "Washington" Not safe for work. Possibly not historically accurate in every respect either. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sbRom1Rz8OA" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Abraham Lincoln Camper Van Beethoven, "(I Don't Wanna Go to the) Lincoln Shrine" An ode to a boring field trip. src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/308614650&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Franklin Pierce The Two Man Gentlemen Band, "Franklin Pierce" The saddest song on the list, but only if you listen to the words. The same duo did a ditty about Taft too. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/BV_ByY7O9yE" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> James Garfield Johnny Cash, "Mr. Garfield" An assassination ballad. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rJbTkiYpszs" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> William McKinley Bill Monroe, "White House Blues" Another assassination ballad. Vassar Clements later revamped it for the presidents of the 1970s; to hear that version, go here and jump to the 5:00 mark. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QqrN9TBmfZQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> John F. Kennedy Steinski & the Mass Media, "The Motorcade Sped On" Yet another assassination. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JjyFwbSNh4o" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Richard Nixon Margo Guryan, "The Hum" From Dallas to Watergate. This was the first of Guryan's trilogy of songs inspired by the Nixon scandals; you can hear her whole trio here. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/V0HrmaeiP8c" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Gerald Ford James Brown, "Funky President" The lyrics defy interpretation, but Brown insists that the song's about Ford. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MivxFXsJyx4" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Jimmy Carter Blue Mountain, "Jimmy Carter" Carter gets the heroic-ballad treatment. Strangely catchy. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OVFuyehlLlQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Ronald Reagan MDC, "Bye Bye Ronnie" Reagan has gotten the heroic-ballad treatment too—check this out—but the guy inspired something like 60 percent of the punk records of the '80s; it seems wrong to go with any other genre here. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lmCgd5k6SzU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Barack Obama Mariachi Aguilas de Mexico, "Viva Obama!" A bid for the Latino vote. This musical ad from the 2008 Texas primary fascinated me so much that I interviewed an anthropologist about it. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0fd-MVU4vtU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Donald Trump Ice-T featuring Rhyme Syndicate, "My Word Is Bond" I'm wrapping up with this one because of the lyric at the 3:39 mark: "Yo Ice, I did a concert in the White House/And after that me and Donald Trump hung out." This record is from 1989, people. The signs were all there; we just weren't prepared to understand[...]



Great Balls of Fire, Sun Records Puts on a Show

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 15:00:00 -0500

The Good Fight. CBS. Sunday, February 19, 8 p.m. Sun Records. CMT. Thursday, February 23, 10 p.m. "All rock 'n' roll came out of Sun Records!" declares Jerry Lee Lewis in the opening moments of CMT's bopping new miniseries. Like a lot of things in Sun Records, it's not quite true, but you'll be too busy dancing to care. Sun Records rocks! Filling out the early-1950s birth certificate of rock 'n' roll is no easy task. Did the water break in Chicago, where Chuck Berry was underlining his tone poems about the lives of an emerging demographic, the teenagers, with a jangling guitar? Or Philadelphia, where Bill Haley was punching up western swing music with machine-gun saxophone lines? Or West Texas, where Buddy Holly's nerd glasses distracted parents from his ragged cries to their kids to rave on? Memphis, perched just above the Mississippi Delta at a strategic spot where icy bluesmen and hillbilly shouters were bound to collide, has as good a claim as any of them. And Sam Phillips, owner of the corner-store Sun Records, if not the father of rock 'n' roll, was surely its midwife. Phillips in 1951 cut what is perhaps the first rock 'n' roll record, Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88 (though fans of Wynonie Harris' 1949 Good Rockin' Tonight will argue the point unto death and beyond). He discovered and signed Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins, then eventually lost them all because his mom-and-pop business instincts never rose to the epic level of his artistic vision. Three generations past the rise of rock 'n' roll, the thrill of its rise—the most exciting cultural revolution in American history—is in danger of being forgotten in an age of fans who don't know who Paul McCartney or Wings are, much less that he was in a band before that. But Sun Records is more than up to the task of its tale. The 10-episode miniseries starts out in 1951, just as Phillips is turning away from a successful career as a radio-station engineer to concentrate on his bandbox recording studio. Moving away from his bread-and-butter business of taping funerals and weddings, Phillips starts encouraging musical acts he spots in the down-and-dirty clubs along Beale Street, the main artery of Memphis' black nightlife. But his efforts are met with relentless hostility by record distributors, radio stations, parents and even his own wife. "I swear I heard the heavens open up," he exclaims as he plays his newest record for his wife. Sniffs she: "Sounds like the gate to Hell to me." Intercut with Phillips' story in Memphis are scenes of simmering discontent from a restless post-war generation. In rural Arkansas, a teenage Johnny Cash is trying to escape not only the fields where his parents sharecrop, but the dead-end schools where the three R's are reading, writing and the road to Detroit in hopes of a job on an automobile assembly line. In Louisiana, an adolescent Jerry Lee Lewis and his priapic-TV-evangelist-to-be cousin Jimmy Swaggart are sneaking into whorehouses to ogle the girls and, in the process, inadvertently picking up a thing or two about jump-blues piano. Back in a public-housing project, shy high-school kid Elvis Presley's cultural tourism is taking the opposite direction: He's slipping away from sermons at his own church to listen to the gospel singing at a black congregation on the other side of town. And in Nashville, Presley's soon-to-be manager, carny barker Tom Parker, has hustled his way from a gig with nickel-a-peek dancing ducks ("You shoot 'em! You eat 'em! You chase 'em around the yard! You see 'em in the pool! But you ain't never seen 'em dance!") to promoting country crooner Eddy Arnold. The backdrops to the inexorable march of these characters towar[...]



When Play Drives Progress

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 06:00:00 -0500

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson, Riverhead Books, 322 pages, $30 At the 1996 Republican convention, Newt Gingrich gave what the editors of The Weekly Standard condemned as "the worst and most embarrassing speech of his career." Pulling Olympic gold medalist Kent Steffes up on stage, the speaker of the House and leader of the Republican Revolution sang the praises of the unplanned creativity that had produced…beach volleyball. "There's a whole new world of opportunity opening up that didn't exist 30 or 50 years ago—and no bureaucrat would have invented it," he said. "That's what freedom is all about." Yikes. Newt obviously didn't get the memo. Conservatives weren't supposed to celebrate beach volleyball. They were supposed to be serious, to praise hard work, self-restraint, and small-town virtues—"God, family, honor, duty, country," as nominee Bob Dole said in his convention speech. Not fun in the sun. Or anything else spontaneous and creative, especially if it came out of California. "Locating the spirit of American freedom in Olympic beach volleyball," the Standard said, was completely off-message. (Never mind that the convention crowd cheered.) I highlighted this strange political moment in my book The Future and Its Enemies, published two years later, because it captured an important clash of worldviews. On one side were those who celebrated entrepreneurship, spontaneity, innovation, and the market's ability to produce new pleasures. On the other were those who believed that prosperity flowed from diligence, thrift, and self-denial, and worried that too much fun threatened to destroy culture, markets, government, and all things good and true. The latter view, particularly dear to neoconservatives, I dubbed the "repression theory of progress." Best articulated in Daniel Bell's The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, which built on Max Weber's idea of the Protestant ethic, the repression theory predicted that consumer culture's emphasis on "play, fun, display, and pleasure" would ultimately undermine the whole system. Capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. Steven Johnson does not buy the repression theory of progress. Nor does he accept its counterpart on the left, where technology and markets equal oppression and drudgery. A man of the center-left, he is a classic dynamist: a genuine liberal who appreciates the power of inventions and institutions that emerge from the bottom up. In Wonderland, Johnson, whose previous works include How We Got to Now (the basis for a PBS series) and Where Good Ideas Come From, explores the playful sources of innovation. "When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze," he writes, "they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes." Johnson is not a theorist. He never attempts to define play or to clarify why he highlights some experiences designed to delight or amaze rather than others. (Why so little on sports in a chapter on games? Why so down on the automobile? Why spices rather than, say, dyes and pigments? In a resolutely global and multicultural work, why so little on China?) He doesn't separate playful forms of consumption from playful forms of production, nor does he try to explain why some types of play lead to bigge[...]