The Riff

Ghost in the Machine?

| Sat Feb. 17, 2007 4:23 PM EST

Brian Flemming, an ex-evangelical and director of the film "The God Who Wasn't There," mounted the Blasphemy Challenge in late 2006, asking rational people to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit via YouTube.

In a famous video, a young girl proclaims, "I know that the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, God, the flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, all of these made-up entities do not exist."

Naturally, the religious right is pretty upset. So now Mike Mickey, the Web master for RaptureAlert.com has cleverly introduced Challenge Blasphemy.

Mickey is concerned that some of the young people enjoying themselves as they rise to the Blasphemy Challenge will later be afraid to turn to God because of their great videotaped sin.

It seems the existence or non-existence of God will also be debated over the mysterious, wireless, omnipotent internet.

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Al Gore Teams With Snoop Dogg to Fight Global Warming

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 2:12 PM EST
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Al Gore's anti-global warming/entertainment juggernaut continues. Gore, in conjunction with the Microsoft Network, just announced Live Earth, a series of Live 8-style worldwide concerts on July 7. Proceeds will go to found "a new, multi-year global effort to combat the climate crisis." (Yeah, but only after Ticket Master gets its cut.) The lineup includes Pharrell, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Snoop Dogg, Lenny Kravitz, and Bon Jovi, to name a few. (No word on enviropunks Green Day yet, but Snow Patrol will also be rockin' to protect the glaciers.) And before you shell out for tix, get up to speed with our recent coverage of climate change.

Tonight: A Documentary on Melvin Van Peebles

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 10:27 PM EST

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) is premiering on the Independent Film Channel at 9 p.m. tonight. It's a biographical documentary on Melvin Van Peebles, who grandfathered blaxspoitation films with Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song in 1971, and has created 11 other films and seven plays in his career.

This film is a fascinating look at the indomitable creative force who pulled off Sweet Sweetback all on his own, as producer, director, writer, financier, and actor. Even though he could open the show in only two theaters, it grossed more than $10 million, more than any independent film at that time.

"I wanted a movie that black people could walk out of standing tall," Van Peebles explains. "I didn't see the type of movie I wanted to see so I made it myself." How he has done so again and again, despite all odds, is what this documentary shows best.

In the making of Watermelon Man about a white guy who wakes up black one day, Van Peebles recounts that the studio wanted him to turn the man back to white in the end. But such a happy ending would have made the black experience seem like nothing but a bad dream. He half-agreed to shoot both ways, but when the producer called up asking for the white ending, Van Peebles told him, "'Dang I forgot to shoot that.' That's how we ended up with it the way I wanted it."

Van Peebles was not just a filmmaker, but also a groundbreaking artist in many genres. "There were no songs that mirrored the black experience. I felt the black experience had been hijacked musically to simply being rhythm, beat and melody, and the words were getting lost. That's when I invented a style that used words to carry the melody." Those songs had an early influence on rap, says Gil Scot-Heron.

Some lyrics: "Frown, you hostile/ Smile, you a Tom / Look tired, you on junk / Stumble, you drunk."

Turning racist expectations inside out has been the essence of his best work. And maybe his sense of humor. He says he used to keep a spray-bottle of watermelon fragrance on hand for "liberal" friends. "They would walk into the office and say, 'Gee, Mel, what's that smell? It smells like umm…umm…cantaloupe! They were too afraid to say 'watermelon.'" He provokes you to think, hoping you'll eventually think differently.

Brit Awards Conspiracy?

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 5:07 PM EST

Lily Allen, the up-and-coming reggae-pop singer whose recent show at the Great American in San Francisco I thoroughly enjoyed (and, full disclosure, DJed before), was snubbed at the Brit Awards last night in London. Turns out she had predicted in advance that she wouldn't win a single trophy and blamed record industry politics, telling MTV UK that because the voting juries were made up of "industry insiders... predominantly from Universal," she wouldn't win, since she's on EMI. Music blog Stereogum did some math and added up how many of the Brit awards went to Universal artists: a somewhat eyebrow-raising 61%. Hmmm.

So of course one can't help but wonder: any conspiracies back here in the States at the recent Grammys? Well, I did some math and added up basically all the pop and jazz categories, although I didn't include the random gospel and Norteno stuff because I got tired. Out of the 56 categories I tallied, the results were:

Edwards, Obama Keep It Virtual

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 3:37 PM EST

John Edwards just lost the blogosphere, but he's already staked out his place in the virtual realm of Second Life. Isn't there something ironic about talking about the "two Americas" from inside an alternate world? But then, it's a lot less expensive to build a mansion in SL. Not to be outcourted by a man who already has the hair of an avatar, Barack Obama's just launched his version of MySpace called— yes, really—MyBarackObama. Beacuse Obama belongs to all of us. Even the lurkers.

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Don't Quit Your Day Job, Fox News!

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 8:23 PM EST

Looks like Fox News' version of the Daily Show is kicking off. And boy, if this clip is any hint, it really stinks. We're talking worse-than-the-last-half-hour-of-SNL bad. Check it out:

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FOX Hates the (Fictional) President

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 4:03 PM EST

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What's up with FOX prime time shows killing off U.S. presidents? While corporate sister FOX News is happy just to assassinate the characters of liberal presidential candidates, FOX prime time shows take it one step further by knocking off presidents the second they hint at a lefty policy position.

Last season, "Prison Break" took out the prez after he said he'd sign a forward-looking energy bill. Now, characters on "24" are plotting to assasinate the president (above right) because he refused to approve a plan to torture bad guys, suspend habeas corpus, etc. Does FOX have any other fictional presidents left to kill? Conspiracy theorists, go nuts.

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Related: A special shout-out to friend-of-MoJo James Cromwell. Generally known for playing the kind-hearted farmer in "Babe," he's now joined "24" as Jack Bauer's murderous, terrorist-loving father from hell. He's seen here killing his own son, Graem, with a dose of lethal drugs. Charming!

A Pro-War Cartoonist Draws the Line

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 1:52 AM EST
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An unnamed editorial cartoonist serving in Iraq is calling out his colleagues for undermining morale with their pens. How? Drawing flag-draped coffins as symbols of military casualties. He writes: "[I]n many political cartoons, a flag-draped coffin is quickly becoming nothing more than a visual prop, a metaphor." In particular, he takes issue with a recent cartoon by Ann Telnaes which depicts Bush running on a treadmill of flag-draped coffins. Too bad it's a really good cartoon (not to mention that Telnaes totally rocks). But according to the soldier-cartoonist, alluding to the inevitable consequences of war is insensitive to the troops:

U.S. troops are trained to go into harm's way. That is their job. Fatalities are inevitable, though always tragic. The death of a soldier -- or 3,000 troops for that matter -- in and of itself is hardly an effective measure of the success or failure of military strategy, and it is an unfair example to use in painting the president as uncaring.

If anything, it is the cartoonists who are callous to our troops by their continued negative depiction in American op-ed pages.

This sounds like the standard media-undermining-the-troops argument: Our soldiers are fearless ass kickers, yet are vulnerable to a few editorial cartoonists who question the policies that unnecessarily put their lives at risk. So then, how in the world are cartoonists supposed to depict the concept of American fatalities? Admittedly, editorial cartoonists aren't known for having the biggest bags of visual tricks (even the versatile Telnaes has been on a coffin kick; see here, here and here.) Presumably, drawing corpses or skeletons or tombstones or the Grim Reaper would be even more offensive. It doesn't get much more sanitized than a coffin. Which makes me suspect that the soldier-cartoonist's actual beef is that his colleagues don't support the war. But if he really thinks that Americans can't handle a few sketches of pine boxes, perhaps he's in the wrong professions.

Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 10:21 PM EST

With VH1 Classic possibly going away, and Logo's "NewNowNext" seemingly impossible to catch, there's almost no good place for music videos on TV these days. So, like in all things, we must turn to the internet. Below are some new clips that make squinting at a tiny window on your work monitor worth the trouble.

Robyn "Konichiwa Bitches" (via Stereogum)
In which the Swedish pop star gets silly (warning: a couple swear words)

MIA "Bird Flu" (via Cliptip)
In which the UK rapper goes back to Sri Lanka and brings back an evil, infectious beat (sorry)

Dazed and Confused

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 5:30 PM EST

lez-zeppelin-tshirt.gifMaybe it's because the camp gene is right next to the gay gene, but I heart tribute bands. I'm not sure how I feel about Rolling Stone reviewing them, but it is. Still, I can't help but be titillated by their mention of transgendered bands like Lez Zeppelin and (male) Madonna. I've been giving Klezbians and Isle of Klesbos CDs for gifts for years, for the name alone! But the idea of some dykes rocking out to "I've gotta little woman but she won't be true" is just too fantastic. I love the underground, irreverent humor, especially as it pertains to gender, about which we tend to be sooo reverent. (Little people are down with it, too, at least the ones in the band Mini Kiss.) But if Rolling Stone is covering it, does that mean it's already over?