Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

"The Lego Movie" Is Actually a Satire

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 5:39 PM PST

On Thursday, New York mag critic Bilge Ebiri praised The Lego Movie as, "the best action flick in years, a hilarious satire, [and] an inquiry into the mind of God." And it isn't over-the-top praise—it accurately reflects the overwhelmingly positive critical response to the computer-animated comedy, released on Friday.

The film, which is based on—and pays loving tribute to—Lego toys, was co-written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the pair who directed the fantastic 21 Jump Street reboot and its upcoming sequel. The Lego Movie takes place mostly in a city in a Lego universe. A construction worker Lego named Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) must save the Lego realms from imminent destruction and coerced conformity. His comrades are a mysterious female Lego warrior named Wyldstyle; a wizard; a "Unikitty," which is a unicorn-animé kitten hybrid; a pirate called Metalbeard; Lego Batman; and many more goofy and heroic Lego characters.

The simple tale is loaded with gleeful pop-culture references and great voice-acting (everyone is in this movie, by the way, from Morgan Freeman and Jonah Hill to Cobie Smulders and Alison Brie). But what makes The Lego Movie even more accessible for viewers above the age of six is the fact that the film is full of political and social satire. The villain is President/Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who presides over a totalitarian surveillance state. President Business' regime creates virtually everything in the Lego society—generic pop music, lousy TV comedy, cameras, rigged voting machines, you name it. The dictator/CEO uses extended televised broadcasts to inform his citizens (with a friendly grin on his face) that they'll be executed if they disobey. He controls a secret police led by Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson), who is charged with torturing dissidents and rebels.

President Business is the Lego Ceaușescu, if you swap the communism for capitalism.

Some of this sounds pretty heavy, but it's all filtered through the soft, giddy lens of a kids' movie. Like all other entries into the "kids' movies that their parents can dig, too!" subgenre of cinema, it's this thinly-disguised maturity that makes the film both fun and winkingly smart.

UPDATE, February 8, 2014, 12:39 a.m. EST: I missed this earlier, but on Friday, Fox personalities went after The Lego Movie for its allegedly "anti-business" and anti-capitalist message. One says President Business looks a bit like Mitt Romney. Another starts defending Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life (which is just an act of life imitating parody).

This is weird, but not all that different from the Fox reaction to The Muppets and The Lorax. Watch below:

 

UPDATE 2, February 8, 2014, 4:04 p.m. EST: I asked the Lego Movie directors what they thought of the reaction on Fox Business to their film. Phil Lord got back to me via Twitter:

art deserves many interpretations, even wrong ones

 

Now, check out this trailer for The Lego Movie:

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How Conservative Brits Tried to Use the Beatles to Win Elections

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 3:27 PM PST
The Beatles arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport on February 7, 1964.

February 9 marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. It was one of the opening salvos of the British Invasion of the mid-1960s, and the broadcast drew 73 million viewers. It is consistently hailed as one of the most influential and biggest (if not the biggest ever) televised moments for rock n' roll and popular music.

"The Beatles are delightful," Sullivan said shortly after the performance. "They are the nicest boys I've ever met."

You can watch their 1964 Ed Sullivan performance of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (along with some other gigs) below, via Rolling Stone:

Many tributes and commemorative packages have been prepared for the anniversary. On Sunday, CBS will air a special all-star salute, featuring Stevie WonderGary Clark, Jr., Katy Perry, and ex-Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, among others. The Ed Sullivan appearance was just one of many indicators of The Beatles' immense popularity and influence. Concert promoters, cultural observers, and screaming teenage girls weren't the only ones who understood this—British politicians did, too, and they weren't shy about trying to exploit Beatlemania for electoral gain.

Google Doodle Goes Gay For Sochi Olympics

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 10:22 AM PST

On Thursday, Google publicly addressed Russia's anti-gay policies. To coincide with the Sochi Winter Games, the Google homepage was updated to depict a rainbow flag (an image associated with LGBT movements) on its Olympics-themed doodle. Check it out:

Google doodle gay rights
Google.com

 

And if Vladimir Putin goes to Google's homepage in Russia, this is what he'll see:

Google doodle Russia gay rights

 

And when you're not on the homepage, here's the search bar:

Google gay rights Sochi
Google.com

 

"Google has made a clear and unequivocal statement that Russia's anti-LGBT discrimination is indefensible," Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "Now it's time for each and every remaining Olympic sponsor to follow their lead. The clock is ticking, and the world is watching."

For those keeping count, the Guardian is another "G" that recently modified its logo to resemble a rainbow flag to mark the start of the Sochi Olympics this week.

The Google doodle has been used to deliver political messages before. For example, the company once censored its logo to protest controversial anti-piracy bills.

Google did not respond to Mother Jones' requests for comment.

8 Badass Photos From the Real-Life "Monuments Men"—Who Saved Art and Treasure From the Nazis

| Fri Feb. 7, 2014 7:42 AM PST

On Friday, George Clooney's new film, The Monuments Men, hits theaters. It's based on the true story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program (whose men and women were known as "Monuments Men") established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 to help rescue art and cultural property from obliteration during World War II. The Monuments Men included servicemembers and art historians who aided in tracking down, identifying, and returning priceless works of art stolen by Hitler's forces.

Here's an example of their heroic efforts being used during the Nuremberg Trials as evidence of the Nazi's large-scale looting of cultural treasures:

Before you decide whether or not to see Clooney's film (which also stars Matt Damon, Bill MurrayCate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin), here are some badass photos of the real-life Monuments Men and other members of the US armed forces as they uncovered hidden and stolen art and treasure:

 

1.

Monuments Men
MFAA officer James Rorimer (who inspired Damon's character) supervises American soldiers recovering paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

 

2.

Monuments Men
In a cellar in Frankfurt, Germany, Chaplain Samuel Blinder examines Saphor Torahs (Sacred Scrolls) stolen from across Europe. National Archives

 

3.

Monuments Men art
Loot found at a church in the German town of Ellingen. National Archives

 

4.

Monuments Men
  Master Sergeant Harold Maus of Scranton, PA, checks out an Albrecht Dürer engraving uncovered at the Merkers salt mine. National Archives

 

5.

Monuments Men
General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects art stolen by the Nazis. General Omar N. Bradley and Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. are also pictured.  National Archives

 

6.

Monuments Men
Officials inspecting and posing with a Goya painting at Le Grand-Lucé in France. National Gallery of Art

 

7.

Monuments Men gold
  Gold and art uncovered by the US army in the Merkers salt mine in April 1945. National Archives

 

8.

monuments men
  The truck is transporting paintings recovered by the US Army to Florence, Italy. National Archives

 

UPDATE, February 11, 2014, 1:53 p.m. EST: Bob Clark, the supervisory archivist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, emailed me a PDF of the following approval document initialed by President Roosevelt. This initialed memorandum essentially created the Monuments Men. "In customary fashion, President Roosevelt initialed and 'OK'd' the memorandum proposing the creation of the commission that had been prepared by Secretary of State Cordell Hull," Clark writes. "In the Roosevelt administration, FDR's 'OK' on a document was considered presidential consent for the action proposed in the document. Subsequent to the President's approval, membership on the commission was finalized and on August 20, 1943, a press release was issued by the Department of State announcing the creation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe."

The approved memorandum is four pages. Here's the initialed first page:

 

Now, here's a trailer for Clooney's The Monuments Men:

Christian Right Gears Up to Protest Religious Movie's Rescinded Oscar Nod

| Thu Feb. 6, 2014 4:00 AM PST

The song "Alone Yet Not Alone" is the latest skirmish in the American culture war. It's performed by 64-year-old quadriplegic evangelical author Joni Eareckson Tada, and comes from the little-known 2013 Christian film of the same name. The film, set in 1755, is based on the story of two young sisters threatened by religious persecution and Native American tribes. It was made on a roughly $7 million budget and produced by a team of evangelical filmmakers, outside of the sphere of a secular Hollywood. Very few in the entertainment industry and film press have seen it, but the movie has received endorsements from a who's who of Christian-right big names, such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and former Republican presidential contender (and Christian movie man) Rick Santorum, and, to the surprise of many in the industry, an Academy Award nomination for best original song.

The film scored the nod along with four others, including "The Moon Song" from Her and "Let It Go" from Frozen. But on January 29, the Academy announced that it was rescinding the nominations for songwriter Bruce Broughton and lyricist Dennis Spiegel due to a breach of ethics: Broughton, a former rep on the Academy's board of governors, was accused of improperly lobbying (via email) at least 70 Academy music branch members during the voting period.

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