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.

SNL Finally Casts a Black Woman. Watch Her Take on "Go the Fuck to Sleep" as Michelle Obama

| Tue Jan. 7, 2014 8:20 AM PST

The search is over. Following controversy last year over Saturday Night Live's lack of on-camera diversity, the NBC sketch comedy series held an audition for black female comedians. On Monday, SNL revealed their newest cast member: Sasheer Zamata. The comedian and improv veteran will make her SNL debut on January 18, in an episode hosted by Canadian rapper Drake.

Zamata, who trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, is the first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph departed the show in 2007, and only the fifth in SNL history. To get a taste of what you can expect from her, here's her impression of First Lady Michelle Obama reading an updated version of "Go the Fuck to Sleep":

UPDATE: The video is now listed as private. Here's a screenshot of Zamata as Obama, though:

Sasheer Zamata as Michelle Obama

(The video also includes Zamata as Nicki Minaj reading Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham.")

Zamata's star has been rising for a few years now. She was praised by Jezebel in 2012, and was named one of Cosmopolitan's "13 Funny Women to Watch in 2014." Her credits include Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer, FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, and her web series "Pursuit of Sexiness."

In an interview with "Man Cave Daily" last October, Zamata described how she got into acting: "I knew I wanted to come to [New York], and I knew I wanted to perform, but I didn't know how," she said. "I studied theater in college. Before I got to college I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I just wanted to be in front of people, but I didn't know how. Then I got to college and I didn't want to study journalism anymore, I wanted to do plays...[After college], I was auditioning for off-Broadway plays, but I kept going to [Upright Citizens Brigade]. I knew of UCB because they came to my school to perform. I was watching them and thinking, man, wherever they came from that's where I want to go. Bobby Moynihan was one of the performers and someone asked him, 'How to get a career in comedy?' Bobby replied, 'Go to NYC, go to UCB, and work really, really hard.'"

And on January 18, Zamata will join her now fellow SNL cast member Moynihan on national television.

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7 Movies That Changed Your Political Views, According to Science

| Tue Jan. 7, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Rush Limbaugh was right all along.

Sort of.

According to a study recently published in Social Science Quarterly, Hollywood is making you more liberal. The study, titled "Moving Pictures? Experimental Evidence of Cinematic Influence on Political Attitudes," was coauthored by Todd Adkins and Jeremiah Castle of the University of Notre Dame. It found that viewers who watched a movie with a message on health care (either Francis Ford Coppola's fairly polemical The Rainmaker or James L. Brooks' more subtle As Good As It Gets) generally saw their support for the Affordable Care Act, or similar policies, increase.

"We find significant evidence that viewers of both As Good As it Gets and The Rainmaker became more liberal on health-care-related policies as a result of watching the movies, with this change persisting two weeks after viewing the films," the authors wrote. "Such evidence strongly supports our contention that popular films possess the capability to change attitudes on political issues. We believe the potential for popular films to generate lasting attitudinal change presents an important area for future research."

So, The Rainmaker and As Good As It Gets might make you like Obamacare more, or hate it less intensely. While we're at it, here are a few other major motion pictures that—according to science—possibly reshaped your political views without you even knowing it. Many of these are also referenced in Adkins and Castle's study. We only chose the films for which we could find a scientific study supporting claims that they altered political opinions.

1. JFK destroyed your faith in the American political system.
You may or may not agree with the political messages presented in the other films on this list. But at least they motivated their audiences to care about an issue, to take a stance. Precisely the opposite happened, however, in a study of the "psychological consequences" of seeing the extremely controversial 1991 conspiracy drama JFK, directed by Oliver Stone. In a 1995 study of viewers before and after seeing the film, Stanford psychologist Lisa Butler and her colleagues found that seeing JFK "doubled the level of anger" of viewers. What's more, it also seems to have affected their political intentions. Seeing the film "was associated with a significant decrease in viewers' reported intentions to vote or make political contributions." The researchers attributed this response to a "general helplessness effect" engendered by seeing the film: The vast conspiracy (supposedly encompassing the CIA, the military-industrial complex, the mob, and some of the most powerful figures in American government) proposed by the filmmakers made people feel powerless.

Thanks, Oliver Stone.

2. The Day After Tomorrow made you care more about global warming.
Yes, yes, we know it wasn't scientifically accurate or plausible. But did the 2004 disaster film, in which global warming somehow manages to bring on a new Ice Age (you are right to scratch your head), make audiences more worried about climate change? According to a study by current Yale researcher Anthony Leiserowitz, the answer is yes. Leiserowitz conducted a national survey three weeks after the film's release, and found that 83 percent of film viewers said they were "somewhat" or "very concerned" about global warming, compared with 72 percent of nonwatchers. Moviegoers were also more likely to believe in the likelihood that a variety of climate-related impacts, ranging from more extreme weather to the flooding of major cities, would occur in the next 50 years. The study only sampled 529 people, but The Day After Tomorrow grossed more than $500 million globally. So one can infer it had a pretty significant effect on public opinion around the world.

3. The Cider House Rules turned you pro-choice.
In the Academy Award-winning 1999 film (directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron), Michael Caine portrays Dr. Wilbur Larch, an ether-addicted abortionist. The movie is set in Maine during World War II, when the state was under a hugely restrictive abortion ban. The compassionate Dr. Larch performs the procedure for young women in dire straits. When screenwriter and author John Irving won the Oscar for penning the film's script, he thanked "everyone at Planned Parenthood" and NARAL at the end of his acceptance speech.

So it's not too surprising that a 2011 study by Kenneth Mulligan and Philip Habel at Southern Illinois University found that the "fictional framing" of the abortion issue in The Cider House Rules made audiences more supportive of safe and legal abortion. "[P]articipants who were randomly assigned to watch [The Cider House Rules] were more favorable toward legalized abortion in the case of incest than those in the control group," the authors wrote. In fact, they added, "the movie had a significant effect despite the fact that opinions on abortion tend to be deeply entrenched."

4. Malcolm X inspired you to be more concerned about racial discrimination and race relations.
In a 1997 study in the Journal of Politics, Darren Davis of Michigan State University and Christian Davenport of the University of Colorado-Boulder examined the affect of the 1992 film Malcolm X (directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington) on African Americans in Houston. The study found the film, and the way it was reinforced in other media, to be "quite powerful in altering political attitudes" among the study subjects. In particular, those who saw the film, and a CBS documentary about Malcolm X, were more aware of issues of discrimination and also more concerned about the importance of race relations as a political issue.

5. All the President's Men caused Republicans to favor more restrictions on the press.
The acclaimed 1976 film (directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) dramatizes Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's investigation of the Watergate scandal, which exposed the abuse of power by Republican president Richard Nixon. All the President's Men is actually credited with boosting enrollment numbers at journalism school in the United States, due to the heroism of the two journalists. The film also affected the Republican and Democratic attitudes towards the press, according to a 1979 study by professors William R. Elliott, of the University of Oregon, and William J. Schenck-Hamlin, of Kansas State University. As you would probably guess, the study found that the movie caused liberal viewers to have a more positive view of the press and caused conservative ones to hold a more negative one.

In particular, after seeing the movie, Democrats agreed less with this statement "there should be laws that control some of the things reporters write and talk about." Republicans, however, moved in the opposite direction, and became significantly more in favor of press restrictions.

The KKK Leader Haunted-House Song the Late Phil Everly Never Got To Write

| Sat Jan. 4, 2014 10:42 AM PST
Phil (left) and Don Everly, in a Cadence Records publicity photo.

Phil Everly, who with his older brother Don made up the country/rock 'n roll duo the Everly Brothers, died on Friday in Burbank, California, due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 74.

The Everly Brothers' influence on popular music in the 1950s and 1960s was immense. The songs they strummed and sang (in legendary harmonies) were often big hits. During the height of their powers, they had almost three dozen hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including "Wake Up Little Susie" and "Bye Bye Love." The Everly Brothers were among the first ten acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The duo influenced some of the best artists of the 20th century, such as The Beatles and The Byrds. "We owe [the Everly Brothers] everything," Bob Dylan said. "They started it all."

I'm not going to pretend that I'm capable of writing the definitive or the most comprehensive Phil Everly obituary. There are a lot of remembrances already out there, and plenty of rock historians who can tell you much more about Everly's place in musical history than I ever could. But what I can offer is my favorite Everly story—one regarding perhaps the most brilliant song that Everly never wrote.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published in June 2013, he talks about his beautiful house outside of Nashville, Tennessee, in Maury County. It was built in 1846, and has this unique bit of history to it, according to Everly:

During the Civil War, a famous Confederate lieutenant general named Nathan Bedford Forrest had a violent argument with a lieutenant named A. Willis Gould. Words were exchanged, Gould shot Forrest in the hip, and Forrest wound up [fatally stabbing] him. Forrest recuperated in our bedroom. I suppose there's a song in that story someplace.

I'm not sure if Forrest's ghost is hanging around, but I have a theory about this house. It won't let you do anything to the structure it doesn't like. We had a roof leak a few years back, and the carpenter impulsively wanted to solve the problem by drilling a hole in the floor. But the bit snapped right off. The house wouldn't let him do it. This kind of thing has happened several other times.

(For the record, Forrest died in Memphis, but let's just say it's plausible that this Confederate ghost could find its way back to this estate.)

The idea for a Nathan Bedford Forrest death-match / freaky haunted-house country-rock song is even more interesting when you consider that Forrest was also the first Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the namesake of Forrest Gump, and an accused war criminal. Under Forrest's command, Confederate troops carried out the atrocity at Fort Pillow, where hundreds of surrendered black soldiers were slaughtered.

So who knows if he was being serious about this song. I hope so, since it would make for a terrific song. Sadly, it seems that Everly never got around to writing and recording it. But what he accomplished in life was, of course, already way more than enough. Some of the greatest rock music of the '60s would not have sounded the way it did if it weren't for Phil and Don. That's a hell of a legacy to leave behind.

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