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.

Stop Trying To Make "Muppets Most Wanted" About Putin

| Fri Mar. 21, 2014 3:29 PM PDT

As you probably heard, Russia invaded Ukraine. This has been big international news for the past few weeks, and now it is even affecting how people cover and review the new Muppets movie.

In Muppets Most Wanted (released on Friday), the antagonist is Constantine the Frog, a notorious criminal with a thick Russian accent. He also looks an awful lot like Kermit the Frog. Early in the film, Constantine escapes from a gulag in Siberia, tracks down Kermit, steals his identity, and gets the good-natured Kermit thrown in the Russian labor camp in his place. (Tina Fey plays Nadya, the officer who runs the song-and-dance-obsessed gulag.)

The Russia content in Muppets Most Wanted grew out of the filmmakers' desire to create a "classic cold-war musical comedy," and to give a lighthearted nod to the Russian bad guys of 1980s movies. Director James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller of course had no idea that their new Muppet movie would hit theaters right around the time Russia annexed Crimea. Constantine is a world-infamous thief, not a stand-in for Putin or any Russian politician (not that the Muppets haven't dabbled in politics—or been accused of partisan bias—before). Regardless, critics and writers found a way to make their coverage of Muppets Most Wanted more topical!

Here's a sample:

  • "The newest Muppet is Russian, prefers to go shirtless and is intent on evil domination. Sound familiar?" — USA Today.
  • "The one discordant note comes by way of the gulag gags: With Russian President Vladi­mir Putin enthusiastically reviving that country's most oppressive totalitarian past, making light of what now seems all too real may strike adult viewers as, if not tasteless, then at least unfortunately timed. (The backfire also serves as a cautionary reminder to studio executives eager to exploit the newly all-powerful international market.)" — The Washington Post.
  • "The United States government today called on Walt Disney Pictures to delay or cancel the release of Muppets Most Wanted on national security grounds. Or at least, it should have. Not only might this movie annoy Russia, with whom the American government is already nose-to-nose over Crimea, but it could also cause any European allies being courted by President Obama to unfriend him and the rest of the country. The film, a music-filled follow-up to the 2011 hit The Muppets, lands poor Kermit in a gulag in Siberia, which is depicted just as unflatteringly as gulags in Siberia always are. Vladimir V. Putin is unlikely to be amused." — The New York Times.
  • "The film's female lead, Miss Piggy, arguably bears some resemblance to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stance on Russia has toughened considerably as the Crimean crisis unfolds." — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
  • "He's kidnapped and replaced by evil frog Constantine, Kermit's exact double apart from a facial mole and an accent that sounds like Vladimir Putin trying to invade his space." — The Toronto Star.

...Ugh.

Now, for something better, listen to Muppets Most Wanted's fun, self-referential musical number "We're Doing a Sequel" below:

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Kate Winslet's "Divergent" Character Is Like a Brainy, Science-Driven Hitler

| Fri Mar. 21, 2014 11:45 AM PDT

The people who made Divergent desperately want it to be the next The Hunger Games, with all the piles of money that come with a franchise of the kind. The new sci-fi movie (released on Friday) is based on the Veronica Roth young-adult novel of the same name, set in an isolated, dystopian Chicago. Much like The Hunger Games books and movies, Divergent depicts young, good-looking people fighting totalitarianism in a war-ravaged future. (In Divergent, the youthful heroine is Beatrice "Tris" Prior, played by the talented Shailene Woodley.)

There is plenty wrong with Divergent, including that it's a drowsy action flick (first in a planned trilogy) that reeks of studio executives' cynical attempts to cash in on the international commercial success of a similarly themed series. Whereas the villains in The Hunger Games make up a totalitarian regime that resembles North Korea but with superior reality TV, the bad guys in Divergent resemble grown-up college nerds who are black-out drunk on political power.

The Story Behind That Radio Station Heroically Playing Nelly's "Hot in Herre" for 3 Days Straight

| Tue Mar. 18, 2014 1:50 PM PDT

Over the weekend, Latino Mix 105.7, a Univision-owned radio station in San Francisco, captured the hearts and lazy imagination of the internet. "There once was a film called Life is Beautiful about Nelly's 'Hot in Herre' being looped on a radio station for 24 straight hours [and now] that movie has come to life," gushed Gawker. (Life is Beautiful is actually a movie about the Holocaust and the enduring love of family.) In the widely covered stunt, the station started playing "Hot in Herre" [sic] around 3 p.m. PST on Friday and then just... kept going. The song wasn't taken off repeat until Monday evening, shortly after 5 p.m. PST. "San Francisco radio station Latino Mix FM 105.7 has been doing its best to torture Bay Area listeners," the San Jose Mercury News reported on Monday.

"Hot in Herre" (click here for lyrics) was a smash-hit song for St. Louis rapper Nelly in 2002. It was described as "the perfect summer jam" by People. It's a song so inextricably tied to the early Bush era that you can read about US Marines singing it as they moved into combat in Iraq. (This moment, from journalist Evan Wright's book Generation Kill, was recreated in the HBO miniseries of the same name.) The song was featured in a 2012 Super Bowl ad starring Elton John as a tyrannical but violently overthrown king.

Guinness and Other Beers Pull Out of St. Patrick's Day Parade Over Ban on Openly Gay Marchers

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 8:54 AM PDT

Three beer giants—the manufacturers who bring you Heineken, Sam Adams, and Guinness—have pulled their sponsorship of Saint Patrick's Day parades in New York City and Boston over the events' policy of anti-LGBT discrimination. (The Boston parade took place on Sunday, while the NYC one is on for Monday.) Both parades technically allow gay groups to march but ban signs and placards regarding sexual orientation. The withdrawals came following pressure from gay rights activists over the ban. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also skipped their respective parades.

Sam Adams pulled its sponsorship of the Boston parade last week. Here is their statement, via Boston Beer Company spokeswoman Jessica Paar:

We have been participating in the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade for nearly a decade and have also supported the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast year after year. We've done so because of the rich history of the event and to support veterans who have done so much for this country.

We were hopeful that both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible.

We share these sentiments with Mayor Walsh, Congressman Lynch and others and therefore we will not participate in this year’s parade. We will continue to support Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and her St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. We wish her all the best in her historic stewardship of this tradition.

Here is Heineken's statement, given on Friday, regarding the New York parade:

We believe in equality for all. We are no longer a sponsor of Monday's parade.

Guinness, which is part of Diageo, weighed in on Sunday:

Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year's parade. As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.

Responses from LGBT activists have been generally positive. "Heineken sent the right message to LGBT youth, customers and employees who simply want to be part of the celebration," Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, said, for instance.

Parade organizers did not immediately respond to Mother Jones' requests for comment.

The Whimsical Fascists of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 10:20 AM PDT
Willem Dafoe and Adrien Brody as "fascist assholes."

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is very, very Wes Anderson—which is to say that the colors pop, the quirky humor abounds, and your emotions are sneakily toyed with. Few directors have the kind of total control over the way their actors talk, move, and express quite like Anderson does. Anderson's singular style and eccentricities make virtually everything in his films (even harrowing elements such as suicide and war) oddly whimsical. And in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a Nazi analog is made into something of a goofy villain.

The comedy is set primarily in the 1930s in Zubrowka, a fictional central-European republic that has endured European totalitarianism and world war (the movie was shot on location in Germany, but the setting, sounds, and visuals were, in Anderson's words, "a pastiche of the greatest hits of...Eastern Europe"). The core of the narrative (starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Harvey Keitel, and several Anderson regulars) is a murder mystery, but the backdrop routinely advances to the fore as the grip of a fascist party grows more and more clenched. "Part of why I feel the impulse to reimagine [World War II] rather than just do it is because it's been done so many times before," Anderson told NPR.

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