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.

In the "RoboCop" Reboot, Samuel L. Jackson Is Basically Bill O'Reilly

| Wed Feb. 12, 2014 12:26 PM PST
Samuel L. Jackson in RoboCop
RoboCop/Facebook

Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi action movie RoboCop (1987) is a famous satire of the excess and greed of the Reagan era. José Padilha's 2014 reboot of RoboCop (in theaters on Wednesday) is also a critique of American society and power. The remake—starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary OldmanAbbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, and Jay Baruchel—takes place in the year 2028, mostly in Detroit. The American military is occupying countries all over the world—with the help of completely autonomous killer robots called "drones." (Get it?) In this not-at-all-distant future, the United States has apparently invaded Iran in "Operation Freedom Tehran." OmniCorp, which designs and manufactures these military robots, wants to put this technology to use in law enforcement on American soil. Thus begins a debate over civil liberties and human emotion.

But the best thing about the new RoboCop is Samuel L. Jackson's turn as the smartly dressed, flag-pin-wearing host of a cable-TV news and commentary show. His perspective is jingoistic, pro-US-empire, and staunchly pro-RoboCop and tough on crime. ("Why is America so robophobic?" he asks during a broadcast; he later asks if the US Senate has become pro-crime.) He cuts the mic of guests he disagrees with and is prone to loud swearing on camera. As you might guess, many critics have already compared Jackson's character to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. For instance, the name of the fictional show is The Novak Element, which sounds a bit like The O'Reilly Factor.

O'Reilly and Fox News did not respond to a request for comment regarding RoboCop's possible nod to The O'Reilly Factor. Jackson points to a different conservative host as his inspiration (via Blastr):

I play a character by the name of Pat Novak, who's sort of a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton, if you can combine those two people. So I refer to him as Rush Sharpton...He has one of those shows that's an opinion show, and his opinion is that automated policing is a good idea, so he's a proponent of RoboCop.

You can check out Novak in action in the trailer below:

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When Shirley Temple Black Was a Vietnam War Hawk on the Campaign Trail

| Tue Feb. 11, 2014 12:18 PM PST

Shirley Temple Black, the beloved 1930s child movie-star who reinvented herself in later years as an American diplomat, died Monday at her Woodside, California, home at the age of 85.

She was tremendously successful on the international stage as a film star (she is ranked as number 18 on the American Film Institute's list of top female screen legends), but found less success in national politics. In 1967, Black mounted an unsuccessful campaign to represent California's 11th congressional district. (Superstar Bing Crosby was on her campaign's finance committee.) A Republican, Black ran on an anti-racism, anti-crime, pro-war platform.

Here's an excerpt from an Associated Press story from October 1967 that demonstrates how hawkish on Vietnam the one-time Bright Eyes star was:

As for the war in Vietnam, Mrs. Black said: "President Johnson should rely more on the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff than on the advice of Defense Secretary (Robert S.) McNamara."

"Obviously, civilians make the policy. But after the policy is made, that's the time you bring in the key military leaders, in order to form the strategy and tactics of how to achieve your goals."

Aligning herself with the hawks in the debate over what to do in Vietnam, Mrs. Black said she thought U.S. forces should mine the approaches to Haiphong, the principal port, to cut off military supplies from Red China and the Soviet Union.

(Mining that Vietnamese port is something the Nixon administration ended up doing in 1972 during Operation Pocket Money.)

Well, Shirley Temple didn't win. She lost the Republican nomination to Paul McCloskey, a Korean War vet who strongly opposed US military involvement in Vietnam. "I will be back," she told supporters at the time of her defeat. "This was my first race and now I know how the game is played. I plan to dedicate my life and energies to public service because I think my country needs it now more than ever."

Black indeed came back, but perhaps not in the way she initially imagined. In 1968, she went on a European fundraising tour for the Nixon presidential campaign. In 1969, President Nixon appointed her to the five-member delegation to the UN General Assembly, where she earned praise for speaking out on issues such as environmental problems and refugee crises. She later served as US ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, President Gerald Ford's chief of protocol for the State Department from 1976 to 1977, and ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

Following the fall of communism, Black continued to serve in Prague—and found a creative method of mocking those who remained committed communists:

Needling any Communists who may be watching, Black sometimes appears on [her home's] balcony in a T-shirt bearing her initials, STB, which also was the acronym of the now-disbanded Czech secret police. Asked what STB agents are doing these days, she replied, "Most of them are driving the taxis you ride around in."

Now, here's a photo of a young Shirley Temple posing with a signed photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Shirley Temple and FDR photo
Globe Photos/ZUMA

...and here's one of an older Shirley Temple with co-star Ronald Reagan (decades later, she would serve during the Reagan administration as a State Department trainer):

Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan
face to face/ZUMA

 

"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:

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.

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