Dave Gilson

Dave Gilson

Senior editor

Senior editor at Mother Jones. Obsessive generalist, word wrangler, data cruncher, pun maker.

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Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. Read more of his stories, follow him on Twitter, or contact him.

Slogans for Sale

| Fri Feb. 19, 2010 8:05 AM EST

One afternoon in the late 1980s, I was vegging in front of the tube when a mysterious ad for a new amusement park ride called the Revolution came on. Its coolly contradictory tag line was hard to forget: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised!" Of course, that catchphrase wasn't written by a copywriter but Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and musician who'd originally sung it as a declaration of independence from the very folks who'd take his lyrical manifesto and turn it into a 30-second earworm for pubescent cartoon watchers. How his signature song ended up in a Great America ad, I have no idea. But Scott-Heron, whom Alan Light profiles in our current issue, wasn't the first nor the last musician to have his or her message repackaged for prime time. Some more examples of turning musical rebellion into money: 

1987 Gil Scott-Heron's proto-hip-hop anthem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" goes for a spin in a TV ad for Great America's new ride, the Revolution.

1987 Michael Jackson, owner of the Beatles catalog, lets Nike use "Revolution"—the first Fab Four song to appear in a TV commercial. Yoko Ono says the spot "is making John's music accessible to a new generation."

1995 KRS-One rewrites "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" for a Nike ad. Sample lyrics: "The revolution will not refrain from chest bumping...The revolution is about basketball, and basketball is the truth!"

2000 The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" takes a bow for the new revolution—the Nissan Maxima.

2005 Tommy Hilfiger conscripts Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" ("Got to revolution!") for a spot filled with teen hotties.

2005 Lefty rocker Steve Earle okays the use of his "The Revolution Starts Now" in a Chevy truck ad.

2007 Janis Joplin's anti-consumerist ditty "Mercedes Benz" becomes a feel-good jingle for...Mercedes-Benz.

2009 A British "ethical banking" firm convinces Bob Dylan to lend the rights to "Blowin' in the Wind."

Watch some of the ads below the jump.


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Rock Me Amadeus

| Fri Feb. 12, 2010 10:50 PM EST

Last week, President Obama awarded San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas the National Medal of Arts for his efforts to win over a wider audience for classical music. In our current issue, MTT talks with MJ's Clara Jeffery about the philosophy behind his work, his love of nonclassical artists such as James Brown, and experiments such as organizing the first ever YouTube symphony. Check it out. Or take a moment to enjoy these greatest hits of classical music crossover:

1885 The Boston Pops is launched to bring classical music to the masses.

1940 Disney's Fantasia. Money loser until 1969 re-release makes it a stoner classic.

1957 Elmer Fudd + Wagner = "Kill Da Wabbit."

1958 Leonard Bernstein conducts his first televised Young People's Concert.

1968 2001: A Space Odyssey immortalizes Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra.

1976 "A Fifth of Beethoven" disco remix.

1984 Amadeus wins eight Oscars.

1990 The Three Tenors storm charts.

1998 Georgia aims for "Mozart effect" by giving new moms classical CDs.

2002 Nas samples Beethoven's "Für Elise."

2007 BBC launches a reality show to reclaim classical music from "posh old white people."

2009 YouTube Symphony Orchestra and MTT play Carnegie Hall

Captain America vs. The Tea Party

| Wed Feb. 10, 2010 4:28 PM EST

President Obama may be secretly plotting to declare martial law, but the Tea Partiers now face a more immediate threat: Captain America. Conservative blogger Warner Todd Huston has checked out issue 602 of the long-running series and concludes that Marvel Comics is "making patriotic Americans into [its] newest super villains." The offending storyline finds Captain America and his African-American sidekick the Falcon in Idaho, where they encounter a Tea Party rally. They then scheme to infiltrate the antitax protesters as a way to get to their real target, a militia group known as the Watchdogs. The Falcon is skeptical: "I don't exactly see a black man from Harlem fitting in with a bunch of angry white folks." It's not the first time the Star Spangled Avenger has revealed his secret identity as a big-government liberal. Back in the '80s he battled Ronald Reagan when the Gipper turned into an underpants-wearing lizard man. And more recently, he met secretly with Obama to offer his services. 

Huston complains that the new plotline portrays the Tea Partiers as a bunch of crazy racists. Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada has tried to dodge the criticism by insisting, unconvincingly, that the antitax folks weren't even meant to be Tea Partiers, just a "generic protest group." As for Marvel's decision to portray the not-really-Tea Partiers as entirely white, The Stranger's Paul Constant quips, "An all-white teabagger crowd is probably the most realistic thing going on in that issue of Captain America." Quesada also suggests that upset readers hold their outrage while the plot unfolds, hinting that exciting stereotype-shattering plot twists lie ahead. So hang on to your tea bags.

Carly Fiorina's Demon Sheep

| Thu Feb. 4, 2010 4:19 PM EST

The California gubernatorial contest has taken another early turn toward the weird with the best political attack ad ever: A three-minute stream of consciousness pastiche from former HP CEO Carly Fiorina that features footage of sheep, something about "fiscal conservatives in name only," more sheep, B-roll of random stuff, and OMIGOD DEMON SHEEP! As one YouTube commenter puts it, "It's like a first year film student project gone terribly wrong. LOL—for days." Of course, there's already a Twitter hashtag (#demonsheep). Can a mashup website, à la Keepin' it Real With Michael Steele or the defunct Squirrelizer, be far behind? Until someone with the web skills puts it together, here's Mother Jones' first contribution to the Chilln' With the Demon Sheep meme.

UPDATE: Asked how the ad was made, Fiorina's deputy campaign manager for communications Julie Soderlund says that, contrary to speculation, the sheep scenes were not shot exclusively for the spot but were "really old footage" that ad's creative team had "in the archives." The ad was produced not by a film student but Fred Davis, a veteran GOP adman who made the McCain campaign's "Celebrity" ad, which compared Barack Obama to Paris Hilton. Presumably the satantic sheep analogy didn't feel right for that one. (Watch the sheep ad below the jump.) 

Books: The Devil and Mr. Casement: One Man's Battle for Human Rights in South America's Heart of Darkness

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 6:17 PM EST

In 1910, a British diplomat named Roger Casement traveled to a remote corner of the Peruvian Amazon to investigate reports that the local Indians were being enslaved as rubber tappers, and tortured and murdered if they resisted. The assignment was similar to one he'd carried out a few years earlier in the Congo, which, as readers of Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost may recall, helped expose the atrocities inside the Belgian monarch's private colony. In Peru, Casement found horrors that rivaled those in the heart of Africa (see "Blood and Treasure"), but this time, the crimes weren't being carried out in the name of a foreign ruler, but a public company based in London.

The outlines of this story are all too familiar: A firm enriches itself with the sweat and blood of people half a world away, far from consumers' consciences or the prying eyes of watchdogs. The Devil and Mr. Casement presents a fast-paced account of this groundbreaking effort to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds, as well as a detailed portrait of Casement, a closet Irish revolutionary (and even more deeply closeted gay man) who becomes obsessed with beating "the devil" of the book's title, a ruthless Peruvian rubber baron.

It's not giving away the ending to say there's no happy one to this story. However, author Jordan Goodman buries a fascinating, disturbing detail that establishes his drama's continued relevance: The Putumayo Indians who were rubber slaves a century ago are the ancestors of the indigenous people in the recent documentary Crude, which follows their ongoing struggle to get American oil companies to take responsibility for polluting their rainforest home.

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