Rebecca Cohen

Rebecca Cohen

Editorial Fellow

Rebecca Cohen is a Mother Jones fellow who has previously written for Slate, The Washington Post, and McClatchy News Service. You can follow her at @rebeccatcohen and email her at rcohen@motherjones.com.

 

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10 Great Songs to Help You Achieve Your New Year's Resolutions

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 5:01 PM EST

So it's five days into the new year—how are those resolutions going? Yeah, that's what I thought. Sure, you could use science to shore up your flagging resolve to hit the gym every morning or play less Candy Crush. But if you need a little additional sonic inspiration, read on.

You want to: Embrace who you are.

Your song is: Perfume Genius' "Queen."

"No family is safe when I sashay," Mike Hadreas sneers in this defiant celebration of queer identity. As he put it in his own explanation of the song: "If these fucking people want to give me some power—if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles—well, here she comes."

You want to: Reconnect with your estranged relatives.

Your song is: Sun Kil Moon's "Carissa."

Singer Mark Kozelek's struggle to find meaning in a freak garbage-burning accident that killed his second cousin makes for a stark, haunting ballad. "You don't just raise two kids and take out your trash and die," he pleads. By the end of the song, you'll have your phone in your hand and your family's number halfway dialed—if you're not too busy wiping your eyes.

You want to: Meet "the one."

Your song is: ​TLC's "No Scrubs."

You could read the wisest advice columnists, the most egregious collections of bad pickup strategies, and even OKCupid founder Christian Rudder's data-driven take on the subject of finding love. Or you could just listen to this blast of '90s girl group goodness.

You want to: Unplug.

Your song is: St. Vincent's "Digital Witness."

Maybe you're already burned out on all the scrubs in the online-dating universe, or maybe you're worried about Facebook influencing your vote and giving you an eating disorder. Either way, take a break from the screens and dance to this funk-infused critique of online voyeurism. "If I can't show it/If you can't see me/What's the point of doing anything?" singer Annie Clark asks wryly.

You want to: See the world.

Your song is: Iggy Pop's "The Passenger."

You might know it as the soundtrack to a Guinness commercial or the intro theme music for Anderson Cooper 360, but if you listen to the lyrics, this song is actually a meditation on the nihilistic pleasure of traveling through a decaying urban landscape. Plus, Iggy seems like he'd be an entertaining road trip companion.

You want to: Get in shape.

Your song is: ​Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger."

What are you doing sitting around and reading this playlist? Get to the gym already.

You want to: Make new friends.

Your song is: Friends' "Friend Crush."

I'm not sure if this band is just really into friendship or what, but it perfectly captures the blurred line between friend-courting and romantic courting in this sultry, bass-driven tune.

You want to: Quit smoking.

Your song is: Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House."

A gentle reminder about the dangers of smoking in bed.

You want to: Change your diet.

Your song is: Neko Case's "Red Tide."

If you've been contemplating a switch to vegetarianism, allow Case to persuade you. Her vision of a world in which the battle between humans and nature has reached a decisive end ("Salty tentacles drink in the sun but the red tide is over/The mollusks they have won") will make you scared to go near a plate of shellfish ever again in your life.

You want to: Be more like Beyoncé.

Your song is: "Flawless."

To be honest, this should be everyone's resolution.

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5 Times the Supreme Court Tried to Understand Pop Culture

| Wed Dec. 3, 2014 5:20 PM EST

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's fans might refer to her as The Notorious RBG, but when it comes to understanding rap culture, the Supreme Court has some catching up to do. That was clear on Monday, when the justices heard arguments in Elonis v. United States, a case about whether gory, rap-style rhymes posted on Facebook by a Pennsylvania man constituted a real threat to his estranged wife.

Lawyers for Anthony Elonis asserted that his posts should be read as creative self-expression. (Some sample lyrics: "There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.") Justice Samuel Alito didn't seem convinced that these lines weren't menacing. "This sounds like a road map for threatening a spouse and getting away with it," he said. "So you put it in a rhyme…and you say, 'I'm an aspiring rap artist,' and so then you are free from prosecution." Those comments are consistent with how judges and jurors tend to think about rap lyrics—they're likely to see them as autobiographical and literally true, even though many rappers assume fictional personas.

The Elonis case isn't the first time the Supreme Court has grappled with what constitutes legitimate artistic expression. From declaring that movies can be broadly censored because they could be "used for evil" to deciding that G-strings don't limit nude dancers' freedom of expression, the past results have been decidedly mixed. Here's are the justices' most offbeat efforts to play art critic:

 

1. Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 1915

The facts: An Ohio law required anyone who wanted to show a film to get permission from a board of censors, who charged for approval. Mutual Film Corporation, a motion picture company best known for producing Charlie Chaplin comedies, didn't want to pay. It argued that its movies were protected by the First Amendment because of their power to enlighten and entertain.

It took until 1952 for the court to decide that film had proved itself "a significant medium for the communication of ideas."

The outcome: The justices unanimously sided with the state on the grounds that movies were a business, not an art form—and that they could corrupt the hearts and minds of innocent children. "They, indeed, may be mediums of thought, but so are many things," wrote Justice Joseph McKenna. "They may be used for evil, and against that possibility the statute was enacted. Their power[s] of amusement…make them the more insidious." It took until 1952 for the court to decide that film had proved itself "a significant medium for the communication of ideas."

 

2. United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs, 1971

The facts: Customs agents at the Los Angeles airport stopped Milton Luros on his way home from Europe and confiscated 37 photos of couples having sex, based on a 1930 law banning the importation of obscene material. Luros claimed that the photos, which he'd planned to use to illustrate a copy of the Kama Sutra, shouldn't have been confiscated because they were for private use.

The outcome: The court concluded that Luros' right to privately possess obscene material didn't extend to the airport. "A port of entry is not a traveler's home," Justice Byron White wrote. But Justice Hugo Black, a First Amendment absolutist, penned a scathing dissent. "I can imagine no more distasteful, useless, and time-consuming task for the members of this Court than perusing this material to determine whether it has 'redeeming social value,'" he seethed.

(What's with the weird name: Cases in which a federal court seizes property are traditionally named after the item seized, not the item's owner—hence the epic-sounding 2011 case U.S. v. One White Crystal-Covered ‘Bad Tour' Glove and other Michael Jackson Memorabilia.)

 

3. Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 1991

The facts: Two exotic dance clubs in South Bend, Indiana, wanted to add completely naked dancers to their lineup. State law required that the dancers wear at least pasties and a G-string. The clubs sued, arguing that the law infringed on the dancers' freedom of expression.

Medal of Honor and Resident Evil 4 were delivered to the court so justices could see what playing a video game was like.

The outcome: No redress for the would-be strippers. The fact that the nakedness would have been consensual didn't matter to Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote, "The purpose of Indiana's nudity law would be violated, I think, if 60,000 fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosierdome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd."

 

4. National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, 1998

The facts: After a scandal over artists receiving federal funding—including Andres Serrano, whose 1987 photo Piss Christ depicted a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine—Congress added "taking into consideration general standards of decency" to the NEA's grant requirements. Performance artist Karen Finley, whose work involved covering her naked body with chocolate, sued the government after her grant application was denied. She argued that the new grant requirements suppressed unorthodox ideas.

The outcome: Congress wasn't regulating speech, just setting funding priorities, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority. She noted that the amendment didn't preclude "indecent" art from receiving grants; it "simply adds 'considerations' to the grant-making process."

 

5. Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 2011

The facts: EMA, a trade association for the home entertainment industry, challenged California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors. Before the justices heard the case, they had copies of Medal of Honor and Resident Evil 4 delivered to the court so they could figure out what playing a video game was like.

The outcome: The gaming experience must have won the justices over. They ruled that video games deserved First Amendment protection, overturning California's law. "Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices... and through features distinctive to the medium," Scalia wrote in his pro-gamer majority opinion.

Fri Dec. 26, 2014 7:00 AM EST