2010 - %3, August

Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History

Tue Aug. 31, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Yes, the US military really did produce a cartoon instructional manual about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And the American government is by no means the only entity to use cartoons in humorless way.

Indeed, if you're going to shove your political agenda down people's throats, there may be no more entertaining method than comics. Which is precisely why Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History is so inviting and unnerving. In this collection of cartoon agitprop, Fredrik Strömberg, a Swedish comics expert, surveys everything from evangelical Archie strips and hysterical Cold War fantasies to '70s feminist comics and 9/11 kitsch. Much of the material is laughable, but artifacts like legendary cartoonist Milt Caniff's wartime pamphlet "How to Spot a Jap" remain vivid illustrations of comics' inflammatory potential.

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Levi's Curve-Hugging (Sizes 0-4) Jeans

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 1:22 PM EDT

I love curves. Curves are great. So when I heard San Francisco-based Levi's introduced its new Curve ID fit system for women's jeans, I was all in favor of it. Then I saw the ad, which uses slender models to demonstrate how Curve ID "custom fits" 80% of American women. Uh, sure, because 80% of American women are shaped like models? Not in the America where I live.

Levi's had a great chance here to show they understand the diversity of women's bodies. They could have used full-figured women or at least a model of color, but instead they chose to use slender models to demonstrate they understand how to fit American women who are on average 5'4" and 160 lbs. The choice of traditional models is even more disappointing when you learn that Levi's used 60,000 body scans from 13 countries to develop the fit system, reports the the Los Angeles Times. The jeans will only be offered in waist sizes 22 to 34, while the average American woman has a 37" waist. I couldn't find what percent of women have a 22" waist, but I'm betting it's far fewer than those with waists larger than 34". So I'm not sure why Levi's chose to pay to make 22" jeans that'll fit a few women rather than 36" jeans that would fit far more.

Another flaw of the Curve ID system is that it only offers three different fits: slight curve, demi curve, and bold curve. I've seen some bold curves in my life, and they didn't look like this. Even the Curve ID tagline is off-putting: "All Asses Were Not Created Equal." You said it, Levi's. Judging by your models, unless your ass is a size 0 to 4, apparently you're not worthy of Levi's Curve ID. Maybe this is why 73% of your customers aren't women.

Facebook and "The Social Network"

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 12:50 PM EDT

 You've probably seen this trailer for "The Social Network," a fictionalized account of the founding of Facebook:

It's hard to take the film entirely seriously. But the New York Times reports that Facebook is worried:

After fretting for months over how to respond, the company appears to have decided that its best bet is to largely ignore the movie and hope that audiences do the same — that "The Social Network" will be another failed attempt to bottle a generation, like "Less Than Zero," and not culturally defining, as it aspires to be, in the way of "Wall Street" or "The Big Chill."

Behind the scenes, however, Mr. Zuckerberg and his colleagues have been locked in a tense standoff with the filmmakers, who portray Facebook as founded on a series of betrayals, then fueled by the unappeasable craving of almost everyone for "friends" — the Facebook term for those who connect on its online pages — that they will never really have.

Mr. Zuckerberg, at 26 a billionaire, and his associates are wary of damage from a picture whose story begins with the intimacy of a date night at Harvard seven years ago and depicts the birth of a Web phenomenon in his dorm room.

By his account, and that of many others, much in the film is simply not true. It is based on a fictionalized book once described by its publicist not as "reportage" but as "big juicy fun."

If "The Social Network" is a stinker and bombs at the box office, Facebook's strategy might work. But it's going to be a lot harder to ignore the film if it is critically—or even just commercially—successful. David Fincher (the director) and Aaron Sorkin (the screenwriter) have certainly made good movies before, and the film is being "rushed into awards contention," the Times reports. The world has changed a lot since the advent of the Internet, but Hollywood still wields vast cultural authority. A well-reviewed, blockbuster movie about Facebook will affect how people see the company, whether it's fictionalized or not. Facebook should be considering that possibility and deciding what to do if "The Social Network" clicks with people. If that happens, the company will have a clear choice: embrace the film or push back—hard. 

One factor that will certainly affect Facebook's decision-making is the film's depiction of its central character, company founder Zuckerberg. I'm curious to see how audiences will respond to fresh-faced Zuckerberg doppelganger Jesse Eisenberg in the lead role. It's hard to know where Sorkin will go with the character. Will Eisenberg's Zuckerberg ultimately prove flawed yet sympathetic? Even if Zuckerberg ends up a through-and-through villain, it's going to be hard to feel too sorry for him. Zuckerberg is a public figure, and the price of fame (and billions of dollars) is steep.

In the end, it's hard to blame Hollywood for being Hollywood. It shouldn't be a surprise that they're making a movie about one of the most interesting companies in the world. And attacking "The Social Network" for being fictionalized is missing the point. "The West Wing" was fiction, too—but it rang true. If Aaron Sorkin can give us a mini "West Wing" in Cambridge, set to the tune of the Internet revolution, it'll be worth the price of Zuckerberg's hurt feelings.

Buzzfeed: Not Aware of All Internet Traditions

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 11:31 AM EDT

Earlier this month, Forbes published a list of the 20 richest rappers. Last week, Buzzfeed's Tanner Ringerud used that list to highlight those rappers' most ridiculous lyrics. Then Andrew Sullivan underblogger Zoe Pollock linked to the post, and it went viral on Facebook and Twitter and stuff. It was definitely clever of Ringerud to combine the Forbes list with ridiculous rap lyrics. But he should have noted (and brought to Pollock and Sullivan's attention) the grandaddy of ridiculous rap lyric sites: Chris Macho and Chris D'Elia's "Snacks and Shit."

Since February 2009 (an eon in Internet time), Macho and D'Elia have exhaustively catalogued and sorted 503 of the most silly, stupid, and inane rap lyrics ever spat. How could you pick Ludacris' "read your whore-oscope and eat your whore-d'oeuvres" over "Let me give you swimming lessons on the penis"? And Jay-Z's "If you shoot my dog, I'ma kill your cat" is good, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original: "No room service just snacks and shit." (Macho and D'Elia: "Honestly, this sounds more like something my dad would say. 'Remember, no ordering room service. It's too expensive. Plus, I brought snacks.'") Anyway, point being: if you liked Ringerud's post, you'll love "Snacks and Shit." Check it out

Review: With King of the Beach, Wavves Abdicates

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Wavves
King of the Beach
Fat Possum

Wavves, the San Diego punk rock outfit led by early-twentysomething skater/slacker Nathan Williams, recently released this LP, its third, to the adulation of critics and fans alike. King of the Beach demonstrates a scrubbing up of the band’s once-abrasive sound, presumably for the sake of maturity and accessibility. And that’s precisely my problem with it.

I take pleasure in feedback- and reverb-soaked music that forsakes lyrical comprehensibility for sheer raw energy—a sound Wavves pinned down in its first two albums. In those recordings, Williams’ voice sounds as though snarled through a megaphone two rooms over, depositing a lot of “Oooohweeeoooohs” and distortions that embody the angst and ennui of a directionless teenager ("No Hope Kids" is a great example). It doesn’t matter what he’s singing about, be it weed, girls, or boredom; what’s important is that his I-don’t-give-a-shit swagger came across in the gestalt.

Songs from the Sunken Battleships of Bloody Wars

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Various Artists
Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939
Tompkins Square

After a mysterious explosion on February 15, 1898, sent the USS Maine to the bottom of Havana Harbor, killing 260 men, the ship's captain Charles Sigsbee wrote a telegram to Washington reporting the incident. The last line read: PUBLIC OPINION SHOULD BE SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER REPORT.

Relations with the Spanish had been deteriorating, and Sigsbee wanted to prevent the US from prematurely blaming Spain for the explosion. But he must have known his request was an impossible one. At the time, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were at the height of their battle for newspaper superiority, and had already been printing sensationalized articles to fuel public animosity toward the Spanish. Sure enough, news of a Spanish attack soon filled the papers. Two months later, Congress declared war.

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Vote for Me! The One Who's Not a Broad!

| Fri Aug. 27, 2010 3:01 PM EDT

Former Mother Jones intern and current Salon.com writer Justin Elliott brings up some good examples of sexism in the race for seats this November. In one, Joe Miller briefly compares opponent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to a prostitute. In another, Ken Buck said Colorado voters should pick him over Jane Norton for the senate because he "doesn't wear high heels." Sexist attacks are nothing new on the campaign trail, though they somehow lack the destructive powers of racist remarks. But what some candidates are forgetting is that sexism is a two-way street.

Ken Buck said he made the remark about Norton's footwear because she had assailed his "manhood" in an attack ad where she said he should be "man enough" to pay for his own campaign spots, and that Colorado should elect a senator who had "backbone enough to stand her ground." Politicians use all kinds of gimmicks pursuing votes, but playing the gender card is a cheap shot, and one that often backfires. The "man enough" comment was indeed sexist, as was Buck's response to it. Norton hit back in this video, but eventually lost to Buck by 3 points last month.

Sharron Angle is another female senate candidate who's shown signs of playing the gender card, and not to her advantage. She said in two interviews that Harry Reid's attack ads were an attempt to "hit the girl." She told the Heidi Harris Show that Reid was bullying her in the campaign, "And he has been doing that to me and what we need to do is say, 'you know Harry, it’s not going to do you any good to hit the girl.'" I have a lot of issues with Angle, but I can't imagine portraying herself as a defenseless girl on the playground will do Angle much good: If you don't want to be bullied, Congress is the last place you should go. I don't think playing the gender card helps female candidates, but I for one would prefer to see candidates of both sexes attack one another based on what's between their ears rather than what's between their legs.

Conspiracy Watch: The Devil Wears Gaga

| Fri Aug. 27, 2010 1:00 PM EDT

The latest installment in our ongoing collection of wonderfully weird (and totally wack) conspiracy theories. Find more Conspiracy Watch entries here.

What kind of sick mind dreamt up the idea for "Telephone," Lady Gaga's 9-minute video potpourri of prison homoeroticism, shameless product placement, and incisive commentary on cell phone reception? A mind that's been brainwashed by the CIA (Or Freemasons. Or Satanists. Or whatever nefarious organization has the capability to plot world domination and come up with a crazy idea like cigarette sunglasses.)—that's who. Yes, it's time for another installment of Conspiracy Watch, our ongoing collection of wonderfully weird (and totally whack) conspiracy theories. 

THE CONSPIRACY: Behind the catchy singles and outrageous getups, Lady Gaga is the pawn in an elaborate Illuminati plot. Looking beyond the surface of her lyrics, videos, and fashion reveals a trove of secret messages and symbols promoting Freemasonry, satanic rituals, and CIA brainwashing. For example, her "Paparazzi" video is a metaphor for how "reeducation by the occult elite" can turn you into a killer robot. Instead of being a savvy image maven, Gaga may be unaware of what she's doing, since her "robotic and slightly degenerate persona embodies all the 'symptoms' of a mind control victim."

THE CONSPIRACY THEORIST: The anonymous keeper of the website Vigilant Citizen, an enthusiastic Canadian symbologist and music producer who has been exposing and analyzing the "transhumanist and police state agenda in pop music," including the work of Beyoncé, Lil Wayne, and Rihanna. He confesses that he likes most of the music he deconstructs: "If people have to go through the trouble of incorporating hidden messages in songs, they will certainly pick sure hits, performed by charismatic artists. If those messages were in crappy songs, they would have no effect at all, rendering them useless."

MEANWHILE, BACK ON EARTH: A superstar clotheshorse who is unwittingly the tool of an evil yet very silly conspiracy...wait, isn't that the plot of Zoolander?

Kookiness Rating: Tin Foil Hat Small Tin Foil Hat Small Tin Foil Hat Small Tin Foil Hat Small Tin Foil Hat Small (1=maybe they're on to something, 5=break out the tinfoil hat!)

Japan's Terrorist-Fighting Dogs

| Thu Aug. 26, 2010 5:24 PM EDT

Japan recently demonstrated one of its fuzziest, toughest terrorist-fighting weapons: dogs. Not just any dogs, dogs specially trained to jump into your car window, grab your gun, and jump back out (see video below). Another dog is trained to disarm terrorists by knocking weapons out of their hands. And as the video shows, these canines take their jobs very seriously. The dogs are part of a demonstration of the Japanese police force's crime-fighting abilities, in advance of the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama. Japanese officials are expecting many protests, similar to those at last year's APEC summit in Singapore.


Japan Prepares for Possible APEC Terrorist Attack
Uploaded by NTDTV. - Up-to-the minute news videos.

Is a Lego Koran Next?

Thu Aug. 26, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

While tea partiers, Muslims, and the feds fret over the "Ground Zero Mosque," one artist has built a religious monument of an entirely different sort.

The world may have been created in six days, but it's taken Brendan Powell Smith more than eight years and $15,000 to create The Brick Testament, a painstaking reconstruction of 4,500 biblical scenes made entirely from Legos.

Below is his version of Genesis 38:9-10, in which Onan sleeps with his brother's wife, tries not to impregnate her, and learns the hard way that Yahweh exacts a significant penalty for early withdrawal:

Photos by Brendan Powell Smith

(For more birth control methods and trivia over the years, check out our "Masters of the Uterus" timeline here.)