2011 - %3, October

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Henry Rollins: Photojournalism as a Blunt Object

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

In the years since the iconic SoCal punk band Black Flag's 1986 break-up, former front man Henry Rollins has toured college campuses with spoken-word performances, hosted radio shows, honed his acting chops as a white supremecist on the AMC series Sons of Anarchy, and campaigned against homophobia and hunger. He's also spent years traveling the globe to observe the devastation wrought by what he calls the "backhand of capitalism." On those trips, he began carrying a camera—first a simple point-and-shoot, later more professional equipment—and compiled a collection of "some amateur's travel images."

That candid assessment of his visual artistry, curiously, is printed as part of the introduction to Occupants, the latest of Rollins' several books, but his first foray into photojournalism. His snapshots span eight years of journeys across the Middle East and Southeast Asia, China, India, and parts of Europe and Africa. They are alternately bleak (a crying infant crawling on bags of trash in Indonesia; an old man who may or may not be alive covered in flies in India), hopeful (kids laughing while playing in the street in Bangladesh), and coldly opulent (Saddam's abandoned palace in Iraq and another palace very much in use in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia). 

The PR materials tout the book as "photojournalism at its best," but Rollins is undeniably correct in his self-critique: These are simple shots taken with an untrained eye, and his early point-and-shoot photos are of such low resolution that they don't even fill a quarter of the page. Not wanting to appear naive or self-serving, Rollins explains in the introduction why he still published them: "I thought it would be pretentious to release a book that only had photographs. My fear was that someone might think this was a vanity project...So I decided to write something for every photograph. I would look at the photograph and see where it took me."

President Bartlet on President Obama

| Mon Oct. 3, 2011 2:05 PM PDT
President Bartlet of The West Wing, as played by Martin Sheen.

As Barack Obama continues to frustrate many of his most ardent supporters, liberals have found themselves casting about of late for a modern-day champion—a new FDR, or Teddy Kennedy, or—dare I say it?—Josiah Bartlet.

Quick-witted, media-savvy, and unapologetically liberal (check out his evisceration of an Ann Coulter look-alike radio show host here), The West Wing's President Josiah ("Jed") Bartlet provided diehards an alternate reality from the nightmare of the Bush administration. Since it first aired in 1999—wrapping up in 2006—the show has spawned a cottage industry of fan sites and message boards.

But nowhere does the spirit of The West Wing live on like Twitter, where enthusiasts role-play under the names of their favorite characters, including the chief of staff, White House counsel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and even the press secretary's goldfish. And as on screen, none holds a candle to the snark and sheer force of the POTUS character himself.

The creation of a self-described "struggling writer who was having trouble writing in character" in his late 20s, @Pres_Bartlet has racked up 23,000 followers in its 15-month, 12,000-tweet existence. Besides serving as a go-to source for timely West Wing references, @Pres_Bartlet has emerged as an internet cult figure, above all, for saying what liberals wish their real-life president would say.

Take his response to President Obama's December 2010 deal with the GOP to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, in which the president decried Republican negotiators as hostage takers: "I'm not an expert or anything, but I'm pretty sure when someone holds people hostage and demands a jet, you don't give them the damn jet." That tweet caught the attention of one follower, Rachel Maddow, who cited it approvingly on her show a couple nights later.

Despite his often biting criticism of the president, the twentysomething behind the tweets—who remains anonymous to, you know, preserve the mystique—has a lot of sympathy for the Oval Office's current occupant. When I asked him over Gchat whether his shtick was borne out of frustration with Obama, he replied, "Actually, no. I think that some of the more popular tweets have come from that feeling, but that wasn't how it was born. Being POTUS is a hard job."

Sexist Chart of the Day: Demi and Ashton Are Splitsville

| Mon Oct. 3, 2011 10:35 AM PDT

For the Best Titles of Press Releases Ever file, see this one, received today by a fellow MoJoer: "Scientific Reason for the Ashton and Demi Breakup according to a Cougar Dating Study Conducted by WhatsYourPrice.com." And there's a chart, which we've included below.

WhatsYourPrice.com is pretty much what it sounds like: A dating site based on the idea that every man and woman has a potential market "value" in dollars, depending on their age and attractiveness and some other stuff. It's even more soul-crushingly exploitive than it sounds, but more on the company in a moment. First, dig their "scientific" dishing on Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, celebrity lovers whose age difference has long enthralled Hollywood paparazzi, and whose coupling is now supposedly threatened by infidelity.

AshtonDemiCougarCubChart