Mixed Media

King of Pop Dead, News Arc Shifts in His Wake

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 6:30 PM EDT

Clearly Michael Jackson will leave his mark. He might not on those young enough for whom their memories of Jackson are of a bizarre Neverland, of a baby hanging out a window, of a bed inappropriately crowded with children. But those of us who lugged our boom boxes to school to play "Thriller" and "Beat It" on cassette tape during recess, we are the ones who know the impact that the troubled but absolutely brilliant artist had on our lives. Still, since Jackson's brilliance changed music, he'll leave tracks on anyone who's every moonwalked, breakdanced, or rhymed in the cadence and pitch that made him, well, the King of Pop. Anyone who grooves to an iPod, you have Michael to thank somehow.

On a less eulogic note (and there will be oh-so-many retrospectives), this news is already rocking the headlines and leaving everything else (even Farrah) in its dust. As Andrew Sullivan points out, there goes cable coverage of Iran. And now Mark Sanford doesn't have to worry about gracing the cover of any of the weekly tabs. He and his too-much-information emails can fade to black now (and we don't even have to worry about whether it's okay that the governor of South Carolina doesn't know the difference between a whirlwind and a "world wind").

Favorite Michael song of all time? "We are the World" was iconic, the whole Thriller album had the dance beats ("PYT," "Human Nature," etc.) people still cling to, but my pick is "Man in the Mirror." Maybe because to me it feels most ironic, and most honest.


Advertise on MotherJones.com

Burger King, Carl's Jr. Remind Us: Burgers = Sex, Duh

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:50 PM EDT

Two sexy burger ad revelations today. First, the burger-as-blow-job Burger King ad burst onto the scene, second, The Hills' Audrina Partridge becomes the latest scantily clad lady to make love to, I mean, to lustily eat a Carl's Jr. burger. In the ad, that started airing today, Partridge pretends to eat a ginormous pineapple burger while lying on a beach in a bikini, alternately resting the burger on her toned tummy. The tagline: "More than just a piece of meat." The ad sends exactly the opposite message of course. Partridge, just like Paris Hilton and Padma Lakshmi before her, has every right to chow down on this burger, but to suggest they all do so on the regular is just silly. To make women envious, and men horny, well, that’s advertising for you.

The fine-print on this choice Burger King ad:

Britney Spears in Holocaust Movie?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

From the Department of Oh Noes: Britney Spears, whose pre-shaved-head acting debut in Crossroads blew us away, is now allegedly “in talks” to star in a movie involving the Holocaust. And time-travel. And, sigh, L'amour. Here's the reported deal: the movie is called The Yellow Rose of Sophia and Eton, and the protagonist is a young woman named Sophia LaMont who creates a time-machine and goes back to the 1940s. She meets an undoubtedly hot if skinny young man named Eton. The hitch? He’s a concentration camp prisoner! Oh no! And he’s Jewish, but that’s not as much of an issue as the whole “imprisoned by Nazis” thing. What will Sophia and Eton do? Will their love survive Hitler’s evil scourge? Well, no. See, the star-crossed lovers zip out of WWII, but when they get to the future (and this is where it gets weird) they are THEN killed by Nazis.

Predictably, Jewish advocates and organizations are not happy about the casting, or the film itself. "In films that deal with the Holocaust, the script should be carefully chosen and the cast picked with care," Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in Der Spiegel. "It is reprehensible to combine the issue of the Holocaust with Britney Spears in an attempt to secure financing for the film…" Yes, it is reprehensible. It's also probably not a good idea to combine time-travel and the Holocaust in a film. Or if you do, at least get some appropriate talent (Natalie Portman?) and for goodness' sake, don't let the Nazis win.

Hulu to Steal 'Right' to Free Content

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

I love TV, but don't have cable. So the news recently that Hulu, the free television website hosted by NBC and Fox, could soon charge for content hit me pretty hard. Asked earlier this month whether Hulu would charge customers, NewsCorp’s chief digital officer Jonathan Miller responded, "the answer could be yes. I don't see why over time that shouldn't happen."

Hulu's final move on charging for content could decide the future of online media. As the viability of print sources becomes more and more unrealistic, and advertising revenue continues to fall, online television channels, magazines, and newspapers will be faced with a similar question: Charge for content and risk losing customers and advertisers, or keep content free and suffer inadequate advertising revenue to maintain traffic.

Either way, I just can't stop thinking about all the quality (and not-so-quality) television that I will miss out on if I don't subscribe (which might not be realistic on an intern's paycheck). Below are some of the shows that I will miss the most, covering what I believe to be the spectrum of essential Hulu genres.

  1. Battlestar Galactica. Get your nerd on watching the 70s version of the best modern space-related show on Hulu. The site also has the most recent 5 episodes of the new and improved series. Watchable? Yes for 2004 series, absolutely not for 1978 series. Also Enjoy: Star Gate SG-1, Lost in Space
  2. Arrested Development. Hulu is the only site I know of with all three seasons of one of the oddest sitcoms in history. Watch to prepare for the upcoming movie. Watchable: Only if you don't die laughing. Also enjoy: The Office, 30 Rock.
  3. Late Night Comedy. Catch full episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Watchable? Yes, but they aren't uploaded until the next day, which takes away from the late night charm. Best before work, at lunch, or around 4 pm, when quitting time is almost within reach. Also Enjoy: Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian.
  4. WWE Monday Night Raw. No full episodes, but Hulu delivers with nearly 300 clips of action, all performed by hilariously bad, massively built actors. Watchable? No! Ridiculous question! Also Enjoy: Friday Night Smackdown. But, really?
  5. Miami Vice. Police were weird in the 80s. If things still ran this way in Miami, we'd have way bigger problems than potentially paying for online TV. Watchable? Undecided. Also Enjoy: The A Team, Airwolf.

At the end of the day, it's unrealistic to feel entitled to free online television. Somewhere along the line, though, internet users began to think that all content available online should be free. First came Napster, and music listeners all of a sudden felt entitled to free music, regardless of the economic impact it had on artists. Then newspapers and magazines transitioned online and universally struggled to find a working online business model. Finally, television channels and media organizations began providing their content online. And before we knew it, free TV felt like a universal right. Unfortunately, it's not. And if Hulu decides to charge its viewers, then newspapers, magazines, and online radio stations will likely follow close behind.

"Torture": The Song

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 6:32 PM EDT

Nearly two decades ago, lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh and composer Jan Hammer wrote a ditty called "Torture" for a Star Wars musical that never came to light. The tune was supposed to be crooned by a robot controlled by Darth Vader. Instead, it's being released to lament the robotic torture policies controlled by Vader's doppelganger, Dick Cheney, for Friday's U.N. International Day in Support of Torture Victims and Survivors.

Today, the words ring eerily true. Sample lyric: "For you it's just a pain/For us it's justified/But you're too self-absorbed/To see it from our side."

Watch the song's YouTube treatment—set to creepy old cartoons—here:

New Tupac Album to Drop, Some Things Will Never Change

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:36 PM EDT

Well, Death Row Records has done it again. After declaring bankruptcy earlier this year the label is back in action, and another Tupac album is anticipated for 2010. How does this still work? That 13 years after his death people are still clamoring for his albums? For starters, Tupac, for better and worse, shaped today's hip-hop. And because Tupac—while he had lots of issues—was honest and prescient in his lyrics, so much so that his songs continue to tell the story of the day 13 years after his death. In fact, my one-year-old niece is a Tupac fan. She listens to Tupac ("Ooo ooo child, things are gonna get easier...") right alongside Free to Be You and Me, and I'm glad that when she understands the line in Changes, "We ain't ready to see a black President," she'll wonder what he meant. But unfortunately the rest of his classic ballad still holds true today, right down to the war on poverty and the war in the Middle East.

Maybe if Tupac were still alive he'd have gotten sucked into The Surreal Life or I'm a Celebrity... or some other awful reality show, which would mean he likely wouldn't be the Tupac people still admire, the rapper who made his life (and through creative Dr. Dre marketing, his death) about injustice and candor.

Got any favorite Tupac lines? "They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor"; "Do what you gotta do, but know you got to change/ Try to find a way to make it out of the game"; "Time to heal our women, be real to our women / And if we don't we'll have a race of babies / That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can't make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one."

Lyricize in the comments.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Your Intifada: Now Made in China!

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 4:34 PM EDT

Oh, the keffiyeh hipster trend. How long have I waited, in vain, for you to die? Once upon a time, the keffiyeh (spelled many ways but worn only one) was headdress for PLO leader Yasser Arafat and symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Now, thanks to a late aughts explosion of popularity, the symbol of intifada is second only to the Che t-shirt for its global ubiquity and collegiate rebel chic. Today, you can buy this fashion juggernaut from half the street vendors on Earth for a cool five bucks. So with all this popularity, why is the the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine about to go out of business?
That's because the one you're wearing (and, increasingly, the ones Palestinians are wearing) are now made in China.
Here's how it happened: Back in '87, during the first intifada, intifadniks couldn't get enough of Palestinian-made $25 scarves. Looser export restrictions meant that Israelis could rep them too, and slowly but surely the scarf and its emblematic pattern began appearing in the West. By the time the second intifada happened in 2000, hardcore activists and the super cool already had them. Then the keffiyeh trend reached its tipping point, and hipsters' insatiable lust for the scarf lured Chinese manufactures into the gig. Fast forward a decade, and Chinese keffiyehs are the norm.
Ironically, global support for Palestinian-statehood-as-fashion-accessory has put yet another nail in the coffin of the Occupied Territories' beleaguered economy. What's next?

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:51 PM EDT

Most activists combat current threats to justice, but last Friday, at a private screening in San Francisco, the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell demanded activism by revealing an egregious historic omission: women's central role in the Liberian peace process. The film has been touring festivals since 2008 and has racked up a few awards, including Best Documentary at Tribeca. Its producer, Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Walt, heard about the Women's Peace Initiative in 2006, when she was in Liberia "like a typical American do-gooder who didn't really know much of anything." As it turns out, neither did the rest of the world.

The story goes like this: Since 1980 Liberia had been in and out of brutal civil wars, mainly between the leader of child-soldier battalions, Charles Taylor, elected president in 1995, and rebel groups. As fighting approached Monrovia in 2003, Leymah Gbowee began organizing women in her church and in neighboring Muslim communities to stage a protest. Eventually, there were two thousand women sitting for days outside Taylor's offices, holding signs demanding peace. When Taylor finally agreed to speak with them, Gbowee gave a statement requesting that he immediately engage in peace talks with the rebels. He conceded. Gbowee then sent two delegates to Sierra Leone to convince the Liberian warlords to come to the talks. Skeptical and unimpressed, they agreed.

As a hundred Liberian women sat outside the peace hall in Ghana, war raged back in Liberia. International media picked up on the talks when Sierra Leone indicted Taylor for war crimes. Taylor fled back to Liberia, leaving the warlords to plan a transitional government. The women had been sitting outside every day for six weeks when they got news that the American embassy in Monrovia had been hit by a missile, killing several members of their families. Spurred into action, Gbowee sent for reinforcements, and the women physically blocked the rebel leaders from leaving the hall before making progress.

It worked. In less than two weeks, an interim government was established and war subsided. Charles Jackson, a Liberian journalist who now lives in the U.S. and was in Accra at the time, told me he thinks "without the women, there would have been no peace agreement." Yet no major news networks covering the peace talks or Taylor's indictment showed the women. Because of this, much of the film's 2003 footage came from hand-held cameras used by the women themselves. Disney found one box of film that a local TV channel had abandoned being used to keep open a window at a Ghanian NGO.

Back in 2006, Disney was surprised when the story of these women became more real the deeper she investigated. She expected the narrative to turn out to be false or an exaggeration—that it would "just puff away and disappear." But it didn't—and Pray the Devil, which is concise and stunning to boot, has now made sure that it never will. 


Music: Mirrors, Something That Would Never Do

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 3:56 PM EDT

The cliché goes something like, "Not many people saw the Velvet Underground, but everyone who did, started a band." Count the Mirrors among that select few who fit the cliché.

Formed in 1972 Cleveland, the Mirrors were one of the Ohio bands that—like Electric Eels, Styrenes, and Rocket From the Tombs—creating the embryonic goop that evolved into or influenced some of the best Punk and New Wave bands, ever. (Like Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, and Pagans).

The Mirrors wear the Velvets' influence well, with some songs tending to the slower, lo-fi, jangly side—more Loaded-era VU—and others mining arty, experimental depths. While they were around, the Mirrors had a 40-minute freakout jam called "Sweet Sister Ray" which they said was a sequel to VU's "Sister Ray." That one's not included on the album. It's probably a song better experienced live, and possibly best experienced under the influence.

At the same time, early Syd Barret-styled Prog Rock can be heard creeping through some of the songs. It's a less freaked out sound, but still noodles through some killer, exploratory guitar riffs. The Mirrors also nail the basic, essential garage rock pounder.

As disparate as all that sounds, the Mirrors' sound has the singular, syncopated roar of a Ford 355 engine (known as the Cleveland).

Not as bent as the Electric Eels ("I'm So Agitated!”), nor as throttling as Rocket from the Tombs, the band filled a void among the Cleveland pre-punk scene. It's a sound that at the time was slowly crawling up through the cracks of music, as heard in other obscuro-bands like Simply Saucer (Canada), the Twinkeyz (Sacramento), or X_X (featuring former Mirrors members). But it showed up in less obscure bands, too—like the Modern Lovers (led by Jonathan Richman) and Red Krayola.

This 15-song album collects the two Mirrors songs originally released in 1977 as a 7" on Hearthan records, in addition to tracks from the incredible Those Were Different Times compilation of Cleveland pre-punk (Scat Records), and material from the Hands In My Pocket CD (Overground Records). Everything was recorded during the Mirrors brief apex, 1974/75.

Make no mistake, the new, vinyl-only Mirrors reissue on Violet Times is a record nerd’s record: a beautifully packaged, limited, vinyl-only release, by a band time forgot. It shouldn't have to be that way.

Ordering information on the Mirrors' Myspace page, or try your friendly independent record store/mailorder.

"Wife Camp" for Canadian Girls

| Fri Jun. 19, 2009 3:25 PM EDT

Can your ten-year-old daughter talk to diplomats? Hold her own at a cocktail party? Put guests at ease with her easy charm and natural grace?


Sounds like someone is in dire need of manners camp. Macleans ran a story yesterday about a new two-week etiquette camp for ten- to 14-year-old girls in Montreal. The program description from the camp's website:

A unique program designed to offer your child a memorable summer while they develop confidence, social charm and grace, a sense of style and refinement. Participants will learn an array of skills from social etiquette, personal presentation skills, personal grooming and care, choice and co-ordination of attire, reception planning and hosting, to singing and dancing, Students will also be introduced to selected disciplines of music and fine arts (such as painting, and piano). At the end of the event, participants will host a cocktail reception for their parents to celebrate the results of their efforts in a real-life setting.

Understandably, feminists are fuming. (A sociologist interviewed by Macleans quipped, “It might as well be called Wife Camp! Is Betty Draper happy on Mad Men? No! She’s miserable!”)

But camps like this one are nothing new. A Google search for "etiquette camp" turns up a bunch of results, my favorite of which is the Courtesy for Kids camp offered by the North Carolina-based Pinky Toes Party Palace, which includes the ominously named lesson "Eat, Drink, and Be Wary."

But what makes the Montreal one particularly troubling—to me, at least—is the arts thing. Manners, poise, personal presentation—not my idea of summer fun, but all sort of useful skills, I guess. But what, then, are we to make of the painting, piano, and singing components? A Jane-Austen-ish arts-as-party-tricks line of reasoning? Ugh.

The good news: If manners camp isn't your kid's thing, take heart. If she has a special interest, be it Scientology or Ted Nugent, rest assured there's a camp out there for her.