Mixed Media

Oops! Sometimes, We Fag Hags Just Make Things Worse

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 11:07 AM EDT

It's been so long since I hit the clubs that I didn't know women were choosing gay bars for their bachelorette parties. When I first read about the pheomenon today, I thought: Brilliant! I shudda thought of that, though my own was from rowdy (by choice). What a great idea! Turns out, not so much. 

Not only are women getting drunk and handing out the same kind of pawings they passed on hetero-bars for, they're (we're) just rubbing salt in the wounds of our fellow citizens who can't marry. From the Chicago Tribune (via Salon's Broadsheet):

"The women are a hoot, and some can be just delightful," said Geno Zaharakis, the owner of Cocktail, a gay bar on North Halsted Street. "But because not everybody can get married, watching them celebrate, it's such a slap in the face. Prop 8 just reopened the wound."
Zaharakis told me that Cocktail stopped hosting bachelorette parties a couple of years ago when he noticed his gay patrons weren't just complaining about the women being minor irritants but about them "flaunting" their right to marry. So Zaharakis hung a sign on the front door of his establishment that says, "Bachelorette Parties Are Not Allowed."
If that message isn't resonant enough, he offers a written statement: "Until same-sex marriage is legal everywhere and same-sex couples are allowed the rights as every heterosexual couple worldwide, we simply do not think it's fair or just for a female bride-to-be to celebrate her upcoming nuptials here at Cocktail. We are entitled to an opinion, this is ours."...Indeed some gay men and straight women have a friendship that's reminiscent of the old television show "Will & Grace." And many men make the distinction between their "girlfriends" who frequent gay bars and are sensitive to the marriage issue and other women who are merely seeking good music and "go-go boys" (translation: nearly naked male dancers) for a bachelorette party.
"We appreciate that these women are not homophobic and … want to party with us," said Jens Hussey, a gay man who's in a four-year relationship and worries about being able to make medical and other decisions regarding his partner. "But with all that's going on [in] the media about us not being able to marry, are [these women] willing to march with us or raise money with us or work to change somebody's attitude to help us get equal rights?"

Just goes to show, no matter how well-intentioned you might be, there's always something to be learned. I wouldn't have given a second thought to attending a bachelorette party at a gay bar. I'd try to talk them out of it now. Sorry guys.

On a different point though, in my younger days I did hit the gay bars with gay friends and did indeed enjoy the go-go boys. But I never wondered if they'd rather not have to 'tend' to the female guests, many of whom were quite...uninhibited with them. I gave my gay friends the bills to 'offer' to the dancers but lots of women don't. From what I understand, female 'dancers' don't mind tending to women clubbers.

I'll have to call "my gays." I don't have as many as Kathy Griffin, but I got a couple that'll do.

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How Clean Energy Ruined "Watchmen"

| Sat Mar. 21, 2009 11:38 PM EDT
I just saw Watchmen and—spoiler alert!—it kind of sucked. But not just for the obvious reasons (it's based on an impossible-to-adapt comic book; it's terribly acted, pointlessly violent, and infuriatingly shallow; and it ruins a great Leonard Cohen song). It was awful because it turned an unnecessary subplot about clean energy into a major plot point that's the foundation of its unsatisfying climax. Bear with me: In the original Watchmen book, we learn that atomic demigod Dr. Manhattan (owner of a hard to ignore, possibly offensive, glowing blue penis) has figured out a way to make mass quantities of efficient lithium batteries, and as a result, by the 1980s, electric cars have made gas guzzlers obsolete. Goodbye climate change! Yet in the movie, electric cars are nowhere to be seen, though we learn that Dr. Manhattan is working with impossibly skinny crimefighter-turned-tycoon Ozymandias (AKA "the world's smartest man") to come up with some new form of vague yet CGI-intensive clean energy. And that's where things start to get really dumb.

March Really Madness

| Thu Mar. 19, 2009 5:52 PM EDT
The Big Dance started today. The week has been a frantic rush to fill out brackets, to winnow 128 teams (there's also a women's tourney going on, people) down to the champions come April. For a break from the careening Dow, people will glue themselves to their screens throughout the weekend watching young athletes try to make up for their schools lost endowments by getting deeper and deeper into the tournament. We'll all hope for a Cinderella story to cling to, to help us believe that miracles are possible. I once played in the dance (and two years later my team made history by being the only #16 seed to ever beat a #1) and for a long time I watched every second of every game, till I wanted to stab Dick Vitale's eyes out (there's only so much Dickie V. one can take). These days I'm more distracted, and much less enamored with the ritual, since it's more commercial than collegial. I'm sure I'll still shed a tear come One Shining Moment (I always do), but for now I am keeping my distance from the sports bars.

If you are too, or if you're a tourney junkie who can't get enough, there's still more fun with  brackets to be had. Check out this Bracket of Evil. Credo Mobile's creation is more of a Sour Sixteen, but it's still fun to consider who's more vile, Ann Coulter or Fox News, AIG or Blackwater? Pick your winners (losers?) and those with the most votes move on to the next round. One glaring omission is Dick Cheney, but that's likely because he'd win the whole thing in a blowout.

New Music: PJ Harvey & John Parish

| Thu Mar. 19, 2009 4:46 PM EDT
It's hard to believe that it's been 16 years since English rocker PJ Harvey's Rid of Me shared a "for my walkman on the bus ride to work" cassette with Nirvana's In Utero. That was a good tape, if a little emotionally rough for 7:30am. I was going to say that since then, Harvey's never quite reached for the explosive energy of early tracks like "50 Foot Queenie," and this track opens with a mellow tempo and languid guitar riff, but then the chorus kicks in with devastating lyrical candor and melodic tension, and I'm not so sure. "I'd like to take you to a place I know," she declares, as the guitars rear up behind her, "my black hearted." There's a Sonic Youth-y balance of melancholy and squealing noise here (thanks to longtime collaborator Parish, who wrote the music) as well as the off-kilter, shambolic rhythm of Pavement's "Rattled by the Rush," but no-one has a voice like Polly, knife-edged and perfect, intoning, "I think I saw you / In the shadow." Aaagh, okay, yes, yes you did, that was me, sorry. Harvey's new album, A Woman A Man Walked By, comes out March 30 on Island. "Black Hearted Love" is on iTunes or listen below.

New Music: Phoenix

| Wed Mar. 18, 2009 5:12 PM EDT
Okay, this song has been available on the French band Phoenix's web site for a couple weeks now, but it's taken a few listens for it to become my favorite tune of the moment. "1901" kicks off with a bit of Bloc Party-style dramatics, big synth-y bass notes and echo-y radar blips acting all spooky and stuff. But it gets more complicated, the dark underpinnings supporting a song that quickly becomes joyful, ecstatic even. The lyrics don't give anything away—the chorus' repeated line, "Falling, falling," seems to contain both senses of the word, "head-over-heels" and "from a great height." This mixed up combination of emotions doesn't really have a name in English, I don't think, but it's all too common: a tossed salad of ecstasy and agony, nostalgia and contentment that a lot of great pop-dance-rock music seems to inhabit, like LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends," Silversun Pickups' "Lazy Eye," Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)." Phoenix's "1901" may be too much plain old fun to enter that pantheon of greatness, but right now its three glorious minutes feel like the first sign of spring. Listen and download a high-quality (hooray!) 256 kbps mp3 of "1901" as well as the multitrack files at the band's web site, or listen to a YouTube stream below. The band's new album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, will be out May 25. Phoenix - "1901"

SXSW Dispatch: Gadflies, Meet Beekeepers

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 10:49 PM EDT

Sheerly Avni is a film and culture writer guest-blogging for Mother Jones from Austin's South by Southwest Festival. Read her first and second dispatches.

First They Came For the Bees

The Last Beekeeper, a moving 66-minute documentary that follows a year in the lives of three professional beekeepers, was never intended as a commentary on the recession. But it's difficult to watch these three very different Americans struggle to make it, and not think about how many other people in the country are suffering the same defeats, regardless of their professions.

The American dream at its best is predicated on the belief that hard work, honesty and passion will bring you success, or at least survival. What the beekeepers discover, in Montana, South Carolina, Washington, and California, is that the dream is a lie.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking protagonist is stoic Brian, who hides his pain and financial losses from his wife. It's a scene almost certainly being replayed in countless homes across the country. The film doesn't push the allegory, but it doesn't need to: It's not just the bees who are dying.

Borat on A Budget: The Yes Men Dream of Better News

"If a few people at the top can make the bad news happen, why can't a few people at the bottom make some good news happen?" —The Yes Men Fix the World

Fans of The Yes Men will be pleased to know that the activist prankster collective, fronted by charming shape-changers Andy Bichibaum and Mike Bonanno, have followed up their WTO-lampooning first film with a series of outrageous pranks that make "An Immodest Proposal" look like the New Deal. No spoilers, I promise, but just imagine if you could do this for a living:

  • Drive down the stock of a global corporation (if only for an hour or two)
  • Inject FEMA with a conscience
  • Introduce a revolutionary new alternative energy fuel.

Not bad for a day's work, or even five years of after-hours backbreaking toil. Although the film suffers from too much padding and a clunky narrative frame, it's still good inspiring fun. The Yes Men are committed gadflies, not auteurs, and as DIY agitprop (The Yes Men Fix the World was made on a modest $1.2 million budget), this sequel offers up inspiration for the weary and elevates practical jokes to the level of impractical, impassioned optimism. 

Whether "representing" DOW, FEMA, or the dreams of Joe Public, the Yes Men's antics are predicated on their explicit, stated belief that they are not playing hoaxes. Instead, they are giving us brief glimpses of what the world might look like if decency and common sense prevailed.

NB: Fans of Borat on a bigger budget will be pleased to hear that Bruno's sneak peak was received with raves and raucous cheers. For more on Bruno, and other highlights of SXSW, go to David Hudson's excellent blog on IFC.

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Correction: No Brown/Rihanna Duet

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 4:51 PM EDT
Ugh. See, this is what I get for breaking my rule not to talk about the Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal. Turns out my post last week citing a Reuters report that Rihanna had recorded a "love song" duet with boyfriend and alleged batterer Brown was incorrect, thank whatever deity or scientific principle you subscribe to. People (I'm quoting People in the Mother Jones!) has it covered, saying that it's all a big misunderstanding: Brown and Rihanna worked on a demo earlier in 2008, vocals to which apparently just recently leaked online, causing everybody to go into a tizzy. So, score one for, you know, sanity. My apologies for being that annoying blogger guy, just re-posting other stories for their shock value that turn out not to be true. I hate that guy! I promise to post lots of stories about cool up-and-coming bands this week to try and make up for it.

New Music: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 4:33 PM EDT
While Pitchfork's positive (8.4) review compared this New York band to Ride and Peter Bjorn and John, all I can think of when I see their unrepentantly verbose name and hear their strummy, melancholy, addictive tunes is The Smiths. Actually, the delicate, often-buried vocals mean I suppose this can be called "twee," but unlike the cutesy Belle and Sebastian, there's substance and strength here. There's the driving rhythm of "Young Adult Fiction," the Hacienda beat of "Stay Alive," and the Bowie-like skip of "A Teenager in Love." While lead singer Kip Berman has none of Morrissey's penchant for drama, he does have the Mozzer's ability to find the most interesting, ear-pleasing notes, counterpoints to the major chords that surprise at first but then seem utterly natural. To anyone who lived through, I dunno, 1988, this sound may feel so familiar it may seem like a carbon copy of a long-forgotten album. But to me, it's a a glorious renewal of a lost thread in rock music: a band that uses understatement to soar. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's self-titled debut album is out now. MP3s: "Come Saturday," "Everything With You" After the jump, the video for "Everything With You"

Ditka 237, da Russian Bear 3: Ambassador Iron Mike

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 2:30 PM EDT
In honor of St. Patrick's Day President Obama announced Dan Rooney, the Irish-American owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as ambassador to Ireland. The merger of professional football and politics is a promising one, and Obama should look closer to home when naming his official envoy to Ukraine. Being from Chicago, Obama knows that if anyone should be our man in Kiev, it's Iron Mike Ditka.

Ditka, who is of Ukrainian descent, ushered in the gilded age of the Chicago Bears. He's one of two people to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. He runs a chain of self-named restaurants, dabbles in California wines, launched resorts in Florida, and works as a sports commentator. If anyone could tackle the challenges of running an embassy, it's Ditka. As SNL's Superfans remind us, who wins in a fight, Ditka versus god? Trick question—Ditka is god. 

SXSW Dispatch: Garbage Dreams

| Mon Mar. 16, 2009 5:35 PM EDT

Sheerly Avni is a film and culture writer guest-blogging for Mother Jones from Austin's South by Southwest FestivalRead her first dispatch here.

Part Two: One Man's Garbage Is Another Man's Prayer

The best way to introduce the documentary Garbage Dreams is to introduce one of its three protagonists, a young Egyptian named Adham, who addressed an adoring crowd last night during the film's post-premiere Q&A.

"I had to quit working when I was eight," he said through a translator. "I had to drop out of school at age 8 to help my family. I was ashamed of my job as a zaballeen. But after I attended The Recycling School, I also learned computers, health, and hygiene, I became very proud of my profession, and I realized that my job is as important as a job or doctor: If the zaballeen do not collect the garbage every day...cities will stink."

Adham is one of Cairo's 60,000 zaballeen,  garbage collectors who eke out a living gathering, sorting, and recycling 80 percent of the cities' waste. Until recently, their profession afforded them a modicum of economic security, if no real chance at social mobility, but as the city has turned to subcontracting out collections to foreign companies, the entire community has suffered. Director Mai Iskander spent several years following the struggles of three remarkably charismatic boys—now young men—fighting to protect their trade, all under the careful guardianship of a teacher at The Recycling School, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the young zaballeen, academically as well as professionally.

With no preaching, no lazy text placards, and a deep faith in the boys' ability to tell their own compelling story without comment, Iksander offers up a gripping account of what it means to fight for the right to work with honor, as well as introducing you to three young men you'll not soon forget. The future of their profession may be in danger—as well as their vision of all garbage as, in their own words, "a gift from God"—but this movie could help save it. 

Look out for a particularly striking sequence set on a visit to a Wales recycling factory—with Ahmad serving as both enthusiastic tourist ("Cars here stop to let you cross the street!") and skeptical pro ("No precision," he sniffs, watching shards of broken glass make their way down a conveyer belt to a landfill).

See indieWIRE for an interview with the filmmaker. 

In my next dispatch: cultural shifts in the workplace, take 42. "I guess you'll find me when you want to get wasted."—parting words of Cinematical's managing editor Scott Weinbergto two of his bloggers.