Mixed Media

Guess Who's Coming to the GOP Fundraiser?

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 6:18 PM EST

jimmy_camp.gifOne of the GOP hard-hitting political campaign managers in California is a punk musician and one-time druggie who disappears for days at a time running from the police. Said chairman of the state Republican party: "Some of the more conservative (politicos) are taken aback by the tattoos and leather jacket, but that goes away as soon as they realize how good he is at what he does."

If only social conservatives could grant the rest of us the same largesse.

Read a complete (two-part) profile here and here.

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Hip-Hop On the Couch

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 7:59 PM EST

Don't miss Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary on violence, sexism and homophobia in hip-hop, airing tonight on PBS. Including interviews with some big timers -- Mos Def, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Russell Simmons -- as well as a slew of hip-hop insiders and rap fans, the filmmaker goes there, and some balk (like Simmons and the head of BET).
Byron Hurt, a novice documentarian but veteran hip-hop head, calls out his fellow black men asking how the bravado that encourages guns, violence, sexual violence and homophobia is also the pride of the community. Rap artist Jadakiss asks in response, "Do you watch movies? What kind of movies do you watch?" pointing out that what sells in hip hop is no different than what sells in Hollywood: sex and violence. In one scene Hurt asks some unknowns to rhyme for him and all they spit are lines about sex, drugs, killing. He calls them on it and one of them starts rhyming about poverty, and drugs in the community, then stops and says, "no one wants to hear that." And more to the point, no one can get a record deal rapping thusly.
Sexism? Just look at politics -- there's a clip of Schwarzenegger's "girly man" comment illustrating that hip hop is not misogyny's first, or only, rodeo. Homophobia, says Hurt and others, comes in part from the macho over-the-top display of physical dominance in hip-hop that means power, where powerful white men, like say Donald Trump, can hide behind the desk (and hair) and still have power.
Other scenes are set in Daytona Beach at BET's annual Spring Bling and show firsthand the sexism at play, and the disconnect between the music and message. Hurt talks with one white kid from suburbia whose blasting rap from his dad's truck. The guy says he's loved hip hop "since forever, the beginning," identifies with it, then in the next breath refers to Byron and black folks as "colored people." (Hurt calls him on it.)
Hurt is knee deep in this one, expressing his conflicted feelings about making the documentary, feeling such allegiance to the medium, hip-hop being part of him, but also wanting to ask the questions no one seems to be asking.
Indeed, there are lots of questions, for every level of the industry, really provocative stuff. And if you are a teacher, or an educator, or a provider of some kind who has an audience for the film Independent Lens is putting together an educational program to match. Find out more here.

This Just In: Gay Stereotype Possibly Misleading

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 4:26 PM EST

While there's much to love in the Sarah Silverman program (like this and this), I think my favorite characters are Steve and Brian, Sarah's "gigantic, orange and gay" neighbors. Played by writer Steve Agee and comedian Brian Posehn, the couple are a bit hefty, with scraggly facial hair and rumpled plaid shirts, and seem to love video games and, uh, farting, more than Cher and Madonna. This kind of portrayal of gays on television is indeed unusual, and one could argue the show is aiming for the simplest kind of comedy by using the least "gay" guys to play the gay guys; but oddly enough they end up being a pretty accurate portrayal of most of the queer dudes I know. Maybe this is just my bizarro world, but all my straight guy friends are hair-gelling, disco-dancing superfreaks, and my gay guy friends are shlubby geeks. (And I mean all that in the best possible way, guys). Are all the gay dudes just trying to act straight, and vice versa, until everything's backwards, or could the stereotypes be (shudder) wrong?

Just this weekend San Francisco welcomed the International Bear Rendezvous, an "annual gathering of bears and bear lovers." A bear, for the uninitiated, is, according to Wikipedia, a "male individual who possesses physical attributes much like a bear, such as a heavy build, abundant body hair, and commonly facial hair." My apartment happens to be situated on a street between two of the main host bars, and all weekend, buses pulled up and disgorged crowds (herds?) of large, hirsute men. And I'm not sure if this is related, but the distinct odor of garlic fries seemed to waft over the neighborhood as well. Do bears eat garlic fries? Anyway, as I walked up to the subway station Saturday night, I found myself assuming every bearded, baseball-cap-wearing, chubby guy I saw was heading for the bear festivities, until I realized: no, these are probably just, you know, Americans. Are Sarah Silverman and my neighborhood portents of a near future in which gay stereotypes are so mixed up nobody gives a damn any more, or are we just so deep in the subculture we can't see straight any more? Either way, I could really go for some garlic fries.

Towns Launch Cold War Over Who's More Inhospitable

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 2:21 PM EST

This week's crazy intellectual property showdown: International Falls, Minnesota, and Fraser, Colorado, are in a spat over who legally owns the title "Icebox of the Nation." Fraser reportedly gave IF permission to use the title, which it trademarked. But then IF let the trademark lapse, and Fraser has filed to get it back. Part of the reason the towns are claiming to be the most inhospitable place in the continental U.S.? It's a great marketing tool: Fraser renamed its main drag after the antifreeze company that gave residents a free supply one year, and Goodyear once provided snow tires for every car in town. This spat is reminiscent of the 13-year fight over the title "Surf City," one of many examples of IP overkill MJ collected last year. Can't they just settle this with a snowball fight?

Breaking News: Britney Shaves Head, Gets Tattoo

| Mon Feb. 19, 2007 2:17 PM EST

Was she just drunk, or, after dispatching Fed-Ex, has she decided to bat for the other team?

More likely the former than the latter, but no one knows for sure. Britney is reported to have grabbed the clippers from the aghast stylist's hands and chopped off her girly locks herself. And a series of sketchy reports places Brit in and out of rehab.

Maybe she's making a statement about how little she has to do to be mobbed by the press. Or how absurd conventional notions of beauty are? (One fan who stood outside the tattoo parlor while Britney got inked told the camera crews also on the spot, "Her head is completely shaved. It looks terrible.") Or maybe Brit's just gone from imitating Madonna to imitating Sinéad O'Connor. Congress, watch out!

Dog Parts Deemed Too Hot for School Libraries

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 6:55 PM EST

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Susan Patron's book, The Higher Power of Lucky, won the prestigious Newberry Award—meaning, it's a really good children's book.

No matter, librarians across the country are refusing to put it on the shelves.

That's because one of its thousands of words is "scrotum." Which is weird, but not worthy of a ban. The protagonist of the book overhears a conversation about a dog being bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. She then endeavors to understand the meaning of this strange word. After all, she's 10 and naturally curious about things adults won't explain to her.

But librarians are refusing to stock the book because they don't want to have to explain the word to students.

Let me help: when boy dogs aren't fixed, it's the thingy that hangs down between their back legs.

We're not even talking about human parts, here—we're talking about dog parts that are out in the open for the world to see. Kids might see dog scrotums at such time-honored kid hangouts as the park. Do they not ask there what they are? I mean, isn't talking about body parts in an utterly non-sexual way the best way to introduce soon-to-be sex ed-aged students to the strange ways of nature? Or should we banish all anatomical words from the language since, clearly, it's the words not the parts themselves that inspire young people to have sex?

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Ghost in the Machine?

| Sat Feb. 17, 2007 4:23 PM EST

Brian Flemming, an ex-evangelical and director of the film "The God Who Wasn't There," mounted the Blasphemy Challenge in late 2006, asking rational people to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit via YouTube.

In a famous video, a young girl proclaims, "I know that the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, God, the flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, all of these made-up entities do not exist."

Naturally, the religious right is pretty upset. So now Mike Mickey, the Web master for RaptureAlert.com has cleverly introduced Challenge Blasphemy.

Mickey is concerned that some of the young people enjoying themselves as they rise to the Blasphemy Challenge will later be afraid to turn to God because of their great videotaped sin.

It seems the existence or non-existence of God will also be debated over the mysterious, wireless, omnipotent internet.

Al Gore Teams With Snoop Dogg to Fight Global Warming

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 2:12 PM EST
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Al Gore's anti-global warming/entertainment juggernaut continues. Gore, in conjunction with the Microsoft Network, just announced Live Earth, a series of Live 8-style worldwide concerts on July 7. Proceeds will go to found "a new, multi-year global effort to combat the climate crisis." (Yeah, but only after Ticket Master gets its cut.) The lineup includes Pharrell, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Snoop Dogg, Lenny Kravitz, and Bon Jovi, to name a few. (No word on enviropunks Green Day yet, but Snow Patrol will also be rockin' to protect the glaciers.) And before you shell out for tix, get up to speed with our recent coverage of climate change.

Tonight: A Documentary on Melvin Van Peebles

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 10:27 PM EST

How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It) is premiering on the Independent Film Channel at 9 p.m. tonight. It's a biographical documentary on Melvin Van Peebles, who grandfathered blaxspoitation films with Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song in 1971, and has created 11 other films and seven plays in his career.

This film is a fascinating look at the indomitable creative force who pulled off Sweet Sweetback all on his own, as producer, director, writer, financier, and actor. Even though he could open the show in only two theaters, it grossed more than $10 million, more than any independent film at that time.

"I wanted a movie that black people could walk out of standing tall," Van Peebles explains. "I didn't see the type of movie I wanted to see so I made it myself." How he has done so again and again, despite all odds, is what this documentary shows best.

In the making of Watermelon Man about a white guy who wakes up black one day, Van Peebles recounts that the studio wanted him to turn the man back to white in the end. But such a happy ending would have made the black experience seem like nothing but a bad dream. He half-agreed to shoot both ways, but when the producer called up asking for the white ending, Van Peebles told him, "'Dang I forgot to shoot that.' That's how we ended up with it the way I wanted it."

Van Peebles was not just a filmmaker, but also a groundbreaking artist in many genres. "There were no songs that mirrored the black experience. I felt the black experience had been hijacked musically to simply being rhythm, beat and melody, and the words were getting lost. That's when I invented a style that used words to carry the melody." Those songs had an early influence on rap, says Gil Scot-Heron.

Some lyrics: "Frown, you hostile/ Smile, you a Tom / Look tired, you on junk / Stumble, you drunk."

Turning racist expectations inside out has been the essence of his best work. And maybe his sense of humor. He says he used to keep a spray-bottle of watermelon fragrance on hand for "liberal" friends. "They would walk into the office and say, 'Gee, Mel, what's that smell? It smells like umm…umm…cantaloupe! They were too afraid to say 'watermelon.'" He provokes you to think, hoping you'll eventually think differently.

Brit Awards Conspiracy?

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 5:07 PM EST

Lily Allen, the up-and-coming reggae-pop singer whose recent show at the Great American in San Francisco I thoroughly enjoyed (and, full disclosure, DJed before), was snubbed at the Brit Awards last night in London. Turns out she had predicted in advance that she wouldn't win a single trophy and blamed record industry politics, telling MTV UK that because the voting juries were made up of "industry insiders... predominantly from Universal," she wouldn't win, since she's on EMI. Music blog Stereogum did some math and added up how many of the Brit awards went to Universal artists: a somewhat eyebrow-raising 61%. Hmmm.

So of course one can't help but wonder: any conspiracies back here in the States at the recent Grammys? Well, I did some math and added up basically all the pop and jazz categories, although I didn't include the random gospel and Norteno stuff because I got tired. Out of the 56 categories I tallied, the results were: