The Riff - February 2009

World Press Photo winners announced

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 1:09 PM EST
The World Press Photo winners were announced today! One of the most prestigious photojournalism awards, this year's top prize went to Anthony Suau, for his photograph of an armed police officer moving through a foreclosed house. He shot the photo in March 2008 for Time.

Anthony Suau for TimeAnthony Suau for Time

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Finally, Candy Makers Market Directly to Women With Food Issues

| Fri Feb. 13, 2009 12:01 PM EST
The hot pink press packet that arrived at the office promised that "Your boyfriend doesn't need to know." What doesn't your boyfriend need to know? Well, that you eat chocolate, of course. That's between you and your "chocolate finger," as the marketing copy termed the two Twix-like bars being rolled out in the US by Mars under the name "Fling." (The candy's been out in Australia since 2007.)

In addition to tapping into the under-utilized market of paranoid heterosexual women whose eating habits are monitored by their boyfriends (it's a well-documented fact that lesbians hate candy), Mars has shrewdly incorporated sparkles into an advertising campaign that relies heavily on women's love for the color pink. (Fling's website is a tidal wave of the color, punctuated with silhouettes of short-skirted, high-heeled Fling aficionados, one of whom appears to have a handbag falling right out of her vagina.) While it's a given that women are more likely to buy things when they are pink, such as tools and cars, sparkles are oft ignored. It's not just Fling's website that sparkles, but the bar itself. "The shimmer," reads the FAQ on Fling's website, "is actually a [sic] FDA approved mineral called Mica, that shimmers and is used occasionally by specialty chocolatiers to add a unique and attractive sparkle to gourmet chocolate." Popularly known as Vitamin S (for Sparkle), Mica is also used in makeup, and in toothpaste, where it acts as a mild abrasive that helps whiten teeth. Yum!

Predictably, one of the hot selling points for the Fling bar is that "at under 85 calories per finger, it's slim, but not skinny. Indulgent but not greedy. Naughty but nice." In other words, the candy perfectly straddles the contradictions of the angel/whore dilemma in a way its intended female consumers never will. The bars were even promoted in Australia with a 2007 television commercial in which a princess bids a morning adieu to her prince in what can only be read as a post-one-night-stand kiss-off, before shutting the door and gobbling up a Fling. "Forever is overrated," warbles a flock of cartoon birds. While it's tempting to embrace the commercial as a sign of society's acceptance of sexually empowered women, it's even more tempting to wonder why the only reason one ever sees a woman on-screen go unpunished for her libidinous ways is when someone is trying to sell women something. The commercial hasn't been attached to any of the US marketing, but the ad copy is just as suggestive. The PR packages that went out to media outlets contained sheer T-shirts that read "Try It In Public," equating the act of women consuming sweets in front of other people with being as taboo as committing sex acts in front of them. Couple this with the oppressive pinkness of the campaign, and one is left wondering when marketers will figure out that in order to make women buy things, they do not have to, literally, shove sparkles down their throats.

Vatican Brings Back Indulgences

| Thu Feb. 12, 2009 8:24 PM EST

From the New York Times comes news that the Roman Catholic Church is allowing indulgences again. The revelation compelled the Times to write this improbable paragraph:

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

Madonna, Bon Jovi, Springsteen Made Big Bucks in '08

| Thu Feb. 12, 2009 5:38 PM EST
Billboard magazine has ranked the top 20 biggest money-makers in music this year, and I assume they don't mean, um, the body part one is supposed to shake. No, no, they mean musicians who've made the most dollars, or, more likely, euros, and maybe even rubles, in 2008. Madonna topped the list by a wide margin, earning a total of over $242 million, with rockers Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen just about tied at $157 and $156 million, respectively. Not surprisingly, says Billboard, touring is your best bet for the big cash these days, and every performer on their top 20 list had major tours this year. But perhaps more surprising is the apparent gap between album sales and tour income: Madonna's 2008 album, Hard Candy, was only the 50th-best-selling of the year in the US. But that didn't stop concert-goers, as her continuing "Sticky & Sweet" tour grossed nearly $230 million, not including the $18 million worth of tour merchandise sold. Jeez, and I'm stoked when I get 50 bucks for DJing. Anyway, the full list of the most immune-to-economic-woes musicians after the jump.

Song of the Day: RH+ - "Curb"

| Thu Feb. 12, 2009 4:54 PM EST
Hmm, are the folks at Nacional Records sure they didn't mix up their publicity photos? From what I see here, the members of RH+ look like three slabs of rough-and-tumble, smokin'-hot Chilean beef, complete with elaborate facial hair and tough-guy shades. But the single "Curb" from the Santiago combo's debut album Quintana Roo has the delicate, dream-pop style of Scandinavians Royksopp, lead by the high, clear vocals of what sounds like an innocent young lady. Did she not show up for the photo shoot, or is one of these hunks actually a castrato? Okay, okay, joking aside, there's actually a propulsive solidity to this track, and while I'm not sure if there are any strains of traditional Chilean sounds here, "Curb" does remind me of classic Brazilian psychedelia, with its hypnotic combination of silky vocals and buzzy melodies. Listen to it by pressing the "play" button on the thingy below or grab an mp3 over at the RCRD LBL site.
[Update: Okay, their label Nacional assures me that in fact, RH+ is a five piece with a female singer and one other guy, and that RCRD LBL just cut them out of the publicity shot for some reason. Well, it made for a funny post, at least...]

LOST: Please Tell Me They're Not in Purgatory

| Thu Feb. 12, 2009 2:54 PM EST
The title of last night's LOST episode should have been a giveaway: "This Place is Death." But I'm hoping to Hurley the island-bound Losties are not in limbo, or in purgatory, or just plain old dead because the show's creators promised they wouldn't be.

That sinking feeling aside, some really interesting information is helping progressing the series toward a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. We now know the smoke monster used to guard a temple inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs, the same glyphs seen when Desmond's hatch computer was allowed to time out. The Egyptian symbols, together with Charlotte's Tunisian Dharma Initiative research, and the slave ship the Black Rock, gives this season a bit of an African flavor, but it's hard to tell what the link is between Africa and the island.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Joaquin Phoenix Gets All Fawcetty On Letterman

| Thu Feb. 12, 2009 3:35 AM EST
Joaquin Phoenix went on Letterman Wednesday night, ostensibly to promote his new movie Two Lovers, but it was his combative, monosyllabic appearance that made news. The Walk the Line actor seemed to get perturbed that the audience didn't take his hip-hop career seriously, just about got in a fight with Paul Shaffer, and stuck his gum to Dave's desk, in addition to being all shades-and-beardy. Honestly, I try to reserve my Riff postings for actual, somewhat serious arts and culture news (and French techno tunes I think are awesome), but this really must be seen to be believed. Is he doing a shoot-the-moon, Andy Kaufman bit, or is he just trying to burn up his feathers and nest so he can emerge anew? Only time, and the new J-Pho album, will tell.

The Latest Obama Hope Poster News

| Wed Feb. 11, 2009 2:31 PM EST
It's been a busy couple of days on the Shepard Fairey iconic Obama Hope poster (IOHP) front. Some quick updates:

• Shepard Fairey got arrested in Boston. Yawn. Just the cost of doing business when you're a radical street artist sticking it to the Man.

• Mannie Garcia, the photographer who took the photo that Fairey used in the IOHP says he owns the image, not the Associated Press. And he doesn't care that Fairey used it. Garcia: "This is not just some artist who ripped something off. It’s more unique and more complicated than that. This is about the 44th President of the United States. I am not going to do anything to subvert this presidency.” Whoa—if Obama's success really does rest on the fate of this poster, we really are in trouble.

• And now Fairey is suing the AP. Fairey's lawyers say the IOHP was not a rip-off but rather a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning."

Sirius XM Prepares for Possible Bankruptcy

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 8:25 PM EST

Sirius XM, the satellite broadcaster who only recently combined their previously-competitive channel offerings and cut a whole bunch of the popular stations, suddenly has an even more uncertain future. The company is preparing for a possible bankrupty filing, which "could come within days," according to the New York Times. However, this may just be a crazy high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with EchoStar/Dish Network bigwig Charles Ergen, who controls a whole bunch of Sirius' bulging debt. Ergen would apparently have to make a formal offer to purchase the company sooner than later if he wanted to avoid the bankruptcy mess, so it's kind of like Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin (formerly in charge of former Party Ben employer CBS awesome radio!) is saying pony up or watch us go bye-bye. Gutsy!

New Orleans Mardi Gras Offers Mad Stimulus (Plus: a Killer Cocktail Recipe)

| Mon Feb. 9, 2009 6:59 PM EST

You really want to stimulate the economy? Quit whining and start partying. Need inspiration in these dark and gloomy economic times? Join the Krewe du Vieux, New Orleans satirical marching organization, as they jump start the Mardi Gras season with floats themes such as the “Salute to Trickle Down Economics” and “Investments in Stocks & Bondage.” The rest are just are just too titillating to mention. The group is known for raunchy floats: think giant sperms and lady parts. Mardi Gras season officially starts with the Krewe du Vieux parade today and climaxes (yes, I said it) February 24.

And keep this in mind: Louisiana is one of three states in the country that recorded job gains, not losses, in December, so they must be doing something right.