The Riff - June 2009

Video: Bollywood for Beginners

| Thu Jun. 11, 2009 1:46 AM EDT

Hindi cinema, long dismissed by the West as melodrama with a soundtrack, is the largest film industry (by volume and global popularity) in the world. Those so inclined can laugh, cry, and swoon their way through three hours of lush scenery, arch comedy, and catchy music in theaters across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Bloc, not to mention Canada, the UK, and the borough of Queens.

So why have so few Americans ever seen a Bollywood movie? If you're daunted by the prospect of sorting through 900 films per annum, consider this your beginner's guide to Bollywood.

Below, a 5-video cheat sheet of what to see first.

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Video: 50 Cent's New (Spanish) Single

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 12:49 PM EDT

Absurdly popular rapper 50 Cent has a new single out, but you've probably never heard it. And if you're watching MTV or tuned in to Power 106, Hot 97 and Wild 94.9, you probably never will. 

That's because 50's new collaboration isn't with Timbaland, the Game, or Lil' Wayne, but Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel. And it's in Spanish.  

50-Cent is one of a growing cohort of American rappers flocking to the Carribean (and New York) to record with established artists like Daddy Yankee (whose English remixes sometimes land him on MTV), Wisin y Yandel, Zion y LennoxAventura, and Luny Tunes, purveyors of the Carribbean's infectious blend of rap, dancehall, and bachata, called Reggaeton. Never heard of 'em? Well, get yourself an education, courtesy of some of America's most popular rappers:

Reforming The Webby Awards

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 5:59 AM EDT

I'm not griping about Tuesday night's Webby Awards simply because MotherJones.com, winner of 2005 and 2006 Webbys for Best Political Blog, wasn't even nominated this year. I'm griping because I don't think that the awards show is headed in the right direction.

First, it's not televised. The result is that awards nominees don't get the same attention that Broadway performers (at the Tonys) or even sound technicians (at the Oscars) do. Why can't web awards be a full-fledged red carpet event? With Tim Gunn tactfully commenting on Arianna Huffington's poor taste in dress, or kooky Joan Rivers telling Kevin Drum that his wife looks great, even though he has actually brought his cat Domino as his date?

Fill Recession-Era Potholes With Legos

| Tue Jun. 9, 2009 2:27 PM EDT

The broken-window theory has a helper in these lean times for cities across the land: Legos! Yes, another reason to love the timeless plastic construction pieces: Industrious folk are filling cracks and holes in buildings with colorful lego randoms in Berlin. Very cool. Next up, giant legos in potholes? Watch out, KFC!

Could the Clemson Scandal Kill USNWR?

| Sun Jun. 7, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

Last week, Clemson University admitted to manipulating U.S. News and World Report's college ranking system. The scandal was embarrassing for Clemson, but it also put the magazine on the defense. Not a great place for a publication to be these days. So what does this mean for the future of USNWR?

By some measures, the magazine is not doing particularly well. In the beginning of 2008, it had  lower sales than the other two leading newsweeklies. In June of 2008, the magazine's publishing schedule went from weekly to biweekly; by November it was down to monthly. 

Death knells for USNWR? Probably not, for one simple reason:

LA's Retailers Get Religion

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 8:00 PM EDT

Woody Allen's lawsuit against American Apparel figurehead Dov Charney may have settled for a cool $5 million last month, but Charney is far from the only LA-based retailer proselytizing to the masses. Allen's bizarre episode with Charney left us with more questions than answers. Not the least of which is: what does דער הייליכער רבי actually mean?
 
According to my Yiddish-speaking friend Menachem Yankl, the phrase printed on the billboard of Mr. Allen (see left) is actually a reference to the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, erstwhile leader of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement. For those of you who don't live in Brooklyn, Schneerson's likeness is plastered across buildings and hung over baby carriages from Crown Heights to Jerusalem and his millions of followers believe he's the messiah. Charney explains:

"Along the top of the billboard were the words "Der Haileker Rebbe," written in Hebrew letters. This is Yiddish for "the highest level, extra-holy Rabbi," of which there is only one in the worldwide Hasidic Jewish Lubavitcher community."

Huh? Is Charney some kind of closet Hasid? Is American Apparel planning a new line of frumi ankle-length black skirts to go with that Too-Short Metallic Micro-Mini? Maybe the Tel Aviv store has the inside skinny. 
 
At Forever 21, Jesus Hearts You Too:
Chatting with the Changs, the super-private, devoutly Christian, South Korean couple behind discount clothier and mega-mall staple Forever 21 (headquartered in LA's Garment District) is so tricky that not even the New York Times can do it. Fortunately, you don't have to look far to find out exactly how the Changs feel about Christ: Printed on the bottom of every neon-yellow shopping bag is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Gee, thanks. Can I have my $2 tank-top now? Honestly, if they loved the world, they'd use biodegradable bags.
 
In-N-Out Burger—Serving Christ (With That) for 60 years: 
John 3:16 also appears prominently at the popular West Coast hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger, whose diner-style decor and Animal-Style fries have delighted generations of high school students since it first opened east of downtown LA in 1948. The verse is printed along the bottom of your Coke—but the Bible references don't end there. 
 
Milkshakes feature Proverbs 3:5 and Double-Doubles (two patties with two slices of cheese) are swaddled in Nahum 1:7. Perhaps oddest of all, all your hamburgers and cheeseburgers reference Revelation 3:20, which reads: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
 
Hungry for more? Although LA is ahead of the pack, the home of sun, smog, and religious zealotry isn't the only place where faith and fast-food cross paths.  We've also heard tell of Bible versus on Alaska Airlines dinner trays, VeggieTale Happy Meals at Georgia-based Chick-fil-A, and Christian coffee cups at New England donut purveyor Bess Eaton. Know any more retailers with a small-script faith agenda? Tell us about it in the comments.