Opening the asylum

Daffy Duck and Robin Williams will never die, not really…

Robin Williams died yesterday, and when I heard the news I immediately thought of this collection of Daffy Duck toys I keep in an old-fashioned hanging bird cage in my basement. I have kept these toys in this way for years, collecting dust in a dark room, locked away like the picture of Dorian Gray.

It’s like I have collected iconographic bits of my own particular madness and put them in a teeny jail, though I have always thought of it as a shrine to Daffy, my God of Insanity.

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Music and Popular Culture

Popular Music Scholarship III: Mixed Tapes – The Use of Technology as Social Protest…

Mix tape culture had to start somewhere, right? Is it possible it started as protest?

Remember these? (image courtesy Wikimedia)

One of the elements in current discussion of how technology is shaping society that is currently damned near worn out and pretty regularly debunked is the idea that the Internet gives artists some significant weapon that they can use against the hegemony of cultural gatekeepers who prevent deserving (in this case one should probably think of “deserving” as a weasel word) artists from receiving their due accolades as the geniuses they clearly are. While it’s true that the occasional genius like Psy or Grumpy Cat rises from the deluge of dreck to show us the way forward, the Internet has mostly been unkind to “content creators” – as artists are known in tech jargon. The people who control the technology have been those who have profited – often wildly – from the frenzy of artistic activity littering the Web.

Hegemony strikes again, it seems. As Mr. Townshend observed: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss….

The protest against cultural hegemony, in the case of this week’s essay from The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social Protest, dates to before the rise of the Internet. In a different take on the idea of protest, author Kathleen McConnell explores the rise and evolution of DIY music culture in the Pacific Northwest in her article “The handmade tale: cassette-tapes, authorship, and the privatization of the Pacific Northwest music scene.” While previous discussion in this series have focused on specific musical genres (metal and Goth)and their elements of protest (which both use technologies as tools of protest), this week’s essay looks directly at how a particular technology (cassette recording and reproduction devices) affected the rise of a music scene. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Sports

The LeBron James story is the future of sports journalism

“Journalism-as-process” is here, for good or for bad, and whether you like it or not

SANDOMIR-master675It’s going on nearly two weeks now since LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland.

So who broke the story?

Well, Chris Sheridan was the first journalist to report that James was going back to Cleveland, reporting it on his website. But Lee Jenkins and Sports Illustrated had the actual story, “written” by James and posted online. Continue reading

LGBT

Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading

Jeremy Paxman vs Richard Nixon: the alternative reality that never was (S&R Honors)

In an alternative universe Jeremy Paxman, not David Frost, interviewed Richard Nixon in 1977.

David Frost became an extremely successful comedian. His tours with Monty Python are celebrated to this day. Jeremy Paxman was newly-arrived in the US from Beirut where his explosive interview style had led to tension within the BBC.

His now infamous interrogation, in 1976, of Étienne Saqr of the Gardiens des Cèdres, whose militia massacred hundreds in Karantina in East Beirut, included 20 minutes of Paxman demanding, “Are you a genocidal maniac?” while Saqr threatened him with a machine gun. Continue reading

CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

Dave Davies’ Kink: rock star same as he ever was…

“There is part of that little boy that has remained with me…. He’s always there to remind me of the endless possibilities that exist in the world, all that life has to offer….” – Dave Davies

Kink by Dave Davies (image courtesy Goodreads)

I bought Dave Davies’ “autobiography,” (it’s really a highly discursive memoir with plenty of digressions) Kink, about a year ago at my favorite used book store. I’d just read a couple of rock books, including a lovely memoir about meeting John and Yoko at the height of their “bed-in for peace” period and earlier I’d waded through a typical “rock bio” book about the Rolling Stones: you know the type, lots of pictures, very little reported that a serious fan wouldn’t already know – or know more about than the author.

Prior to taking up this yearly quest to write essays about all the books I read in a particular year (and, in the process, getting myself lots of recommendations from friends and pleas from fellow writers for book inclusions), I’d read a number of rock biographies and autobiographies, including biographies of The Beatles, Elvis, and Bob Dylan and the recent autobiographies of Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. In the queue for this year I have Dylan’s memoir, Pattie Boyd’s book about her marriages to George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend’s autobiography.

I dig rock and roll music, as the song says…. Continue reading

Media

Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm: Continue reading

Sports Entertainment

Bray Wyatt: birth of a legend?

The WWE has something special on its hands. Will Creative allow a once-in-a-generation talent to flourish?

I don’t know how many of you follow pro wrestling, but if you do, you’re fortunate. Because right now we’re witnessing the emergence of probably the most interesting new talent since Steve Austin discovered the Stone Cold gimmick. I’m talking, of course, about the mesmerizing Bray Wyatt.

Not only is Wyatt (real name Windham Rotunda) maybe one of the four or five best guys on the mic I’ve ever heard (Ric Flair, Austin, The Rock), he’s doing it with what is ultimately a political message. Continue reading

Food & Drink Week

Seven rules for healthier eating

The food we eat is killing us, but there are simple steps we can take to improve our health.

“Eating is an agricultural act.”—Wendell Berry

I have been depressed by, and disturbed by, the increasingly obvious American reluctance to accept science. That’s a pretty broad generalization, of course, but we all know where it comes from—we see manifestations of this every day, from vaccines, to global warming, to, well, whatever. If there’s a plausible scientific explanation for something, and a completely loony one, you just know that a certain percentage of the population is going to be chomping at the bit to accept the loony one.

How did a nation that constantly refers to itself as The Greatest Nation on Earth™ get populated by a surprisingly large number of dopes? Continue reading

Can we get Donald Sterling and Rochelle Sterling and V Stiviano on The Jerry Springer Show?

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this:

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

William Gibson took it a step further. Continue reading

Fargo: new Coen Brothers miniseries is Minnesota mean

Less than a week after TV lost its greatest asshole (spoiler alert) the TV gods have provided us with a new reigning champion: Fargo’s Lorne Malvo.

by James Brown

Billy Bob Thornton’s Malvo is the protagonist of FX’s dark comedy Fargo miniseries. Based on the Coen Brothers film of the same name, Fargo takes different tack than most TV shows based on films (like the ill-fated CBS chase drama The Fugitive or ABC’s Karen or even the excellent NBC drama Hannibal), breaking with its motion picture heritage. Joel and Ethan Coen, the writer/director duo behind the Academy Award winning film, and Noah Hawley (Bones) designed a new tale that indulges the spirit of the original with new characters and another town: Bemidji, Minnesota. Continue reading

Ultimate Warrior dead of heart attack: was he sick on Monday Night RAW?

Jim Hellwig’s appearance on RAW was electric, but he was clearly not in good shape.

I’m stunned. Jim Hellwig, who starred as The Ultimate Warrior for the WWF (now WWE) in the late ’80s and early ’90s, is dead at 54. The timing is remarkable. After years of tension with the WWE, they recently mended fences and on Saturday night he was inducted into the promotion’s Hall of Fame alongside other luminaries like Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), Jake Roberts, Lita (Amy Dumas), Carlos Colon, Bill Moody (Paul Bearer), and Wrestlemania I main eventer, Mr. T. Two nights later he made his first appearance on Monday Night RAW since 1996.

If you were watching, the place went batshit. It was the RAW the night after Wrestlemania, and in many ways that’s the best crowd at any event of any type in a given year. So it was an electric moment to say the least. Continue reading

How I met your premise: HIMYM finale about as real as sitcoms get

Many critics and fans felt cheated by twist in How I Met Your Mother finale. They should feel grateful.

by James Brown

There are three types of TV viewers: the surfers, the passive, and the devotees.

Surfers flip channels and watch anything that catches their attention. Passive viewers want comfort food: dramas that thrill them and sitcoms full of belly laughs. Devotees ask all that surfers and passive viewers want and more. Devotees also ask that those same shows are logical, well shot, acted, written and directed, all the while being original. Those same viewers, increasingly and unrealistically, ask fictional television to reflect and comment on reality. Few hours of television have done all that as well as the much scrutinized and often panned How I Met Your Mother finale. Continue reading

Big laughs, Broad City

Broad City explores typical New York tropes through a fresh lens with hilarious results.

by James Brown

It’s easy to compare Broad City, the latest sitcom from Comedy Central to Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls; their bones are the same. Both series star young, broke, white, twenty-something female characters in modern day New York City, but that’s where the similarities end. Girls is a direct descendant of Ally McBeal. It’s a melodrama that finds laughs (and at times brilliance) in the margins of its characters’ strained relationships. Even its flights of fancy are grounded in a character driven reality. Broad City isn’t interested in any of that. Much like FX’s Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Broad City trades realism for lots of silliness at supersonic speed. Broad City is a live action cartoon worthy of the Road Runner.

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Big-Data

Nate Silver: Geek? Yes. Thoughtful journalist? Bigger yes.

FiveThirtyEight post on disputed climate change story signals commitment to transparency

Yesterday, after reading criticisms of Nate Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight, I thought: Denny, find out for yourself. After all, I am, at least historically, a geek. And, I thought, years of reading his New York Times blog showed me Nate is King Geek and FiveThirtyEight at ESPN would, no doubt, reflect that.

So I read “The Messy Truth Behind GDP Data.” Not bad. Classic FiveThirtyEight geeky on an important topic. But, even through so many pundits and politicos base analyses on flawed understandings of GDP, reading the post was akin to watching paint dry. I tried Harry Enten’s story about Hillary and polling. Egads: So. Many. Numbers. Unfamiliar terms. Headache ensues.

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MH370-path

MH370 infographic in the National Post: the facts are confusing and the reporting is making it worse

The media’s coverage of the MH370 story could benefit from more journalists and fewer infographic designers.

Malaysia-370The search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 continues. Malaysian authorities have now decreed, on the basis of evidence derived from an innovative new data analysis procedure, that the flight ended in the southern portion of the Indian Ocean.

I’m looking at the latest reporting and I’m not going to lie. If I was intrigued before, I’m now downright baffled. We know – or at least we think we know – that the flight veered off course in a manner that certainly indicated active human decision making and control. We know it was headed not northward toward China, as scheduled, but westish, in the general direction of India.

But my perplexity over the facts, such as they are, is only being compounded by the ineptitude of the journalism being devoted to the story.

Take this morning. I was looking over the coverage and map/infographic in the latest National Post story. Ideally, infographics are supposed to make things clearer, but in this case… Well, have a look.

First check out the top section of this map, which shows the track that has become familiar enough to those following the story. Then have a look at the bottom, where they mark the spot that the flight hit the water.

The design staff at the National Post is taking a pretty cavalier approach to geography. (We’ve warned you before about infographics, if you’ll recall.) This one does what modern infographery all too often does – it adjusts the objective truth of things in order to make best use of the available space. As in, you have x number of pixels by y number of pixels – make the world fit cleanly. This makes for a pleasant viewing experience, perhaps, but I’m not sure how well the reader’s sense of what actually happened is served.

To illustrate the point I hit Google Maps and plotted out the relevant points of the MH370 case I’ll let you compare and contrast and draw your own conclusions.

1: Kuala Lumpur, the flight’s point of origin.
2: The point where things went sideways.
3: The location of the last ping.
4: The spot where they say the flight ended – 1500 miles southwest of Perth.

Notice anything odd? As in, how far does Perth look to be from Indonesia on the infographic vs. how far it is on the actual map? Scale? Fuck scale. We only have x pixels, so let’s scooch Malaysia over here a little and move Australia a few hundred miles to the north. Yeah, there we go!

I’d love to see the National Post infographic group’s map of the world. You know, the one where Ecuador is 20 miles south of Omaha.

This works fine, I suppose, in a world where everyone is pretty good with geography and can be counted on to instantly get what’s happening. It’s also no big deal in situations where it’s no big deal. That isn’t the case here, and it even took me a few seconds – because I was trying to parse the fact that the plane wound up making another left turn, apparently – because I stopped and said wait a second – this isn’t right.

Here the infographic actively warps the story. Why? Because if we’re attempting to understand what may have happened to MH370, the infographic fails to accurately convey the scope of the flight. You can look at it and have some questions. But when you look at the actual map, the scale of your questions can’t help but change. A few hundred miles and a few thousand miles – those are potentially different sets of questions, aren’t they?

Thinking Americans have long since given up on journalism, I suppose. I don’t expect stories to be covered in depth. I don’t expect much in the way of insight. Objectivity has devolved from myth into cruel joke. And if someone is bright enough to grasp technical issues, they’re probably also bright enough to land a job that pays better than the scraps your average reporter has to live on these days.

But dammit, is it asking too much for your infographics department (yes, there are people whose jobs are dedicated specifically to developing infographics, because readers like how they can quickly “communicate a story”) that they not actively mislead us? I mean, I expect this kind of silliness out of US outlets, but National Post is Canadian. You’d think they’d be embarrassed to behave like Americans.

[sigh]

I hope investigators find the wreckage. I hope they find the black box. I hope they find an explanation. But I’m not sure I’m optimistic. Right now it feels like the Question-to-Answer ratio is 1:1,000,000. And even if we do get something like a conclusive answer, I’m going to have Sean Paul Kelley’s observation on the trustworthiness of the sources lodged firmly in the front of my mind.

But at the moment, I’d be satisfied if the media outlets covering the story employed more journalists and fewer infographic designers.

The Further Updated 2014 Reading List…

Well, as Sir Francis Bacon tells us, reading maketh a full person..

Even more books (image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)

In spite of my avowal to finish my latest book and against the better judgment of my optometrist, yet again I’ve added to the 2014 reading list and the updated 2014 reading list. Some of these selections have come to me through meeting other writers at book festivals. Others have come through speaking to writers’ groups – and meeting other writers there. And then, of course, there’s my evidently incurable penchant for stopping by bookstores “just to look.”

As always, all of these new additions to the reading list will get their 15 minutes of fame/infamy/nonsense via essay. Sometimes I’ll write about the book; other times I may write about the culture that encourages such a book to exist. Always, I’ll try to offer, like the intro to my hometown radio station WLOE’s broadcast services for the Early Avenue Baptist Church used to say, “enlightenment and edification.” So, on to the additions: Continue reading

Malaysia-370

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: is it doomed to be one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries?

The case of the missing plane is confounding all my attempts to construct a plausible theory, and it’s driving me crazy.

We all love a good mystery. But only if it comes with a resolution. If we can figure it out, that’s ideal. If not, we need somebody else to figure it out and tell us.

Books and TV shows and movies are perfect if you have the mystery Jones because the case is always solved in the end. In real life, we’ve gotten pretty good at investigating and when all is said and done, we usually walk away with at least a strong suspicion as to whodunnit.

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SportCenter’s guide to golf coverage: all things Tiger, all the motherfucking time

ESPN isn’t a division of TMZ, but some days they might as well be.

ESPN-golfI was just watching SportsCenter as I ate dinner. After telling us the good news and the bad news about today’s Lakers/Thunder game (good news: OKC lost; bad news: LA won) co-host Matt Barrie turned to the weekend’s big golf tournament, the Doral. Obviously, the dictates of big time sports journalism meant that he led with the winner guy who tied for 25th. Continue reading