Tagged: Culture

News, nihil obstatrics, and gynecommodity

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In the gossip-driven feeding frenzy that keeps alive the tawdry tale of rising and declining wannabe John Edwards (now with video), the New York Daily News wins quip of the day :

Hunter had been hired by the Edwards campaign to videotape the candidate’s movements, but this one is said to have shown him taking positions that weren’t on his official platform.

The commodification of sexual scandal is nothing new, of course, and in times like these more than ever the media are motivated to regard as "news" whatever will maximize sales.  Thus, there's a regrettable tendency to spew rather than eschew.

What's cheapened in yellowing press, beyond the players' tattered reputations, is a factor arguably worth conserving: the vitality of sexual allusion as a literary device.

For some of their puissance, these worthy tropes depend on indirection– a wink, a nod, a knowing glance.  But in a cultural milieu where everyone seems to say entirely too much altogether, and where even the king is in the altogether, it's hard for prose to play allusively without seeming turgid.
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Didgeridoo and Multiculturalism Too

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Both Patrick and I have blogged about the limits of multiculturalism — about the fact that something is not admirable simply because it comes from a different culture.

Today's example: Didgeridoos. You know, didgeridoos. A publisher in Australia came out with a book called The Daring Book for Girls encouraging girls to do various things that I guess are "daring" in the context of a culture that still encourages most of them to play with bright plastic dolls. In a not to multiculturalism, one of the things girls were encouraged to do is to learn to play the Didgeridoo, an Australian aboriginal instrument.

Big trouble.

But the general manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, Dr Mark Rose, says the publishers have committed a major faux pas by including a didgeridoo lesson for girls.

Dr Rose says the didgeridoo is a man's instrument and touching it could make girls infertile, and has called for the book to be pulped.

. . .

I would say from an Indigenous perspective, an extreme mistake, but part of a general ignorance that mainstream Australia has about Aboriginal culture," he said. "We know very clearly that there is a range of consequences for females touching a didgeridoo, it's men's business, and in the girls book, instructions on how to use it, for us it is an extreme cultural indiscretion."

Dr Rose says the consequences for a girl touching a didgeridoo can be quite extreme.

"It would vary in the places where it is, infertility would be the start of it ranging to other consequences," he said. "I won't even let my daughter touch one…. as cultural respect. And we know it's men's business. "In our times there are men's business and women's business, and the didgeridoo is definitely a men's business ceremonial tool."

Leave aside, for a moment, whether multiculturalism should compel us to respect views that noisy hollow sticks are magic. Why should we respect the sentiment that girls should not play the didgeridoo? Just because it comes from another culture, which we are bound to respect under the rubric of multiculturalism? We wouldn't respect a sentiment from our culture that girls shouldn't do something because it is unfeminine or a province for boys or something. To be perfectly blunt, why should I respect sexism just because it's dressed up in some foreigner's funny hat?

This Is Exactly Why I Keep Getting Spam From Dominos and Cuervo

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The odd thing about Cracked is that buried in with the boob and fart jokes are nuggets of genuine trenchant social commentary. Albeit social commentary involving boob and far jokes. It's been that way since I read it as a third-run competitor with Mad a quarter-century ago. This time, in The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future, Cracked manages both funny and genuinely unsettling as it discusses and skewers the increasingly intrusive information gathering and marketing techniques used against us, and how they reduce our privacy. Good show.

"Bullshit!" some of you say, "I'm an iconoclast, I'm hip and I reject your mainstream culture! You can't market to me."

Actually, your attitude makes you a member of a very lucrative and sought-after marketing segment. Just ask the makers of Jones Soda and Converse Chuck Taylors, they'll tell you where the money is.

Sci-Fi Convention Proves Titillating

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Look, I'm in complete agreement with the theory that women's breasts should not be objectified or made mythic, and that a great many gender inequities and social problems could be reduced if men could be conditioned to get past the bodily fixation and maintain eye contact.

I'm just pretty sure that this laudable goal is not best accomplished by encouraging Sci-Fi convention attendees to ask women for permission to grope them.

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Screwtape Acquires An iPod.

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He listens to it at his office in the United Kingdom's Ministry of Culture.

That is why Margaret Hodge, Britain’s culture minister, expressed such negative sentiments about The Proms recently. The Proms is an eight-week summer season of orchestral classical music that takes place in Britain every year, most of it at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Hodge had nothing to say about the musical experience of listening to performances at The Proms. Instead she focused entirely on the audience. She observed that ‘the audiences for many of our greatest cultural events – I’m thinking in particular of The Proms – is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this’. In essence, she was arguing that one should judge the merits of a concert on the basis of who’s in the audience.

The linked article, concerning the state of classical music in Britain, and a feared government assault on bastions of middlebrow culture such as classical music programs at the Royal Albert Hall, is worth reading for anyone who worries about the influence of politics in art, or the state of middlebrow (to say nothing of highbrow) culture in general.  The article includes a horrific incident in which Ms. Hodge praises garbage such as the television soap opera Coronation Street, because lots of people watch it.  All of this is of less concern in the United States, where art has to find its own patrons, but it's a problem here as well.

For those wondering about the title of this post, it's a reference to a character created by that old cultural snob C. S. Lewis, a character who would deeply appreciate Ms. Hodge and her like.

Screw Communal Experiences, I Want a Footrest

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Mark at I Watch Stuff seems to drift somewhat beyond ironic mock-irritation into the realm of genuine scorn in discussing the advent of high-end movie theatres in America.

Australian conglomerate Village Roadshow has begun a 5-year, $200 million venture to create a line of swanky, upper-class cinemas that boast "plush reserved seating, special parking privileges and upscale food and beverage offerings with seat-side waiter service," (no exclusive water fountains?) plus "a 40-seat-maximum patron capacity and an even higher-end atmosphere [than existing deluxe theaters]". But, of course, such luxurious amenities come at a price: an inflated $35-a-ticket price tag, just high enough to keep out the hoi polloi.

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I Want Bruce Willis to Play the Top Hat and Kevin Spacey to Play the Iron

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Hollywood continues to view us as mindless fucking idiots.

Universal Pictures has announced a six-year partnership with Hasbro to produce at least four feature films based on branded properties.

The properties include “Monopoly,” “Candy Land,” “Clue,” “Ouija,” “Battleship,” “Magic, The Gathering” and “Stretch Armstrong.”

I swear this could be an article in The Onion and I wouldn't know it. Old ideas based on old properties? Check. Industry buzzwords combined with feral marketing strategies? Check, check, check:

“This deal gives Universal access to some of the greatest brands in the world,” Shmuger and Linde said in a statement. “Hasbro’s portfolio of products has tremendous emotional resonance with children and adults. They offer an exciting opportunity for us to develop tentpole movies with built-in global brand awareness, which is a key component of our slate strategy.”

Really, where does it end? As the article points out, we've already had a movie based on a TV show that was a vehicle for selling toys. Why not a movie based on Coke? Or Rebok? Or some sort of feminine hygiene product?

The day my kids say "Daddy! Daddy! Can we go see the Candyland movie?" is the day I say "No you cannot — because the people who conceptualized it are soulless vermin. And also because Brad Pitt is totally mis-cast as the Lollypop King."

White People Enjoy Meta

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There's been a minor buzz in some segments of the tubes regarding a blog called Stuff White People Like. The blog is a list — up to #71 as of this writing — of things that white people like and others, we are led to understand, do not. Sushi and bicycles, for instance. Or being the only white person around.

Some of the stuff is banal stand-up-comedy white-folks-do-this-black-folks-do-that. There are occasional flashes of wit, as in this entry on white people liking difficult breakups:

Once breakup proceedings have been initiated, a white person is immediately thrust into the center of attention in their circle of friends. During this time, they are permitted to talk at great lengths about themselves, listen to The Smiths, and get free dinners from friends who think “they shouldn’t be alone right now.”

It is imperative that you do not attempt to kick them out of their misery by saying things like “get over it,” “there are other people out there,” or “I don’t want to read your poem.”

But mostly I'm not terribly impressed. First, as is pointed out in the comments to nearly every entry, this appears to be less a list of things that white people like and more a list of things that twenty-to-thirtysomething urban hipsters like. To the extent it is intended as trenchant commentary on race, it fails on that basis alone. Also, the observational humor about such hipsters is occasionally funny, but not funny enough to explain the odd noises of rapture it inspires in some corners.

That's not to say it's a waste of time. I'm enjoying not so much the smug content, but the comments. There you'll see America's profound ambivalence about race and the discussion of racial issues — the accusations that the blog's central notion is inherently racist, questions about whether ethnic observational comedy is healthy or damaging, and racial generalizations (some no doubt pretend, some no doubt sincere) on the same theme, overt and covert racial hostility. All the neuroses come out to play.

Is it possible that this was the point all along — that the blog is not designed for its rather slight ostensible purpose, but to showcase how people would react? Your guess is as good as mine. But that seems like the sort of thing that twenty-to-thirtysomething urban hipsters would like to do.

Congrats To David On Baroque Potion

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David, a member of this blog, has recently launched what (to damn it with faint praise) appears to be a considerably more literate site than this one: Baroque Potion. There he brings his art history background to bear to considerable effect, posting his thoughts about art and other highfalutin' topics. I've already enjoyed his entries a great deal (especially the one linking an unflattering Hillary Clinton photo to concepts of ancient Roman portraiture), even though my lips started moving as I read halfway through and I have to ask for help on the more academicy phrases like "texts and contexts" from an associate who wears black a lot.

Congrats and good luck to David, and a big recommendation from me for his site for when you are in the mood for a serious and thoughtful read. You never know, if you ask him to talk about the meaning of a particular artistic work of quality, he might even respond. Hint to Ezra: not Thomas Kinkaide. Hint to Derrick: no anime. Hint to Patrick: no black velvet.

And Cousin Oliver Ruined The Dramatic Equilibrium

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Via BoingBoing:

If you were an actor on The Brady Bunch, how seriously could you take your work?

Oh, so very, very seriously indeed.

Without belaboring the inequities of the script, which are varied and numerous, the major point to all this is: Once an actor has geared himself to play a given style with its prescribed level of belief, he cannot react to or accept within the same confines of the piece, a different style.

Yellowface and Asian Portrayals in the Media

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As my kids get older, I've started to think more about the portrayal of Asians they see on television. In most of the stuff they watch, Asians are portrayed very little, if at all, and if they are they are portrayed in "exotic" mode. If Strawberry Shortcake has a Chinese friend visiting, of course she will have a panda in tow.

At least I don't yet have to explain whites portraying Asians to them. This issue came to mind because NPR had a bit this morning aboutYellowface, the new play by David Henry Hwang, author of the brilliant M. Butterfly. The play — which deals with the significance of cultural identity — sounds very interesting; I hope that it makes it to the West Coast some day.

In a similar vein, via Racialicious, I caught Asian Week's 25 most infamous Yellowface performances, including the second part. John Wayne as Genghis Khan was too campy to make Number One, in case you were wondering.