Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Monday, Jun 29, 2009
It's 10 p.m. -- do you know where your teenager is? The parents of NYC Prep probably don't.

On NYC Prep it’s not enough just to be rich.


Taylor, the lone public school student among the private school elite of the new Bravo reality show, would easily be the queen bee in any other corner of the world. But she’s cast in the role of the striver here, the Jenny Humphrey trying to keep up with a group of unfathomably wealthy teens for whom trivial things like credit card limits, curfews and parents just don’t exist.


Taylor and her frenemies cruise from one New York hotspot to another, BlackBerrys surgically attached to their hands. Though one of the girls emphatically proclaims her hatred for Gossip Girl, these kids revel in living out every cliché the fictional series has introduced to the masses.


With his Peter Frampton haircut and husky mumble, Nate Archibald clone Sebastian is a magnet for unsuspecting teenage girls. Just one hair flip and they treat him like a long-lost Jonas brother. PC, Chuck Bass surrogate and real-life step-grandson of the woman who created Sesame Street, provides a tutorial on how this society works: it’s all about money and connections. He’s got them; the rest of us don’t.


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Sunday, Jun 28, 2009

In Doctor Who: The Next Doctor, the Doctor (David Tennant), arrives in London on Christmas Eve, 1851. As the Doctor exits the TARDIS he finds himself in scene out of Dickens. It’s snowing and the happy Londoners are singing carols, roasting chestnuts and doing other wholesome Christmasy things. Fortunately this state of affairs ends quickly when the Doctor notices an ape-like Cybershade running through the streets. Taking up the chase the Doctor meets Rosita (Velile Tshabalala) who happens to be the comely companion of The Next Doctor (David Morrissey).


After a great deal of confusion the Doctors decide to join forces and start to sort things out. They have quite a bit to do. Cybermen are bad news wherever they show up but of course everything is slightly worse in the Victorian era. Finding out what the nefarious schemes of the Cybermen are and thwarting them will be quite a challenge.


The challenge is made much more difficult by the machinations of the fiendish Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan). She runs a workhouse for orphans but that’s just her hobby. Her real passion is to create the Cyberking and help the Cybermen take over the world. She also ruins funerals, shocks the clergy and wastes a good chunk of London before she’s done.


As if this weren’t enough there’s the vexing question of which Who is Who and how this all came about. The Next Doctor has the Doctor’s aplomb and his tools (sort of) but has no memories before he started fighting the Cybermen. Neither Doctor can remember the other so both are quite baffled. Is one an incarnation of the other?


With both the Doctor and the Cybermen forced to use steam-age technology the visual effects are very imaginative with a touch of H.G. Wells. Miss Hartigan is one of the better villains of the series and Morrissey had better watch out because he makes a good Doctor. (The fate of most actors who play the Doctor isn’t that great) The fans of “classic” Doctor Who will find the pace to be very quick and will wistfully dream of what Tom Baker and the old gang could have done with a budget. Everyone else will just enjoy a ripping good story even if it is a Christmas special airing a week after midsummer. But then again the Doctor doesn’t pay much heed to the seasons so why should the BBC?


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Thursday, Jun 18, 2009
Avery Brooks, who fronts Star Trek: Deep Space Nine attended Oberlin College and performed a monologue of Paul Robeson my senior year, at our alma mater’s Black Alumni Reunion. This man is bossy. But DS9 requires a wholly different spectatorship than its fellow franchisees.

As a college student, I suffered from missing the latter few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I had watched as a kid each Saturday evening at 7 PM, without fail. I was the only Trekkie in any household I knew, and was just lucky that folks tolerated this monopoly of the television each Saturday in the prime of prime time. It was not until I reached college that I would find a field and flock of comrades, yet had no time to actually see prime time TV.


Since Star Trek is another apocalyptic fantasy where humanity nearly destroyed itself, in our recovery, humanity has banished money and poverty by extension. This seems to explain the apparent lack of class diversity. Yet, I watch the episodes then and now, and each series reflects a very clear picture of how America projected its dominant caste fantasies concerning gender, race and class at the time.


All other forms of inequality are assumed to have been eradicated alongside most diseases. In the Star Trek universe, however, equality was really a project of assimilation just meant that everyone had some strange fusion, futuristic sense of morality that only differed by planet. It has taken President Obama to call the question of assimilation into question and value difference beyond PC jargon.


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Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009
Each one, teach one goes the ole African adage. This gets reflected in many unconventional ways in Heroes.

Kinship in Heroes


A unique feature of the TV series Heroes is a consistent sub narrative of family. Indeed, most characters in the show are developed through interactions across generations. Healing and suffering, defeat and care, are all demonstrated through family interactions through time and space. In later seasons, adults meet their kid selves and arrive at sense of peace with the loss of loved ones. Yet, it is intriguing that despite the closeness of kin, each heroine and hero is left to discover their own identity in a vacuum of guidance and care, again mimicking a common queer experience.


Hiro, the master of time and space came out to his father, played by original Star Trek bridge officer, and out-spoken gay activist George Takei. Claire the invincible girl comes out to her folks under several incidents of blood-n-gore and supreme duress. Flying man and his omnipotent little brother, come out to each other and their folks only to eventually find out that their parents belong to an entire generational cohort of heroes bent on domination and manipulation.


That older cohort faced trials similar to those of the present-day characters that likewise stumbled upon, clustered in groups, and then betrayed one another. In spite of the interaction, there are few instances where any generation is afforded the luxury of the experiences its elders. This, too, is an aspect of queer culture that is only recently receding to inter-generational mentorship.


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Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009

At first I was afraid/I was petrified


Claire Bennet can heal. Cut, stabbed, scrapped, slashed, electrocuted, diseased, burned, beaten and hurled from high places, the obstacles that this young heroine faces show us that she girl can always bounce back. The only other super-being like Claire in the TV series Heroes lived for centuries and manipulated a major conspiracy to take over the world. Yet, the super power to heal cannot mend the heart. Being different is her constant, imposed strain.


Save the Cheerleader, Save the World


An ongoing theme in Heroes calls ‘fate’ into question. Are we victims of fate, or, are we making history? The answer would seem as plain as the show itself: We manifest destiny. In other words, there are indeed several seasons of the show. The show must go on, and so in the Heroes world, we make history, both in the literal and proverbial sense.


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