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

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Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009
Now that Jennifer has packed her knives and gone, who will be the next Top Chef?

On the first part of the Top Chef finale, which aired on Bravo on Wednesday, December 2 (and which will re-air about fifty times between now and next Wednesday), the final four chef-testants (love it) were narrowed to three, and I for one was sad to see Jennifer depart.  Like many viewers (the show is achieving record-high ratings for the network), I have been captivated by the current season, and I was sorry to see, in an otherwise male-dominated season, the last female contestant eliminated, especially given the misogynist comments of several cast members (Eli and Michael, particularly).


So now it’s time to place your bets… who will take the title of Top Chef?  Who will win the 125K and the… kitchen equipment?  A bunch of stuff from Macy’s?  A photo spread in Glamour?  I usually fast-forward the part where they explain the prizes.


Anyway, here is where I will be putting my money:


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Monday, Dec 7, 2009
This episode was played really well -- and played pretty close to the race line. Neither have iconic images as old as the archetypical bi-racial character in Imitation of Life, the 1959 classic with the tragic mulatto, nor has the sheer election of Barack Obama pressed Americans to tackle the race question head on. In the thick of those two eras stands a time when television seemed to have more gall around "difference".

In this episode of The Jeffersons, the tragic mulatto speaks out, embodied in Jenny’s brother who drops in for this episode to trace out the race line more acutely than George Jefferson in his taunts towards the bi-racial couple upstairs, the odd, old-world neighbor. The show regularly shores up ratings via those slapstick/teachable moments when George, Louise, or their maid Florence falter over the class line—they’z done moved on up. Into this steps the half-blood neighbor’s kid returning home from life beyond this culture’s particular color line, and what he says is phenomenal.


According to Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum, the tragic mulatto “is the antithesis of the mammy caricature” who knew her place on “the bottom rung” of the gender, race, and class hierarchy in America. Moreover, in the system of slavery, mixed-race slaves as cotton and tobacco pickers of North America were considered “pure Black”, whereas the cane cultivators of the rest of the New World established a wider, more nuanced racialized gender and class hierarchy. Whatever the case, this new racialized body of the mulatto was ripe for subordination into the sickest of racist fantasies: “All slave women (and men and children) were vulnerable to being raped, but the mulatto afforded the slave owner the opportunity to rape, with impunity, a woman who was physically White (or near-White) but legally Black.” Ferris State’s comprehensive website corroborates an oft mentioned opinion expressed by my own grandfather—a former sharecropper from Alabama—who dismisses the mass worship of fair skin, dismissing tragic mulattos as “symbols of rape and concubinage”. Much of the tragedy around which pop cultural portrayals of mulattos inevitably rotate around tropes of sexual exploitation, and a lack of understanding and acceptance of one’s ordained place in society. It is here where The Jeffersons attempts to dislodge this common portrayal and open up public discourse to own own fantasies rather through allowing the mulatto to speak directly on these issues.


Tagged as: the jeffersons
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Friday, Dec 4, 2009

If ‘80s cartoons like ThunderCats, Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man can be said to have one thing in common, it’s that none of them withstand objective scrutiny. If you can still claim to enjoy these or most any other animated series from the ‘80s on anything but the most ironic level, then your nostalgia is far more durable than mine.


To be fair, though, the aim of such shows was simply to sell toys, and in that regard they were indisputably triumphant. Not a single show among them was produced with the expectation that stunted weirdos like me would still be pondering their legacies two decades later; no writer or animator could have possibly anticipated such artistic accountability while preparing the latest episode of Silverhawks.


Still, to cite ThunderCats again, while no reasonable person expects an anthropomorphic lion in a powder blue unitard to seem as cool in 2009 as he (inexplicably) seemed in 1985, I know that I am not alone in feeling disappointed that even the animation in these old shows now seems clunky and inconsistent and mostly embarrassing (He-Man is something of an exception, in that Filmation cut so many corners and relied on stock poses and the like to such an extent that the animation, though minimalist, remains fluid and organic to some degree).


Tagged as: bionic six
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Thursday, Dec 3, 2009
When you look at your Tivo queue, what do you really see?

Can we take one second here and remember life before Tivo? In some ways, things were much simpler. If a show was on and you wanted to watch it, you watched it. If you wanted to watch it later, you stuck a tape in your VCR and maybe, if you were really, really serious about things like this, you learned how to program it (although most people just hit record and hoped for the best). Sure, there were some advanced features toward the end (and I’ll be honest—at one time I had four TVs in four different rooms with four VCRs attached to them… a story for another day), but for the most part, life was simpler.


However, now we have Tivo. And Tivo is no longer a new and strange entity—my mother has Tivo—so I am not going to waste time listing the many ways in which life with Tivo is superior to the barbarism of the VCR era. Tivo not only does away with the need for physical tapes, but it also provides various methods to categorize the shows that you have recorded. You can categorize by series, by genre, by channel, by date… but that is just not quite enough. What I propose is a system that gets at the real categories of items on my Tivo. Because when I click on my Tivo menu and look at my list of shows, here is what I see…


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Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009
Set an end date. Save the show.

For the last few seasons, Heroes has lost viewers at a steady rate. If it was on any network other than NBC, which seems to have less concern for ratings success since the Jay Leno experiment, its cancellation would be all but guaranteed after another drop this year. But the show still has fans. Despite being frustrated by the ill-defined characters and incomprehensible plot twists, I’m one of those who has watched the show from episode one and plans to stick with it to what is increasingly looking like a bitter end.


There is still hope to salvage the show for the diehard viewers. But it will require that NBC cancel it first. 


This is not unprecedented, of course. Lost is about to start its predetermined final season. A couple of years ago, the producers and ABC got together and decided how many more episodes were needed to wrap up the show. Such collaboration and scheduled cancellation should be the new industry standard for serialized mythology shows.


Tagged as: heroes, lost, nbc, tim kring
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