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

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Thursday, Nov 10, 2011
Nominally a kiddie series, the TV adaptation of Horrible Histories has a sharp comic intelligence. It might just be one of the most successful original comedy shows to appear in years.

The thing is, the British attitude toward how one might go about teaching history is a bit more… relaxed than most.


Not that this has traditionally trickled down to UK classrooms anymore than it has North American ones; only that it’s not surprising that when the floodgates did finally open, it happened in the land of 1066 and All That, et endless seq.. When once you’ve decided to adopt Rowan Atkinson as a media icon, there’s not much use trying to prevent children learning about the Renaissance from the perspective of a sewer rat.


Thus was enabled the origin story of the best-beloved Horrible Histories franchise. When asked circa 1992 by Scholastic Books UK to write an historically-themed joke book with a few factoids thrown in, British children’s author Terry Deary had traumatic flashbacks to his struggles to stay awake during middle school courses on the subject. Wouldn’t it be much more fun, Deary suggested instead, if he were to write a book of historical factoids with some jokes thrown in…?


As he delved into the ‘serious’ history texts, that quite naturally evolved into lots of jokes—in fact, into the entire grand gold mine of black comedy that is human civilization throughout the ages, just naturally packed full of the kind of bodily-fluid-filled gags that invariably set children to squealing happily. All of it underpinned by the particular sort of shrewdly anarchistic cleverness that the UK media have been on high alert for, oh, just about f40 years now. Hey, “Chapter One: The Dead Pirate Parrot Sketch” has a nice ring to it…


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Friday, Sep 30, 2011
Mainstream culture's failure to examine professional wrestling seriously -- in this case, workplace safety issues -- lets the WWE get away with all kinds of ridiculous villainy that no other media organisation could. And pocket a tidy profit while doing it.

Professional Wrestling may bristle at being marginalised in mainstream popular culture, but the benefits from being seen as a cultural irrelevance (while raking in millions of dollars and marketing all kinds of conservative values to the children – and adults – in its audience) also works in its favour as often as not. Mainstream culture’s failure to examine professional wrestling seriously lets them get away with all kinds of things that no other media organisation could, or should, get away with, and pocket a tidy profit while doing it.


Interestingly, last Monday on the WWE’s flagship show RAW there was an odd development – not the kind of outrageous, overblown sex or violence that sometimes draws the attention or ire of the mainstream media (something the WWE has worked hard to avoid of late), but a (relatively) quiet storyline development that showed something that’s rarely seen on mainstream television: a group of workers forming a small group and sitting down together to discuss workplace safety issues and getting legal advice on how best to deal with their problems.


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Monday, Jul 25, 2011
Today, PopMatters kicks off a 10-day countdown of some of the high and lowpoints of the 2010 to 2011 television season beginning with the superlative Mad Men and the sad on-going strength of reality shows.

With the Emmy Nominations having been announced for the July 2010 to July 2011 television year, another season is officially concluded. Thanks to a sudden rush of outstanding end-of-the-year shows, what once looked like it was going to be a mediocre to average television season unexpectedly became strong.


Although the Emmys will announce the 2011 winners at its annual show on 18 September, I want to take some time to look back on some of the high and lowpoints of the past season. Beyond doubt this is not exhaustive although it’s certainly a personal list; these were some of the things that either most delighted or most upset me as a television viewer this year. 


For each day for the next two weeks I am going to reflect back on one major highpoint and one major lowpoint of the 2010-2011 television year. And since everyone loves a countdown, let’s start with Number 10:


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Thursday, May 26, 2011
It may be everything Glee and Freaks and Geeks stood against, but Saved By the Bell refuses to budge from it's 10-year-plus AM slot on TBS.

Ted Turner has to be proud of his superstation network TBS. In the ‘80s, the network was very much like other cable networks in that the primary programming material came from old TV series. For millions of Gen-Xers, Superstation TBS acted as sort of an afterschool babysitter with reruns of The Flinstones and The Brady Bunch usually running from when school got out until around dinner time save the occasional Braves baseball game – much to the disappointment of every kid who wasn’t a Braves fan.


In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, TBS grew more ambitious like similar cable channels. Reruns of yesteryear (Addams Family, Leave It to Beaver) were replaced with more contemporary reruns (see Friends). Original content soon found its way into programming with shows like My Boys and Tyler Perry sitcoms. Last year, the network showed it could hang with the big boys by recruiting Conan O’Brien to its late night slot (at the expense of George Lopez, who was bumped an hour).


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Monday, May 2, 2011
Or, as he says it on air, "Chemical Romance".

Glenn Beck has certainly picked some odd fights in his day.


While the Fox News anchor has made targets out of the likes of Van Jones and George Soros to much media commotion, sometimes he does the exact opposite, instead responding to criticism by only criticizing back, whether it be responding to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s allegations of Beck supporting Goldline’s shady business practices by establishing the juvenile WeinerFacts.com or calling Avatar a “Smurf-murdering” movie following James Cameron’s criticisms against him (these latter two attempts are not considered his most successful).


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