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WHAT: “Watchmen Trailer - Amazing!”

WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The superhero movie “Watchmen” won’t hit theaters until March 2009, but fans of comics and graphic novels are already going nuts about the trailer. I haven’t seen such a mind-blowingly visionary preview since “The Matrix.”

Its intercut images of glowing, translucent people, a spotlight-shape spaceship emerging from the water, and a Batman-like caped figure landing on the pavement give me little hint about what the movie’s about. But it looks extremely cool. It’s based on one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time.

Someone in marketing must have thought it was a good idea. After all, it was a concept that went together with the theme and main character of the movie quite well. Better than a t-shirt (which was also offered) or a keychain (huh???), a pair of drum sticks symbolized ex-80’s hair band musician Robert “Fish” Fishman’s main motivation. All he ever knew was the skins, and when he lost his shot at rock and roll immortality, he lost everything…except his kit. So at a recent screening of the upcoming comedy starring Rainn Wilson, The Rocker, a local TV station gave away dozens of drum sticks, a token of their preview appreciation.

After the initial novelty of holding two pieces of wood in one’s hands started to wear off, the smallish audience was starting to get antsy - and as a result, inventive. A few took their recently received “instruments” and did a little air drumming. Others batted the balsa together, pretending to countdown the next imaginary arena anthem. Before long, the theater was filled with a cacophony of lumber lameness, patrons trying to keep the imaginary beat on the back of seats or their own legs…with minimal success. As the time for the movie to start grew near, most in the critic’s row assumed that the rat-a-tat-tatting would stop. After all, the inherent charms of the storyline should stifle such nervous energy, right?

Well, not exactly. Within the first ten minutes of the slightly subpar comedy (nice, but bloated with every musical cliché in the lexicon), the first nods to Neil Peart could be heard from way in the back.  Before long, wannabe Bonham’s were tapping along to the concert sequences. When there was no reason to rap, the sticks still struck anything within range, the hallow noise adding an unnecessary drone to what was already a trying entertainment experience. By the end of the screening, the combination of novice Charlie Watts and the standard in theater din turned The Rocker into something akin to motion picture waterboarding. Sadly, not even the Bush Administration could condone this level of intolerable torture.

Complaining about noise in a movie theater, especially circa 2008, is a lot like kvetching over too-skinny supermodels or skanky reality whores. Thanks to home video, and a lessening human etiquette, people treat the cinema as their own personal private space, answer phone calls, texting their pals, talking intermittently over plot points and narrative particulars, and in general, acting like there is no decorum in visiting the local picture show. So to mention it within this context seems foolish. But in reality, a preview or advance screening is supposed to be a different animal. Since they are solely set up for the benefit the press (the other audience members are invited guests), there is an attempt to create some clear sonic parameters.

Sometimes, they work. Rarely do you hear people arguing over what some character said. Doing so usually meets with a strong “shhhhh” chorus. Even better, a cellphone ringing or any other kind of communication with the outside world leads to monitor admonitions, and frequently, an escort out of the theater via security. In general, the studios try to maintain a professional clime for the few remaining critics to work within. But there is one element they can’t control, and in fact, would never want to manage. You see, when a theater agrees to a screening, they accept a flat rate payment for the seats they would have sold for that showing. So the company is reimbursed for the loss.

But since most movie theaters make their money from concession sales, the pittance they get for the lost seats is nothing compared to the cash they can commandeer from snacks. And since the audience is already getting to see a soon to be featured film for free, their tolerance for overpriced drinks and crappy popcorn is greatly diminished. And so they buy. They buy and buy and buy. They buy the salty sweet snacks en masse, loading the stadium seats with the nauseating aroma of fake butter, nacho cheese, pickled jalapeno slices, and microwave pizza. Some theaters - especially ones located in malls - even allow patrons to bring in their food court purchases. This means that the scent of fast food Chinese or mediocre meat sandwiches can be added to the swimming sea of stench.

For those of us in the biz, the olfactory assault we suffer each time we attend a screening is typically offset by our irritation over other issues (seating situations, credential clarifications). Still it can be quite a chore balancing our disappointment over a typically mediocre movie with the omnipresent fragrance of stale State Fair styled cuisine. Sometimes, we even take a “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach and indulge ourselves. But far more disgusting than the stink generated by such gluttony gang bang is the noise - the endless streams of slurps, slorps, burps, farts, crunches, crackles, munches, rustles, and jostles that accompany the cinematic feed bag.

It’s inevitable. No matter where I sit in the press row, I usually find the ‘drink demon’ behind me. You know the kind - plastic straw constantly sliding up and down the super-sized lid, the resulting “creak” like a dead clown’s coffin door opening and closing. In between audible gulps, the ice is shaken and stirred, the better to mix the melting mixture with the backwash present. Every once in a while, a dry spot will be located, and the resulting libation loss causes an aural vacuum that brings back memories of the family dinner table, and Dad giving you that awful “punishment after the meal” look. Since the serving is typically 20 times that of what a human normally needs, this sipper cup ritual goes on for at least an hour. Once the last ounce of syrupy sugar has been tapped however, it’s time to remove the top and chew on the remaining frozen fun for a while.

Or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to sit in front of the ‘snack spelunker’. You know the kind - the top of the popcorn bag is never enough. No, for this two fisted face stuffer, only the product at the bottom of the container will do. As a natural result of such digging, there’s a distinct racket, similar to weevils burrowing into your brain. As the feasting continues, the noise grows more distinct, oil filled hand hitting on secret pockets of pseudo sustenance. Add in the constant chewing, the cow cud creation of the perfect cinematic experience and you have a soundtrack no film composer can compete against. There have been times when I’ve missed lines of dialogue as patrons partake of mandatory mastication, the combination of eating and obtaining producing a pronounced ruckus.

Naturally, no one is going to put the kibosh on such high profit margin behavior. Imagine the backlash should a studio monitor grab a microphone and announce, pre-screening, that the eating of snacks should be ‘restrained’ during the course of the running time. These people already get surly when having to ditch their Blackberry and quite their wee ones. Take away their food? That’s a violation of their cinematic Constitutional rights. And since these free movies are all about entitlement (not to the media, who are usually getting paid to suffer through the situation), the more rules you try to impose, the more insurgency you foster. Heck, such behavior even happens in ‘critics only’ previews. Between sips of Starbucks and nibbles of Egg McMuffins, we members of the press can put up quite a cacophony.

Certainly The Rocker situation was unusual. Most advertisers don’t try so hard to tie their swag into the storyline. It’s usually CDs, clothing, and the occasional promotional poster. But even if the reps had removed the drumsticks from the equation, one would still have to suffer through endless gorging and the accompanying biological braggadocio that comes with it (and let’s not talk about the occasional bouts of flatulence, shall we?). While we’ve come to expect some clamor within the theatrical experience, the sound of screenings can be trying indeed. To paraphrase the Buzzcocks, noise does annoy. And you don’t have to be hit over the head with a piece of wood to prove it.

Summers in New York City are synonymous with SummerStage, and the 2008 season has seemingly dubbed Santogold its breakout star. As Converse ads with Pharrell and opening gigs with Gnarls Barkley have become the norm for her, she is now more commercial than she ever was indie. And after enduring an afternoon’s worth of 100-degree temperatures for 30 minutes of routine performing, it seemed that Santogold’s solipsism was her most defining characteristic.

After a tag-team of DJs and styles, numerous dance crews, and half-ass hype men, a somewhat anticipated, though brief, headlining show for Santogold transformed into a sweltering and anticlimactic Sunday at Central Park’s SummerStage. The afternoon show—produced by MeanRed as part of their Madfools party—promised to deliver “a spectacular display of confetti cannons, beach balls, dancing monsters, and performances by the reigning stars of international dance floors.” It was more akin to a hazy water fight with birthday party favors.

Entertaining the masses until her arrival were DJ Blaqstarr and Kid CuDi, who galvanized the crowd from its heat-induced ennui. Later, A-Trak was capable of kick-starting the dancing with both throwback (Jackson 5, Notorious B.I.G.) and current (Lil’ Wayne) beats. With Diplo joining him at his Technics, the duo got a warm reception. But as Diplo took over the scene, not even waves of “Get Mad” dancers in ridiculous costumes and makeup could keep the audience’s attention any longer than the nearest available squirt gun.

Overall, the energy and excitement seemed to evaporate as quickly as each Super-Soakers’ ammo.

So says Gawker though they’re not ones to talk… Their target is the Huffington Post, which despite their slings/arrows, happens to post some quality material.  The point is that since HP is such a high-profile destination, the contributors should get paid for their work instead of just settling for exposure.  The bigger problem that Gawker points out is that this sets bad precedent- if HP can get away without paying, other big sites will do the same.  It’s no different for hundreds of reporters across the country who are now told that their job description now includes blogging, even the extra time they put into that doesn’t translate into extra pay.

While I sympathize with Gawker’s position, there’s a few problems with their argument.  Ideally, HP should indeed pay their staff.  The problem is that a sustainable economic model for blogging isn’t out there yet.  A very tiny percentage of bloggers out there make their living from their posts.  If the only people blogging will be the ones who get paid, you’d have a lot fewer of them, which is good in some cases but you’d lose a lot of other good bloggers too.  If any site has a chance of finding a model for paying bloggers, it’s HP and they should work on that more instead of relying on their writer’s to make a name for themselves at the site.  But Gawker doesn’t have the answer either- their plan to pay writers by the amount of traffic they get is a recipe for sensationalism, which always gets more eyeballs than any thoughtful, insightful piece of writing.  That’s not even mentioning the fact that they just cut the pay for their writers.

And hey… I happen to write for free here at PopMatters.  Why am I doing this?  Am I also trying to get my name out there like the HP writers?  Yeah, I admit it.  It’s true.  But I also do it because I really do believe in PM itself and think it’s a quality publication worth supporting.  If it changes and I don’t think that’s the case any more with PM, I wouldn’t keep writing here.  For now, since PM does provide a good forum for smart scribing on pop culture, I’m glad to keep penning blogs for ‘em, money or not.  I hope you keep supporting them too.

Morgan Meis, an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, wrote recently about the changing role of criticism in a world in which anyone can publish their opinions.

The blogosphere and social networking sites allow anyone to communicate tastes and opinions directly to those people with whom an outlook is already shared. Criticism is essentially bottom-up now, whereas it used to be practically the definition of top-down. The audience does not look to an external authority to find out what to think — it looks to itself.
In response, critics have become bemoaners. It seems that every week a new article comes out lamenting the state of criticism in field X, Y, or Z. The critics are bemoaning the state of their craft, bemoaning the state of contemporary culture, bemoaning the fate of the world. A few centuries ago the intellectual world trembled at the steps of Samuel Johnson. More recently, careers were ended by a few words from Oscar Wilde or Walter Lippman. A generation of Americans checked in with H.L. Mencken on a daily basis to figure out what they thought about any given subject. Most of these figures were angry and disdainful to some degree or other. But they were not bemoaners. They stood confidently atop the world and proclaimed. Generally they deemed most things worthless. On occasion, they would nominate a work or a person to greatness. A critic who tries to stand that tall today looks anachronistic and slightly foolish. No one is listening. No one cares who the critics are anointing or scorning.

This seems pretty indisputable, across the arts, though I still have a hard time fathoming why anyone would get worked up about it. Yes, old-style criticism, where middlebrow tastemakers anointed the greats with well-phrased encomiums that urged us into the warm bath of literary greatness, has been by and large replaced by hype and word-or-mouth marketing, which lets us know which cultural figures we should be developing an opinion about. And we should see this an awful triumph of philistinism, since hype is driven by commercial imperatives rather than the discriminating, independent perspective of the critic. But how independent are critics, ultimately? Isn’t a large part of their game trying to monopolize the ability to make taste, to improve their own brand? And critics often try to remove themselves, absurdly, from the fray of cultural participation to burnish their claims to eternal objectivity. But as Meis points out, this has always been a dubious pose, a reaction to their irrelevance.

On the face of it, there aren’t many options. You can protest and wait for better times. You can try to hold the clock back as strenuously as you’re able. But this comes at a huge cost. It means, essentially, refusing to participate in the culture of your time. Critics have, traditionally, prided themselves in a certain amount of distance. There’s even a name for it: “critical distance.” To some extent this distance was always an illusion, the byproduct of a metaphysics that saw mind and world as fully separate and staring at one another from across an epistemological abyss. But more importantly, people believed that critical distance was possible and that they were achieving it. This self-perception was enough to fuel the practice from at least the early Enlightenment until some time in the middle of the last century…. The following years did not see a new race of giant critics so much as a slow withering. The critics today are a largely tremulous lot, beholden to popular opinion on one side or, on the other, to fancified jargon borrowed from the academy and applied to generally humorous if tiresome effect. Criticism thus finds itself parroting the opinions that everyone held anyway or spouting from a grab bag of “high theory” that invariably makes little sense and is but a desperate plea for legitimacy. A cry for help when all ears are deaf.
Trying to maintain critical distance today is thus a practice in self-alienation. The distance might as well be infinite. The proclamations might as well be made in outer space.

This is how I felt as a record reviewer, making these untethered pronouncements, anchored to no particular point of view in an effort to represent all possible ones. I felt my own perferences slipping away from me, and ended up despising just about everything. It all felt like a burden to have to process it all.

But writers starting out seem to take the fruitlessness of speaking for the world for granted now, and they write fully aware that their opinion will be aggregated, and that the goal should to be to condensate their opinion into one easily quotable line.

Meis suggests another alternative, that critical discourse become a parallel art form, that interpenetrates other works rather than worship works perceived as hermetically sealed.

Accepting the metaphor of closeness means accepting that this participation is a two way street and that art and criticism collapse into one another and interpenetrate all over the place. Moving from art to criticism and criticism to art is moving along a level plane. That’s to say, you have to get excited about moving horizontally. The days of distance are behind us.

//Blogs

Is Black Widow Still a Hero? Dissecting the Misogynistic Outrage Against the Avengers

// Short Ends and Leader

"Black Widow may very well be the pinnacle of the modern action heroine, so why is there so much backlash about her role in the new Avengers film?

READ the article