Latest Blog Posts

by Jennifer Cooke

3 Sep 2009

A San Francisco band calling itself My First Earthquake is akin to a Philadelphia band picking a name like I *Heart* Cheesesteaks—so obvious that it must be ironic. With so much willful irony floating around indie music these days, it was only a matter of time before the backlash began. Behold: Hipster Haters!

Perhaps the cleverest example of the HH phenomenon is the website Look at This Fucking Hipster.

Type in the word “hipster” on YouTube and you’ll find a slew of videos aimed at skewering this most loathesome of pop culture sub-groups. I recommend POYKPAC’s “Hipster Olympics”, where contestants are screened for “an overall level of nonchalance and a reticent air of superiority”. And the Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You” gets prescience props for hipster hating all the way back in 2000!

by Faye Rasmussen

3 Sep 2009

The Black Crowes made a stop on the “Late Show with David Letterman” two nights ago, to perform their first single “Good Morning Captain” off their new CD, Before the Frost…, which was also released Tuesday. Along with their new CD comes two other added perks: The beginnings of the second and third legs of their 2009 “Stuck Inside Utopia” Tour, and a second album… for the fans.

A second album, titled ...Until the Freeze, will be a free giveaway as a sign of gratitude to fans for their more than 20 years of support. The free CD can be downloaded exclusively through a unique code which is included in the primordial, Before the Frost…. See the tour dates for the last legs of “Stuck Inside Utopia” Tour after the jump.

by Bill Gibron

2 Sep 2009

If you were to simply look at his career as a cartoonist, a man who turned a talent for capturing the marginalized and the moronic into the long running animated efforts Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, you’d swear Mike Judge was born under a very lucky star indeed. Few pen and ink efforts ever make a cultural impact, let along create the kind of pure pop phenomenon that his two dimwitted metal heads did when they first appeared on MTV. Within months, they were the subject of scholarly dissertation, parents group protests, and oversized governmental concern. Parlaying that notoriety into a standard gig with Fox, Judge made King into one of the few character based comedies within the genre, a show less concerned about the medium or the means being used, and more about the people and the message being depicted.

But when it comes to motion picture, Judge has a big black cloud hanging over his head. True, Beavis and Butthead made a semi-successful jump to the big screen when they “did” America back in 1996, but since then his other films have been marginalized, or downright dismissed, by the studios who hired him in the first place. Oddly enough, home video has helped to resurrect both Office Space and Idiocracy, turning the former into an unqualified cult smash while the latter builds on its post-perspective excellence. Why his efforts are weakened so might have something to do with the way he approaches humor, something evident in his latest laughfest, the 4 September release known as Extract. While his animated efforts go straight for the gut - and sometimes, the gutter - his live action works strive for something more subtle and personable - and that might just be the problem.

Judge could be called the master of the “microcomedy” - that is, satires and parodies that use little observational moments about the human condition and life in general to comment on and lampoon the world around us. Even in a “big idea” film like Idiocracy (which finds a frozen soldier waking up in a single digit IQ future), he avoids the flashy and the farcical to discover the truth beneath the spoof. At their core, each one of his feature films is about a specific set of individual obstacles - the oppressive workplace, the dumbing down of society, the pleasures and pitfalls of the small businessman. He then wraps up each narrative in recognizable individuals and specific types. Sure, they may occasionally act dumb, or downright retarded, but it’s always in service of a sentiment that suggests that this is the way people really are, eccentricities and all.

Indeed, if he tossed in a bunch of directorial flourishes and obvious homages to cinema’s past, he’d be the Coen Brothers. In fact, Extract is a lot like the noted Oscar winners work on films like Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading. Definitely not as stylized, but still treading the same twisted tightrope between authentic and outrageous, Judge lets his actors and his story do most of the selling. When he needs the pratfall or the obvious joke to sell a scene, he handles it with his typically understated aplomb. Most people respond to his movies because the do such a good job of mimicking the realities of contemporary existence. Heck, even in his sci-fi send up, he has the audacity to condemn his audience for enjoying the very braindead diversions that the Idiocracy citizenry thrives on. We may not be a world of power drinks and televised crotch shots quite yet, but we’re definitely damn close.

And that’s another confusing aspect to Judge’s moviemaking motives. He’s a social satirist, Will Rodgers without all the “Aw Shucks” barbs or Mort Saul minus the polished political rants. That he focuses on the less obvious aspects of the condition - cubicle Hell in a soulless corporate combine, the fake fun flippancy of the chain restaurant experience, the everyday ennui of the factory line worker - doesn’t lessen his observational impact. It’s not just that he understands the situations he’s highlighting. Like John Hughes and teenagers, Judge is a man of the little people, a participant in the process as well as a documenter of its deadening properties. Office Space is certainly a very funny film, and no one would deny Idiocracy‘s outrageous laughs. But as Extract illustrates, the deeper Judge digs, the more laughs he manages to milk out of the truth.

Which again raises the question - what’s gone wrong? Why have none of his films (and there is ever indication that his latest, no matter how strong or celebrated, is headed for the same fate) become the big mainstream hits that a massive second life on home video suggests they could be. Well, if comedy is timing, Judge has had some very bad temporal luck. Office Space came out in February of 1999, not necessarily the strongest time of the year for a proposed theatrical blockbusters. Fox also marketed the film poorly, focusing on Judge’s past as the papa of Beavis and Butthead, not the creator of a subtle and slightly deadpan look at dead end careerism. Anyone going in expecting extended dick jokes was in for a substantial shock indeed.

Similarly, Idiocracy was mangled horribly when poor test screenings suggested it would flop outright. Fox (again) pulled out of the post-production, leaving Judge to rely on pal Robert Rodriguez to finish up the F/X for the film. With his vision substantially undermined and absolutely no publicity from the studio, the movie had little or no chance of succeeding. That Judge was also attacking Middle America mainstays like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and other noted corporate giants couldn’t have helped. Surely, a major show business player like Rupert Murdock wasn’t about to insult the very businesses that provide him with untold millions in advertising dollars. Between Judge and his targets, the cash rich objectives won out.

2006 also saw the subject of dysgenics (defined as “the study of factors producing the accumulation and perpetuation of defective or disadvantageous genes and traits in offspring in a particular population or species”) batted around in conversations condemning reality TV and broadcast affronts like The Jerry Springer Show. The media was being blamed for everything from violent youth to lower test scores, with scholars suggesting that, unless something changed, things would only get worse. At that point, Judge should have been seen as topical. Instead, the controversial nature of the concept and its inherent insulting of the determined demographic made such a brave stance seem antithetical to Idiocracy‘s entertainment value. It really did take a lot of guts to call your viewers “rock stupid” to their faces.

Extract may change all that. Sure, September is still a standard dumping ground for films the studios don’t think will do all that well, and this genial little comedy faces one of the biggest hurdles ever in the current cinematic state - Judd Apatow. Indeed, when one thinks of the kind of films that audiences have flocked to over the last three years, the penis obsessed offerings of Mr. 40 Year Old Virgin and his minions dot the internal landscape. Judge’s work is the polar opposite of something like Superbad, a film framed almost exclusively out of scatology and shrill self-abuse. And again, he is trying to make people, not penises, the reason for all the laughter. Thanks to some glorified geek love (Harry Knowles and his minions have been all over this title for months), Extract could have a chance to doing something Judge’s other work hasn’t - that is, work at the box office.

But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean Mike Judge is some kind of no talent pariah. He just hasn’t been blessed with the best luck in the world. Even his most recent TV series, ABC’s The Goode Family, was cancelled after a lack luster effort by the network to promote it over the summer (answer honestly - did you even know it was on? Neither did we…). Apparently, unless he’s dealing with Texas rednecks or stunted suburban youth, he’s destined to be dismissed - and as the ever increasing popularity of his other works indicate, he doesn’t deserve to be. Sometime in the future of filmmaking, when the big book of cinematic history is crafted, this phase of Judge’s career will either be a minor footnote in his established greatness, or the main theme of a career misunderstood. Here’s hoping for the former. 

by Diepiriye Kuku

2 Sep 2009

What happened to unconditional love? Or is it just regulated to Grandma, and her wonderful hands.  “Grandma’s Hands” was penned by Bill Withers in a ‘70s soul beat. And just like Prince singing “Adore”, or a million other balladeers crooning in their best falsetto, it’s catchy and captivating when men wear this sort of vulnerability. Yet, societies have even contended to cut off boys’ balls in order to maintain that pre-pubescent, innocent, unthreatening sound—the emasculated male is somehow so alluring.

Nonetheless, it’s all fantasy: We prefer our men so-called ‘real’. So we give all our stars a damn hard time for the ways in which they effeminate themselves just to maintain our titillation: the make-up, the feather-light hair, the hairless face, the fitted clothes, the glitter, the glam, and, of course, those high voices. We might call them “faggot” in public, then swoon and swing alongside their beats in private. Even as fans, we love conditionally.

Until the end of time
I’ll be there for you.
You are my heart and mind
I truly adore you.
If God one day struck me blind,
Your beauty I’d still see.
Love’s too weak to define
Just what you mean to me. 

“You gotta stand by your brother”, Erykah Badu croons in a soft, lofty voice in the live version of “Other Side of the Game”. “Work ain’t honest, but it pays the bills”, her talented back-up singers say. “Through whatever, whatever, whatever”, she says, and again members of the crowd slap their palms together while others shout and cheer.

An expectant Jennifer Hudson bouts out

An expectant Jennifer Hudson belts out “Will You Be
There” before a mourning crowd at Michael Jackson’s
Memorial in July 2009

“Carry me, like you were my brother / Love me like a mother”, Michael Jackson opens his song “Will You Be There”. And since his childhood, fans around the globe have watched this artist dance and sing on stage with his brothers, envisioning the unconditional love of family while singing about how unconditional his love was in songs like “I’ll Be There”.

“Just call my name…”. That’s the most that we could ask of anyone. Sadly, today’s divas and divos would rather just watch us pack, treating each other as if we’re simply replaceable. And despite all that we have, love cannot be bought at Ikea, nor is love found in the aisles of Walmart. In spite of their lifetime warranties, retailers LL Bean and Lands’ End don’t sell unconditional love.

I wanna be
More than your mother,
More than your brother;
I wanna be like no other
If you need me,
I’ll never leave.
I know that you know….
Be with me darlin’ till the end of time

Just like his own androgyny, Prince is notorious for exploring the fine division between the erotic and the platonic, the parental and the lustful. Furthermore, given his backdrop of gender-bending and unadulterated sexuality, Prince’s force is intense and unconditional. Again, it’s this unconditional love that makes His Royal Badness so fascinating to fans spanning a range of musical genres. “I wanna be your lover / I wanna turn you on, turn you out”, he chants over an earlier, funkier beat that he thankfully extends well beyond the dope lyrics and pop radio strip.

Then, of course, there’s Purple Rain. On screen, fans witness that the madness and fervor with which the artist approached love—the willingness to abandon all reason in tunes like “Darlin’ Nikki”—clearly stemming from the dysfunction at home.

His lack of fraternal love—fraternal disapproval and the maternal abandonment in tolerating the abuse—all lead the character portrayed in the film to supplant the erotic over and above all that he lacked. He was a man who would do anything for love, and it’s this illusion and allusion of success that draws women and men, the premise and promise of unconditional love. Yet, in spite of the fantasy, we’d all rather settle for so much less, like sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

“Drugs / Rock-n-Roll / Bad-ass Vegas hoes / Shiny disco balls”. Ecstasy. Illusion and fantasy. The fantasy of unconditional love is all that it’s about, and any amount of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll can lead us there. Yet, like any cheap high, it’s unsustainable.

If I was your one and only friend,
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you,
Even if that somebody was me?
Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be

It is a trip. It’s a vacation from life to believe in unconditional love, yet abandon that promise as soon as anything real occurs. “Baby, baby, baby: What’s it gonna be”, Prince begs Apollonia (or wasn’t it Vanity?) on bended knee as she sits and sips with the next man. Just as soon as we promise love, we withdraw these pleas and lament over loss, which we seem to do as easily as we do the falling in love. It’s unrealistic and juvenile to believe in infallibility, for that is what makes us human. So, “let’s just pretend we’re married—tonight”.

And Michael McDonald bridged:

I know you’re not mine
Tell me how come I
Keep forgetin’

People lie, cheat, and steal. And all this stems from the abandonment we’ve felt at home, often in spaces were there is lovelessness, even with an abundance of care. Indeed, few heal from those scars, yet pretty much all are involved. Like “Thriller”, where each and everyone crawled out of tombs and graves, mortified and decrepit—we are all perishable. Yet, even in Michael’s fantasies, we don’t all remain that way. “Heal the World”, the Jackson family has inevitably advocated in their music, from the Jacksons and “Can You Feel It” to Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” among several other tunes, to most of what Michael Jackson had to say in his music.

Hold me
Like the River Jordan
And I will then say to thee:
You are my friend. 

You are my friend? “I’ve been looking around / And you were here all the time”. So the message seems to be, “through whatever, whatever, whatever”, if we genuinely know how to cherish those around us, we’ve probably known unconditional love all the time. “You are my friend / I never knew it till then, my friend / You hold my hand / You might not say a word / But I see your tears when I show my pain”, Patti drones in that other-side-of-the-‘80s soul beat. Now, there’s the unconditional love that recognizes friendship through each other’s humanity and occasional fallibility.

But they told me:
‘A Man should be faithful,
And walk when not able,
And fight to the end’
But I’m only human

Love, it seems, is only as conditional as our wiliness to heal. Recognizing that, as REM says, “Everybody Hurts”, then will we be there when our lovers, friends, parents, neighbors show out? Will we be there, as Michael suggests, in our darkest hours? Or are we just fair-weather friends? The weatherman can’t predict those conditions with any real accuracy. And Rhianna said: “You can stand under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay / Under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay. (BTW, that’s just the catchy part of the chorus, the song’s actual verses are significantly more instructive).

by Rob Horning

2 Sep 2009

Tyler Cowen does some cursory research and suggests that health insurers may not be all that profitable. Thus, the implication seems to be, they must not be the villain that would-be reformers sometimes make them out to be. But their profitability is not the crux of the problem; profits may be held down by the effectiveness of competition from other insurers. And it is this competition that then prompts their most egregious practices, such as rescission. It’s not the level of their profits, it’s the fact that are a for-profit concern that rubs reformers who want a public option, I suspect.

//Mixed media

Players Lose Control in ‘Tales from the Borderlands’

// Moving Pixels

"This is an interactive story in which players don’t craft the characters, we just control them.

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