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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I’m not a fan of the RIAA and their disturbing legal tactics.  Rather than keep reminding everyone how bad they are and how detrimental they are to the music biz (which is why I really hate them), I’d also like to note two stories about working around them.  First is this Reuters story about bands and music fans hooking up online, which ain’t necessarily something new now in this Net age but it’s worth repeating this story line if only to remind bands (and listeners) about the great opportunities out there on the web.  The other story is the 2008 RPM Challenge which asks artists to write/record an album next month.  As the article notes, this led hundreds of artists to post thousands of songs and granted that they’re all not gonna be masterpieces, it’s still heartening to see so many performers take up the DIY challenge.


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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
backpack-picnic

This week: If you ever wondered what an actual Backpack Picnic looked like… you obviously spend too much time watching these weirdos. At any rate, the Backpack boy have obliged those curious with this eye-opening episode.


Every week PopMatters will be offering an exclusive early look at a new episode of Backpack Picnic, an online sketch comedy show from ON Networks.


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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008


The bad movies. That’s all anyone ever wants to talk about. Manos. Mitchell. The audacity of taking on a pseudo classic like This Island Earth. The creative constitution it must have required to endure the aesthetic horrors of Time of the Apes, The Castle of Fu Mancho, or Attack of the The Eye Creatures. But there remains so much more to Mystery Science Theater 3000 than Arch Hall Jr., Coleman Francis, and Merritt Stone. As a matter of fact, one of the first things critics latched onto where the sensational skits, in between bits that often commented directly on the film being shown. Yet there were also times when the material was merely “inspired” by the work being presented, said muse mutated into wit that transpired the sloppy celluloid circumstances. It’s these boffo blackouts that deserve reconsideration and concentration. SE&L, confirmed MiSTies, will highlight 10 of the best forays into funny stuff the Satellite of Love and its occupants ever attempted. 


There are a couple of caveats when diving into this list. First, we purposely avoided anything where music was involved. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was famous for its satiric songs, and trying to pick 20, let alone 10 would have been impossible. Therefore, only atonal humor will be discussed. Also, we’ve also stopped the reflection at Season 7, the non Sci-Fi Channel version of the series. There’s no real reason for such a barrier, except that more people are familiar with the updated concept of the show, and some of the older material needs its day in the sun. Finally, supporting characters like Dr. Clayton Forrester, Dr. Lawrence Erhardt, TV’s Frank and the Mole Men have also been excluded. They’ll get their moment sometime in the near future. With all the stipulations in place, let’s begin in chronological order:



Crow’s Thanksgiving from K03: Starforce: Fugitive Alien II


Back when the series was still being broadcast across actual antenna airwaves by local Minneapolis station KTMA, a special holiday edition of the show featured this fabulous history lesson from everyone’s favorite “bird dog thing”. From the pilgrims arriving in a van and taking turns “starving”, to the Indian’s spraying their guests with mace (don’t ask), the robots get the spirit of the occasion, if not the factual certainties. An important discussion, if only for finally explaining the connection between Turkey day and the reason people start Christmas shopping the day after.

 


Sidehackiing Terminology from 202: Sidehackin’


As with any new sport, descriptive phrases and jargon are mandatory. They help reporters explain the action and bolster color commentators ability to earn ESPN highlight reel airtime. For this Ross Hagen rehash of every competition oriented cliché ever conceived, Joel and his automated pals provide such expressive lingo as the ‘Hickory Dickory Die’, ‘Fruitful Snootful’, and the ‘Tension Envelope’ routine (popularized by Nutsy the Clown). It’s enough to knock competitive darts, Ninja Warrior, and all other non-mainstream athletics off the pop culture radar.

 


Klack Foods Commercial from 211: First Spaceship on Venue


Anyone old enough to remember single company sponsorship in television will smile at this remarkable riff on Kraft and its long-form infomercial breaks that championed their various faux foods and cheese spreads. Here, a spot-on Tom Servo (channeling Ed Herlihy) describes how Klack Industrial Saladoos-based snack and snippets can be used to make mouth watering family favorites like Skin Mittens, Cooter Cakes, and the traditional Gut Whistle Pie. Just don’t forget the Flesh Button dressing, or a heaping platter of Creamy Crust Puppies. Now that’s fine eatin’.



Crow vs. Kenny from 302: Gamera


After an onslaught of giant monster madness, Crow can no longer stand the whiny goody two shoe-ing of everyone’s favorite short-panted pint size. So he lets his aggressions out in the most fruitless display of childish chiding possible. Taking the opportunity to do the same, Servo joins in. Joel tries to help his pals have a more positive perspective on the friend to all oversized beasties. It only lasts for a little while before the bile begins rising all over again.




Winter Sports Cavalcade from 311: It Conquered the World


It’s icy chills and snowbound thrills as Joel and the ‘Bots describe the frostbitten pleasures of training, Alpine style. We experience the gory goodness of the latest craze - speedskating combined with kickboxing. Then there’s cat snapping, where kittens are taken to absolute zero and cracked like Turkish taffy. And let’s not forget “shi-ing” which is also referred to as playing ping-pong or badminton with a Barbie doll frozen in a bucket of ice. And you thought snowmobiling and hokey were the best things about the months of November to February (or August to May, if in Minnesota).

 




Catching Ross from 315: Teenage Caveman


Ross Allen was a well known animal trapper who violated several ethical, moral, and PETA inspired values with his raping of the Florida Everglades. As protest, Tom turns the tables on the great blight hunter, subjecting him to many of the same humiliating outdoor tortures that Allen himself employed to make his living. With Joel along for visual illustration (he uses a small action figure to simulate the pain being inflicted), we get the kind of pointed payback that only a fire hydrant like puppet and a stand-up comedian trapped in space can dish out.




Art Therapy from 507: I Accuse My Parents


Hoping to gain some insight into how his robot pals think, Joel asks them to visualize their own fantasy families. For Tom, it’s a portrait of his father, Gigantor, and his two moms - Haley Mills and Peggy Cass. For Crow, it’s an oversized deadly dynamo of a dad, who combines homespun wisdom with lasers that fire out of his chest (“pyeww, pyeww”). Of course, Gypsy only envisions a world filled with nothing but Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea‘s Richard Basehart. Why? To quote the cast: “I dunno.”



Chick Flick Fight (Really Femmie Movies) from 517: Alien From LA


A post-apocalyptic Kathy Ireland inspires this brilliant breakdown of Mike and the gang’s feminine side. Over the closing credits of this crappy film, Tom chides Crow over his copy of Places in the Heart and his complete Sally Fields collection, while the little gold guy gives his human buddy a Six Weeks, Dying Young, and Irreconcilable Differences combo. Between a Herbert Ross festival, Savannah Smiles, and the mere mention of Madame Sousatzka, there’s not a male chromosome left in the Satellite of Love. Just remember to quote freely from Rich and Famous and everything will be okay.




Ingmar Bergman Tells a Joke from 617: The Sword and the Dragon


The late, great Swedish filmmaker is lovingly spoofed when Mike and the ‘bots take a break from this horrible foreign fantasy film to offer up a moody monochrome gag. Though there is probably no more than a page of actual dialogue, the entire skit is filmed at a pace that makes snail’s nervous over how slow it proceeds. The payoff is well worth it, however.





The Edge of the Universe (2001 Spoof) from 706: Laserblast


This was it - the supposed end of the series. Comedy Central had failed to renew the contract, and even worse, a typical season of episodes (12 to 24) was reduced to seven. So how do you send off the greatest TV show ever? Easy, you mimic the greatest film ever. This classic 2001 lampoon, complete with pointed visual cues and recreations of classic moments, left fans free associating for days. It’s all here - including a final image that summed up how special Mystery Science Theater 3000 was to fans and cinephile’s worldwide.


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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008

I’m usually skeptical of research that involves brain scans and areas lighting up when they are stimulated and that sort of thing—it seems reductive to equate brain activity with specific kinds of thoughts—but since this particular research into luxury effects that the Economist reported recently confirms suspicions I already had, I thought I would pass it along. The upshot of this study is this: “Dr Rangel and his colleagues found that if people are told a wine is expensive while they are drinking it, they really do think it tastes nicer than a cheap one, rather than merely saying that they do.” The question is whether this distinction is at all salient. It seems like evidence that people who buy into invidious display and conspicuous consumption are not merely other-directed and status conscious; their brains actually can translate the feelings of social superiority evoked by purchasing power into biochemical pleasure. They are not phonies simply pretending to like what’s more expensive to justify the conspicuous consumption. In saw ways, this suggests their consciousness is even falser than previously suspected; they are not in bad faith so much as betrayed by their own biology into transmuting money into fleeting pleasure.


Conspicuous consumption and waste are an important part of social display. Deployed properly, they bring the rewards of status and better mating opportunities. For this to work, though, it helps if the displaying individual really believes that what he is buying is not only more expensive than the alternative, but better, too.


Rangel, who conducted the study, believes this effect has something to do with an evolutionary (of course) need for learning.


Rangel suspects that what he has found is a mechanism for learning quickly what has helped others in the past, and thus for allowing choices about what is nice and what is nasty to be made speedily and efficiently. In modern society, price is probably a good proxy for such collective wisdom.


The idea that price is a proxy for collective wisdom seems a bit suspect, though. Despite what Hayek may argue about knowledge and prices, the magic of markets is not that efficient in translating truth into numerical values. Cooperation and survival don’t seem to be the sort of information conveyed by prices, which instead articulate scarcity and induce competition. It seems far more likely that we have a strong predisposition to want to believe our own bullshit. Just as the most gifted liars ended up persuading themselves of the truth of their own fictions, the conspicuous consumer ends up tasting the waste as nectar.


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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Right Hand on My Heart [MP3]
     


 


Clocking in at just 37 minutes, Mission Control may run a little shorter than Give ‘Em All a Big Fat Lip, but its relative brevity insists any listener to take on multiple plays. Like the band, who have since enlisted the permanent addition of bassist Tim Deaux, the album sounds like something complete, that survived the changes that were necessary to make it. It is also something that will in all likelihood end up being one of the best rock albums of the year.—Mike Hilleary


The Whigs on David Letterman



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