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

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Nov 15, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Here’s the brand new Talib Kweli video, “Everything Man”, the first track off the PopMatters Pick, Ear Drum.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Nov 15, 2007

First is a Wall Street Journal story about the cleverly named “Rcrd Lbl” (get it) which is looking to give away music free and without DRM on its own blog.  As always, money is the sticking point and in this example, the company looks to get their money from advertising and then to pay off the participating bands a percentage of their take from that.  Even the label itself admits that this ain’t the ultimate solution to the music biz’s woes but expect to see other experiments like this in a post-Radiohead (expect to hear that term a lot) world where the industry is getting more and more interested in finding new models.  It’s gotten to the point where the head of Warner Bros has gone from damning to praising iTunes, even though you know that he’s still cursing Steve Jobs under his breath, especially since Apple’s still makes its profits selling iPods and not music per se.


On a happier note, there’s this inspiring article about music therapy and one its greatest practitioners, Clive Robbins.  Along with the important work of Oliver Sacks, this is more proof of what a strong, stirring effect music has our bodies and souls.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Nov 14, 2007


Move over f**k – there’s a new expletive in town, and it’s taking over the R-rated motion picture dialogue domain as never before. Where once it was merely a scandalous bit of European slang, a way for one Brit to put down another with sexuality free cheek, it’s now morphed into the mainstream cinema’s number one epithet. Over the last six months alone, it’s been heard in comedies (Knocked Up, The Heartbreak Kid), dramas (Feast of Love, The Brave One), genre efforts (Hostel Part II), and able action fare (Shoot ‘Em Up). Applied to both male and female characters, used as both a humorous and hateful retort, it argues for the desperation of screenwriters eager for another explanatory extreme, and the changing social sentiments toward the acceptability (or lack thereof) of language.


Back in the pre-MPAA days, before David Mamet received his four letter thesaurus, dialogue was almost always mannered. This didn’t mean that people spoke in elaborate Elizabethan couplets laced with poetic pentameters. It simply meant that certain unmentionable words were never considered part of proper human interaction. Adults spoke in carefully peppered bon mots, while kids gave the ‘golly gees’ a run for their money. Even criminals and lowlifes spoke in a guttural jargon that indicated their intrinsic illiteracy while showcasing an inventive use of street slang by the individual at the typewriter. For decades, cursing was considered uncouth, ill-mannered, and a sure sign of a person’s passé moral compass.


All of that changed with the neo-neorealism of ‘60s/’70s Hollywood. When film decided that mimicking real life was a valid artistic approach, it brought along with it all the flaws and foibles that made up the human condition – including the potty mouth. From the introduction of such previously unheard of horrors as s**t, and g*****n, to far more frank allusions toward sex and the reproductive organs, movies started “talking like regular people”. The collective sigh from the critical community (which saw such a brashness as some manner of cinematic sacrilege) was quickly replaced by a heralding of the newer, bolder breed. Suddenly, ‘working blue’ was no longer a taboo. It was a proletariat response to the blatant bourgeois nature of Tinsel Town’s Golden Age.


According to motion picture lore, Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H may be the first feature film ever to use the heretofore unmentionable F-bomb. The potent anti-war missive didn’t necessarily popularize the use of the bump and grind euphemism, but as with any cultural dam, once the flood gates were open, the trash talk breached all linguistic levees. Throughout the Me Decade, the infamous FCC terms that were verboten over public airwaves (made infamous by George Carlin’s classic satiric slam on censorship, the “Seven Words”) slowly crept into the lexicon of big screen legitimacy. Thanks to the pulse pounding efforts of blaxploitation, which strove to incorporate the feel of its inner city demographic streets, and equally reflective works by future auteur Martin Scorsese, the medium couldn’t ignore the message. It was right there, up in its m****f***ing face!


Yet it was comedy that probably fueled the final ascent of swearing’s universal acceptability. Humor has an amazing ability to soften even the most miscreant subject. With masters of the foul mouthed art like Richard Pryor suddenly turning superstar, language was no longer seen as a limit. In fact, for someone like the masterful stand-up, the ‘colorful’ conceits of the words he choose made the brutality – and the brilliance – of what he was riffing on that much more pointed, and realistic. Naturally, there were people who took sailor speak to all manner of ridiculous heights (Andrew Dice Clay, anyone?), but for the most part, profanity was excused as a way of masking individual pain with an universal human expression of same.


None of this really excuses or explains the sudden fascination with the ‘C’ word, however. Some would argue that, as with any aspect of film, the overuse of certain stalwarts in combination with the loosening standards concerning same results in artists seeking new or unused ways of courting creativity. When Oliver Stone laced his sensational script for Scarface with as many four, ten, and twelve letter quips as Al Pacino’s quasi-Cuban accent could handle, audiences thought they were experiencing the first of the four horsemen of the cinematic apocalypse. Today, Tony Montana’s trenchant take on his non-mother tongue is viewed as pure screenwriting poetry.


Others will argue that popular culture dictates the dialogue. After almost two decades with rap dominating the First Amendment format, it was only a matter of time before such extremes became commonplace. Heck, even cartoons say s**t now. Yet a scan of lyrical content fails to reveal a general reliance on such specific sexual slang. Even more telling, the use of c**t seems particularly Caucasian. With its continental rooting (a film like Hot Fuzz, from English eccentrics Simon Pegg and Edward Wright, drops the C-bomb dozens of times) and suburban shock value, the application outside a specific demographic seems rather farfetched. Honestly, it’s easier to see Seth Rogen working the vaginal quip than, say, members of the Wu-Tang Clan.


Perhaps the most perplexing element of the across the pond translation is the gender element. In almost every film listed at the top of this piece, c**t is used exclusively as a means of undermining women – and almost always in situations where the female is being victimized or violated. In Hostel Part II, it’s the ‘magic word’ that drives our heroine to acts of castration. Of course, she needs to be beaten and almost-raped before a mere word triggers her ire. Similarly, Jodie Foster’s New Age vigilante is haunted by her acts of murderous desperation, crimes so heinous that no further justification for her gun-based payback seems necessary. And yet she must be referred by the aforementioned derogation before popping her caps in gang member asses.


Even in a sappy, maudlin disease of the week styled film like Feast of Love, the C word shows up to belittle a woman. Granted, the character in this case is an unusually cold and calculating slag who is using her newfound husband as a cash-flow cushion until her married boy toy gets that long promised divorce, but in a movie overloaded with less than likeable characters, our insidious ice queen needs an additional dressing down. So out comes the crudity. And for the most part, it works. Since it’s so new, so untapped as a source of strongly worded disparagement, it’s jarring. It gets the listener’s attention, and changes the entire course of an onscreen discussion. Where f**k has gone from incendiary to inevitable, c**t remains the conversational neutron bomb.


The sudden influx of this heretofore unapproachable word may have some link back to the previous mention of hip-hop after all. Thanks in large part to the ‘b*tches and hos’ stereotyping of the genre, there’s been a decided backlash against the use of that particular canine curse. Indeed, over the decades, the previously impotent b*tch has become fuel for lawsuits, boycotts, and pundit pronouncements. Indeed, when you think about it, the forbidden status of the formerly lax putdown (you can find examples of its casual use in family oriented sitcoms from the ‘80s and ‘90s) required a new, nasty anti-lady remark. But c**t seems much worse than anything an MC can concoct. Film makes it unfathomable.


Indeed, in the context of a UK jive, characters calling each other all manner of acceptable accented atrocities, it tends not to resonate. It seems silly, slightly foolish even. But when an angry male, staring down his opposite with implied hatred, lets fly with such blatant vitriol, the effect is seismic. It stops the story dead, and focuses every element of the narrative on the word itself. Even multi-syllable mouthfuls loose their largeness in comparison. Where once it was unthinkable in even the most adult of companies, the C word has become the exclamation point on a sentence no one ever thought of saying out loud.


Naturally, overuse will deaden its impact. Already, with just a handful of films crass or crafty enough to feature this newfound verbal violation, c**t is becoming cliché. You can almost predict the moment when a fed up individual, incapable of rationally expressing their disapproval or disgust, let’s out a long tirade. After being rebuffed by the smug, seemingly superior female, out comes the reproductive putdown. If feminists had a field day with the chauvinism of the ‘70s, the misogyny of the ‘80s, and the disrespect of the ‘90s, what will the embracing of the C-word bring? Already, performance artists are trying to take back the term, that old standby of empowerment via encroachment. Perhaps they should ask the African American how successfully they’ve been re: the N-word, huh?


While it’s hard to tell if c**t is here to stay, it’s clear that screenwriters feel it’s somehow necessary. In a vocal sparing match, where words replace stylized fisticuffs, it’s apparently the finesse free finishing move that ends discussion and mandates action. Oddly enough, there’s been little fuss over the C-word’s commonplace application. Back in the ‘30s, when a smarting Rhett Butler told a desperate Scarlett O’Hara that he couldn’t give a good “damn”, viewers practically swooned at the vulgarity. Today, our Southern dandy would pull out the C-word. Our spunky heroine would slap his face – or worse, open up a can of semi-automatic whoop-ass on his foul mouthed butt. And audiences would sit back and accept it. Hard to tell what’s worse, when you think about it.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Nov 14, 2007

I love miniature golf, the more preposterous the holes the better. I like loop-de-loops, rotating obstacles, crossing wood-plank bridges over moats, the whole thing. I even played a glow-in-the dark goofy golf course in some dingy cellar on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls.


But though I like a healthy amount of chance mixed into my mini golf, I still play to win. When I used to go down to a friend’s beach house in Ocean City, New Jersey, we became dork aficionados of the many boardwalk courses and eventually got to the point where we’d bring our own putters and balls to the courses, to up the level of competition (and to perhaps compensate for the edge taken away by the beverages that were also brought along). But no matter how geeky we got, we never approached the level of the men profiled in this Wall Street Journal story by Charles Forelle about competitive minature golf, as it’s played in Scandinavia.


In Europe, competitors like Mr. Ryner play a rigorously pure form of miniature golf. Course designs are more Mies van der Rohe than Myrtle Beach—clean lines, crisp angles, geometric obstacles. There are no garden gnomes astride the mini fairways. No toy windmills. No water hazards teeming with plywood crocodiles. Here, minigolf is an athletic fugue of golf and billiards, a challenge of precision and consistency.


I was shocked to discover that these hardcore minigolfers have a range of balls that they use for different surfaces and different angles, and that they can hit shots with deliberate spin. They even go to the trouble of heating or cooling balls when necessary to get the right amount of bounce off the walls.


Forelle maintains throughout the perfect A-hed-story tone of haute seriousness (“athletic fugue” is genius), but what makes the story priceless is the quotes collected from the stern Europeans who compete with such rigorous purity.


Minigolf requires stamina and precise control. Most of all, it takes mental fortitude, says Hans Bergström, a computer specialist at Volvo and president of the European Minigolfsport Federation. “You have a very small muscle movement that makes the difference. If you cannot control your nerves, you will get it wrong,” he says. “The very best players in the world are ice-cold men.”


What does this say about the Swedes and Germans who seem to dominate the sport?


To grow the sport in America, some entrepreneurs are encouraging enlivening the sport with goofier holes. But one of the champions is not pleased with the idea that courses will become more gimmicky to make the sport more enticing and perhaps televisable (and if you’ve read this far I definitely recommend you watch all the clips on the WSJ’s interactive video feature):


Walter Erlbruch bristles at the memory of a round of American-style minigolf. The passing blades of a windmill scooped up putted balls and flung them into a pool. “Luck,” sniffs Mr. Erlbruch. “If you make a nonsense of my sport, I don’t like it.”



I’m sure somewhere in America, miniature golf is played with this level of intensity, but it never managed to reach even the level of horseshoes in terms of respectability here as an adult game. That’s probably because it tends to be a family activity, meaning competitors are at unequal levels of ability. This encourages course designs that negate the role of talent, or else it makes adult players not to get too hung up on playing well in order to keep it “fun” for everyone—so they play down to the level of the kid who’s whacking the ball around with no conception of the rules or the purpose of keeping score. Also, it’s probably never caught on with adults here because, unlike, say, bowling or darts, drinking is not usually integrated with playing minigolf. Mini golf courses—inexplicably, to my mind—don’t typically have bars on site. You are discouraged from beer drinking while putt-putting, which is strange considering how commonplace drinking is on real golf courses, where players typically have to pilot motor vehicles around and send flying projectiles through the air with as much velocity as they can muster. But then, my pleasure in minigolf may strictly be a nostalgic thing for childhood, when cutthroat competition meant trying to get the ball in the clown’s nose for a free game, not trying to make sure you weren’t forced to work overtime without compensation just to keep your job.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Nov 14, 2007

After Paste magazine decided to follow Radiohead’s lead and offer their magazine for a pay-what-you-want price, Premiere Guitar magazine is now doing the same.  What’s fascinating about this is that: 1) the publishing world is picking up on a music industry model, 2) there’s only speculative results back about how well Radiohead did though it’s believed that they raked in mucho bucks, no matter how many people downloaded for free.  Granted that like the music industry, the publishing industry is also in desperate straights right now, also flailing around to find a sustainable model.  Granted, these kind of moves are good for publicity and to shoot up subscription bases (which can be turned into increased ad dollars) but as you see here, it is a gimmick that gets you noticed.  The question now is, will this be a winning model for the magazine biz?


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.