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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2007

Andy Warhol, perhaps the first person to be famous for being famous, is credited with the idea that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

We are not yet at that point. (Yet). But the way that the world is evolving—unflaggingly plugged in, exponentially commercialized, stimulatory kinetic, endlessly poly-tasking, audio-visually peripatetic, increasingly standardless, intellectually uncritical, morally undiscerning—we are likely to get there. And maybe even faster than in 15 minutes!

In fact, looking at the way that celebrity operates of late, it is likely that Warhol’s 15 will become transformed into something less. Less than minutes.

Possibly seconds—though perhaps even nano-moments. Whatever those are (but coined here to capture the light-speed evanescence of contemporary renown).

It is less inevitable, I would reckon, than rational. Seeing as how we have such limited attention spans. 15 seconds is probably longer than can hold most of us in place. Besides, there are simply too many of us now. And for more and more of the many of us, we now seem to crave more attention from a world that:

  1. has more outlets for expression;
  2. more means for attention-securing; and
  3. less concern about the types of attention it is willing to accord us.

Call it the O.J. phenomenon . . .

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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2007

In what’s sure to become a classic moment in live stage patter, Trent Reznor, aka Nine Inch Nails, tells an Aussie audience that since his CD’s are still priced too expensively there, they should just go out and “steal it.”  See the it at YouTube now.

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Monday, Sep 17, 2007

For the formerly famous or once noted, the decision on how best to promote a comeback is complicated at best. Do you rely solely on your previous efforts, or do you try and expand or even modify them for a new generation of fans. In the case of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, the one time TV icons in charge of the unquestionably brilliant Mystery Science Theater 3000, it has been fan inflexibility, not a lack of inspiration, that’s guided their post-cancellation endeavors. While providing audio only comic commentary tracks for popular blockbuster efforts (via the Rifftrax online brand), they also decided to reconfigure the old MST model. Sponsored by cult cravers Shout! Factory, the new enterprise, entitled The Film Crew, has used DVD’s wealth of public domain dung to bring in-theater quipping back from the dead. And it’s been a remarkable rebirth, to say the least.

With last month’s Hollywood After Dark release already under their belt (the Rue McClanahan stripper fiasco was a great place to start), the talented trio now take on two completely different beyond b-movies. In Killers from Space, Peter Graves is a jet pilot who somehow manages to survive a deadly crash. Turns out, aliens rescued him with the intent of using him as a spy. Their goal? The top secret times and locations of America’s nuclear tests. This is then followed by the proto peplum of The Wild Women of Wongo. In the title village, the gals are gorgeous. Unfortunately, the men are brutish and bad tempered. When a regular Greek god, muscled and well meaning, arrives from the downstream land of Goona, the girls go ga-ga. Turns out, things are the exact opposite where he lives. The guys are hot. The women are definitely not. Naturally, royal rituals and alligator gods must be appeased, even as loin clothed lovers make prehistoric cow eyes at each other.

Clearly functioning under the “not broken, no fixing” formula, The Film Crew set-up has Mike, Kevin, and Bill playing employees of the entertainment eccentric Bob Honcho. He’s a motion picture maverick who believes that every DVD, no matter how nominal, deserves a commentary track. He makes regular phone calls to his cinematic stooges, announcing their assignments and, in general, flaunting his high powered CEO lifestyle. Unlike Mystery Science, which relied on skits every 22 minutes to break up the bad movie monotony, The Film Crew offers a one time midpoint ‘Lunch Break’. There, between bites of sandwich and slurps of diet shake, the men mock contrivances within the film – be it the decision to use exaggerated body parts to suggest that said killers are actually from space, or learning how to locate Wongo on a map. 

As lifelong fans of such external monologue mannerisms will tell you, it’s the movie that makes the mockery, not the other way around. When you have something as lifeless and leaden as Killers from Space, it can try even the wittiest rejoinder’s resolve. But when overwhelmed by atrocious acting, half-baked production design, and various untenable body types draped in fur covered diapers, The Wild Women of Wongo creates a never-ending Arch Hall Jr. foundation of funny business. Both releases offer a ridiculous amount of fun, but Wongo eventually wins out, if only by a horndog hair. Whereas, in the past, the potential comedy was hindered by cable standards and family-oriented programming, The Film Crew can now let their lecherous freak flag fly.

It starts right at the beginning of the otherwise atrocious tale. Kevin Murphy decides that every action taken by the title babes mandates a seedy, suggestive, double entendre. When a battle breaks out between two of the tempting tribeswomen, it’s the sign for a series of catcalls. An embrace between the Princess of Wongo and the Prince of Goona earns a series of sexually suggestive statements, and the beefy chuck steak nature of the bodybuilder cast mandates its own level of man musk bemusement. However, the most mileage is gained out of a Dragon Temple sequence where the matronly priestess screeches that everyone must “DANCE!!!” Thanks to the open format of the digital domain (meaning nothing need necessarily be ‘rated’ by the MPAA), our satiric triptych can let their shorthairs down, so to speak. Of course, their comedy is not really that crude to begin with, but to hear them skirt around the scandalous is really a treat.

As for The Wild Women of Wongo itself, it’s like exploitation without the free flowing flesh peddling extremes. The scantily clad cast is obviously not trying for some manner of archeologically adept realism, and the storyline is Romeo and Juliet with added jungle juice. In fact, the driving force inside the nutty narrative is the notion that male chauvinism is (apparently) part of our primordial DNA. The male members of the tribe sit around and imitate a monosyllabic Homer Simpson as they berate and barter over the ladies like ranchers at a carnal cattle auction. The guys from Goona aren’t much better. They may have overdeveloped lats and too sweet pecs, but they’re backwards as well in the way of the woman. It’s the goofy XY equilibrium between know it all honeys and do nothing hunks that makes this a classic cornball comedy companion piece.

Killers from Space, on the other hand, makes Red Zone Cuba seem like The Missiles of October. The Crew does come out swinging, taking on the military industrial complex, and its apparent appreciate of smoking, for all its non-filtered farce. It’s great to hear the guys giggle as General after Major pull out a pack and light up. When a driven Peter Graves is put under Sodium Amatol, the lack of convincing unconsciousness also provides the perfect platform for laughs. But the choicest chuckling comes when our hero, trapped in an underground cavern, tries to escape. For nearly 20 minutes, he is confronted by rear projection pictures of oversized “monsters”. In reality, they are nothing more than lizards, tarantulas, and iguanas given some silly schlock resizing. As they did on the Satellite of Love, the gang gets a kick out of giving such lame F/X the ridicule rub.

As a movie, however, Killers from Space maintains its mindnumbing mediocrity throughout. This is a terribly talky film, a narrative that substitutes words for vistas unaffordable or unobtainable.  There are significant scenes of cars driving aimlessly, and when we finally meet the title terrors, they’re nothing more than unitard wearing insurance salesmen with painted ping pong balls for eyes. Perhaps an audience still in awe of all the A-bombing going on would cotton to such crudity. But decades of sophistication has rendered such radioactive retardation more stupefying than Larry the Cable Guy. Alongside the Captain Video level of extraterrestrial originality and the elephantine critters, you’ve got a literal compendium of sloppy suburban sci-fi, the kind of speculative fiction that would give Harlan Ellison agida for decades. 

As for packaging and presentation, Shout! Factory and the minds behind The Film Crew have really improved things over the Hollywood After Dark release. The bonus features on Wild Women of Wongo allow you the opportunity to see Mike, Kevin, and Bill cut a movie mandated rug. There’s also a recreation of the snarky “wink” ending to the film. The added content for Killers from Space is even more intriguing. After Murphy shows us how backwards masking was used to emulate alien language in the storyline, we are given the opportunity to watch “outtakes” from the infamous silly talk scene, with the Crew substituting their own dialogue for the scientific read outs. It’s a hilarious extra, and one that shows where this series could go, should it continue.

And here’s hoping that it does. In an arena that takes itself far too serious, which wants to award any and all product made by the hack Hollywood studio system some manner of long deserved classical status, we need entities like The Film Crew. They’re the lampoon equivalent of an uppercut to the chin, a clear comeuppance for a cinematic statement that really does nothing more than stink on ice. Cinephiles can argue over the worthwhile qualities inherent in a dumb as dirt skin epic, or a dialogue driven diatribe against nuclear weaponry, but when all is said and done, The Wild Women of Wongo and Killers from Space are nothing more than misguided motion pictures. They are poorly executed, laughable examples of celluloid as septic tank. Luckily, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett are still around to accessorize the aroma. Indeed, The Film Crew continues to make the most noxious non-entertainment utterly enjoyable. 

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Monday, Sep 17, 2007

A new video has surfaced from shortly after 9/11, where then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani inadvertently riffs about all the services the Big Apple offers to illegal immigrants. The comments came in response to a question about immigrants seeking immunity as they visit relatives in the wake of the 9/11 disaster. While first offering safe haven to these grieving family members, Giuliani then goes on to mention how New York City gives medical services, public education, and protection from the police without reporting these illegal immigrants to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The statements are about as close to offering asylum as a metropolitan mayor can come.

The Republican front-runner, who has recently declared that “we can end illegal immigration”, has come under some scrutiny lately for his past remarks on this and other issues which are vitally important to courting Republican primary voters. Giuliani, who was vehemently critical of Senator John Kerry’s supposed flip-flopping during the 2004 Presidential Campaign, is now faced with the prospect of defending his own waffling stance on this contentious issue. Illegal immigration, however, is not Giuliani’s only problem with courting the right-wing as America’s mayor tries to explain away his three marriages; abandon his pro-gay rights stance; embrace the gun culture; and condemn a woman’s right to choose. As the hype from 9/11 continues to wither away, Giuliani is exposed for the opportunistic politician he ultimately is.

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Monday, Sep 17, 2007

The polls say that 99% of people who read this story will be fascinated by it. A further 25%, if they re-read the story in a week’s time will be equally impressed.

By Aaron McKain.

“Here’s where they stand in Iowa”: Obama: 27, Clinton: 26, Edwards: 26, Richardson: 11, Biden: 2, Kucinich: 2, Dodd: 1, Gravel: “no support registered.”

A poll is a fairly shady way to kick-off a presidential debate. But it’s a shadiness that’s become more or less standard operating procedure: we trot the candidates out on stage, they stand with aw-shucks grins, and they continue to stand and grin while the moderator reads 5/8s of them their political death rites. On this particular morning in Des Moines (August 19, 2007), it’s ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos doing the honors, alerting the audience to the percentage of surveyed Iowans—those first-line gatekeepers of the American presidency—who “if the Democratic Caucus were being held today” would throw their support behind given candidate X. Twenty-four weeks before the Iowa Caucus, the poll is a strange bit of statistical speculation. Broadcast six minutes before a televised debate, the poll may cross the line between strange and outright bumfight cruel, particularly when it forces a genuinely decent old crank like Mike Gravel to smile-squirm through the announcement of his zero percent approval rating.

But pointing out this strangeness—the polls, the debates, the news-media’s hand in either—is decidedly Stale Old News, not worth a yawn or the time it takes you to scroll down. This is the quixotic dilemma of any attempt to quote-unquote “critically analyze” presidential politics: everyone already knows that the campaign is a glorified horserace, and everyone already knows that this horserace, like anything else worth anything in this world, is a wee bit totally jury-rigged. Moreover, for any bona fide campaign junkie, anyone truly addicted to the jockeying and braying, hinting at the bunkness of our nation’s electoral ritual goes beyond banal and bumps-ass into outright betrayal. It’s like telling your six-year-old nephew that pro-wrestling is fake: it doesn’t make the kid feel any better, it doesn’t make it any easier to body slam 550lbs of pituitary anathema, and it doesn’t necessarily explain a better way of picking an Intercontinental Heavy Weight Champion. This is what my friends who can’t believe I still watch the stuff—politics, not wrestling—don’t get. And it’s why all the recent brouhaha about hypotheticals (you were wondering when I’d get to them, no?) is such a slap in the face to all of us still foolish enough to watch the contest.

For those at least smart enough to tune out the pageant during high summer, here’s the catch-up. Sometime around August, the politicos decided that going after Sen. Obama for his willingness to answer hypothetical “what if?” questions would be a capital-g Good Idea, a strategy smart enough to win over voters, including those crucial Iowa Caucus-goers. Calling bullshit on an opponent’s willingness to engage in a mode of questioning, rather than their actual answers to specific questions, is a stupendously odd (albeit ancient) rhetorical strategy. That Obama’s rivals are even trying it is a testament to the bind they’re in. The “hypothetical” stances the Senator from Illinois has carved out—he would meet with the Axis of Evil, he wouldn’t nuke Iran, he would pursue al-Qaeda in Pakistan with or without Gen. Musharraf’s support—are all popular positions for the mainstream left, and if your opponent is able to articulate popular positions whenever they open their mouth, then that’s a mouth you need to find a way to shut. Attacking hypotheticals could, hypothetically, accomplish this.

Unfortunately for Obama’a challengers, convincing voters that hypotheticals are dangerous (and thus off-limits like chokeholds and piledrivers) is a hard argument to sell in a soundbyte. On the stage in Des Moines, the candidates’ delivery of the anti-hypothetical argument is not only miserably club-footed (Clinton: “we shouldn’t use hypotheticals, words do matter”; Edwards: “as a president, I wouldn’t talk about hypotheticals”; Richardson: “this talk about hypotheticals is what’s gotten us into trouble”) but it also foregrounds why the critique is counter-intuitive in the first place. As John Dickerson has pointed out in Slate, presidential campaigns are comprised of a series of hypotheticals (in the Iowa debate, what-ifs about troop pull outs, sovereign partitions, oil revenue, health care, and whether Clinton has a snowball’s chance of winning) all in the service of an over-arching hypothetical (“if I am elected…”) that provides voters precisely the information they most desire (i.e., what is this ego-freak going to do once we make them the Most Powerful Person on Earth?). Hypotheticals are also on the spot gut-checks, glimpses into a would-be leader’s instincts and reasoning and gauges of whether they share our common sense of the world. To voters, hypotheticals will always feel more People’s Elbow than low blow, and it would take a lot—and a lot of specific lots—to persuade them that this populist crowd favorite needs to be kept out of the ring.

Which is not to say that hypotheticals aren’t potentially dangerous. Obama’s comments re: Iran and Pakistan referenced ongoing, nuanced (well, ongoing at least),undeniably non-hypothetical diplomatic efforts. Richardson and Clinton are half-right when they warn that in these circumstances “[w]ords do matter” because words can matter, particularly when they are that explosively magical combination of the right words and the right person saying them, an equation which becomes highly probable when the person saying those words has a fair shot at being The Next President of the United States of America. Candidate Reagan learned this lesson on the campaign trail in ’80 when he slipped-up and announced his support for Taiwan while his vice-presidential candidate George H. W. Bush was in China pimping for the opposite policy. (In political science circles, this is what is known as being taken for a ride on Space Mountain”). The Chinese, like Musharraf, were beyond displeased. But this is the cost of doing campaign business in the democratic open-air. To refuse to ever pay this price, to deny hypotheticals across the board—or even hint at such a thing in a desperate fit of political stratagem—is to turn all campaign discourse into vanilla stump speech mush.

Of course, the other entity with words and the juicy gravitas to make them matter is ABC News. And the sick spit in your eye irony—conveniently lost on everyone beating this hypothetical story into the ground—is that if candidate hypotheticals are dangerous, news/pundit hypotheticals are doubly so. The ever-present horserace question, “If the election were today, would you vote for this candidate?” is the ultimate campaign hypothetical and this speculative staple of our political diet finds its numerical, quasi-scientific legitimation in The Poll. The poll has pull, the sort of news-muscle that determines who gets to the chance to compete to be elected and thus what actually happens to Musharraf or Tehran. The poll is what gives the voters, to quote Rep. Kucinich’s sound-with-bite, a “conditioned choice,” letting ABC tell those all-important Iowans that an eight person scramble with six months to go is a really just a three-way race. (And it’s what justifies ABC’s use of debate questions that ensure the race stays that way; e.g., asking Obama to respond to Richardson responding to Biden responding to Dodd responding to Clinton responding to Biden’s statement that Obama isn’t experienced enough to be president.)  The survey hypothetical is what has preserved Hilary Clinton’s frontrunner status for nearly two years, which is four times longer than JFK’s entire primary campaign. And it’s what reduces Dodd, Kucinich, Richardson, Biden, and Gravel to jobbers, punching bags thrown in the ring only to make the company favorites look good.

All of which is still State Old News, a Yawnfest ostensibly beneath comment or contempt. But candidates working the refs by crying hypothetical to the ABC oddsmakers makes this Old News a little more than this political junkie can bear; it dances too close to the flame and pretends to not feel the heat. It’s Ric Flair, all 243 shambling, greased-up pounds of him, stopping the match and turning to the cameras to say “hey, I think that punch was fake.” We already know we’re suckers for watching; don’t rub our faces in it.

Tagged as: media, politics, polls
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