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


Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007

Yesterday I had dinner with Chris O’Brien, author of Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World. To grossly oversimplify, O’Brien looks at brewing practices around the world to show how they often reflect some of the tenets of environmental activism—use of local and naturally grown ingredients, development of craft knowledge, building community tradition, supporting sustainable agricultural practice, etc. I mention this not merely to shamelessly plug his book, but because I wondered what he would make of these findings (via Mind Hacks) by the Violence and Society Research Group correlating the level of violence to the price of beer. Cheaper drinks leads to more violence-related injury, and I’m guessing that is not the kind of revolution O’Brien wants to see fermented (despite what Lenin said about breaking a few eggs). Here’s how Vaughan at Mind Hacks summarizes it:

The researchers examined admissions to 58 hospital accident and emergency departments over a five year period and found that as the price of beer increased, violence-related injuries decreased.
In general, studies have found that alcohol consumption increases both the risk of being a victim of violence and the perpetrator of it.
There are three main theories on why alcohol and violence are linked: i) due to the drug effects on the brain; ii) because people use alcohol as an excuse for violent behaviour; iii) because people who use alcohol might be more likely to be violent, perhaps due to personality factors like sensation-seeking, impulsivity or risk-taking.

It’s easy to blame the nature of alcohol itself for the behavior of those who abuse it—it lowers inhibitions, impairs judgment and distorts perceptions and can induce psychosis if routinely abused. But part of the problem is—and this line of thinking is inspired by O’Brien’s book—that culturally, alcohol is regarded as a commodity, something to be industrially manufactured with the intent of having the most units of it consumed. The link between cheap beer and violence may be a matter more of the cheapness than the beer—the economic incentives that distort our natural impulses. Once beer becomes a industrial product whose only significant metric is units sold, it’s inevitable that marketing campaigns will be devised to increase sales, efforts that distort the nature of alcohol use and pervert how a community might otherwise deal with it in a benign and controlled fashion. And of course, one can point to the relentlessly competitive nature of capitalist society as generating stress that leads individuals to abuse alcohol—to consume unnatural amounts to relieve unnatural amounts of social pressure to be efficient and productive, or to compensate for the inconsolable exclusions that derive from class conflict and status seeking. In other words, one probably shouldn’t blame an inert substance like beer, which is what it is, for the uses human beings end up putting it to. A different set of social arrangements, a different set of cultural practices with regard to alcohol, would very likely divorce beer consumption from violence.

Bookmark and Share
Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007

According to its website, Sunshine Week is a “national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.” Public colleges and universities are an extension of state and county governments since the public’s tax dollars partially fund the institutions and since many elected officials often appoint college trustees and administrators. By default, the spirit fueling Sunshine Week’s promotion of open government should be nourishing college campuses. However, it’s becoming less clear why those rays are not shining brightly on campuses.

Bookmark and Share
Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007
by PopMatters Staff


The Mother Hips
Time We Had [MP3]


Not So Independent [MP3]

“Released April 3 on New York based-indie Camera Records, Kiss The Crystal Flake is the new full studio album by California psych-soul rockers. It is the follow up to the acclaimed Red Tandy EP (2005) and the first full album for the Hips since 2001’s Green Hills of the Earth. Featuring 12 new songs, Kiss The Crystal Flake reintroduces the world to the Mother Hips’ own brand of California rock, blending a natural psychedelia with their own 21st century musicianship and songwriting.”—Camera Records

Thes Ones
Target [MP3]

Grain Belt Beer [MP3]

Northwestern Bell 2 [MP3]

“Re-mixed commercials from the 70’s and more in this long-awaited instrumental solo debut, brought to you by half of People Under the Stairs, Thes One.”—Tres Records”

Wooden Wand
Delia [MP3] from James & The Quiet, releases 12 June 2007 in the US.

04/18 Ridgewood, NY Silent Barn
04/19 Poughkeepsie, NY Vassar College
04/20 Brooklyn, NY Lutheran Church
04/21 Purchase, NY SUNY Purchase
04/22 Philadelphia, PA Big Jar Books
04/23 Annandale-on-Hudson, NY Bard College
04/24 New York, NY Cake Shop
04/25 Boston, MA P.A.‘s Lounge
04/26 Portland, ME TBA
04/27 Northampton, MA TBA
04/28 Clinton, NY Hamilton College

Switch [MP3]

The Butterfly Explosion
Sophia [MP3]

Bookmark and Share
Monday, Apr 9, 2007

OOOO – it’s a bad week for DVDs. One of the worst in recent memory. It’s hard to figure out where the problem lies. There is lots of product sitting around, big title films from 2006 and recently released underachievers that could easily overpower the marketplace this week. It’s merely a matter of tweaking the turnaround time. Similarly, a holiday like Easter should have no effect on the sell-through strategy of your typical Tinsel Town tyrant. All manner of horror, science fiction and gratuitous genre offerings swamp the equally religious Christmas season year in and year out. Maybe it’s the commercial calm before the substantial shilling storm. Whatever the case, be prepared to be massively disappointed when you head to your favorite B&M this week. Aside from a couple of compelling titles – including the solid SE&L pick – there is nothing but double dips and drek on board for 10 April:

Payback: Straight Up – The Director’s Cut

One of the beauties of DVD – among its many technical joys – is the concept of artistic appreciation. Unlike VHS, which couldn’t find a way to include the perspective with its product, or laserdisc which lost its battle for cinematic celebration thanks to limited appeal, the tiny aluminum disc has revolutionized the way films are featured and/or frozen in time. Take this unusual reissue. Back in 1999, with his career taking a necessary downturn, manic Mel Gibson decided to get good and gritty with this taut little thriller. Paramount, unhappy with the way things turned out, booted Oscar winning writer/director Brian Helgeland off the project, re-edited and rescored the film (with Gibson’s input), and released it to minor box office success. Now, the original man behind the lens gets a chance to air out his version of the movie for interested fans. The buzz has been unbelievably positive, and argues for DVD’s place as the perfect preservationist medium. Even with limited audience interest, certain films can still find fans and flourish. This is clearly the case here.

Other Titles of Interest


Unlike JFK, which took the unsettling reality of the assassination of President Kennedy and turned it into a surreal social litmus test, Emilio Estevez’s Altman-esque approach to the death of candidate RFK is not so confrontational. Instead, it’s a reactive effort, with the events of the day reflected within its multi-character conceit. A clear critical “love it or hate it” project, there is still a brilliant movie to be made of this undeniable tragedy. Sadly, Estevez misses it by a couple of well-meaning miles.

My Father, the Genius

While it sounds like the standard indie film fodder – neglected child makes a movie about the eccentric father who failed to love her long ago – the best thing about this ditzy documentary is how balanced it is. Lucy Small is not out to vilify her dad, just understand him. And she takes us along for the revelatory ride. The result is an inside look at famed architect Glen Howard Small and the many parenting pitfalls he left behind.

Phantasm/ Phantasm III

Instead of going the Region 2 route, and offering a collection of all the Phantasm films, newly remastered and presented in a signature silver orb, Anchor Bay is applying a piecemeal approach. First up is Don Coscarelli’s initial classic, fully dressed with an anamorphic image and excellent extras. The third installment is no so lucky. It gets a packaging polish, but little else. While less than definitive, the old DVD saying of Region 1 beggars not being choosers apparently applies.

Slaughter Night (Sl8N8)

When it comes to international horror, no one is looking to the Netherlands for their genre jones. But with Slachtnacht (translation: Slaughter Night) a nation noted for its liberal policies toward drugs and sex can now safely secure a place in the pantheon of the paranormal. While not everything is original about this subterranean slasher film (it takes place in an abandoned mine) fright fans will still have a very good – and gory – time.

Survival Quest

Along with the Phantasm films, Anchor Bay continues to celebrate the directing efforts of Don Coscarelli with this little seen survivalist thriller. Starring b-movie legend Lance Henriksen as a Outward Bound-like instructor who must push his city slicking students into learning to co-existence with nature, this collision with a group of mindless militia types has some nice characterization, and a great deal of Coscarelli’s signature invention and wit.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Video Violence 1 & 2

Every once in a while, SE&L steps up and offers a motion picture PSA, a stern cinematic warning to be heeded at all creative costs. In this case, a company called Camp Motion Pictures is giving DVD a decidedly black eye. It’s releasing what can best be described as bottom of the barrel, direct to video dung circa the mid-‘80s on an unsuspecting genre fanbase. These filmic flim flam artists would have you believe that this pair of titles, nothing more than Super VHS gore goofiness from the Greed Decade, represents some manner of MIA motion picture macabre masterworks. In reality, these efforts are repugnant, the kind of amateur atrocity that the readily available 21st century technology is supposed to destroy. Don’t get caught up in the horror hype, or think that, somehow, independent director Gary Cohen has managed to create some kind of camp or kitsch classics. Instead, these awful offerings will test the terror tolerance levels of even the most devoted fan of off-title trash.


Bookmark and Share
Monday, Apr 9, 2007

Rob Walker’s Consumed column in yesterday’s NYT Magazine, about the “innovations” in toaster technology, raises the question of what constitutes an authentic innovation without quite answering it. Do all innovations become commoditized, or can products be continually refined so as to refresh their novelty and extend their usefulness? Should we differentiate between cosmetic improvements and actual functional improvements. The column ends with this punch line:

the market has spoken, and its message is that this innovation — while it may not rate as breakthrough status — is, to some, worth paying for. As Clyne notes, the Egg & Muffin toaster is being tweaked with even newer options. Like more slots. And a version with a stainless-steel finish. But those innovations will, of course, cost you extra.

This seems to suggest that anything consumers will pay more for should be considered an innovation in our consumerist culture, and maybe that’s right. There’s no more sense seeking authentic innovation than there is deciding what really counts as creativity (rather than cultural recycling or cynical commerce) or what the true use value is of various commodities—postmodernism should have taught us that there is no measuring stick with which to take stock of these things (no Archimedian point from which to lift the world, so to speak; no standard that is not itself free of the need for evaluation), and into that void of verifiable authenticity we may as well let the market and its scoreboard of dollars exchanged stand.

But still I balk at letting interchangable stylistic refinements stand as innovations—society did not progress with the invention of the brushed-stainless-steel toaster, and the $200 pair of jeans is no humanist triumph either. Fashion cycles turn in a wheel without propelling society forward —but ah, how can I even say I know which direction society is moving in? We can refer to increases in efficiency and output, but adherence to these economic gauges may come with spiritual costs: a corrosive rationality that can’t comprehend pity or sympathy, a loss of community, a preference for facile convenience over the difficult but enriching bonds of human companionship, and all that. Nevertheless, fashion and style innovations intend to allow consumers to signal primarily their superiority to others, imposing on them a net loss in the zero-sum game of status. “real” innovations would have to overcome that net loss by supplying some compensatory utility that is free from the game of self-aggrandizement. But isn’t it the case that utility, as a matter of individual preference and satisfaction, is virtually defined as self-aggrandizement? Does such individualism at the root of how we conceive innovation doom us to focus our innovative efforts on those things that will ultimately consume themselves in a burst of trendiness or fashionability that’s quickly spent? These are convoluted ways of asking whether the conflation of style with innovation basically turns all innovation into mere shifts of fashion, with it impossible for us to judge what are lasting improvements from a standpoint more comprehensive than what’s good for our own ego. Encouraging the motive of self-actualization, through signaling goods, etc., has broken fashion as an idea out from its former niche as a frivolous aristocratic preoccupation in precapitalist times to be a primary force driving the economy—and if innovation is a matter of growing the economy, than perhaps fashion is innovation. Sorry—I seem to be going in circles here.

Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

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

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.