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

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Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011

According to Wikipedia, punk rock bands “created fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, embracing a DIY (do it yourself) ethic”.


This sounds familiar to me. It sounds like the greatest band of all time circa 1963 knocking out their first masterpiece in a marathon single day session. The Beatles had more edge than the Sex Pistols, rocked harder than the Clash, and had a revolutionary attitude that would make Black Flag blush. Simply put, the Beatles embodied all of the major punk rock ideals a decade and a half prior to the invention of the genre. Paul McCartney’s “1, 2, 3, 4” was not only the count in to the first punk rock song, but also the count in to the greatest revolutionary force of the 20th century. Vladimir Lenin, Che Guevara, Mao Zedong eat your heart out.


Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Beatles…



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Monday, Mar 28, 2011
Vintage cartoons finally have a home on broadcast television.

For those of us who don’t have cable or satellite television, good old-fashioned cartoons are hard to come by. When I was growing up, Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, and Winnie-the-Pooh were Saturday morning staples, but things have changed in recent years. The best Warner Brothers and Disney shorts have been saved for DVD releases, while the airwaves are clogged up with cheap-looking anime knock-offs, family-friendly sitcoms, and bland “educational” programs that would bore anyone over the age of ten to tears.


But if you have Antenna TV, the retro-themed TV network that airs in at least 26 states, you can watch Totally Tooned In. Usually airing in three hour blocks early Saturday morning, it’s the place to see characters like Mr. Magoo, Fox and Crow, Gerald McBoing-Boing, Scrappy, and Lil’ Abner.


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Thursday, Jan 6, 2011

One sometimes wonders whether we need a new film category: the “Blockbuster Cult Classsic”. Of course, Cult Classics in the more conventional sense are films that were critically and popularly panned upon release but went on to make inroads to the collective consciousness, either through appreciation of their awfulness or critical re-assessment. But the question is, do films create “cults” only when initially unpopular? Or is “cultishness” defined by certain kinds of popularity?


One should immediately distinguish between “fanboyism” and “cultishness”. The kind of cult meant here is that of film buffs whose guiding criteria is quality, not nerd enclaves more concerned with esoterica for its own sake. Tricorder-bearing Trekkers and bow-slinging LOTR enthusiasts can definitely be described as “cultish,” but that’s another question for another day.


No, “Blockbuster Cult Classic” would signify a film that sold big at the box office but was not received to its fullest critical or popular potential until well after it had left theaters, a film that was always popular but achieved new heights only after the passage of time. Of course, films are constantly rising and falling in the estimations of the taste-makers. But some experience this roller coaster ride more than others, and many among them were huge ticket sellers and critical darlings.


Films like Ghostbusters, Casablanca, or The Godfather were extremely popular and well-received upon their releases but arguably didn’t achieve “cult” status until way later. Anyway, just a thought. Any other suggestions out there for “Blockbuster Cult Classics”?


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Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010
Here’s a look at gifts from over 50 years ago.

Now that the Christmas season has passed and the gifts have already been received, let’s take a nostalgic look at popular gifts through the years. The 1950’s marked the beginning of mass TV advertising, making the following items popular gift ideas.


Remco Electronic Transistor Radio: It was the iPod of the 1950s. Brand new transistor technology made radios so inexpensive that children could put one together as a science lesson.


 

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Thursday, Nov 4, 2010
It was 40 years ago today that David Bowie arguably invented glam rock with the U.S. release of his third studio album The Man Who Sold the World.

It was 40 years ago today that David Bowie arguably invented glam rock with the U.S. release of his third studio album The Man Who Sold the World. While the dominant storyline usually contends that glam’s genesis began with Marc Bolan’s glitter and satin-wearing appearance on the British broadcast Top of the Pops in March 1971, Bowie nonetheless predated T. Rex’s performance that mixed raunchy guitars with androgyny by addressing sexual uncertainty over hard rock riffs on the Sold the World’s opener “The Width of a Circle”.


What’s more, Bowie’s first iconoclastic challenges to the alpha male rock star stereotype continued during the Sold the World era with him donning a dress during the album’s U.S. promotional tour, and he later showed up wearing the same garb on the album cover for the 1971 UK release of the project. 


But the Sold the World metamorphosis wasn’t just a stylistic change up but a musical diversion as well. Bowie abandoned his psychedelic folk-leaning roots on the release, teaming up with the virtuosic Mick Ronson (who later formed the backbone of the Bowie’s Spiders from Mars band) to concoct an album that leaned towards the proto-metal electric heaviness of then contemporaries Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.


Though Sold the World is now often overshadowed by Bowie’s commercial breakthrough Hunky Dory and the glorious run that is the Ziggy Stardust albums, the 1970 release is when Bowie’s strange odyssey really began. And when he became truly great.



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