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

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Thursday, Sep 16, 2010

It’s either genius at its most inventive or someone with just too much time on their hands. However, Toronto’s James Cochrane took a bunch of old electronic devices and computer parts, including printers, along with a handful of household items, to create the Bit-52s – a robotic cover band of the B-52s. Creating a series of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, Cochrane was able to replicate the B-52s’ ‘70s seminal hit “Rock Lobster” in its entirety in what appears to be his basement. The only question that really remains after watching this video is: does the “band” take requests?


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Friday, Sep 10, 2010

During the big “boy band” craze of the late ‘90s, early ‘00s, LFO stood out. Their hip-hop style and inventive, fast wordplay gave them memorable hit singles in a crowded, competitive field. Perhaps the biggest reason for their success was lead singer Rich Cronin, who partially wrote and produced much of the group’s music. Their biggest hit was “Summer Girls”, a nostalgic nod to a summer romance, punctuated with Cronin’s memories of early ‘90s pop culture. Where else are you going to find a song that mentions Abercrombie & Fitch, Fun Dip, Michael J. Fox, and New Edition, amongst other things? In 1999, it was virtually impossible to find someone under the age of 30 who couldn’t recite the chorus of “New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits, Chinese food makes me sick…,”.



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Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010

Maybe it’s time again to revisit Peyton Place, not the cheesy television show or even the risque novel, but the big screen movie of love, angst, teen rebellion, and parental authority. Never has sexual repression looked so good, with Lana Turner as the repressed single mother who accuses her good girl teenage daughter played by nymphet Diane Varsi of acting the whore. Although this tale was set at the beginning of World War II, it’s late ‘50s release said more about that decade of juvenile delinquency than it did the past as kids go to make out parties, get married against parental wishes, and rebel against corporate conformity. That’s why the movie feels so fresh today. Despite the dated clothes and cars, the norms of contemporary times seem to have regressed and the threat of world war as a backdrop to the what the heck attitude of adolescents makes the zeitgeist seem increasingly appropriate. The trailer seen here with the movie premiere make looking into the past a vision of the near future.



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Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010
While Eno’s reputation is certainly secure, the true measure of pop culture relevance is being linked by six degrees or less to that other bastion of prolificacy, Kevin Bacon.

Being one of the most eclectic, innovative, and all-around brilliant musicians in the world, Brian Eno’s list of collaborators is a who’s who of art rock luminaries. He is a founding member of Roxy Music, a pioneering composer of ambient music, and the producer of records with John Cale, Robert Fripp, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo, U2, and many more. But while Eno’s reputation is certainly secure, the true measure of pop culture relevance is being linked by six degrees or less to that other bastion of prolificacy, Kevin Bacon. (Personally, I think Michael Caine is a much better choice for the Six Degrees game, or even Donald Sutherland, but no one asked me.)


Okay, let’s see…  1) In their most recent album Congratulations, MGMT name-drops Eno with a song entitled, appropriately enough, “Brian Eno”. That album also contains a track named “Song for Dan Treacy,” a reference to the lead singer and songwriter for the legendary punk rock band 2) The Television Personalities. That band’s repertoire includes a whimsical cover of the Syd Barrett-penned “Bike,” probably the most widely-known tune from Barrett’s run with Pink Floyd. “Bike” was also performed by punk outfit 3) the Vindictives on their album, Partytime for Assholes, an album that included the 4) Burt Bacharach/Hal David standard, “Magic Moments.” Bacharach wrote the music for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which starred 5) Katharine Ross. Ross was in The Graduate with 6) Dustin Hoffman, who was in Sleepers with 7) Kevin Bacon. Okay, so not quite six degrees. Wait… Wasn’t Kevin Bacon in Arthur 2: On the Rocks? Whatever.


Seven is the best I can do, but this being the internet I’m sure someone will rise to the challenge. The important part is that Brian Eno IS a genius and, judging from his last album with David Byrne, isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And let’s not kid ourselves. This exercise was really just an excuse to dig up that Vindictives cover of “Bike”.



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Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010

The premise of the cartoon Super Chicken is deceptively simple.  A send-up of the comic-book superheroes also found on the small screen and large, the cartoon aired on Jay Ward’s George of the Jungle in 1967, and fit nicely with the show’s simple silliness, also found in other Ward shows like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.


But as with much of Ward’s output, there was something more sophisticated lurking beneath. Put aside the thematic correlations between Super Chicken and the war in South Vietnam. On a less politicized level, the parody of superheroes often times (and certainly in this case) is as much a jab at the source as it is at the recipient. The intended audience for much superhero fare tends to be the young, the unathletic. The ineffectual. The weaklings who, despite the astronomical odds against them, want so desperately to be heroic, to be seen as heroic. It is precisely because he is neither the brightest nor the most admirable that Super Chicken is a true hero for the disenfranchised.


In the insanely catchy opening theme, we can see two very quick shots that strengthen this claim. First, within the opening seconds, during the lyric “When you’re threatened by a stranger”, an elderly woman is pounding on an over-sized thug with her purse. Simple reversal of fortunes equals a quick laugh. But pause the YouTube video here and think about it: do we know this “thug” was at all threatening this woman? What if he had been offering her assistance across the street? Asking for directions to the local charity hospital so he could volunteer? That ever-present polarization between the elderly and the young was probably never more at the forefront of the American mind than it was during the late 1960s, and here Jay Ward has, however briefly, captured that. Who else to save a “thug” from a “granny” than Super Chicken?


This notion of the generation gap is reinforced with the very next lyric/image (“When it looks like you will take a lickin’”). A young man is about to be spanked. We know not his dastardly crime, but we all know that position, that feeling of terror: “An authority figure is punishing me!”  Ineffectual.  Weak.  It hits an immediate emotional core, and that extended caaaaaall for rescue reverberates from within.


Even if it is for a chicken and a lion in an egg-shaped flying car.



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