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


Tuesday, December 17 2002

Toward a New Type of Culture

. . . in their quest for knowledge of and acquisition of the products of the Japanese animation industry, they have surpassed the daily concerns and cares of ordinary human beings.

The Art of Speed

A Norwegian film critic pointed out that film is the first form of art that is entirely capitalistic; invented in order to make money.

White Chocolate

In the past, it has been all too easy to identify many of these white artists under the rubric of 'blue-eyed soul'. But I'd like to argue for a separate category known as 'white chocolate' -- that which 'looks' different but contains all the flavor and the texture of the original.

You Can’t Take It With You: On Being Young and Middle Aged

I’m pretty sure it’s because I have mono. Spending all this time horizontal, having to pare my life down to what I can manage to accomplish before I collapse back into bed. If that doesn’t get one to thinking about all the unhappy accidents that come with a body, I don’t know what will. The most unhappy of the aforementioned accidents is, of course, mortality. But I’m not worried about death, necessarily. I’m worried about acting my age. My parents raised me in rural Maine, and they wouldn’t let me watch television for a reason: it was the mid ‘70s, and they thought that without the corruption of the city and mass culture their children would be more imaginative, more centered, more independent. There were a lot of people who thought like that in those days; from the first wave feminists (fashion magazines breed low self-esteem) to Marshall McLuhan (“the medium is the message”). All of this deprivation, of course, only made me more anxious to glue my eyeballs to the tube whenever possible. I remember illicit viewings of Nightrider and The Dukes of Hazard, sleepover cartoon freakouts, and even soap opera binges when my parents were away. I never learned, as some kids may have, that TV can get boring. To me that box of lights opened always and forever on to a forbidden country, its allure all the more powerful because to me it seemed to hold the secrets to the way that other people, normal people, lived. It didn’t help that we lived in the middle of nowhere. To some extent all of our Maine neighbors (that is, everyone in a 50-mile radius) suffered from the same postcolonial inferiority complex: things must be happening somewhere other than here. Unlike many kids of my generation, I missed out on the early days of MTV simply because our tiny town didn’t get a cable provider until the late ‘80s — we had to content ourselves with the broadcast alternative, a mere hour every week on “Friday Night Videos”. Yet at no time did I find myself ever seriously doubting that TV could show me who I was or how to be. If that channel I needed didn’t come on our TV, I was convinced that somebody somewhere was getting it, and so I would, too. So I ended up in college in Chicago, which is about as far as my imagination could take me from rural Maine. The industrial Midwest is a kind of hub for consumer culture; a place where kids know their way around a Target before they can even walk. Ever since the explorer Joliet discovered that a simple canal could connect the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, Chicago has functioned as the way station for every product imaginable. Products which, increasingly, are entertainment rather than utility-based. It was the early ‘90s, just as what MTV dubbed the “Alternative Nation” was coming of age. It may be true in some sense, therefore, that I watched myself grow up on TV. Or that I came into some awareness of myself just as the rest of the culture was turning its eyes toward “Generation X” and naming a new wave of something-or-other, a kind of insurgency that miraculously corresponded with all the things I passionately believed in, like Steve Albini and Touch & Go Records and Pavement. I remember quite clearly that in the summer of 1994, Time magazine ran a cover depicting the pitchfork-wielding couple in the painting “American Gothic” as indie rockers, all pierced and dyed. Though at the time I mourned what I thought was the exposure of some kind of pure underground, nothing could have prepared me for what’s happening now — which is to say nothing. For the past 10 years it seems like everything interesting or new in popular culture had to do with people my age. Or people who were 12 (like Britney Spears), which was also sort of about people my age (see the 20-something affection for cartoons and the double irony of bubblegum stuff a la the Donnas). Now my generation is slowly shuffling off of television’s immortal coil. Though I graduated with the class of 90210, they’ve been off the air for years. That ‘70s Show is about high school kids in a decade I don’t remember, and That ‘80s Show sucked. Dawson’s Creek, a show obviously written by people my age in order to cope with overactive high-school nostalgia, has now degenerated into, well, something like the later years of 90210. Ditto for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which at its best moments even introduced a level of post-graduation irony. I’m left now with only the last season of Friends, which I never cared about much anyway, and the half-baked consolation of Gilmore Girls, which offers me exactly zero characters of my age or station in life (since I’m neither a high school girl nor a former teenage mom) but at least is witty, well-written, and set in New England. I only watch Smallville when I want to think about the demise of the family farm in a sort of Tommy Hilfiger ad kind of haze, and I have absolutely no interest in the Alias‘s and

Wednesday, December 4 2002

The Merits of Stereotypes

(Discrimination) has little to do with stereotypes and a lot to do with societal and economic power matrices.

Wednesday, November 6 2002

Can You Dig It? Yes I Can!

This was a band that thrived despite being jeered and pissed on by critics, hipsters, jazzbos, even its own ex-members.

The Noble Sarariman

He was a dupe, a fool, a brainless, clueless buffoon who'd been sold a bag of goods, and willingly sacrificed everything to gain nothing in a world that had quickly gone to garbage.

California Dreaming: US Band Plans British Invasion

He was seeking advice on how an unknown Yankee combo could approach the mysteries of this tiny island and not leave with their tail between their legs.

Wednesday, October 30 2002

Takin’ Comics to the Streets: Glimpses of the Medium’s American Future

. . . Manga is a perfect example of what the comic medium can become: it is as omnipresent as television in its home country and has been likened to air itself, in that it permeates every facet of contemporary cultural life.

Joan Miró: An African Experience

. . . improvisation with materials that represent throwaway elements of our day-to-day existence is par for the course, both visually and economically.

Still Love H.E.R.

. . . I've come across more than a few hip-hop generation artists and intellectuals who are beginning to show strains of gray in their locks, twists, beards, and fades.

Prague Is Pop

Sure enough, before the soup arrives the band of young, shaggy musicians is working hard to blow the breadbaskets off the dinner tables.

San Francisco Daze

The myths of the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, and the cafes and bars of North Beach where the Beats proved that anyone incapable of rhyming poetry was cool, continuously lure thousands who cling to the nostalgia the city offers so readily.

Wednesday, October 23 2002

Pregnant PopTarts

This celebrity baby boom, as some are calling it, as well as the showing off of bumps by said celebs, has truly put a new glimmer on motherhood.

A Case for Legalizing Some Crime

Millions of professionals . . . derive their livelihood, parasitically, from crime.

Wednesday, October 16 2002

Johnny Clegg:  A South African Story

He was the first vocal artist to use Nelson Mandela's name in lyrics, but South Africans only got to hear them after the new democracy had come about.

Post-Ellen Blues: (Or Lack of?)

From a creative, social, and political standpoint, are there any major differences between dramas on commercial/pay cable channels and the networks?

Superman Said Suicide Is a Shame

Every child knows that monsters will not appear in Sydney, as they crawl into Tokyo's harbour; that asteroids only plummet on American cities; that aliens visit small towns around the world 'except' Australian ones . . .

Rock Writing and Sports Writing: Aesthetics vs. Athletics

(Richard Williams) felt, when he hung up his pop pen, that he'd almost run out of words to meaningfully apply to music.

Wednesday, October 9 2002

Cher Was No Gypsy

So those stories about gypsies were true: they were thieves and beggars, always ready to assault, possibly even kill, and quickly move on.

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