A Current Affair

Michael Buening

The Current Affair universe swings between poles of outrageous horror and humor.

A Current Affair

Airtime: Weekdays, Times vary
Cast: Tim Green
Network: Syndicated

In 1986, Fox's A Current Affair invented the tabloid news magazine. It taught us that a suspect moving in slow motion is guilty until proven innocent, that camcorders are a scandal's best friend, and that we live on an unfathomably dangerous planet.

I loved this show growing up, but to tell you the truth, I can't recall many specific images or stories. All I remember is feeling a fiery range of emotions, from scared to excited to vengeful. The original transposed Rupert Murdoch's sensational entertainment as investigative journalism to resounding success in television. Its influence was visible in direct rip-offs like Hard Copy and true crime shows like America's Most Wanted, then extended to network news magazines like 20/20 and Dateline NBC. Now, with the advent of 24-hour news scandals and bi-monthly Trials of the Century, there is no such thing as tabloid news. It is the news.

This tabloid timeline might make A Current Affair seem responsible for the Long Island Lolita, the Bronco chase, Jesus juice, and the fall of Western Civilization. But now that it has been resurrected (its new incarnation debuted 21 March), A Current Affair looks surprisingly modest. It reminds me of a "Golden Age," when Fox News didn't mean rabid patriots and screaming pundits but wet T-shirt contests, serial killers, and Rob Lowe's sexcapades. The new Current Affair world is still a Grim America of unpredictable never-ending violence, Satanic cults, and out-of-control libidos delivered with a knowing wink.

Each episode follows the original's three-segment format. The first details a horrific crime (this will sometimes take up the second segment as well); the second is a heartwarming story usually involving a horrific crime (a lawyer loses his hands in a bomb blast, somebody finds his wedding ring years later); and the third is a titillating and/or humorous sorbet to cleanse your traumatized palate. In an inspired move that set my heart aflutter, the producers also decided to use the original Trump-meets-Nagel pyramid graphic and "do-di-do-di bong" sound effect.

Ex-Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green is a natural fit as anchor. He's got Bill O'Reilly's arrogant smirk, Maury Povich's stern but good-natured demeanor, a hint of Geraldo's pomp, and a mischievous glimmer that says, "I'm pretending like I'm your friend, but I could totally kick your ass." He strains to play nice, a pleasant approach compared to the mad histrionics on-air personalities use trying to jockey up the cable news ladder.

Besides an update on the trial of Debra LaFaye (described as "the statuesque blond who has come to embody the teacher sex epidemic sweeping America"), A Current Affair avoids national scandals in order to explore suburban horrors and hijinks. The show has made one clear 21st century update in its preference for today's principal boogeyman, the scary teenager. In its first week, four of the five main stories were teen-related, three about killer kids. The stories are horrible and upsetting, but the repetition makes disturbing generalizations about teen violence. Outcast adolescents are unknowable aliens who form groups like "The Crew," dabble in the "Goth subculture," have "strange sexual habits," and listen to "bizarre music." They're basically immoral automatons taught by the media and the Internet to murder. Branding children as a Village of the Damned-style menace became commonplace in the media after the Columbine tragedy. Watching A Current Affair pick up the mantle so enthusiastically after some of the fervor had died down is distressing.

The Current Affair universe swings between poles of outrageous horror and humor. As Green says, "When we give you something heavy, we're gonna try to give you something light to end up on." The final portion of the show is usually fun, newsmagazines at their harmless best, and one gonzo reporter away from a Daily Show bit. The debut episode featured a publicity-hungry Virginia politician who tried to outlaw "backside cleavage." The bill was set to pass until the plumbers' union squashed it, because it "jeopardized their way of doing business."

A Current Affair, like all tabloid news, is still guilty of trafficking in fear, a cheap ploy that promotes paranoia and ignorance. Affair concentrates on sleazing up local stories; cable news now uses the same hit-the-panic button tactics on national and international level topics. This can be fun and the manipulations laughably obvious, but there's a devastating potential in spinning one-sided half-truths, as seen in the machinations of our newest media juggernaut, the Republican party. They have mastered tabloid story-telling tactics (along with prepackaged video clips, commentators, on-staff "reporters," aircraft carrier hooplas, and lock-step talking points) to distract from their lies, swindles, ineptitudes, and destruction in America's good name. Distraction is tabloid's result. Instead of discussing societal and individual factors in the development of troubled teens, we hear about psychopathic killers; instead of analyzing the United States' torture policies, we see stories on Jessica Lynch.

The first A Current Affair debuted during the Reagan years, when the U.S. was pumped full of the Red Menace, the war on drugs, and inner city violence. After September 11, Republicans exaggerated another very real environment of fear to pursue their own goals, and it's no wonder that Fox (which has already benefited greatly from trumpeting GOP talking points) thought this would be the perfect environment to re-launch their show.

Wait! Power, corruption, secret torture chambers -- somebody get a camcorder, I've got a great idea for a story.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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