Monthly Archives: February 2009

Separated at Mirth: Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kenneth the Page

Bobby Jindal was supposed to be the GOP’s Great Nonwhite Hope, a potential challenger to Barack Obama in 2012 who would match the Democrat in youth and exotic ethnicity. But then we heard him speak — giving the official Republican response to the president’s speech on Tuesday night — and his chances for a presidential nomination were suddenly sunk. Not just because of his reality-challenged remarks, but also because of his unmistakable vocal resemblance to Jack McBrayer. No offense to the 30 Rock star (see video below), but America is not going to elect someone who sounds like Kenneth the NBC Page. Still, you have to love how the Republicans are apparently letting Lorne Michaels cast their young hopefuls — first, veep nominee Tina Fey, and now Louisiana Governor Kenneth. Can’t wait to see who the GOP equivalent of Tracy Morgan is.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Saturday Night Live, TV

Milking the Oscars

I wouldn’t have thought that the way to raise the Oscar broadcast’s viewership was to make it more like the Tonys (the only awards ceremony even deeper in the ratings basement), but I’d have been wrong. As with the Tonys, it turns out that you can make an entertaining and watchable awards show just by adding Hugh Jackman, a traditional tuxedo-and-walking-stick dance number, a decorated arch that makes the Kodak Theatre look more like Radio City Music Hall, plenty of awards for little-seen productions without recognizable stars (yep, even the creation of Oscar-winning Best Pictures is now being outsourced to underpaid kids in India), and a fair amount of proudly gay content.

Maybe all of red state America had already tuned out by the time, late in the broadcast, that Sean Penn gave his thanks (see video above) to “you commie, homo-lovin’ sons of guns.” I wasn’t sure if he was addressing just the assembled Academy members (many of whom were showing their support for gay marriage by wearing white knot emblems on their lapels), the Hollywood community at large (which has been active in the effort to repeal California’s Proposition 8), or America. When I first saw Milk, right around the time California voters passed Prop. 8 and banned gay marriage in their state, I was depressed at how little had changed in the 30 years since Harvey Milk won his uphill battle against another anti-gay California initiative, as depicted triumphantly in the movie. But after months of belated anti-Prop. 8 backlash, coupled with lavish (and deserved) critical praise for Milk (and Penn’s performance in particular) and a relative lack of complaint from the usual suspects about the film’s gay-rights politics, I’m thinking that maybe this really is a different America from 1978. Hell, it’s even a different America from 1996, when the openly homophobic Braveheart won Best Picture, and Academy voters still thought Tom Hanks was unimaginably brave for playing a gay man with AIDS a couple years before in Philadelphia. Back then, no one dared greenlight a mainstream Hollywood movie about Harvey Milk (though many tried to develop such a film and failed). Since then, however, Ellen DeGeneres has become a fixture in daytime TV, Will & Grace (and its syndicated reruns) became ubiquitous, and no-big-deal gay couples have popped up everywhere in both popular culture and many people’s real-life families. Continue reading

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What’s Bad for America Is Good for Music

Is Barack Obama’s presidency going to ruin music?’s Tony Sciafani fears that it is. Exhibit A: The rise of Lady Gaga (see above video) on the pop chart. Looking back over 50 years of pop history, Sciafani finds a correlation between periods of American prosperity/security and the popularity of substance-free, hedonistic dance pop. Similarly, he finds correlation between periods of American turmoil and the popularity of thoughtful, political pop. (Interesting that these weak-America-but-strong-tunes periods all correspond with Republican presidencies, with the glaring exception of Lyndon Johnson’s administration at the height of the ’60s protest-rock era.) With a Democrat in the White House, Sciafani worries that we’re going to have a dearth of meaningful music.

Setting aside the article’s assumptions that dance music is necessarily apolitical, or that only protest music has any value, or that hip-hop doesn’t exist (and isn’t full of complex political tunes as well as hedonistic club jams, no matter who’s president), I don’t share Sciafani’s fear. I’m glad Obama is president, but things are going to get worse before they get better, so there will be plenty for thoughtful musicians to complain about. And some of us may even welcome the opportunity to forget those troubles by listening to mindless dance pop.

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The Best Conservative Movies… EVAH!

It’s kind of sad that conservatives feel they have to co-opt popular culture just to seem hip. Aren’t they supposed to be above all that, above chasing the arbitrary, ephemeral nature of trendiness in order to affirm timeless values? Guess not, judging by the National Review‘s list of the best conservative movies of the last 25 years. There’s actually a lot of good movies on this list, but are they conservative? It takes a lot of wishful thinking, or deliberate obtuseness, to call some of these movies conservative. Mostly, it takes the assumption that conservatives have a monopoly on such virtues as heroism, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and opposition to terrorism and totalitarianism. It also takes willful ignorance of the ambiguity inherent in most movies.

For example, Juno makes the list because its heroine chooses adoption over abortion, but I was taken to task not long ago by a conservative critic (responding to this article) who insisted that Juno was a liberal movie because it depicts teen pregnancy as no big deal and men in general as feckless and weak. Team America: World Police skewers both liberals and conservatives. Gran Torino is about a bigot who learns to appreciate immigrants and their culture. The listmakers like Brazil for saying that a Big Brother government is bad, but they also like Dark Knight for saying it’s good. They like 300‘s militarism but breathe not a word about its extreme homoeroticism. They like Metropolitan‘s celebration of class privilege and noblesse oblige but don’t notice the movie’s simultaneous lampooning of the debutante set for being hopelessly out-of-touch dinosaurs. Even the ultraconservative Red Dawn (see trailer above) — which the opportunity to praise was, I suspect, the excuse for drawing up this list in the first place — has some mixed messages, particularly in the character of the general (played by Ron “Superfly” O’Neal) who comes to doubt the rightness of his invasion and sympathize with the occupied. Seems that imperialist invasions of other countries for no good reason are bad no matter who’s doing the occupying, but that’s a message that conservatives have somehow missed despite 25 years of watching that movie over and over. “Wolverines!” Continue reading

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They Got Nothin’

The political satire on Saturday Night Live has been pretty spotty of late, now that they don’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore, but sometimes, they get it spot on, as with last night’s take on the Republicans’ opposition to the stimulus bill, the Obama presidency in general, and anything else that Democrats put forth. They have no policy ideas of their own, no solution to the problems they created over the last decade, and no recognition of the fact that they’ve been soundly rejected in both the court of public opinion and the voting booth. When will the rest of the media take notice and stop taking these people’s opinions seriously? And when will the White House stop treating them as if their objections matter?

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Psyched for Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes strikes me as an inspired choice for the keynote roastmaster at this year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner. Not because it’ll be fun to see how a black lesbian ribs President Obama, but because she’s funny, full-stop. (In fact, I wish she’d get hired to host the Emmys, the Grammys, the Oscars, and every other black-tie gala that cries out for some pompousness-deflating perspective.) It helps that she’s a former DC civil servant who knows the territory. I predict she’ll also prove, as newly-minted citizen Craig Ferguson did at last year’s dinner, that it’s possible to be politically sharp and trenchant without being divisively partisan. (Not to slight Stephen Colbert’s all-time classic turn at the dais a few years back, but the dinner guests’ outrage over his satirical method kicked up a smoke screen that obscured the fact that every unflattering thing he said about both the politicians and the press was true.) Sykes speaks on May 9; set your DVRs for C-Span now. Meanwhile, here’s some Wanda wit to enjoy while you wait.

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The Grammys: ‘Conservative’ art vs. conservative art

As Sunday’s Grammys proved again, the Recording Academy isn’t the most forward-looking institution. While it wrings its hands about piracy, even as the music industry crumbles all around it, the Academy lavishes honors on the retro pairing of metal dinosaur Robert Plant and bluegrass craftswoman Alison Krauss — just as in recent years, it’s chosen Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Steely Dan, the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Santana, Tony Bennett, and Natalie Cole (her Unforgettable duet with her late father took Album of the Year in 1992, when Nirvana’s earthshaking Nevermind wasn’t even nominated). I don’t mean to slight Plant and Krauss’ Raising Sand, an album I really enjoyed, but the Grammys have a long history of not recognizing the most innovative new music until the train has long since left the station. For anyone who was paying attention, last year’s most notable efforts in new music were Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III and Radiohead’s In Rainbows; at least both got nominated for Album of the Year.

It would be easy to conflate the Grammys’ aesthetically conservative taste with politically conservative taste, had not the fish in a barrel over at Big Hollywood reminded us a couple of times last week how absurd that path is. First, there was the post “Republican is the New Punk,” which tries to claim everyone from Johnny Cash to Johnny Rotten for the right, and which is historically wrong in about 563 different ways. Then there was the fine eulogy for Cramps frontman Lux Interior, a guy few conservatives had anything nice to say about when he was alive. In the comments for that item was the suggestion that punk is conservative because it was the back-to-basics reaction to the excesses of pretentious hippie art-rock (which, of course, came to call itself “progressive rock”). Here, the Big Hollywood folks are confusing aural conservatism (little “c”) with ideological Conservatism (big “C”). Of course, prog owed much of its artsiness to old-world modes of classical music, while punk’s shock came in part from its building on the experiments in noise and feedback launched by the Velvet Underground. Which genre, then, was really more innovative? About two minutes of listening to one of the Clash’s reggae-based numbers should be enough to disabuse any thinking, listening person of the notion that punk was conservative or reactionary in either its sonic palette or its politics. Still, the notion persists that there must be some correlation between forward-looking music and forward-looking ideals. If anything, the BH response to punk, like the Grammys’ response to today’s innovative music, shows that that correlation doesn’t exist.


Filed under Grammys, In Memoriam, Music