"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Pop Culture’

How Can The US Solve Its Problems When The Corporate Media Has Turned Into The National Enquirer?

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Oldspeak:”I call it “The Real World Effect”. Since the advent of the ‘reality’ show it seems that slowly people have become more concerned about scripted reality than actual reality. Obsession with celebrities’ and politicians’ sexual proclivities and “fabulous lives”. Poor and obese peoples path to redemption through hard work and beneficent rich persons. Anonymous persons rising to fame and fortune via televised dance and singing popularity contests. TV ready marriage minded singles finding “love” via an outlandish and demeaning relationship vetting process when the contestants ply their sexual and whatever other wares to vie for the attention of the desired man/woman.  Meanwhile, in actual reality civil liberties are eroded. Worldwide war is authorized. Access to information is censored and you’re surveiled. Your environment is being destroyed. Your children and food are being contaminated with toxins and poisons. And corporate media has very little if anything to say about these life altering realities. We can expect to continue to witness the downward spiral of the U.S. economically, morally, and socially until reality is focused on and dealt with in a meaningful & substantive way.

By Mark Karlin @ Truthout:

There is no escaping the salacious Anthony Weiner Internet scandal. Since the mainstream corporate media – for the most part – merged politics, news, entertainment, celebrity personalities and sensationalism, it’s been almost impossible to have an informed national discussion on public policy.

One Weiner “confessional” news conference is worth more in advertising revenue than a year of covering our wars that have spanned a decade.

A sizeable percentage of Americans are out of work and without a safety net, Medicare and Social Security are under siege, wars are being fought that receive only sporadic coverage and the disparity in income in America is at its widest point in memory. Yet, these and other pressing issues play a distant second fiddle to a Congressman engaged in sexual titillation over the web and on the phone – however creepy and inappropriate that may be.

The Weiner affair is just the latest example of what Chris Hedges calls “spectacle” coverage superseding the dissemination of news that informs and enlightens.

Weiner – as he noted in his news conference on June 6 – will have to answer to his wife, his constituents and Congress.

The news media that is increasingly evolving into a combination of the National Enquirer, People magazine and “American Idol” has to answer to history, as America descends into a tabloid future in which only the very rich will control the mass media “news” prism.

In Death, Michael Jackson Has Had The Comeback He Always Wanted.

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 10:03 am

Oldspeak:“It will be reallllly interesting when all the facts come out on Michael’s death. 400 Million in debt no longer, somebody’s making out like fat rats.”

From Ben Sesario @ The New York Times:

His estate, managed by two longtime associates, the entertainment lawyer John Branca and the music executive John McClain, has nearly settled his troubled finances by making a string of big deals: a record-contract extension with Sony, a new Jackson-themed video game, two Cirque du Soleil shows and a plethora of merchandise.

Over the last year, the Jackson brand has generated hundreds of millions of dollars, and experts in the management of celebrity estates say that in the long term it might very well equal or eclipse the value of what until now has been the ultimate entertainment estate: that of Elvis Presley, which earned $55 million last year, according to an estimate by Forbes magazine.

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” a film drawn from rehearsal tapes for the O2 arena shows in London that had been scheduled before he died a year ago, grossed $261 million around the world, according to boxofficemojo.com. And last year Jackson sold nearly 8.3 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan — far more than any other artist.

“What they’ve done brilliantly is that they’ve taken advantage of the emotion surrounding the tragic and unexpected passing of Michael Jackson, and done it in a way that’s tasteful yet profitable, and that’s challenging,” said Robert F. X. Sillerman, the financier who until recently was the chairman and chief executive of CKX, which controls the Presley estate. (Mr. Sillerman remains CKX’s largest shareholder.)

Before Jackson died on June 25 at the age of 50, he was on the brink of financial disaster, and he was about to embark on a risky move to return to performing after a 12-year absence. He was more than $400 million in debt, and bookmakers in London were placing bets that he would not appear for a planned series of 50 concerts at the O2 arena.

The change in public perception since Jackson’s death has been just as remarkable as his estate’s financial turnaround.

Although tickets to his London shows sold out in hours, the Jackson brand had been hurt by allegations of child abuse that had dogged him over the last two decades. (He settled a case in the 1990s, and was acquitted at a trial in 2005.) Last spring few fans turned out to view memorabilia at a planned auction in Beverly Hills, Calif. (it was canceled after Jackson objected), but when another Jackson auction opens in Las Vegas on Thursday, significantly bigger crowds — and higher prices — are expected.

Jackson’s executors were well aware that his public image needed tending.

“We felt we needed to restore Michael’s image, and the first building block of that was the movie,” Mr. Branca said in an interview on Tuesday. “People came away from that movie with a completely different view of Michael. Rather than being this out-of-control eccentric, they saw him as the ultimate artist, the ultimate perfectionist, but at the same time respectful of other people.”

But many cultural critics and estate managers say that the enormous, worldwide outpouring of emotion upon Jackson’s death — aided by an Internet-fueled news engine that has kept the issue in the public eye for the last year — established a momentum of its own.

“His sainthood began the moment that he died,” said David Reeder, vice president of GreenLight, a licensing agency that works with the estates of Johnny CashSteve McQueen and other celebrities. “That’s been beneficial for the estate. They haven’t had to overcome a lot of obstacles that might have made him less desirable commercially.”

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, said that death has changed the way Jackson is remembered and discussed, particularly among African-Americans. Last week Jackson was inducted into the Apollo Theater’s hall of fame, along withAretha Franklin.

“Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the Michael Jackson story is such a sad story in the end,” Professor Neal said. “And in reading him that way, some of his humanity has been recovered. We don’t necessarily see Michael as the demon that some folks might have seen him as in those last couple years of his life.”

Whether the Jackson estate can sustain its current levels of business — and whether public opinion will remain rosy — is another question.

This fall, Sony is planning to release an album of unreleased Jackson material. But the one major new song that has been released so far, “This Is It,” from the soundtrack of the movie, failed to catch fire on the charts. And the enormous spike in record sales from last year has settled down to the level of Jackson’s sales while he was alive; halfway through 2010, a little more than a million of his albums have been sold in the United States.

Bob Lefsetz, a former entertainment lawyer who writes a widely read blog about the music industry, said in an interview that without a Graceland-style destination to attract fans — Jackson’s ranch, Neverland, will most likely be sold, according to people with knowledge of the property — Jackson’s sales will eventually slow to a modest level.

“The question is legacy: Is he Elvis or is he not?” Mr. Lefsetz said. “It’s not like Elvis. There’s not much music. There’s one and a half albums there, somewhere between ‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Bad,’ and I think it ultimately fades out.”

Not everyone is so certain. Mr. Sillerman, who noted that the Presley estate was on track to have its most profitable year ever, said that death changes everything.

“There’s something unique about Americans,” he said. “We root against people and look for the negative while people are alive, and then we’re very forgiving, whether they deserve it or not, and we celebrate their success in death.”

Fictional Stars, Real Problems

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2010 at 8:50 am

From Melinda Beck @ The Wall Street Journal:

The case of two troubled teens captivated psychiatrists at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine for months. Eleven residents and four attending psychiatrists read up on their symptoms and met once a week to discuss them.

They stipulated early on that Edward was, indeed, a vampire. But since he was supposedly 100 years old, not 17 as he appeared, his adolescent moodiness suggested arrested development.

As for Bella, her self-loathing and willingness to sacrifice herself made her especially vulnerable to a dangerous relationship. Treatment plan: cognitive behavioral therapy to counter her automatic negative thoughts.

So what if the patients weren’t real? Analyzing the neuroses in the popular “Twilight” saga was such an effective teaching tool that the 12-week elective, dubbed “Therapy Bites,” was presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s conference last month.

“It was much more fun than sitting in a didactic lecture,” says chief resident Ashley Jones.

Sigmund Freud named the Oedipus complex for Sophocles’ tragic character and was fascinated with Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. Increasingly, professors from Psych 101 to medical schools and psychoanalytic institutes are using fiction and film in classroom assignments or outside electives.

“Students in the mental-health disciplines can sometimes learn as much about what it means to be human from studying popular films and novels as they can from sitting with a patient,” says Glen Gabbard, a professor of psychiatry and psychoanalysis at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Dr. Gabbard wrote “The Psychology of ‘The Sopranos,’ ” which offers a clinician’s look at the TV series’ dysfunctional characters. He holds his own optional monthly gatherings for residents to watch and discuss films such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Precious.”

The use of books and movies in teaching is growing in part because fictional characters obviously aren’t protective of their privacy the way real patients can be. Even when their names and identifying details are disguised, patients must give consent to have their case histories written about or discussed with others, and many are reluctant to.

What’s more, with fiction, students can experience a much wider range of disorders than they may ever encounter in real life. “Unless they work in prisons, very few psychologists will ever see many real sociopaths or severe antisocial characters,” such as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” or Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” says John Rosegrant, a psychoanalyst and director of the Arizona Center for Psychoanalytic Studies in Tucson.

Critics argue that studying the human condition through fiction is unrealistic, since the characters have only as much dimension as the author wants to give them, and their actions serve the plot more than anything else. Defenders counter that real patients sometimes lie too and only reveal as much as a therapist can extract.

Assessing fictional characters’ motivations can also help budding psychologists and psychiatrists gain experience and confidence. In the “Twilight” assignment, residents evaluated the biological, psychological and cultural factors affecting each character, and practiced differential diagnoses, examining every possible explanation for the symptoms presented. (Could Edward’s changing eye color be a symptom of Wilson’s disease, a rare condition that causes the body to retain copper? Could drinking blood be a form of pica, a medical disorder in which people feel compelled to eat non-food items like dirt or paper?)

Stipulating that vampires and werewolves were real was necessary, says Nioaka Campbell, director of the psychiatry resident program at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. “Otherwise, we would have had to conclude that Bella was just psychotic.”

Besides recognizing symptoms, several residents said that reading “Twilight” helped them better understand their real patients. “Young girls, in particular, really identify with Bella, not feeling like you fit in and not being good enough,” says Dr. Jones. “I think that’s why the books have become so popular.”

Indeed, books and movies that become global sensations often do so precisely because they involve universal psychological themes that even mentally healthy adolescents and adults experience. “They have to tap into subconscious anxieties and conflict in the audience or we wouldn’t see them,” says Dr. Gabbard.

The Harry Potter books are rife with teen angst, themes of disenchantment, the struggle for identity, even aggression and castration fantasies, as Dr. Rosegrant wrote in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association last year.

Harry’s battle with Voldemort can be seen as an internal conflict between aspects of his own psyche, Dr. Rosegrant notes. Phallic symbols (snakes, wands) are prominent throughout the books, a common subconscious dynamic in young male adolescents. Hermione at one point complains about male wizards competing to see whose wand is most powerful.

As the books evolve, Harry’s biggest challenge becomes confronting adult weakness. He goes through the painful process of de-idealizing his parents, discovering that his father could be arrogant and cruel and that even his protector, Dumbledore, had a shameful past.

The struggle to control newly experienced sexual impulses is also a major theme—both in fiction and real adolescence—Dr. Gabbard notes. From “Romeo and Juliet” to “Titanic” to “Twilight” to a host of slasher films, there is a recurrent message: “if you have sex, you will die.”

“These kind of things are worked through at a safe distance on the screen, so that adolescents and adults can have the illusion of mastering them,” says Dr. Gabbard.

Mental-health students even explore children’s literature for buried psychological themes. Analysts have had a field day in the “Hundred Acre Wood” with A.A. Milne’s characters. While the world of Winnie the Pooh seems innocent on the surface, “it is clear to our group of modern neuro-developmentalists that these are in fact stories of seriously troubled individuals, many of whom meet DSM-IV criteria for significant disorders,” wrote Sarah E. Shea and colleagues in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2000, referring to the handbook of diagnoses.

Piglet clearly suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, the authors noted. Eeyore has chronic dysthymia (mild depression) and could benefit greatly from an antidepressant. Tigger is hyperactive, impulsive and a risk-taker.

Pooh is a bundle of comorbidities that may include cognitive impairment, as he is often described as a “bear of very little brain.” “Early on, we see Pooh being dragged downstairs bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head,” the authors write. “Could his later cognitive struggle be the result of a type of Shaken Bear Syndrome?”

Movies that depict psychiatrists and psychologists at work are also highly instructive for students—if mainly to show what not to do.

Dr. Gabbard says that out of some 400 portrayals of therapists in films, he’s found only a handful that were reasonably accurate. Among them: Judd Hirsh’s character in “Ordinary People,” Vanessa Redgrave’s in “Girl, Interrupted” and Lorraine Bracco’s in “The Sopranos.” But even Bracco’s Dr. Melfi violates her patient’s trust when she lies to Tony about why she has bruises. “He can tell she’s lying, and the session rapidly deteriorates,’ says Dr. Gabbard.

“Sex and the City 2′s” Stunning Muslim Clichés

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 at 7:48 am

Oldspeak: “It’s hard to overstate the offensiveness of the fabulous four’s exquisitely tone-deaf trip to Abu Dhabi” Ahh the luxury of knownothingness….

From WAJAHAT ALI @ Salon:

I’m a heterosexual, Muslim dude who until recently thought pleated khakis and loafers were “hip” and mistook Bergdorf Goodman for an expensive Swiss chocolate. So it is not surprising that 40 minutes into “Sex and the City 2,” a 150-minute cotton candy fantasy accessorized with materialism and fashion porn, I was comatose with boredom.

But I was defibrillated by the film’s detour into Abu Dhabi (really Morocco and studio sets) and what can only be described as an Orientalist’s wet dream. After discovering they will visit the Middle East, the ladies whip out hall-of-fame Ali Baba clichés: References to “magic carpet” (a double entendre, naturally), Scheherazade and Jasmine from “Aladdin” come in rapid succession. Upon hearing a stewardess give routine flight instructions in Arabic, Samantha behaves like a wild-eyed child hearing a foreign language for the first time. “I wonder what she’s saying. It sounds so exotic!”

Michael Patrick King’s exquisitely tone-deaf movie is cinematic Viagra for Western cultural imperialists who still ignorantly and inaccurately paint the entire Middle East (and Iran) as a Shangri La in desperate need of liberation from ignorant, backward natives. Historian Bernard Lewis, the 93-year-old Hall of Fame Orientalist and author of such nuanced gems as “The Arabs in History” and “Islam and the West,” would probably die of priapism if he saw this movie. It’s like the cinematic progeny of “Not Without My Daughter” and “Arabian Nights” with a makeover by Valentino. Forget the oppressed women of Abu Dhabi. Let’s buy more bling for the burqa!

Our four female cultural avatars, like imperialistic Barbies, milk Abu Dhabi for leisure and hedonism without making any discernible, concrete efforts to learn about her people and their daily lives. An exception is Miranda, whose IQ drops about 100 points as she dilutes the vast complexities of a diverse culture into sound bites like this: “‘Hanh Gee’ means ‘yes’ in Arabic!”

Only it doesn’t — it’s Hindi and Punjabi, which is spoken by South Asians.

She also incorrectly tells the audience that all women in the Middle East have to cover themselves. And, yes, nearly every single Middle Eastern female character in “SATC 2’s” imaginative rendition of “Abu Dhabi,” is veiled, silent or subdued by aggressive men.

Like curious visitors staring at an exotic animal in the zoo with equal doses of horror and fascination, the four “girls” observe a niqabi female eating French fries by carefully lifting her veil for each consumed fry. After witnessing this “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” event, Samantha declares, “It’s like they don’t want [women] to have a voice.”

If our cultural ambassadors truly cared about saving Muslim women, they surely would try to help them during the film’s interminable two and half hour running time, no? Sadly, instead, these incredibly shallow mock-feminists can’t even bother to have one decent conversation with a Muslim woman, because they’re too immersed in picnics on the desert and singing Arab disco karaoke renditions of “I Am Woman.” In fact, Abu Dhabi is just peachy when it’s a fantasy land where they ride around in limos and get comped an extravagantly vulgar $22,000 hotel suite. However, only when that materialism is taken away do they worry, in only the most superficial way, about sexual hypocrisy and women’s oppression.

Meanwhile, the perpetually self-absorbed Carrie finds enlightenment in the simple, wise words of her Indian manservant Gaurav, who functions as the movie’s life-changing, magical minority. And Samantha, our “Western” avatar of freedom and liberation, offers a juxtaposition to the silent, oppressed Muslim women by making immature puns like “Lawrence of my Labia” and performing fellatio on a sheesha pipe in public.

The movie uses only two broad colors to paint the Middle East: One depicting an opulent Eden for our blissfully ignorant protagonists to selfishly use as a temporary escape, and the other showing an oppressive dungeon populated by intolerant men that cannot comprehend cleavage or bare shoulders.

Consider the film’s painful climax, in which Samantha, now wearing shorts and a low-cut top, spills dozens of condoms from her purse in the middle of a crowded market. Right before the condom explosion, the Islamic call to prayer, the Adhan, is conveniently heard for no discernible reason. The angry, hairy men, overwhelmed by anger and shock, decide to abandon their daily activities and busy life to encircle Samantha and condemn her as a harlot and slut, but not before Samantha proudly holds the condoms up high and dry humps the air telling the men she uses them to have sex. Because they cannot tolerate a sassy, back-talking, condom-using female baring her legs, they decide en masse to spontaneously chase all four women. Appearing like an oasis in the desert, two mysterious women in a burqa silently nod to the four girls, who subsequently follow the women into a secret room revealing the existence of a secret book club attended by a dozen niqabi women, who disrobe to reveal their hidden designer clothes, fashionable shoes and makeup.

OK, a bubble gum approach to reality is to be expected from “SATC2.” And one could imagine a scenario in which the frothy light comedy could be used to erase mutual misunderstandings. After all, Muslim women around the world, who religiously watched the show, would love a strong, empowered Muslim female “SATC” character who could enlighten Western audiences about the complex, and at times oppressive, reality of Middle Eastern women while simultaneously rocking Ferragamos. Instead, the film exists in a wacky cultural vacuum blissfully unaware of its own arrogance and prejudices.

Apparently, we’re meant to believe Muslim women in the Middle East are equally self-absorbed, vain and materialistic. After completely dissing the Middle East, its people, its religion and its culture, it’s “Sex and the City” that truly insults the Muslim women, by silencing them entirely.