Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Girl Power?

It seems American cinema has just noticed that there’s a helluvalotta estrogen out there just waiting to be tapped. Girls in their tweens and teens are the hottest demographic going, and if you aren’t in on the girl power, than you’re missing the money train.

Between movies such as “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,” the music of Avril Lavigne and an utterly girly trend in fashion (monograms, anyone?)…the girls have it. But what are they getting?

With teen icons such as the Disney-owned Lindsey Lohan and Hilary Duff and the oh-my-God-they’ll-soon-be-legal Olsen twins, do girls really have the best pop culture can give them? Today’s teen girls are recovering from a childhood of idolizing sex-tinged superstars (“My name is Ashleee and I was a Britney fan…”) and turning to….what?

Today’s message for girls may be better than it was a mere few years ago, but is it going to produce a culture of intelligent women? According to the latest fashion trends: sex is in, voting is out. According to the likes of MTV and Teen magazine, we learn that you should wear your low riders and tight t-shirts to get boys into your “Milkshake,” not get educated. The world outside if of no concern to you, you have too much shopping to do.

We are living in an age of information and a time of war, but I have serious doubt that the “kids today” could care less. They have an AIM conversation going on with the news ticker turned off. That’s life.

What’s the answer? How about style and substance? Instead of having the young adult lit section at Barnes and Noble be filled with movie adaptations of Disney girl power flicks, why not have schools push real women’s lit on these gum-poppers? Some Edith Wharton in the house? Maybe a bit of Toni Morrison or Terry McMillan? Go Ask Alice? Anyone?

Judy Blume, that caretaker of the all-American girl, she’s out to make a movie for her teenie tween fans. Blume gave us a hard look at losing your virginity, dealing with death and anorexia. This woman knows girls and know show to make them care. Her film, “Deenie,” is about a girl with scoliosis. Hey, that’s reality –thank God.

Girls need a quick slap of reality. They need to see the world isn’t a land of daddy’s credit card, Lizzie McGuire-brand hair ties and pretty pink Barbie cars. Can Blume do it? I know I can’t think of anyone better.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Mourning the passing of "The Apprentice"

Tonight marks the end of arguably the smartest reality show to hit television, “The Apprentice.” After this, it’s back to the same old lowbrow standard, with the depressingly awful “The Swan.” Ugh.

It’s been said a million times: reality television just might be the worst thing to happen to American pop culture. While it is true that these shows make creativity of plot and characterization obsolete, they do, somehow, still create stars.

“The Apprentice” managed to set itself apart from the usual mill of reality TV. Here, instead of seeing women disgrace themselves to find a husband or see grown men eat pig testicles to win cash, America was treated to an inside look at business. A shady look at business, true, but business nonetheless.

Each week’s challenge was a lesson in American corporatism, and I, for one, ws hooked all of the way. I found myself actually interested in finding out how to set up a successful ad campaign, handle a pop superstar and put together a promotional plan for Atlantic City Casinos. These were tasks that some people do every day (and make a lot of money at it), why not see how it works?

The prize, a VP position in the Trump company, isn’t anything to sneeze at, and it has to be earned. These aren’t your usual mix of wannabe actors, but a collection of MBAs, Harvard grads, White House interns and entrepreneurs. These are the best my generation has to offer, and they are out for the silver ring. Much like a real-life contest between employees to get ahead, the contestants have to occasionally get dirty and get smart to win.

The addition of an actual plot was really refreshing this time around, but so were the characters. While Donald “You’re Fired” Trump may be the big star, the young, eager businesspeople competing for the prize are also riveting. Between bitchy Heidi and the entrancingly insane Omarosa alone, there’s enough plot for a whole season of “Dynasty.”

Tonight, we get two hours that include the final fight between the highly qualified finalists Kwame and Bill. Couple that with the return of Omarosa (a fan favorite), the “loss” of Jessica Simpson and the consultant meetings, it is bund to be a night to remember. Too bad “Friends” hasn’t excited me this much with a plot in years….

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The trip log

Over the course of March 22-March 25, I took a solo Greyhound bus trip across Eastern Canada. I (of course) blogged the entire thing in a fit of experimental journalism.

This work is unedited and is certain to contain some foul language. But this is how it happened...

(photos to be added later)

Let's take a moment to appreciate "Chappelle's Show"

You know you’ve heard it. Whether its at the mall, at a crowded bar or even out on the sidewalk, people are quoting the fastest turnaround in pop culture right now. Whether it’s a shout-out of “Whaaat? Oh-kay!” or “I’m Rick James, bitch!” Dave Chappelle is in the house, and he isn’t leaving anytime soon.

Two years ago, no one would have foreseen Dave Chappelle as being much more than “that guy from Half Baked.” But with his sketch comedy show on the anything-goes Comedy Central, Dave has set the world afire with a brand of take-no-prisoners comedy that hasn’t been seen since early SNL and the now-dated “In Living Color.”

Chappelle may call his show a source for offensive comedy, but actually, Chappelle is a source for up-to-the-minute pop culture shout-outs. He has his “finger on the pulse” so to speak, and he keeps his shows relevant with a sideways look at everything from the presidential elections to race relations and the absurdity of public service announcements. And of course, he does it all with clever writing, a perfect delivery and a well-placed suffix of “bitch.”

And young people know: if you miss just one week of “Chappelle’s Show,” you’re going to be in the dark. As early as Thursday afternoon, office water coolers, freshman English classes and bars will be teeming with people quoting lines or simply asking, “Hey, didja see Chappelle last night?”

He’s everywhere. There’s no need to try avoiding it (why would you?).

And if Dave isn’t enough, there’s always great guest spots by random celebrities who fall into Dave’s world with such apparent ease. Between John Mayer’s appearance as Dave’s partner in crime (trying to discern how the guitar affects white people differently from blacks) to Wayne Brady’s recent appearance that turned his goody-two-shoes image on its head (“Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?”), the guest stars themselves benefit from the coolness-by-association of Chappelle’s comedic handiwork. Couple that with great musical performances by the likes of Wyclef Jean, Erykah Badu, Outkast and Mos Def…you’ve got one helluva half hour.

Chappelle may stick well to the familiar SNL format of a guest star and music performance, but no matter how good the guest, Dave is the star, playing such classic characters as crack fiend Tyrone Biggums, Clayton Bigsby the blind, black white supremacist and spoofing celebs such as R. Kelly, Lil’ Jon and Rick James.

"Chappelle’s Show" may be the best show on television right now—hands down. Who knows how long it will last before either a network tries converting it for public consumption (noooo!) or the show somehow disappears from the air?

Great sketch comedy doesn’t come around very often…and it doesn’t tend to stay (or stay relevant, as is the case with SNL). I know I, personally, am getting all of it I can. After all, I want to be able to look back at my 20s and say, “Good mutherf***in’ choice, bitch.”

Monday, April 05, 2004

Remembering Kurt Cobain

In the 1990s, my generation lost its quintessential voice. Just as the Boomers suffered the loss of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, Generation X lost its own muses in 90s, with the deaths of Kurt Cobain (1993), Jeff Buckley (1997) and Sublime’s Brad Nowell (1994).

Cobain, grunge’s own sacrificial lamb, died ten years ago today of an apparent suicide. He, like Morrison, was instantly immortalized, not only by an early death, but by the fact that he was bursting with a dangerous streak of independence.

Cobain had a new sound, a new way of expression, that kicked out the popping brightness of 80s new wave and punk in favor of thrumming guitar lines, a scratchy-voiced cry and a decidedly dark outlook.

I’m not going to go out on a weeping limb and call Cobain our Lennon or say he could have transformed music…but I will say his death did cut short a career and a genre that just may have changed the way rock is heard today.

He, at the very least, represented the outlook of my age group and that immediately before me. I was nearly 14 and just starting to explore expressive music when Cobain died. I was really into the hell-may-care loser attitude behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” an attitude that many claimed defined our generation. I didn’t know at the time how right Cobain was about us. We simply just didn’t care enough to keep the fire going.

It wasn’t until about a year after his death that I felt a shift in the culture, when Nowell, who I’ll daresay was a figurehead/creator of alternative, died of a heroin overdose. His death may not be remembered as monumental (though it should be), but he too was a forerunner of a generation’s sound, taken before complete fruition.

Much like the time immediately following the deaths of Morrison and Hendrix, drugs were at the forefront of consciousness. Rockers and fans alike were running scared from heroin and, in turn, from the music spawned from the “drug culture.” Fellow Seattle grungesters Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains cleaned up, then fell away either to alt rock or nonexistence. Grunge died an early death, then alt rock soon followed.

Would alt rock and grunge still be around if Cobain hadn’t died? I can’t really say. One man can’t carry a genre. Would we still have this discussion had Cobain lived? All I’ll say is: A martyr can’t exist without a death.

Maybe the world wouldn’t have given Cobain as much credit if he hadn’t met such a timely end. Timely, that is, because it was “before the due, natural, or proper time” (according to Webster’s)…Cobain knew how the American icon system worked. He said it himself, he wanted to die before he was washed up. He wanted to go out a figure of mystery, leave while still on top. He accomplished his mission of martyrdom…but what did he leave behind?

But Cobain did deserve credit, if nothing else, for waking America up from the dream that was the 80s, and forcing a generation of the bored, the questioning, the defiant, out into the spotlight. For Generation X, he was our Pied Piper…we just didn’t know where to go once he left.