See Part 1 in Kathy Shaidle’s series exploring punk rock here: How the Sex Pistols Made History by Lying About It
Let’s get this out of the way:
Randal Doane is an assistant dean at Oberlin.
Politics aside (and he doesn’t shove it up your nose), this means you’ll trip over academic, culture-critic jargon — “codes” and “gestures” abound; “Eros” crashes the party — while otherwise enjoying his new book, Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash.
And there’s a lot to enjoy.
Stealing distills one fan’s decades of wide reading, deep listening, and just plain thinking into a multi-faceted gem.
In the hands of a less skillful writer, this book would feel like an out-of-your-league sexual pass, an awkward attempt to squeeze too many topics — the evolution of punk music (along with the etymology of the word); the rise and fall of AM and FM radio; the underground scenes in New York and California, to name but three — between only two (virtual) covers.
Somehow, though, Stealing works, distinguishing itself from similar titles by piling on plenty of original insights; for one thing (a bit like the recent How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll), this book explores how the medium changes the message — that is, how the technology we employ to consume music alters music itself, along with the culture at large.
(To cite a particularly cliched example: The LP made it easier to have sex to music, as one didn’t have to leap up to change the record, or worry that a radio DJ might ruin the mood with the wrong selection. How many children were conceived as Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers spun away on the other side of the room– besides me, that is — I couldn’t begin to guess.)
Doane also demonstrates, in pointillistic detail, how a tiny band of now-forgotten local DJs championed (today we’d say “curated”) punk, and “broke” The Clash and other English bands in America.
In doing so, he reveals what we lost when that free-form radio format was killed off.
(P.S. — A note about audio that follows throughout: These interviews with Joe Strummer were recently uploaded to YouTube by HazyRock.com. While the date is unknown, they seem to correspond roughly to the “early days” period Doane focuses on in his book.)
I watched the universal premiere of Sharkado 2: The Second One on SyFy Wednesday night.
Don’t judge, especially if you watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Or any of those bachelor, bachelorette or dating shows. Or any reality TV, really. You’re in no position to judge anything that anyone else watches.
S2TS1 might not be the greatest movie ever. It might even be two hours of my life that to my regret I’ll never get back. If SyFy follows its usual pattern, even if you missed the premiere you still have 17 trillion chances to see it. SyFy will air the thing on a loop until the end of all time and space, when the Big Bang falls into a Big Crunch and we start all over again.
When you watch Sharknado 2, and you inevitably will, here are the five greatest things to look out for in S2TS1.
1. S2TS1 wastes absolutely no time on story.
Literally seconds into the film, star Ian Ziering (whose character’s name is still “Fin”) sees a shark in a cloud backlit by lightning. What follows is a fun riff on the old Twilight Zone episode in which a young William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of an airliner, but nobody believes him. Ziering has his own Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, then, because of all the sharks, has to reprise Robert Hayes’ role in Airplane! I’m not even kidding.
SPOILER ALERT: New York’s anti-gun policies end up helping the sharks. But as they say, only criminals have guns under strict gun control. That turns out to be a minor side plot in S2TS1. I’m not kidding.
We’ve made it to the end of our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s influence on it. If you’ve missed the rest of the series here’s where you can find the rest:
Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’
In this segment, we’re going to look at the legacy of the Fair on Disney’s theme parks. As we discussed in the first week of the series, Walt Disney used the New York World’s Fair as a sort of testing ground for an East Coast Disneyland concept. The success of the Disney-designed pavilions convinced the company that their secret land purchases in Florida would pay off. As Jeff Kurtti noted in Since The World Began, his (sadly out of print) account of Walt Disney World’s first 25 years:
Ninety-one percent of the guests at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair attended at least one of the Disney shows. And although critics scoffed at Disney’s creations, their popularity convinced many in the Disney organization that the theme park concept was fundamentally reliable, regardless of geographic location.
Since the Fair, Disney has opened a resort with five theme parks in Florida, expanded Disneyland to a second theme park, opened a two-park resort in Tokyo and single-park resorts in Paris and Hong Kong – with a resort in Shanghai set to open in late 2015.
Each of the four pavilions that Disney designed and built for the Fair have left their mark on the Disney brand over the past 50 years. It’s A Small World, with its inimitable spirit and charm, has made its way to all five Magic Kingdom-style parks and has been consistently popular since its Disneyland debut. That attraction also inspired and informed the spirit of World Showcase, the half of Epcot in which various nations show themselves off to guests, living in harmony along World Showcase Lagoon.
Walt Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
In case you’ve missed the rest of the series:
Welcome back to our series where we’ve looked back at the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and Disney’s input into it. This week, we’ll see how Disney teamed up with one of the country’s most recognizable corporations to create a pavilion that celebrated American ingenuity and free enterprise.
In Disneyland’s early days, Walt devised the idea for a side street offshoot from Main Street, U.S.A. At the Edison Square attraction, Disney would team up with General Electric (which had its genesis in Edison’s company) to present the story of how electricity benefited a typical American family from the turn of the 20th century, through the present, and into the future. Disneyland’s souvenir maps listed Edison Square among the park’s coming attractions, but by 1959, General Electric (GE) requested that Disney use their idea in a pavilion at the forthcoming World’s Fair in New York City. They called the exhibit General Electric Progressland.
GE knew they had partnered with the right organization, and their promotional materials for the Fair touted Walt’s involvement:
Walt has used all his resources to make Progressland the number one attraction at the Fair. He has filled it with surprising, often startling, and always pleasing evidences of his great ability to entertain.
But the purpose is never lost sight of — to tell the story of electricity and the way it is changing the world — past, present and future . . . to showcase a great industry, the electrical industry, and tell how it has grown and prospered (and helped the nation to grow and prosper) in a free, competitive society.
Welcome to the third week of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disney’s involvement in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. If you missed last week, we looked at Ford’s Magic Skyway pavilion and Disney’s spellbinding work on it. This week we’re talking a look at another pavilion that allowed Walt to raise the bar on one of his newest innovations: Audio Animatronics.
Walt became interested with animatronic figures when he brought a mechanical toy bird back from a trip to New Orleans. He took the toy apart to see how it worked and to figure out how he could improve on it. His work on the mechanical bird led Walt to task Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers to create a “dancing man” animatronic, and they did so using a film of actor Buddy Ebsen singing a vaudeville song on a proscenium stage as a guide. An entire attraction built around Audio Animatronic figures – The Enchanted Tiki Room – opened at Disneyland in 1963, but Walt had even bigger ideas.
Walt and the Imagineers began to develop the concept for a side street off Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. called Liberty Street. The area would center around the founding principles of the United States, and its key attraction would be One Nation Under God, a celebration of America culminating in a Hall of Presidents.
In 1962, World’s Fair mastermind Robert Moses visited Disneyland to check on the progress of Walt’s exhibits for the Fair, and Walt showed him the Hall of Presidents concept, inviting Moses to “meet Mr. Lincoln.” Moses found himself taken aback by the animatronic Abraham Lincoln that he declared, “I won’t open the fair without that exhibit!” By the following summer, Moses had convinced the State of Illinois to include the Lincoln show in their pavilion.
The Fair’s guidebook describes the attraction, entitled Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, like this:
After watching a brief sound and slide presentation, “The Illinois Story,” visitors enter a comfortable theater where the figure of Lincoln rises from its chair and recites excerpts from some of the speeches of the Civil War President. The figure is capable of more than 250,000 combinations of actions, including gestures, smiles and frowns; the facial features were taken from Lincoln’s life mask.
Welcome back to our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s involvement in it. Last week, we looked at the background behind the Fair and the factors that led Walt Disney to take part in some of the pavilions. Today we’re diving into one of those pavilions where Walt and the Imagineers lent their touch – the Magic Skyway, presented by Ford Motor Company.
When Walt began to seek out corporate partners for the New York World’s Fair, General Motors was near the top of the list. Their Futurama pavilion turned into the hit of the 1939 Fair, which raised the stakes for GM at the sequel of sorts to that earlier event. GM was already in talks with Disney to sponsor a new attraction at Disneyland. GM chose instead to create a sequel to Futurama and put the kibosh on the Disneyland attraction, suggesting to Walt that he reach out to Ford.
Disney’s wonderful 2009 box set Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair contains not only a terrific selection of music from the fair – including early concepts, behind-the-scenes recordings, and unused pieces, but its liner notes also tell an extensive tale about each pavilion that Disney developed. Stacia Martin’s essay on The Magic Skyway tells the story well.
By 1960, Disney and Ford agreed to work together, and the auto maker secured a seven acre site. The next year, Disney pitched its first concept: The Symphony Of America, a ride across the country (in Ford vehicles, naturally) demonstrating “the land, its contrasting moods and its industry.” Ford nixed the idea, informing shocked Imagineers that the company wanted “something bigger” and was afraid that the concept was too close to Chevrolet’s “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” ad campaign.
After going back to the drawing board, Disney came up with concepts that Ford could accept. The attractions sat within the impressive Ford Wonder Rotunda, a 235-foot-in-diameter atrium which led to a seven-story show building. Inside the Wonder Rotunda, guests could visit the International Gardens, scale models of scenes from 11 countries in which Ford had manufacturing facilities. These scenes reflected Walt’s love of miniature dioramas, of course.
Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. Today, many people know of it largely because of Walt Disney’s involvement in it. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at Disney’s contributions to the World’s Fair, but first, let’s glance at the origins of the Fair.
In his excellent essay on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Bill Young sums up its legacy:
The Fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding,” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” and was often referred to as an “Olympics of Progress.” The theme center was a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called Unisphere with the orbit tracks of three satellites encircling the giant globe.
By the time the gates closed more than 51 million people had attended the exposition; a respectable attendance for a World’s Fair but some 20% below the projected attendance of 70 million. The exposition ended with huge financial losses and amid allegations of gross mismanagement.
Today the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair is remembered as a cultural highlight of mid-twentieth century America. It represents an era best known as “The Space Age” when mankind took its first steps toward space exploration and it seemed that technology would provide the answers to all of the world’s problems. The exhibits at the Fair echoed a blind sense of optimism in the future that was prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Beatles-themed sensory overload: That is how to describe The Fest for Beatles Fans in New York City, held from February 7-9 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. What’s it like roaming a Fest that fills four floors of a New York hotel with musicians, historians, artists, authors, yogis, meditators, the famous and well over 8,000 fans from 40-odd states and five continents? Take a look at a day in the life of The Fest.
Beatles author and historian Bruce Spizer opened Saturday with a presentation on how the Beatles conquered America, no thanks to Dave Dexter, Jr., the Capitol Records guy who rejected hits like ”Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” because they had “too much harmonica.”
Dear Prudence Farrow spoke about her spiritual journey in India with the Maharishi and the Beatles before leading an introductory transcendental meditation session. The room, dubbed the Ashram for the occasion, was so packed that more chairs had to be brought in for the standing room only crowd.
Good Ol’Freda Kelly, secretary to Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, and president of the original Beatles fan club, is signing autographs! Quick, get in line!
Still down to earth after all these years, Freda hates being the center of attention but enjoys being with the fans. Her grandson, a toddler, was happily drawing next to her. “Would you like Nile’s autograph?” she casually asked, to which I happily agreed. Good Ol’Freda is the Queen of Beatles Fans: regal, royal, lovely. Her documentary Good Ol’ Freda is a must-watch.
America is celebrating The Beatles’ Jubilee. 50 years ago this year The Fab Four landed on this side of the Atlantic and the ’60s officially began. (At least, that is, according to PBS.) With the announcement that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving Beatles, will reunite at the Grammys on January 26 and perform a concert to air on February 9, 50 years to the day of their Ed Sullivan premiere, it would seem that Beatlemania (unlike much of organized religion) is making a resurgence in pop culture. Think the Fab Four are so yesterday? Think again:
A 2009 Pew Research Center survey placed the Beatles in the top four favorite music acts of Americans ages 16 to 64 — suggesting the band that helped create the 1960s Generation Gap ultimately helped us come together. Perhaps that’s the Beatles’ greatest gift: music that can be shared not only across the universe, but across generational lines.
Imagine a mathematician trying to quantify each Beatles’ album with Martha Stewart-like graphics. Wait, you don’t have to, just check out one Millennial’s 4 Simple Charts Visualizing The Beatles’ Major Albums and you’ll find out that The Beatles aren’t just for rock n’rollers, they’re for nerds, too. ”A new project on Kickstarter aims to tap into the passion of teenyboppers young and old withVisualising the Beatles, a book of infographics about each of the Fab Four’s major records.” Seriously: If that doesn’t make you want to start a Revolution, nothing will.
Huff Po details A Comprehensive Guide to The Beatles’ Invasion of Comic Culture for Millennial comic fans:
“Thanks to a book by Enzo Gentile and Fabio Schiavo, appropriately titled “The Beatles in Comic Strips,” we’ve been enlightened on the Fab Four’s history of comic book appearances. From subtle cameos to entire issues, the group managed to squeeze their iconic faces and psychedelic style into more than a few works of comic art.”
In March, Vans will release four pairs of Beatles-themed shoes for their Millennial audience:
“The most expensive of the bunch, the Sk8-Hi Reissue, features stylized portraits of all four Beatles running up the ankles apropos to cartoon portraits of each as they were animated for the film. The other shoes each feature psychedelic tableaus from the film. The Classic Slip-Ons play off the movie’s Sea of Monsters, showing trippy marine life swimming in an ocean of pink. The Era shoes depict all four band members, some wearing rainbow pants, hanging out in a yellow garden. And the final pair, a model called Authentic, is adorned with a pattern that reads “Allyouneedislove” running over and over again and into itself in purple, yellow and green.”
Newest SNL actor Sasheer Zamata hosts a Girls walking tour of Brooklyn via Above Average. It’s a tight skit with a lot of great one liners like, ”Cafe Grumpy: It’s where Hannah works and they have a drink there called ‘The Hannah’ and…it’s an 8 dollar cup of coffee.” Funny enough, although the real humor in the sketch is that the black fan of a critically defined “all-white-girls” show is being portrayed by a talented black actress who was brought onto SNL to fulfill the critics’ affirmative action casting quota.
The sketch clashes with reality on another note: For many Brooklyn natives, the Girls have worn out their welcome. Citing an increase in obnoxious tourists seeking photographs of baristas at Cafe Grumpy, the New York Daily News reports:
“The booksellers at Spoonbill and Sugartown on Bedford Ave. are similarly perplexed by the influx of millennials who show up and recreate the show’s seminal kissing scene in the stacks.
…It gets worse. The show has even spawned its own guidebook — as if HBO’s “take hipsterism and add water” needed more explanation.
“The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York” invites struggling twentysomethings to “get to know New York the way the ‘Girls’ know it.”
But real New York “girls” aren’t buying it.
“I hate anything that puts a label on what we’re doing. I came here to live outside of the box, not in one,” says Johanna Hickey, 31, who works three jobs and lives in Greenpoint. ‘It pisses me off.’”
Spoken like a true New Yorker.
This week both critics and fans of Girls and Downton Abbey sounded off on the treatment of women on screen, highlighting the horrifying potential of 21st century feminist groupthink.
It all began on January 9 when TV critic Tim Molloy stepped in hot water by posing the following question to Lena Dunham:
I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you, particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones, but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.
Dunham deflected the remark with her usual snotty response that boiled down to nudity is realistic and if you don’t like fat bodies, that’s your problem. Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, the show’s producers, supported Dunham’s remarks with their own politically correct, vitriolic comments about misogyny and female oppression.
Although Molloy’s question never did receive a direct answer, the exchange generated even more critical angst and bizarre philosophizing. For example, Megan Gibson at Time feels the nudity on Girls has nothing to do with “titillation” and everything to do with comedic value and expressions of non-sexual intimacy. It is questionable whether the primary audience for Girls, those “white dudes over 50,” would agree.
One telling thing critics didn’t bother to notice: All the uproar over Molloy’s question, even from Apatow and Konner themselves, wasn’t to defend Dunham’s honor — but to defend awkward bodies, female sexuality, and women’s rights under the umbrella term of “feminism.” In other words, if Hannah Horvath jumped off a bridge naked, she wouldn’t be a pathetic individual who succumbed to her psychoses, she’d be a mere statement about feminism in the 21st century.
In his review of Inside Llewyn Davis, Andrew Klavan asks, “What did I miss?” It is a question I fear many in my generation will be asking as they approach the new Coen Brothers film about a folksinger from Greenwich Village. Inside Llewyn Davis lacks the clever plot twists of early hits like Miller’s Crossing, the dark psyche of Barton Fink, and the enjoyable supporting characters of The Big Lebowski. But, no two Coen Brothers movies are ever alike; in fact, to appreciate them as auteurs one must have a predilection for the unique versus the familiar.
This is probably why the few folk singers who remain from those early Village days sound off like cranky seniors in a nursing home, demanding that the Coens’ film knows nothing about the way things really were, contrary to the first-hand memory of T. Bone Burnett who was consulted in the recreation of the infamous Manhattan neighborhood circa 1961. But, everyone’s memory is different, as are their motivations. Jim Glover, half of the real-life folk duo Jim and Jean, used local newspaper coverage to snort at the film before diving into various half-baked conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination, the NSA, and the insistence that the F.B.I. kept him under surveillance in the 1950s because his father was a “fellow traveler” (code term for Communist sympathizer).
While leftist politics were a definite influence on the Greenwich scene, folks looking for Reds on the big screen will be as disappointed as those believing the film to be nothing but a glorified biopic of “Mayor of MacDougal Street” Dave Van Ronk and his cohorts. Tongue-in-cheek commentary on the leftist class structure typical to the folk music scene does more to motivate plot and character development than dig into the movement’s intellectual and political underpinnings. In fact, it is Llewyn’s struggle with culture that feeds his musical genius; he is neither uptown intellectual nor downtown middle class. While he’s willing to thumb his way from New York to Chicago to meet an agent, he is unwilling to compromise his artistic vision for commercial success.
1. There once was a black country blues guitarist named Arnold Schultz. Originally from Kentucky, Schultz was a travelling laborer who had a huge impact on American blues music during his short life.
2. Schultz taught this guy, Ike Everly, a unique thumb-picking guitar style native to Western Kentucky.
3. Ike Everly taught this style to his neighbor and fellow coal miner Merle Travis.
4. Ike Everly would bring his sons, Don and Phil, into the family band. They’d grow up to form the famous American music group, the Everly Brothers. The Everly Brothers would go on to influence many musicians, including the Beatles. It is said that the harmonies in one of the Beatles’ first hits, Please Please Me, were inspired by the fraternal duo.
5. Merle Travis would go on to become a famous country and western musician, popularizing that fingerpicking style his neighbor Ike Everly taught him so much that it became known as Travis Picking.
6. Travis Picking is the style of guitar playing featured in the latest Coen Brothers release, Inside Llewyn Davis.
So, as we remember the life and legacy of Phil Everly and the Everly Brothers
We should celebrate the gift of American music
Without which the Beatles would not have existed
And we’d be forced to jam to techno-pop
Instead of those awesome Hillbilly tunes.
At the end of August this year, I was contacted by a new startup called Gild.com that had an interesting business: they use various public online sources to score computer people as developers. Some of these are things like LinkedIn, Stack Overflow, and personal GitHub pages, plus recommendations and frankly I don’t know what else, but it comes up with a number between 0 and 100 for your quality as a software developer. I’d scored 99.3.
Being me, I worried about how I’d lost that 0.7 points, but they assured me it was actually a very good score. In fact, they were calling because they wanted to make contact with those of us at the far-right of the distribution (I don’t think they were looking at my PJM posts for that, no matter how it sounds) and see what our experience with recruiters had been. It happens my mother was a recruiter for umpteen years, so it was inherently interesting, as well as complimentary. They construct a sort of “scored résumé” from those public sources, and make it available to their clients, who are usually recruiters for large firms. Mine is here (click to download the whole thing as PDF):
(Speaking of which, I’m still looking for a day job: you can find me on LinkedIn.)
The idea is a new direction for several startups, like one run by my friend Sumaya Kazi — sumazi.com — called “social data intelligence”. The idea is that you can, using Big Data techniques and social network theory, learn about potential customers, or potential markets, or find people who can do a job for you.
I guess I must have sounded reasonable on the phone (hah, fooled them!) because they called me a couple of weeks ago with another question.
“Would you like to come to Las Vegas at our expense to attend a dinner during LinkedIn’s Talent Connect conference?”
Gild turned out to be an interesting group. I had lots of sort of second-hand connections to them anyway, and it was interesting talking to them. They’ve been covered in a couple of major media sources, the New York Times and PBS.
On September 11, 2001 the blogosphere was still in its infancy and Twitter was five years away. Instead of tweeting, Americans turned to e-mail lists, message boards, chat rooms, and forums. At the time, Free Republic was — and still is — a popular forum for sharing news and discussing issues — including many issues the mainstream media ignored or couldn’t keep up with. On 9/11 there were twenty-one different threads at Free Republic related to the attacks — the first comment was posted at 8:52 a.m., just six minutes after Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. By the end of the day there would be thousands of comments as Freepers discussed the attacks and sought information.
It’s heart-rending to read through the threads and relive the play-by-play as the events unfolded. But it’s also fascinating to see the crowdsourcing aspect of the forum as Freepers across the country pieced the story together and tried to make sense of the senseless.
The Free Republic moderator who collected and archived the threads wrote:
Bookmark this thread, and bump it from time to time when the nation and the press seems to forget why we need resolve in the face of evil. Forgive some of the early misinformation and broken photo links, and recall the horror and fury.
To help us remember the “horror and fury” I’ve gone through the threads and posted a sampling of the comments on the next few pages. I did not edit the comments — I left spelling and grammar the way they were originally posted on 9/11 — I think it helps to convey the sense of urgency in the comments.
Being over twenty and a virgin in NYC is enough of a radical act that a woman turned it into a one-woman show and built an entire comedy routine on it.
Alexis Lambright was a confirmed virgin in NYC for 10 years. Determined to hold on to her innocence, the Catholic schoolgirl was committed to a life of celibacy — until marriage. But when she realized that dating in the most superficial city in the world wasn’t virgin-friendly, the 28-year-old funnywoman living in Sunnyside, Queens, turned to comedy as therapy: She created the one-woman show “The Alexis Lambright Tell-A-Thon: Combating Adult Virginity,” which is running at the New York International Fringe Festival on select dates from Saturday to Aug. 24.
It used to be perfectly normal to be a virgin till marriage, at least for women. In fact, in most societies it was the expected thing. The pivotal turning point in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice comes when one daughter, Lydia, elopes and lives with a man who has no intention of marrying her.
Even during my own upbringing, which, granted, took place in Portugal where things were twenty years behind the times, while virginity before marriage was no longer universal, girls at least still pretended to be holding out.
But I’d heard from Scandinavian friends that in their lands it was considered strange and indicative of something wrong with you if you were a virgin much past puberty – and that culture seems now to be here too.
To be sure, we always knew it was coming, since movies like Splendor in the Grass made it sound like not having sex could send an otherwise sane woman clean off her rocker. In a way it is a logical consequence of safe and reliable contraception. Whether you believe that women are naturally as sex-crazed as men, or that women would have as much consequence-free sex as men given the chance, the fact remains that all of us, men and women, are in fact social animals.
When the society we live in decides that “normal” people are all rutting like deer in fall, and that if you don’t do it there’s something wrong with you, those who don’t fit the model will at least try to pretend they do.
Under those circumstances, holding on to your chastity becomes an act of radical defiance.
Is it possible for a veteran actor to star in a motion picture that makes him a legend, assures his cinematic immortality, and ensures that while he’s still alive, he’ll always find work, and yet be completely miscast? Actually, it’s happened at least twice. In the late 1970s, Stanley Kubrick cast Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining. The film made Nicholson a legend, but in a way, he’s very badly miscast — Nicholson’s character seems pretty darn bonkers right from the start of the film, long before his encounters with the demons lurking within the bowels of the Overlook Hotel.
But arguably, a far worse case of miscasting is Charles Bronson in Michael Winner’s 1974 film Death Wish. When novelist Brian Garfield wrote the 1972 book that inspired the movie, he was hoping that if Hollywood ever adapted his novel to the big screen, a milquetoast actor such as Jack Lemmon would star. And Lemmon would actually have been perfect, since his character’s transformation from bleeding heart liberal white collar professional to crazed vigilante would have been all the more shocking. Instead, we all know it’s only a matter of time before Charles Bronson reveals his legendary tough guy persona on the screen. Back around 2000, I remember reading Garfield’s notes on his book’s Amazon page, which was something along the lines of, “Would you want to mess with Charles Bronson?”
Currently the cinematic adaptation of Death Wish is available for home viewing in standard definition on DVD, and in high definition, via Amazon’s Instant Video format. And while the latter version is in sharp 1080p HD, the film could use a restoration from Paramount before it’s issued onto a Blu-Ray disc. The Amazon version has its share of scratches and dust on its print, though it’s certainly cleaner than the Manhattan it depicts on screen. I watched the Amazon HD version the other night, and I was reminded that Bronson’s casting dispenses with the film’s credibility almost as explosively as Bronson himself dispatches assailants onscreen. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and apparently, in 1974, almost as many muggers stupid enough to go up against Charles Bronson.
But otherwise, the timing of the film was absolutely perfect. As Power Line’s Steve Hayward noted in The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order: 1964-1980, film critic Richard Grenier dubbed Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film Dirty Harry, “the first popular film to talk back to liberalism,” a movie made during the period that then-Governor Ronald Reagan “liked to joke that a liberal’s idea of being tough on crime was to give longer suspended sentences,” Hayward added.
Which helped set the stage not just for Death Wish, but for the era of moral collapse in which it was filmed, and in which it too became a hit by talking back to liberalism.
Peter Biskind’s 1998 book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls documented Hollywood’s near-complete takeover by the left beginning in the late 1960s, but there were a few holdouts during that era: John Wayne was still making movies, Eastwood’s long career was beginning its ascendency, and British director Michael Winner was also a conservative himself.
But on the East Coast, in the early 1970s, New York had essentially collapsed. Saul Bellow was one of the first novelists to document the moral and increasingly physical carnage. As Myron Magnet of City Journal wrote in the spring of 2008, “Fear was a New Yorker’s constant companion in the 1970s and ’80s. … So to read Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet when it came out in 1970 was like a jolt of electricity”:
The book was true, prophetically so. And now that we live in New York’s second golden age — the age of reborn neighborhoods in every borough, of safe streets bustling with tourists, of $40 million apartments, of filled-to-overflowing private schools and colleges, of urban glamour; the age when the New York Times runs stories that explain how once upon a time there was the age of the mugger and that ask, is New York losing its street smarts? — it’s important to recall that today’s peace and prosperity mustn’t be taken for granted. Hip young residents of the revived Lower East Side or Williamsburg need to know that it’s possible to kill a city, that the streets they walk daily were once no-go zones, that within living memory residents and companies were fleeing Gotham, that newsweeklies heralded the rotting of the Big Apple and movies like Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy plausibly depicted New York as a nightmare peopled by freaks. That’s why it’s worth looking back at Mr. Sammler to understand why that decline occurred: we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
That was the milieu in which Bronson’s Paul Kersey character resided at the start of Death Wish. Flying back to New York after a relaxing Hawaiian vacation with his wife (played by veteran actress Hope Lange), Kersey’s wife is murdered and his daughter raped by home invaders led by a young Jeff Goldblum at the start of his acting career. (Near the end of the film, a pre-Spinal Tap Christopher Guest plays a nervous rookie NYPD cop). On a business trip out to Tucson, both to take his mind off the horrors that had befallen his family, and to get a real estate development project back on track, Bronson’s Kersey discovers that it’s possible to defend yourself against crime.
The businessman that Kersey meets during the film’s Tucson scenes, played by character actor Stuart Margolin, is a staunch Second Amendment supporter who invites Kersey to a gun range, and asks him,“Paul, which war was yours?” That was a common question among middle-aged men during the latter half of the 20th century. Kersey admits he was a “C.O. in a M*A*S*H unit” in Korea.
“Oh, Commanding Officer, eh?” Margolin’s Good Ol’ Businessman approvingly asks.
“Conscientious Objector,” Bronson’s Kersey drolly replies as Margolin rolls his eyes in disgust.
Kersey explains that he became one as a teenager, after his father was shot and killed in a hunting accident, quickly fleshing out his character’s backstory. Evidently, Kersey’s own skills as a hunter haven’t degraded much over the years, since he then aims and fires the pistol that Margolin’s character had handed him, splitting the paper target at the gun range dead center.
And away we go.
That’s my first reaction to HBO’s latest pseudo-experiment in high culture, Jay Z’s live performance titled Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.
My documentarian eye was jarred by the constant cutting of footage chronicling the rapper’s six hour live performance at Chelsea’s Pace Gallery. Performance art, yes; film, most definitely. This piece was so heavily edited (6 hours down to 11 minutes) that I couldn’t keep track of what was going on most of the time. Look, there he is singing to some well-dressed woman — oh wait, now it’s Adam Driver; now it’s some other well-dressed woman … oh, wait, now its Jemima Kirke, and look … Judd Apatow! The celebrities filtered into the crowd killed the notion that this was art for the people. No, this is art for HBO — so why not plug a few other shows in our lineup while we’re at it?
At one point the velvet ropes are let down and the crowd is encouraged to approach at a safe distance. Jay Z begins to rap about sticking his cock in the fox’s box and we catch a glimpse of one mother covering her young girl’s ears before we cut to a shot of older women dancing with the rap star. How young is too young to be initiated into the cult? When does it become charming to become nothing more than a fox’s box?
One thing the mainstream media knows about Huma Abedin is that she is elegant. Time reported on how Weiner’s “elegant and accomplished wife… declared her love and support for him, visibly pained at having to speak in public as the sad, sordid details of his repeat behavior were exposed yet again.” The Wall Street Journal lamented:
Watching the elegant Huma Abedin stand next to her man Tuesday as he explained his latest sexually charged online exchanges was painful for a normal human being to watch.
What they’re less sure of is why this elegant woman would stand by the increasingly ridiculous Weiner. Time thinks, rather fancifully, that it’s because “divorce can still be stigmatizing in some social circles where parents are particularly ambitious about providing the absolute best environment for their children” – and because, well, Huma just “loves this guy despite it all.”
Most others, however, agree that it is because she is seeking power and influence, and thinks – however improbably – that Anthony Weiner is still the pathway to them. Even Weiner’s sexting partner Sydney Leathers said of the Weiner-Abedin union: “It almost feels to me like it’s more of an arrangement, or a business relationship, than a marriage.” She said she thought Abedin stuck with Weiner “for the power, for the fame, for the stature.”
Maybe so. And she also may be staying in it because Weiner’s indiscretions just don’t matter to her that much – not necessarily because they have a sham marriage, but because Abedin is approaching the marriage from an Islamic perspective.
In the 1970s, feminists revived goddess worship. Their reasoning: to Jews and Christians, God is male so we’re going to start our own She-ra, Man-Haters Club and have our own goddesses instead. Far be it from me to criticize someone for starting their own clique, but their disturbing lack of logic has rained on the chick parade ever since.
Compare the following Biblical account:
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
…with the following historical account:
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. …most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads …Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple… It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home… There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.
Prophetess or prostitute — there’s a million-dollar question. Why represent the Living God when you can enslave yourself to unknown men in service of a sculpted woman?
The irony deepens when one continues to read (not stereotype) the Bible to find that Israelite women didn’t need to waste their time fighting to be equal to men; they were busy fulfilling their own unique role in society. Created with an intrinsic spiritual link to God, women were the first teachers of Torah to their children. They managed their homes, families, and finances. While other women served gods and goddesses by sacrificing their bodies and their children on pagan altars, Hebrew women were called by their God to birth, raise, educate, build, and prophesy to their nation. Long before American women decided they needed equality, Israelite women were divinely empowered.
Yet it’s this revived goddess theology, not biblical feminism, that has trickled down from yesterday’s second-wave feminism into today’s pop culture to the point where the term “goddess” has become a compliment slung about among women anxious to buy t-shirts, mugs, and jewelry encrusted with a term of ancient slavery. Nowhere is the pop-goddess trend more evident than on television, where women continue to be defined and glorified through sexual acts. Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and the “Backdoor Teen Mom” have all reached stardom through cut-and-dry video prostitution, while fictional shows like HBO’s Girls provide more high-brow, intellectual goddess-fodder, which the graduate school-educated critics crave.
Back in 2006, I wrote about a conspicuous, if quiet, bright spot on the troubled countenance of contemporary art: The Harlem Studio of Art, which was presided over by the artists Judith Pond Kudlow and Andrea Smith. “The school,” I wrote at the time,
“offers students something almost unheard of today: rigorous training in modeling, one-point perspective, cast drawing, and all the other technical aspects of art that, based in Renaissance practice, one used to assume would be part of an artist’s training but, for at least the last five or six decades, have gone the way of good manners and other accoutrements of civilization.”
In the intervening years, the school has evolved, taking over more of the building it occupies on 117th Street in Spanish Harlem. It has also changed its name to The NYK Academy and has, in a modest way, gone global, with an establishment in Rome called the Atelier Canova. Ms. Kudlow looks after the New York establishment, Ms. Smith the Roman outpost.
I had occasion to think about the efforts of these talented and intrepid artists last night when I visited the NYK Academy for its annual open-house party. It will be a bit of a trek for most New Yorkers, but it’s worth it. Stepping into the studio is like stumbling upon an oasis after a long trek through the desert. Last night was a buzzing hive of conviviality, but it was impossible not to sense the serious artistic pursuits that unfold within. The walls were festooned with paintings large and small, student work cheek-by-jowl with the masterly productions of the school’s teachers.
Everywhere one looked was evidence of painstaking technical labor, of the mastery of technique and absorption of the lessons of traditional practice.
It was a jolly evening enlivened by a constant flow of friends. Even more gratifying, however, was the recognition that institutions like the NYK Academy still exist. If all you read were trendy salon-establishment publications like The New York Times, if the only art you saw was in galleries approved by today’s tastemakers, then you might think that the rootless parody of cultural life represented by today’s pseudo avant garde was all that was left of the once great current of Western artistic practice.
Fortunately, institutions like the NYK Academy exist to remind us that all is not lost, not quite. It’s a cheering realization.
More on art at PJ Lifestyle: