Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Simpsons Shame Game

As I've noted before, I've got an ongoing project to see who, if anyone, could ever complete the trifecta of guest appearances on The Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy. To my knowledge, it's never been done. And I put far more faith in my knowledge of Fox sunday-night cartoon shows than I do my knowledge in sociology, and I'm getting a Ph.D. in sociology.

My council has always had the idea kicking around of compiling a list of Simpsons guest stars who have died. When you really start to add it up, it's testament to both how long the show has been on and its incessant need for trendy guest stars when you see how many people have passed since their appearance. But after watching the softball episode the other day, I got to thinking of another interesting category: how many people have been publicly shamed since their appearance on the Simpsons? Sort of a Simpsons jinx, if you will.

That list actually gets pretty long as well. I mean, look at the players featured in the softball episode: Roger Clemens' steroid use is only slightly less obvious than Bonds', things haven't worked out so great for Daryl Strawberry, and well, the less said about Jose Canseco, the better. And the next pro baseball player to appear on the Simpsons? Oh, a little fella by the name of Mark McGwire.

And yesterday the news broke that recent guest star/soccer great Ronaldo was questioned by police after picking up some transvestite prostitutes. And the proud tradition carries on...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hegemonic Keyboards (Part II in a never-ending pop-pedagogical series)

Hegemony is a seemingly simple concept that is often difficult to get across to people. Developed most intensely by the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, it's essentially the "soft" side of the state that comes to the fore in liberal democracies. Instead of simply using brute force to control the mass of people (as was done in previous social formations and is still done in many places today), most capitalists lead through ideology. In the place of repressive force, we instead have schools that emphasize timeliness and obedience to authority, churches that emphasize accepting one's place in life, a media that posits ours as the best nation in the world, etc. Hegemony refers to the notion that through these ideological apparatuses people are not only conditioned to accept the world as it is, but to see it as the only world possible, no mater how irrational or dangerous that world may actually be. Thus, force can be reserved only for the few who don't get it, while the majority would never even think of rebelling.

The standard QWERTY keyboard is a great example. Though it's hard to ascribe to it the same importance as the imperialist capitalist powers that Gramsci was discussing, it's still a great example of hegemony.

Why? Two words, my good friend: CAPS LOCK.

I just used the caps lock button to write that, and it marks the first time in my life I've ever intentionally used it. Think about it yourself -- when is the last time you meant to use the caps lock button? Better yet, how many times in your life have you ever meant to use it? And now contrast that with how many times you've accidentally hit it and been really annoyed. My ratio between accidental strokes of the caps lock key to intentional ones is roughly 1,067,592:1.

Not only is a completely useless button (there are already two shift keys, which fulfill the exact same function), but it also gets some of the most prime real estate on the keyboard. Right next to A, the third most commonly used letter in the English language.

Why? Why put the most useless button next to one of the most commonly used? Why, because the QWERTY keyboard has achieved a hegemonic position amongst keyboards. Even though in many ways its designed is fundamentally flawed (it was actually originally designed to slow the pace of typing, after all), it is rarely questioned. Because of its hegemonic position, most people have a difficult time imagining any other keyboard design.

So there you have it, hegemony explained. And in the process, we've discovered the first priority of the revolution: to abolish the caps lock key.

Incidentally, I just found out that next spring I'll be teaching my very own course for the first time...so...keep that on your calendars

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Catholicism and an Island Full of Lizards

Being Catholic is a weird spot to be in in today's America, mostly because people who aren't Catholic don't really get it. We're definitely Christians (actually, the original Christians), but the similarity between us and the crazy-ass fundamentalist assholes who running around spewing hypocrisy and fellating strangers in public bathrooms pretty much stops at having the same God.

Evolution is a great example. Unlike the protestants, we've believed in evolution for quite awhile now. Sure, it took us longer to get there than some, but it's been that way since before I was born, so it seems like a long time to me. But yet when people find out I'm a Christian, they tend to assume that means being some weird anti-science zealot.

But the point of this post isn't to be about how there's so much more variety in the Church than people think there is, because there's been plenty of that written and yet people are still incredibly misinformed, but in the way that most people are misinformed about most all religions.

No, the point is that recently scientists have discovered that an Italian lizard introduced to the island nation of Croatia in the early 1970s has already greatly evolved in a scant 30-some years. The animal's bodies have changed so as to become vegetarians when they were formerly bug eaters, getting new teeth, a different-sized head, and extra organs to digest the new food sources.

It's a pretty fascinating development and it will be really interesting to see what kind of discoveries come from this, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to point out that I'm a member of the Christian denomination that sees this as an interesting scientific development, not an assault on our way of life and a heretical attempt to challenge the infallible wisdom of God.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Fun of Juxtaposing Headlines

Two headlines on the strib today, seemingly unrelated. First, the Vikings have signed Jared Allen, possibly the best pass rusher in the NFL. Buried about halfway through the article is that the Vikes are taking a risk because Allen has two DUIs and if he gets another will most likely be suspended for a year. Which is a long time to sit out for a guy they just handed $31 million to.

The next headline? Minnesota ranks third highest amongst all states in DUI arrests.

Now given that the top 5 are, in order, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota (way to go Dakotas!), I don't think Mr. Allen could have come into a worse situation given his particular proclivities. But on the plus side, I feel like I now have an answer for when folks from warmer climates ask what we do all winter.

Oh, and I have a new activity for the winter: Jarred Allen DUI pools. My money's on mid-November, when it just starts to get cold enough for him to realize where he's moved to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cautiously Optimistic

If i could i would keep this feelin in a plastic jar
bust it out whenever someone's actin hard
settle down, barbeque in the backyard
the kids get treats and old folks get classic cars
everyday that gets passed is a success
and every woman looks better in a sun dress

In the great frozen North, we're always treated to a fake spring every year. Every March there will be one week of gorgeous mid-60 degree weather and the shorts will start to come out and everyone will think it's grand, and then two days it's snowing.

But this is the third straight day of 60 degree weather and I'm starting to let myself believe it's actually spring now...seeing as it's the 22nd of April. Better late than never, I suppose.

And that's the great thing about nice weather; it's kind of like a puppy. No matter how aggravating it can be in its behavior, you forgive it as soon as you look into its spring/puppy eyes. Ok, bad metaphor, but the point is that the weather makes everything better. Even studying and writing are not so bad with the windows open, birds chirping, and the radio playing good music. I'd most definitely keep this feeling in a jar...

Monday, April 21, 2008

ActiFest Line Up Announced

For those of you in/around the Twin Cities, the schedule for ActiFest was recently finalized. Check it our here.

It's a fairly easy one-stop shop for progressive organization in the Twin Cities and on the U campus, so it should definitely be on your calendar.

For those of you not in the Twin Cities area...do your part by finding a conservative person and punching them in the back of the head today.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Concert Review Kimya Dawson w/ L'Orchidée d'Hawaï and Angelo Spencer

Though I'm sad to admit it was my first time there, the little lady and I caught a great show last night at the Cedar Cultural Center, conveniently located across the street. And I must say, I was blown away by the space. It's an awesome venue, not to mention a non-profit run by volunteers focused solely on putting great shows for affordable prices (for example, Billy Bragg will be there in June for $20...can't beat that).

But last night's show--unexpectedly one of the best shows I've sen in a long while. It may just be the fact that I really haven't been getting out to shows much lately, but it was a doozy.

Opening Acts:

Angelo Spencer: The first of two French acts, which was the first unexpected part of the show. A typical single guitar player with a bass drum and hi-hat for accompaniment...think Joe Buckyourself, but more folky. Pretty good, but fairly generic. Also, at several points in time during the show, he insulted the English system of measurement. Look, I sez it before, and I'll sez it again: my car gets 40 rods to the hogs head and that's the way I likes it, dammit.

L'Orchidée d'Hawaï: Go find their CD right now and buy it. These guys blew me away, both with an incredible stage presence and some of the best music I've heard in a long while. They're kind of a surf/country/doo wop sound...like Dick Dale meets early Buddy Holly, but French. Songs ranged from bittersweet broken heart fair, to happy frolicking good times, to covers of obscure Japanese surf ballad instrumentals, to traditional Italian love songs. Do yourself a favor and go to orchidee-hawai.com right now and check them out. I've already listened to the CD start to finish twice this morning. These guys may have been an opening act, but they completely owned the show. It's a fairly rare occasion when the audience begs the opening act for an encore, but is fine with it when the headliner announces she's done.

Headliner: Kimya Dawson

I know there's a bit of Kimya Dawson backlash after the surprising success of Juno and it's equally surprisingly successful soundtrack, but it's not because of anything she's done, it's just a standard hipster pissing contest. She was mostly doing songs off of her upcoming children's album Alphabutt and some old classics. She was pretty good throughout the night (though I was hoping for an update on her rumored deal to be a semi-regular on Sesame Street, but it never came), but she's not much of a live performer. As Krissy pointed out, it's fun to listen to her albums, but she brings pretty much nothing to the live show. Just sitting there motionless with her eyes closed as she rattes off song after similar-sounding song. I don't mean to say it wasn't good, but by the end, it started to drag a wee bit. Maybe it's just because it was late on a wednesday night.

Overall, though, a fine show. Incidentally, the Cedar is in the midst of a huge push for donations (again, they're a non-profit, so they largely subsist on donations) and have a matching donation program this month, so your dollars count double. It's a great venue putting on some cool shows and it would suck to lose it, so chip in a few bucks if you can.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My 400th Post

I realize this is a completely meaningless milestone, but what you are reading, dear friend, is my 400th post on this humble li'l blog. The post that follows has nothing to do with this fact, but I thought you'd like to bask in the glory inherent in such a momentous event.

But anyhoo, anyone I talk to on any form of a regular basis is familiar with my unceasing praise of the The Av Club, the back page of The Onion that has become it's own full-fledged house of cultural criticism. It's perfect for the young snarky hipster (or those with a young snarky hipster hidden deep inside of them), but not in an alienating way. Think Pitchfork if it weren't written by assholes.

But mostly I love it for the way in which it allows aging cool kids such as myself the ability to act like they're still up on the underground, even though they've long lost the time and inclination necessary to be on the cutting edge of music/movies/all forms of popular art.

For example, in just one day today, I've both learned that Bill Cosby is finally putting his money where his mouth is and producing a rap album (take that, Cornell West!) and I got pointed in the direction of several killer (and free) mixtapes.

I know this is a weak cop-out of a post, but it's that time of the semester where I feel like my mental powers should probably be dedicated to more worthwhile pursuits. But hey, if I can't come up with anything good, at least I know how to point you in the direction of something better. And I'm pretty comfortable with that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So then what exactly is rape?

The verdict is in in the rape trial of Dominic Jones, and he's not guilty of rape, but instead was convicted of "unwanted sexual contact with a physically helpless woman."

For those of you not in the know, Jones, along with 3 other U of M football players, videotaped themselves having sex with a woman who had already passed out and did some pretty graphic stuff to her that even I feel is too shocking to repeat here.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not so naive as to think our criminal justice system works as it's supposed to. I completely understand how deals are cut and pleas are made, and that only very few people are ever convicted of the crime they committed. And I know that this more than often goes the other way, with people being punished far more harshly than their crime warrants, especially in the case of young African-American males.

But even I, the flaming leftist, have a problem with this ruling. To repeat, the man videotaped himself having sex with a woman who was passed out. I don't know that there could a more textbook definition of rape.

Now I'm not arguing they should lock him up for some obscene amount of time, but the man clearly at least needs some counseling. Because he not only obviously knew he was raping her (again, she was fucking passed out), but he also videotaped himself doing it, and did some rather disgusting shit to her in the process. Clearly he doesn't even view women as human beings, let along people deserving of his respect. And by barely punishing him, the court is completely legitimizing that world view, not just for him, but for the many people who have followed this trial.

As someone who's known quite a few activists who have gone to jail, let me put the proposed 8 month sentence in perspective. When one goes to the School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation), the school that teaches Latin American strongmen how to rape and kill nuns, and in protest walks on the base to ask the soldiers to stop teaching and arming these right-wing thugs, they receive a 6 month jail sentence. When you rape a passed out woman and videotape it to share with your friends, you receive an 8 month sentence.

So to recap: asking people to stop raping and murdering people: 6 months in jail. Raping people on videotape while you laugh about it: 8 months.

Good thing that whole "women's liberation" dealie is over, or people might be upset about this...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The 4th Horseman of the Apocolypse has just vomited

It has finally happened.

Geffen records hs confirmed that Axl has finally turned in the completed Chinese Democracy.

Yes, the album that has taken a mere 14 years, $13 million, and roughly 7,265 band line-up changes is complete.

I dont use the term "greatest moment in the history of recorded music" very often, but in this case...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Do it for the children

People who only casually watch movies (or casually listen to music, or insert any artistic medium here) often can't understand why those of us who follow them pretty closely get so upset about shitty movies. And I can really only speak for myself, but I would wager that this applies to many others, it's not that these movies are necissarily so atrocious (though they often are), it's more that in a world populated with so many brilliant movies, why would you watch the same derivative, formulaic shit over and over again?

I'm not arguing that you need to throw away all of your movies and watch solely Citizen Kane for the next 6 months so that you may critically analyze all that it represents. I just mean to say that any shitty, quickly-produced star fuck picture can easily be replaced by a similar, good movie. Much in the way that nearly all corporate music is merely an over-produced derivative of artistically interesting movie, pretty much all shitty movies are just white-washed re-creations of good movies. So why not watch the good movie instead?

However, there is a special reserve of hatred all of us who wish to appear hip to good movies have for those movies with absolutely no redeeming credit and those who produce them. For example, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the geniuses behind Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet The Spartans. These people feed off of an area below the lowest common denominator and will apparently stop at nothing to destroy American cinema. I don't just artistically disagree with these people, I genuinely hate them with a passion.

In this vein of director/producers, though, there is a kingpin: Uwe Boll. Specializing in turning video games into (terrible) movies, he is the mastermind behind such classics as Bloodrayne, Bloodrayne II, and Bloodrayne III (currently in pre-production). His movies go so far beyond even good-in-a-terrible-way that I'm pretty sure they are true signs of the coming apocolypse.

But there is hope. Mr. Boll has agreed to stop making films forever if a petition can be gathered with 1,000,000 signatures asking him to stop. Thanks to those ever-enterprising internet nerds, we now have the petition. It just needs your signature. As of this writing, it has a little over 47,000 signatures. Please sign it before DigDug: The Movie and DigDug II: The DigDuggening are inflicted upon the children of America...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Missing the Classics

Some Jimi Hendrix came up in my iTunes shuffle today and it got me ruminating about the necessity of classics. I've never gotten into Jimi; I really only have a couple selected tracks on my iTunes that come up every once in a while on shuffle, but that's it. I don't own any albums, and I would never just sit down and listen to a Hendrix album.

It's not that I dislike it, I just don't really respond to it. I can definitely see his genius...I mean, there's obviously a reason his name is synonymous with the guitar. And I know how massively influential he is, especialy among many of the acts/artists I really love.

But his music has just never really done it for me. I've never been able to get into that jammy 60s kind of blues rock. Again, I don't think it's bad, I just really can't ever imagine myself sitting down and intentionally listening to it.

Does this make me a bad music fan? I try to pose as somewhat knowledgeable about music, but can I even do that if I have no working knowledge of Jimi? Are their certain people you're just not allowed to skip if you're a rock fan? What about you, faithful readers? Are there people in your cannon that you're emberassed to admit you just didn't go for no matter how popular/talented they hapen to be? Is this to be allowed? Or should I really be stockpiling some Jimi and forcing myself to understand it? Discuss...