Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Am Okay With / Not Okay With: Derivative TV Edition.

Living in New York City—or, really, any pseudo-metropolis in our image-ridden age—one is often made aware of a new product or event or film by means of on-street advertising. In fact, especially in New York City, certain firms seem to delight in finding new & exciting ways to inform us about their product, which results in all unholy means of adhering the image to every conceivable public surface, such that the simple act of walking down the street turns into a battle against eyeball assault—until one is So. Very. Aware. of this particular item that one could probably draw the poster in question jot for jot, blindfolded, with the pencil held between one's teeth. Of course, the Annoyance Factor of this phenomenon is only increased when these images advertise something that makes one cringe or laugh cynically aloud or murmur clenched-teethedly to oneself, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Two such advertising campaigns for upcoming television shows have caught been shoved into my eye as of late, & aside even from their prevalence, they have irked me especially because, in my humble estimation, within 5 seconds of glimpsing each show's campaign, any human with a functioning frontal lobe could recite its (oft-parodied, referential) One-Line Pitch. Such an extreme level of Immediate Derivative Recall sends me into a postmodern tailspin of truly epic & despairing proportions—so, today, I bring you our contenders for least terrible new show on the block:

It's Like The Sopranos Meets The Tudors With a Splash of The Godfather & That Guy From Lolita.

Picture Law & Order With the Structure of 24 & the Concept of Twin Peaks.

Now, I know what you're thinking—"But you love Jeremy Irons! & crime shows!"—but just go with me on this for a minute: it seems insane to me that, in an age when Working in Pictures is not only a viable, but a popular career, ultimately accessible as a cell phone camera—when film schools are churning out graduating class after graduating class, & everyone within 50 miles of Hollywood has a script in their sock drawer—we are still making movies from books, movies based on true stories, sequel after sequel of Marvel comics blockbusters. Of course, almost all of those are marketing decisions—if people bought the book, they'll see the film, & at least Iron Man has a fast-food merchandising tie-in—but still: it's frustrating to me that so much "new" onscreen fare these days is basically the result of past successful formulae plucked at random from a bingo roller. These two shows in particular strike me as especially abominable reconstituted Frankensteins, cobbled from old Nielsen data & stitched together with the apathetic hope that today's TV audience really is that passive—then garnished with that especial audacity required to put the word "original," plainly, on both of these posters. It's enough to drive a girl to frenzy.

However, in this little system I've set up, one must triumph—so, following extensive research, a few laughs, & some bitter tears, our survey says...

I Am Okay With: That Salacious Period Drama Showtime Has Been So Desperately Lacking.

It's funny, because perhaps the most hilariously period-revisionist explosion of Awful—the show that, upon learning of its existence, had me convinced it was a parody or performance art piece—really anything other than a serious, dramatic television program about a sexified King Henry the Eighth—yes, that show, The Tudors—is Showtime's own pride & joy. Now, it seems, they're following the good old "Well, it worked once..." formula & lumping on The Borgias—the apparent laziness of which is frustrating in & of itself, but also, it gets on my "period drama" nerve.

I really don't like period dramas. Or—well—revise: I don't like the prevalence of period dramas. I just think there's something fundamentally stuffy & silly about them, as if their creators believe they've cracked the code to high culture simply by virtue of being set in a time when corsets were still mandatory. I also think this particular kind of "racy" period drama is somewhat done to death—the attempt to prove that people have always been just as callous & base as they are today, that scandal isn't a modern invention—all of which ultimately could be reduced to a man in pantaloons shouting into a megaphone, "People in the past had SEX! Oh man! So much sex they had!" Yes, Television, we're aware: we were born, after all.

Anyhow, I suppose that's more of a personal peeve—&, ultimately, after doing a little digging (one nose-held Google search, having been retina-clobbered by that ad a few too many times for comfort), I discovered that the show was created by Neil Jordan, who is fabulous & behind many a film I hold dear. So, on the grace of director & star (&, golly, WHAT A STARthat voice still slays me), I will let The Borgias skate through with a stamp of approval—& may even tune in, after glimpsing this hilarious set of GIFs.

I Am Not Okay With: Pacific Northwest Dead Girl Hunts That Exclude Kyle McLachlan Lynchian Bizarreitude.

Really, now: this trailer promises nothing even remotely as interesting as backward-talking dream sequences or salacious Canadian casinos—& you can damn well bet there's no body-snatching wildman to complete the whodunnit. Meanwhile, they're exploiting every conceivable crime show trope in the most banal way possible—&, honestly, even after Rizzoli & Isles, can we truthfully say that we're still interested in this kind of programming? Can't we just accept that the Law & Order Goliath has been felled, mourn a little, put on a brave face & find something new to make TV about? Please? (I'm looking at you, Law & Order: LA.)

Were this not enough, a quick scan of The Killing's Wikipedia page shows that it's the American remake of a Danish series that became popular in the UK. Yes, this is yet another Americanized re-rendering of a British phenomenon, which, in this case, happens to be a Danish take on American crime show convention—a clusterfuck of derivative sadness that is, clearly, not okay. Ugh.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

I feel it's only appropriate, after talking about derivatives & remakes, et. al., that today's musical offering be a cover. With that in mind, here are a few I've been (re)discovering lately—that, if memory serves, didn't make it onto the 55 Cover-splosion of months past (though such repetition would, in this context, be perversely wonderful...):

Zombie—Jay Brannan (Cranberries cover).

Personal Jesus—Johnny Cash (Depeche Mode cover).

Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down—Paolo Nutini (Cher cover).

Maps—Rogue Wave (Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover).

&, the Champion:

Helden (Heroes, in German)—Rammstein feat. Apocalyptica (David Bowie cover).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Some Unexpected Motivation.

Dear Internet,

Though it's (hopefully) common knowledge among all y'all dearest Readers of mine that my musings here are purely recreational, casual, not meant to garner fame or fortune—hence the sporadic posting, ample ampersands, & ubiquitous use of terms like "fuck" & "donkey balls"—I do still enjoy, on occasion, perusing my viewership statistics. Blogspot is kind enough to provide this feature—"Stats"—that tells you your number of views, search terms through which people have found your page, even from what country & operating system these hits originate (in my case, a bizarrely high influx from PC users from Denmark).

More often than not, the information is banal, perhaps worth a giggle, but today—well—let me just say this: you know you're doing something right when your three most-searched terms to date are, in order, "gigantic breasts," "famous serial killers," & "Iggy Pop bleeding from chest."

So, in conclusion, thank you, Danish porn surfers. You love me. You really, really love me.

Hearts, donkey balls, & truly gigantic breasts,

P.S. Stay tuned for some reckoning on two upcoming TV series...

Today's Headphone Fodder:

It's no secret that Richard O'Brien (AKA, the guy who comes out of the toilet in Spice World—or, for those not living in my brain, Riff Raff) wrote a number of Rocky Horror's songs prior to the play's inception, before Brad & Janet & Transylvanian transvestites—which means that, though they work seamlessly enough within the musical, they also sound especially fantastic when performed by a band, stand-alone & punked out. (Please, for the love of all that is holy, check out The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show—mentioned previously here.) "Superheroes" is definitely one such song—that two-step wail of the guitar, lyrics brimming with neo-Nietzchean angst—&, at least in my mind, the shouting of "stumble, stumble, fall!" after each line of the second verse, as besooted Janet can't quite keep her footing in the post-rocket mansion ruins. What the cover does so brilliantly, though, is bring this sentiment to a boil—implicitly beg you to dance through the bleak pronouncements, thrash to the bitter end—to stumble-stumble-fall, hard, with intent.

Monday, April 11, 2011

THF: Spoon For a (Pseudo-)Summer's Day.

It was over 70˚ today in Manhattan—in April—which of course was cause for much rejoicing & tank-top wearing & outdoor lounging—but which also, in turn, provoked some silly campus organization to set up a giant pair of speakers & bombard us innocent loungers with minutes upon minutes of Wiz Khalifa's braindeadery, Ke$ha's orgasming sneer-whine, etc. Partially to retroactively counter that assault—headphoneless as I was at the time—& partially just to share a song that deserves passing around, I present Spoon's cover of "Tear Me Down" from Jonathan Cameron Mitchell's rock musical tour de force, Hedwig & the Angry Inch:

Though the original will always remain near & dear to my heart—& though this album of covers, Wig in a Box, is packed to bursting with truly excellent renditions (including the Polyphonic Spree's take on the eponymous track, Frank Black doing "Sugar Daddy," even Stephen Colbert supplying the excised "Tear Me Down" interlude)—this particular track stands above the rest, especially when it comes to Warm Weather Music. Something about its Velvets-reminiscent simplicity, backed by that subtle swinging horn section, turns a once hard-rocking opening anthem into the perfect song for a summer strut—bare arms & sunglasses, laid back confidence, lips kinked sideways with an iced coffee straw & mind miles above, miles above.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Morays are eels. Mores are conventions. Which Anna Nicole defies.

Here it is, in all its typo-wrought glory: my article about the Anna Nicole Smith opera, committed, ever, to newsprint, & to the Eye website.

... Though Smith did enjoy a fair amount of professional success, looking back, one might call her a model the way John Wilkes Booth was an actor: chances are, when you say her name, the images conjured aren’t her tasteful black and white clothing ads. Rather, her legacy lives on in the rainbow of terrycloth tracksuits from her short-lived E! reality show—or the stale beige of courtroom footage, as we watched her fight for over a decade to gain retroactive inclusion in Marshall’s will.

It would seem, then, that upon learning this tawdry tale had transcended to the operatic stage, one might respond with a bemused head tilt, a raised eyebrow—all told, a general expression of: come again?

But wait—there's more: interviews with seasoned operati, a double-entendre invocation of molotov & alcoholic cocktails, overwrought metaphors about wax wings—&, of course, the eels. All them sexual morays...

Love, ever & on,
Your Faithful Annaliese

Today's Headphone Fodder:

This track combines two new loves of mine:

1) Adele's latest album, 21, which is packed to bursting with excellent songs (especially, "Rumour Has It" & "Set Fire to the Rain")—each featuring her almost genre-less soulful crooning, here reinvigorated by a light-yet-limb-rocking backbeat.

2) Childish Gambino, AKA Donald Glover of Derrick Comedy & Community fame. Flying in the face of many a celebrity-gone-musician before him, Glover is actually, well, pretty damn good. Other favorites of mine include "I Be On That" & "Freaks & Geeks"—both speedy & nerdy & pun-ridden, colliding like the best of lyrics. (A somewhat guilty favorite: e.e. cummin' on her face—now that's poetry in motion.)

&, just for fun:

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Rebecca Black Phenomenon.

If you, too, have been hopping around the internet in procrastinatory fervor these past weeks—or watching the news, or breathing—chances are you've heard of the one and only "Friday" by Rebecca Black.

This single video has managed over 60 million views on YouTube, not including its near-countless spoofs & memes, & was recently the #43 most downloaded song on iTunes (beating out the likes of the Black Eyed Peas & Britney's latest exploration in dirty puns)—all while being openly & relentlessly mocked as the worst song, ever, ever, ever. As such, it provides an excellent point of study for a phenomenon I've been internally expounding upon for a while now—that is, Liking Something Because It's Terrible.

Because this song is, in fact, terrible. I mean, really, patently bad. From its monotone melody to its barfed out lyrics—including up to 8 placeholder repetitions of the word "fun" & a bridge that denotatively & apathetically describes the order of the days of the week—it just might be, as millions before me have said, the one of the least artful pieces of pop debris ever produced.

Indeed, not only is the song so mindlessly constructed as to be laughable—as parodied brilliantly by two preteen boys (which, by the way, is when you know you're in trouble: when what you've done can be sent up by those with a comic sensibility that still giggles at the word "penis")—but in its middle-of-the-road, Please-Be-a-Hit banality, "Friday" almost becomes its own parody of the pandering lameness of conventional pop. Desire to be "partyin' partyin'" & "lookin' forward to the weekend" are perhaps the most universalizable sentiments for the ages of 12-65—short only of "gravity exists" & "eyelids are useful"—as exemplified by the nearly inhuman amount of songs that take on this "fun fun fun fun" as their subject matter. The same goes for that James Blunt song about how "I saw your face in a crowded place": it's just denotative enough to evoke a wildly general emotion, while retaining the requisite vagueness to be played at the climax of every romantic comedy ever made.

But enough about the song—because, honestly, I'm becoming an exemplar of my own point: as Foucault (yes, I'm a pretentious college student, shut your face) once wondered why it is that we repeatedly castigate ourselves for being sexually repressed, all while doing nothing to actually alleviate that repression, I'm fascinated by a news cycle/internet culture/innumerable fraternities hosting "Friday"-themed parties that would go far out of their way to declare, loudly, creatively, in time-consuming & proto-hortatory fashion, how terrible they think something is.

The first & most obvious reason is because it's funny. There's no denying that the video itself—as well as a select few of its parodies, & even some of its covers (though far fewer, I think, than those producing said covers would like to believe)—are simply & denotatively hilarious, for reasons upon reasons. Still, I can't help but feel like there's more to this phenomenon than a "laughing at" relationship—that, by focusing so steadily on this one piece of pop ephemera, even if only to mock it, we can't help but like it—or, at the very least, give it a trajectory identical to that of something beloved.

Because the paradox is, every time you buy "Friday" on iTunes, even if your intention is to laugh at its stupidity, you're giving money to Rebecca Black (or, more accurately, to the blameworthy hucksters at Ark Music Factory)—just as everyone who tunes in to mock the drunken exploits of the cast of Jersey Shore is contributing to the show's rising ratings, its season renewals, Snooki's ever-oranging skin. If that's your aim, then so be it—but, at least in my mind, when one doesn't approve of something, fiscally & ideologically perpetuating it is often not on one's to-do list. In short: a (shamefully) large part of me wants the world to shut up about Rebecca Black, & the Jersey Shore kids, & the Kardashians, & the Real Housewives, & the Girls Next Door, etcetera-ad-infinitum, simply because I—&, I would argue, all of the people talking about/parodying/ironically celebrating them—do not, in point of fact, consider any of these people actually worthy of this much attention. So, I say, let's stop giving it—& its corequisite paycheck—to them, please.

Of course, I'm no saint—not by the longest of shots. I, too, have spent many a side-splitting evening in front of NYC Prep, The A-List, Rock of Love; the above plea is as much to myself as anyone. Moreover, there's decent part of my brain—the part that, I imagine, speaks alternately in the voices of Kate Bush & the Church Lady—that wants this love-through-hate trend to cease for slightly less snobbish reasons: because it forces these poor people to be famous for being despised. I know, I know: "there's no such thing as bad press"—I want your love & I want your revenge—better to be ripped to shreds than go anonymous—I understand the logic behind it, but fame is pernicious enough when it springs from legitimate celebration, let alone mockery & awfulness.

Having just finished an article on the London premiere of an opera about Anna Nicole Smith (which I'll cross-post here once it's published, pinky swear), I've been thinking a lot about this ever-recurring Tragic Cycle of Fame—how we tend to build celebrities up only to tear them down, then golf-clap at their rehabilitation, then fiend for stories of their relapses, on & on until the individual in question either perishes (followed by uncannily tasteless post-mortem coverage), or gets shoved out of the spotlight by some new mess, doomed to live forevermore on the dregs of what was, what was. Think Mickey Rourke or Robert Downey Jr., both trainwrecks-turned-Oscar-nominees—then think about how even these laudably reformed gents aren't getting nearly as much coverage as that blathering whackadoodle Charlie Sheen. Same goes for Britney Spears, whose news mentions seem to flare up only when she's in crisis—as satirized à la "The Lottery" by those clever boys over at South Park.

Celebrating someone for being dreadful represents essentially the same process, only truncated for the ease of the user—more hateful bang for your tabloid buck—because even when these people are on the upswing, they're still fair game to be shat upon. The pinnacle of their success is so wrapped up in their ability to be loathsome that, at all times, every American who was promised citizenship in an up-by-personal-bootstraps meritocracy can exorcise some of their frustrated ambition by clawing at the dignity of those who've made it to the magazine covers. To be famous is to succeed, but if we can somehow prove that those who are famous are deficient—are addicted or stupid or frivolous, some kind of reprehensible—then we can comfort ourselves that, press mentions aside, we are still superior. As long as we can make them look worse, we haven't failed—&, in the case of those whose notoriety is predicated on their awfulness, looking worse takes very little effort.

The real irony of the situation, though, is that soliciting this kind of public disapproval has now become desirable in & of itself—when, for example, girls are getting pregnant specifically to eligible for casting on Teen Mom, MTV's latest exercise in irresponsible programming. Because fame-through-derision has proven so profitable (see: Snooki Polizzi's paycheck per club appearance), those who were once the whetting stones for our real celebrity envy have themselves joined the canon of the enviable. Liking something ironically can often feel safer than liking it genuinely—because, if challenged, you can always pull back & insult it, unscathed—but, taken to such extremes, this faux-endorsement seems to leave us free-falling in a frustrating, almost exponential spiral, which cheapens both what it means to "like" something & the quality of what's out there to be liked.

I realize that we got a little sidetracked—&, indeed, a little heavy-handed—so let me clarify: my point is not that everyone who like-mocked "Friday" is implicated in the downfall of Western Civilization—because the song is, in fact, ridiculous, & catchy like an airborne toxin. Still, in less innocuous instances, I think our far-too-prevalent love-to-hate relationship with pop culture gets icky, & that we should (in perhaps the most literal instance of this phrase I can muster) check our divas before we wreck our divas.

In the meantime, though, let's at least let this seemingly unstemmable tide swell in the triumphant voice of Stephen Colbert:

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Anneliese's "Fun Fun Fun Fun" Playlist.

Friday On My Mind—David Bowie (Easybeats cover).

Weekend—Smith Westerns.

Hot Patootie (Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?)—The Phenomenauts (Rocky Horror cover).

Saturday Night Divas—Spice Girls.

Seven Day Weekend—The New York Dolls.

Sunday Morning—The Velvet Underground.

I Don't Like Mondays—Bob Geldof & the Boomtown Rats.

Ruby Tuesday—Franco Battaio (Rolling Stones cover).

Wednesday Week—Elvis Costello & the Attractions.


Friday, I'm In Love—The Cure.

&, last but not least, for all those acid trips you were desperately hoping to forget: