Entries Tagged as 'art & entertainment'

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

The good Stalinist

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Àíäðåé Ïëàòîíîâ

“Hm? What? Stalin? Yeah, I kind of dig him…”

As a fan of Soviet literature, one of my great frustrations is the lack of good writing from a pro-Stalin perspective. There is no shortage of books about the evils of Stalin and the system he created- Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Bulgakov all spring to mind- but what about those writers who actually believed in his vision for the USSR? [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

Orwell’s 1984: A Literary Appreciation

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Winston stopped reading for a moment. Somewhere in remote distance a rocket bomb thundered. The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book, in a room with no telescreen, had not worn off. Solitude and safety were physical sensations, mixed up somehow with the tiredness of his body, the softness of the chair, the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek. The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.

This past weekend I re-read Orwell’s 1984. Or maybe re-reread since I’m fairly sure I’ve read it twice before. You might expect from the title of this blog entry that it would be an appreciation of the book’s themes and significance and how today’s world is more like Oceania than ever … et cetera. But it (the blog) won’t be.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the significance and incisiveness of the book. I very much do. And reading it again I appreciated it more than ever, even to the point that it didn’t seem all that ‘depressing’ – because it wasn’t all that shocking. The photo posted here was taken yesterday on an NJ Transit train. Note the flat, built-in ‘telescreen,’ the surveillance camera, and the loudspeaker. Seem familiar?

Speaking of significance, as a brief aside, I recently watched The Wire, and I was struck at how well 1984 depicts the drug trade, with its 24/7 surveillance, its complete intolerance for dissention and individual thought, and its willingness to ‘vaporize’ anyone for any reason. The parallel works because 1984 is describing a dictatorship, which is what the drug trade is, and exactly as Orwell writes: a dictatorship not as much about money or luxury but pure power. (We especially see this in drug lord Marlo Stanfield.) But don’t get me started on The Wire.

Reading 1984 this time, I especially wanted to examine the literary merits of the story. Would I see through the story and recognize 1984 as ‘merely’ a brilliant essay disguised as a novel?

Nope. Don’t doubt Orwell, is the lesson. On this go ‘round, I was lock-and-stock sold on the literary quality of 1984. Let’s look at just a few finer points:

[Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingmusic

Top ten things overheard at last night’s Grammys

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10. “How are LeAnn Rimes and Busta Rhymes related, exactly?”

9. “Yes, I’m Vanilla Ice. Now can I show you to your seat?”

8. “In what month is thing scheduled to end?”

7. “What’s the difference between ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Record of the Year’?”

6. “Exactly when did Taylor Swift join Cirque du Soleil?”

5. “I hear Snoop Dogg got endorsement deals in both Colorado and Washington State.”

4. “I haven’t seen this many commercials since the Clios.”

3. “This year they’re giving a Grammy for Artist Whose CD Was Easiest To Open.”

2. “I’m glad Adele mentioned she was pregnant. For a second there I thought she was up for Best Group Performance.”

1. “Excuse me, but I want to introduce Lady Gaga to the Goo Goo Dolls…Gaga, Goo Goo!…Goo Goo, Gaga!…Oh, and look who just came in: Kajagoogoo!”
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

adviceart & entertainment

Caveat Emptor: Pop Scholarship in a Mass Media World

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I recently picked up a non-fiction book called Generation Me. I wasn’t expecting a monumental work, but about fifty pages in I set it aside in boredom and disgust. Bamboozled again, by my old nemesis: pop scholarship.

What is pop scholarship? Let’s break it down.

The author proposes a vague, generic ‘thesis’: the twilight of American culture, the “tipping point” of trends and fads, the American dream meeting American medicine, and so on. It’s not really a thesis so much as a catchphrase.

The next step is for the author to gather data and evidence for his ahem, thesis. But that takes a lot of work, so what really happens is that the author reads a few books on a similar topic and calls that research. Toss in some Wikipedia and a few journal articles for good measure, and presto! A bibliography. As far as statistics in pop scholarship: well, as the joke goes, “I never meta-analysis I didn’t like.”

By the way, when you read pop scholarship, take note that while there is a “Notes” section at the back of the back, there are no footnotes or endnotes actually in the text. Why not? Well, for one, the author and/or publisher is afraid that a potential reader will be turned off by seeing superscript numbers that correspond with the source of information. Second, when your research is shallow and shoddy and your sources reflect that, it makes sense to make it difficult for readers to keep tabs.

Anyway, once the research is gathered, it’s time to write. Actually, many of these works aren’t written at all: they’re dictated, which is why the prose of pop scholarship often sounds so colloquial or dumbed-down. Still, the authors are wily, and if they sense they’ve gone too far, even for pop scholarship, out come the academic buzzwords or jargon (anything containing “paradigm” or “gender roles” are especially handy).

But finally the drafting is done. Whew. Unfortunately, the manuscript is barely long enough for a good, in-depth magazine article, let alone a book. And this is another point about pop scholarship books. Most of them aren’t books at all. They’re simply bloated articles or blog entries sold as books. Of course, readers don’t realize this until long after the credit card is approved.

Back to the writing process, though. How can the author pump their flimsy essay into a book? Bring on the filler.

And this filler is the most offensive aspect of these “lite” non-fiction works. The pages sag with miniature book reviews, movie synopses, factoids, annoying repetition, newly-minted useless acronyms, and personal anecdotes, rather than primary-source data, investigative reporting, apt analogies and genuine insight. Generation Me is especially shameless with its never-ending TV and movie recaps, which make for delicious irony given the author’s griping about modern-day attention spans. In fact, an Amazon customer review from “Sam B” – and these reviews are usually the only honest ones of pop scholarship – points this out trenchantly:

While the beginning of the book is made up of one insight after another backed up by some quality and unique research,  the rest of the book is one point of hearsay after another backed up by quotes from Dawson’s Creek and Teen magazines. Seriously! I was shocked that a supposed academic would use dialogue from a television show as insight into a generation, and then have the audacity to call it “research”. She would actually use fictional television dialogue to lend support to her analysis. If she hoped to define a generation, a lot more is needed than pop culture references.

[Read more →]

moviesThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that Thaddeus T. Wimplenoodle must die

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. 24FPS: The Emperor has not, as yet, sentenced anyone summarily to death, but now is the time. Or, rather, the past is the time. Who, you might often have asked, was the sadistic monster who decided that popcorn should be served in movie theaters? What sick son-of-a-mother decided that the loudest-chewing snack in the history of mankind, served in the loudest-crinkling bag possible, should be the staple treat at an entertainment medium that depends upon audible dialogue; that operates on sometimes delicate, sometimes sublime emotional levels that can be crushed by the slightest peripheral disturbance? We’ll tell you: one Thaddeus T. Wimplenoodle, in the year 1927. (The Imperial Historians were up all night tracking down this information — don’t bother trying to verify it.) Was this beast trying to drive theater-goers into homicidal rages as a result of their being surrounded by entire families full of grunting, bag-crinkling, slack-jawed, open-mouthed chompers? The very idea is a sign of severely sociopathic intentions. Someone like that should never have been allowed to live and the tradition of popcorn in movie theaters must be stopped.

The Punishment: The Imperial Quantum Physicists have sent an Imperial Assassin back in time. Assuming the Imperial Assassin doesn’t accidentally kill his own grandfather, you should count on an unexplained offering of, say, padded cardboard boxes full of marshmallows instead of popcorn at your next theater visit. In short, Thaddeus T. Wimplenoodle must die (or, must have died) before he can (could have) unleash (unleashed) such malignant madness into the world.

Now, go forth and obey.

The Emperor will grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingmovies

Top ten Disneyland-Lucasfilm projects planned for the new year

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10. When You Wish Upon A Death Star

9. Snow White and the Seven Ewoks

8. The Lightsaber in the Stone

7. No Deposit, No Return of the Jedi

6. Raiders of the Lost Duck

5. The Princess Leia Diaries

4. Atlantis: The Lost Empire Strikes Back

3. Song of the Sith

2. Randy Quaid in The Wookiee

1. Dumb and Dumber starring Goofy and Jar Jar Binks
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingmusic

Top ten names of rock bands, just before they picked their current names

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10. Silver Beatles

9. The Strolling Roans

8. Guns and Bayonets

7. The Windows

6. Little Head Todd and the Monsters

5. The What

4. Motley Crew

3. Flaming Eyeballs

2. U1

1. Ezra
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingmovies

Top ten signs your film won’t be nominated for an Academy Award

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10. It’s called The Life of Pie, starring Chris Christie

9. Tyler Perry’s in it, but he’s not wearing a dress

8. The title contains either the words ‘John’ or ‘Carter’

7. The opening and the closing credits meet in the middle

6. It was filmed in 1D

5. The jury at Cannes found you “Guilty as charged”

4. It’s based on a board game

3. Like last year’s winner, The Artist, it’s a silent film — but that’s due to a technical error

2. Adam Sandler is at his zaniest

1. Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs down and a middle finger up
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

diatribesmusic

Cafe Music Crankiness

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Those who know me know this is continuing struggle of mine: music played at cafes.

I was recently at a cafe, OCF on South St, and the music was spectacularly bad. When I arrived it was thumping techno — not electronica or lounge — TECHNO. After a little while I approached the barista and semi-tactfully explained that the music was intrusive, poorly-selected, and too loud for the cafe. So he changed it, to a mix of…

…calypso music. I’m not joking. I thought he was, at first, to spite me, but no, he was serious. That’s what hipsters do. They tend shop at cafes in ironic ugly Christmas sweaters, playing calypso.

But at least the calypso was pretty soft and not too offensive, even if it made no sense to play it on a freezing cold December day. Once that mix was over, the playlist of fail continued:

- Electronica, none of which was listenable
- The full “Loveless” album by My Bloody Valentine. Now this is an “important” album and I get that. It’s overrated, though, because Kevin Shields’s legendary perfectionism and layering process makes the sound more muddled than it should be. Hence how good Japancakes’s cover (of the whole album) sounds. Regardless, anyone who knows MBV knows it’s not cafe music.
- Drone music

You read that right, too. Drone music. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Like a blog entry wwwwwwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiittttttttteeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnn lllllllllllliiiiiiiiiiikkkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeee ttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiissssssssss.

[Read more →]

art & entertainmenttelevision

A Christmas tradition, of sorts …

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Even in the days of DVDs, when I could watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” easily and inexpensively, whenever I wanted, I would still wait for the Christmas season to come around, so I could watch the broadcast, just as I did the first time it aired … and have done every Christmas season since then … at least until the last couple of years, when broadcasters made additional cuts to the original program. Made me glad I bought the DVD a while back … I still wait for the Christmas season to come around … I just watch it via a new medium. [Read more →]

art & entertainmentBob Sullivan's top ten everything

Top ten suggested wedding gifts for Hugh Hefner’s and Crystal Harris’s New Year’s Eve wedding

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10. A Rascal scooter with a “Just Married” sign and tin cans tied to the back

9. An extremely rare collection of old naked TSA photos

8. A subscription to Penthouse

7. A defibrillator

6. A copy of Kama Sutra for the Infirm

5. An adult-diaper-ready tux

4. A Viagra Pez dispenser (with a different head on it)

3. A honeymoon bed with handrails

2. A Playboy calendar with only May and December in it

1. Laminated copies of the two-document agreement they finally struck: her signature on a pre-nup, and his on a ‘do not resus’
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

art & entertainment

David Lynch and Russell Brand meditating

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If your face hasn’t exploded from pop culture overload in 2012, then this image should get you there.

 

art & entertainmenttelevision

So long to a good ol’ boy

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Count me among those mourning the death of stage, screen and (most of all) television star Larry Hagman, who passed away Friday in a Dallas, Texas, hospital. Hagman was 81.

[Read more →]

musicThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that the harmonica shall be banned in all music (except for one cat)

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. 87/8-P: The harmonica is hereby banned in the Empire. There shall be no more sonic poison vomited into sparkling guitar cocktails served by unwashed Dylan wannabes wearing neck-holders and moaning and spitting into cheap Hohners. The Emperor has decided that, artistically speaking, the harmonica is the proverbial fart in church; it is an Almond Joy bobbing in the public pool; the accidental, mid-wipe finger-punch through the toilet paper; the over-the-top scatological humor in the formal blog post; the plump and throbbing zit perched between the azure eyes of a beauty queen. The harmonica is a heinous-sounding buzz-saw backing a choir of angels. It adds about as much musicality to the average song as pants would add to the hydro-dynamics of a cruising Great White. (The only valid harmonica musician of all time is Toots Thielmans — he, alone, shall continue to be allowed to play, until such time as he may go up to the great Jam Session in the Sky.) Next week, all harmonicas shall be seized and destroyed in the Imperial Harmonica Smasher. (Yes, we built one. And, yes, it is as cool as it sounds.)

Everyone knows the definition of “perfect pitch” is when you throw a harmonica into a dumpster and it bounces off of a broken accordion. (Thank, yeeew – the Emperor’s here every week. Try the veal!)

The Punishment: Those caught with contraband harmonicas will be thrown into the smasher along with their offensive, metallic tooters — whose natural sounds will have been far more disturbing than the ensuing death screams of the besquished owners could ever be.

PS: John Popper is not a valid defense against this decree, so don’t try it. If anything, just bringing his name up will make the Emperor even more angry.

Now, go forth and obey.

The Emperor will grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning. 

art & entertainmentBob Sullivan's top ten everything

Top ten upcoming David Blaine stunts

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10. Being entombed for a week in a giant plastic coffin filled with lime Jello

9. Extricating himself from a pair of extra-tight skinny jeans

8. Being continually electrocuted by people rubbing their feet on shag carpeting

7. Eating a pound of cut-rate sushi, then riding a Tilt-A-Whirl for 10 hours

6. Being encased in a truckload of frozen Snicker bars

5. Surviving for 48 hour without food or water hanging above a downtown New York street, suspended only by his pubic hair

4. Breaking the Guinness World Record of “Most Successive Publicity Stunts”

3. Holding his breath until he literally turns blue

2. Levitating his pants

1. Watching every Adam Sandler movie ever made, without a break or taking any drugs
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

moviesreligion & philosophy

The solution to every major mystery on earth

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The ancient world has left us with lots of mysteries that have been baffling mankind for millennia. Mysteries like the Great Pyramid of Giza, Stonehenge, the Crystal Skulls, the Nazca Lines, and many more. In addition, our history is filled with unanswered questions about who we are, what inspired the stories of our gods, what all this extra DNA is doing in our genes, and so on. What if I told you that all of these seemingly unrelated mysteries all share the exact same explanation—and that this explanation will completely change life on earth as we know it?  Oh, and the epiphany for this explanation hit me while I was watching a horror movie that came out earlier this year. This movie’s tagline was, “You think you know the story. Think again.” The same can be said of this edition of “Answers to Everything.” [Read more →]

art & entertainmentmovies

A disturbance in the force

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musicThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that ye shall no longer quote crappy lyrics on Facebook or Twitter

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. Cmi7: It may seem a tad common for one of his dazzling grandeur, but the Emperor does enjoy a little stint on Facebook or Twitter from time to time. (This invariably leads to finger-blisters for the Imperial Scribe who keeps a list of dictated future decrees.) But, for the love of ME, people, could you stop posting vapid, pedestrian, mediocre excerpts from song lyrics that a three-year old could have churned out during an inspired potty squeege? Sweet Jesu — what compels a person to take the time to type up “Yeah, baby — yeah; you’re mine and I’m yours and that’s the way it will always be”? This is such a good lyric that it had to be electronically broadcast to the world? This made you sit up and say, “Wow — that’s deep. I must share this.” Cripes. Meanwhile, Johnny Mercer dwells in Facebook obscurity — in the dark refuse pile of the un-tweeted — despite having written: [Read more →]

art & entertainmentbooks & writing

Animal Cruelty and enormous breasts, or: more fun with Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Recently I reviewed The Incal, the epic psychedelic space opera from the all-round holy madman Alejandro Jodorowsky and French comics master Moebius. It is, as I said, good to a consciousness-scrambling degree. But Jodorowsky has many other works available in English, and today I draw attention to two of them, one of which dates from the beginning of his comics career and the other of which appeared at what we must assume is close to the end of it, given that he is now 83. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtelevision

Top ten least popular new television shows

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10. America’s Funniest Postcards

9. Law and Order: CSI: NCIS:

8. 48 Hour History

7. So You Think You Can Play Pachinko

6. How I Met Your Accountant

5. America’s Next Top Heavy

4. The Sitcom with No Gay Characters

3. The X Chromosome

2. Dancing with the Has-Beens

1. Innocence of Muslims
 

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

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