Everyone's been talking about Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom. While book reviewers raved and readers waited with great anticipation for the August 31st release date, authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner both saw all the hype as a platform from which to start asking questions about why books written by women don't get this kind of attention.
I think there's a great comic book to be made about Shonen Knife. The story would start in an Osaka office building in 1981, where twenty-somethings Michie Nakatani, Atsuko Yamano, and Naoko Yamano decided to start a band as an antidote to their dull clerkships. They started a power-chord pop band, but kept it mostly secret from their family and co-workers until 1982, when they played their first show and released their first album on cassette-only. Their American cross-over first really took hold when they were included on a 1986 Sub Pop compilation, and Olympia's K Records released a new version of their debut album Burning Farm to underground and alternative rock fans in the US. The major-label pique was with Capitol, with one of their best-known albums, Let's Knife, were on MTV rotation, and toured with Nirvana right before their release of Nevermind (Kurt Cobain said seeing Shonen Knife live transformed him "into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert.")
Did you Bounce a little too hard yesterday? Need a comedown for day two of your MFNW marathon? Look no further than Portland's own indie-folk outfit Y La Bamba. Their gorgeous, soaring harmonies and quirky, thoughtful lyrics (not to mention mega crush-worthy singer Luz Elena Mendoza) will be on display at Someday Lounge tonight at 11:15.
Ready for warm fuzzies? Check out this performance from Mississippi Studios last year.
For all the media flutter about Joan and Roger and Pete and Sal, I'm one of those people who feels she would be perfectly happy to watch a "Mad Men" composed exclusively of scenes between Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss). Hamm and Moss have, for one thing, an acting alchemy that's fairly unique on television right now, the kind of skillful play off each other than leads even underwritten scenes to be fraught with meaning. They are experts at filling in the blanks, for each other and for the script, so to speak. Which explains why it's taken me an entire week to work up the will to write about last Sunday's episode, "The Suitcase," basically a two-hander written specially for Hamm and Moss. It's just taken that long to come down from the high. I had resolved not to flood this space with Mad Men analysis, but it's just my luck that the week I start blogging here Mad Men runs what I suspect will be remembered as one of its greatest episodes.
The party line of the chattering classes on Mad Men this season seems to be that it's been slow-going, with little plot development and a lot of Don facedown: in his drink, in the boardroom, in his secretary. For my part, I find the focus on Don's failings refreshing. Last season, as his marriage disintegrated and he felt stifled by the oversight of the distant British firm that had bought Sterling Cooper, I detected in the writing a certain amount of sympathy for him that I couldn't quite countenance.
MTV's been having a good summer. In part, that's because the second season of its reality series Teen Mom has been generating huge ratings for the network—it is this summer's third-most-watched original cable series in the coveted 12-34 demographic. The show, which documents the lives of four young women after they gave birth to children as teenagers, along with its sister show and predecessor 16 and Pregnant, has already generated a fair amount of cultural chatter on the question of whether the show is a valuable educational tool or just, as most seem to have concluded, regular old exploitation of the young women in question. There's something to this argument, of course. MTV's ratings success makes for a strange contrast with the fact that Teen Mom's stars have been occupying the front pages of celebrity weeklies like US complaining that they are dead broke, doesn't it?
I'm of two minds about the argument. On the one hand I certainly don't have much faith in MTV's dedication to social messaging, at least not enough to believe it extends much further than what advertisers are comfortable with. I'm not the first, for example, to point out that abortion, as an option, is not something that's seriously discussed in the context of the show. You can spin that fact as having something to do with showrunners needing to have a more extended narrative arc than, "Now I'm pregnant, now I'm not." But Teen Mom does follow one young couple, Catelynn and Tyler, after they've given their child up for adoption, so sponsor queasiness seems a more likely explanation.
The plight of the fat celebrity illustrates our expectation that fat people should be constantly fighting the battle of the bulge, and we get a kick out of watching their weight rise and fall. From Oprah to Kirstie Alley, we are obsessed with the constant attempts to beat back the inevitable regain of weight. Kirstie Alley capitalized on our obsession by producing not one, but two shows focusing on her weight—one right before she lost all the weight, and one after she gained it all back. Oprah's travails up and down the scale are legendary. Then we have the revolving door of Jenny Craig spokeswomen, such as Jennifer Hudson and Sarah Rue. So when a celebrity dares to proclaim that she's happy at a weight considered fat, all hell breaks loose. Example: Gabby Sidibe.
From the Awesome New Project files, Aiesha Turman, who heads the blog and media company Super Hussy (read her reclamation story here), has set out to capture the lives of young black women by asking the simple question "Who are you?" to Brooklyn high school girls. Turman created The Black Girl Project documentary, in order to let young black girls tell their own story instead of the one-dimensional versions of black women that much of the news and pop culture churn out.
It's MusicFest NW week here in Portland, and though it takes a lot for a shorty like me to brave the crowds of unbelievably tall dudes who magically appear out of thin air during music festivals, tonight I am heading out for one reason and one reason only: Big Freedia. It's Bounce time, y'all!
One area of pop culture where really problematic and questionable depictions of people come up is that of mental illness. The way that mental illness is depicted, whether it is within the context of a celebrity scandal; the characterization of a person in a film, comic, or television show; a book; or music, can be extremely dubious. For those of us with mental illness(es), pop culture can be a constant reminder of the fact that we are considered both scary and public property, objects of curiosity, fascination, and revulsion.