Tag Archives: pop culture

It’s such a good feeling

My son and I have been watching old episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood lately. It’s much easier than I realized to get engrossed in the land of make-believe and film footage of the crayon factory as an adult. But it’s even easier to rest in Fred’s compassion.

“He seems like a question answerer, conscious child idea conceiver Carl Sagan,” said Declan, looking for (and finding) the right words.

The man understood how hard it can be to be a person, especially a child. That’s been tough work for us lately, so I’m glad to be parenting in a digital age that can take us back in time.

Whether he was singing about liking people for true reasons, or his daily celebration of the fact that we’re alive and growing inside, he had this way of creating safety and space. Even though he has passed, I’m amazed to see that the shows still hold that power for my son.

In one episode, someone in the land of make-believe had invented a machine that could see into people, see something true about them, like the warmth of their heart or their love of chair-making.

When it was over, and the camera began panning above Mr. Roger’s colorful neighborhood houses and toy cars, Declan snuggled his face into my neck and pretended to look into me.

“There is lots and lots and lots of love,” he said. “And lots and lots of art, writing especially. Buddhism. The ocean. Me.”

He stopped, leaned back, and smiled at that thought for a moment. Then he snuggled back in and continued.

“All the art you’ve ever seen in museums. All the music you’ve ever listened to. Not just me but everybody you’ve ever known or loved. All the trees and flowers you’ve ever seen or smelled. All the places you’ve lived. Dogs and dolphins and other animals you loved. Blue sky. Clouds. Rain. Storms. Hurricanes. Your reflections.”

“My reflections?”

“Yes – both kinds. The ones you’ve actually seen and.. your thoughts.”

And that one. That one from my son, inspired by Fred Rogers. That’s a reflection I want to keep forever.


More Fred, because even if you think you outgrew him, you didn’t:

His touching 1969 Senate hearing testimony in defense of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which includes his reading of “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

You can watch or listen to most of his songs on the PBS web site.

Fred’s goodbye on his final program, which is especially sweet for parents who grew up watching him.

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Weird Barack Obama art

Growing up in a Catholic household the 1960s, my husband says that most of the living rooms he visited as a child had pictures of Jesus and JFK hanging on the wall.

As a child of the 1970s, I don’t remember any presidential administration that inspired that kind of iconic reproduction. Things have changed. The stream of Barack Obama faces printed on clothing and hats since early summer festivals this year has been steady to overflowing, many using design elements that intentionally evoke Bob Marley, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. Apparently, we like wearing our new leader, putting forward our faith in his abilities.

Meanwhile, weird art has been emerging from all corners of the Internet, putting forward its own agenda:
A lot of pundits claim that voters have unrealistic, Jesus (or Fabio)-like expectations of our new President. On first view, this illustration seems to underscore that idea. It was actually intended to poke fun at Obama supporters in Portland, Oregon this past May.
This one comes from Dan Lacey, Painter of Pancakes, who mostly paints political and celebrity figures with pancakes on their heads, although he also has some of famous figures donning jock straps, carrots and “Minnesota” toast” on their noggins. If you poke around his site, you’ll find that there are a couple of other nude Obama with unicorn paintings, including a revision of this one with a leaner president-elect.
An Indiana man who calls himself the “Taco Werewolf” created a series of “Obama Taco Underwear” paintings. Over the summer, when he finished his shifts at a Mexican restaurant, Mr. Werewolf would nosh on free tacos in his underwear and watch Obama speeches, which filled him with such inspiration he was moved to make these paintings.
Last but not least, here’s a camptastic one (pointed out to me by my mom), from local artist Paul Richmond. It is available as a Giclee Print on Etsy.

More pieces, strange and mainsteam, have been dutifully catalogued on a couple of blogs: the Art of Obama and The Obama Art Report.

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Things to do on a Friday (or Saturday) night, Part One

Last summer, I briefly heralded my family’s new found normality (after lo, these many years of my husband’s reign as a local independent impresario) in a post called “What we do on a Friday night these days.” It wasn’t a very exciting read, but posting it was sort of… illuminating.

To this day, handfuls to dozens of people still visit that post every week, and it’s not because they think my Cosmic playlist is brilliant. It’s because, come Friday, a number of people from all over the world apparently go to the search engine of their choice and type “things to do on a Friday night,” hoping the bots will show them the way to a good time. Somehow, they end up here instead, tripping the light fantastic through my domestic burbles.

If you are one of those souls meandering through cyberspace, looking for weekend inspiration, I actually can help you. It just so happens that despite of the fact that I am kind of a shut-in these days, I am still something of an expert about things that people can do on a Friday or Saturday night. Over the course of my career, the two jobs I actually had to go into an office to complete involved localizing a well-known national chain of websites and writing for a local alternative weekly – both publications were deeply involved in informing people about the myriad ways they might spend their free time.

I also waited until my mid-30s to become a parent, so that I could enjoy many years of going out on Friday and Saturday nights before giving them up to drool and intergalactic renditions of “The Farmer in the Dell.” I’ve seen enough that I’m not so worried about what I might be missing these days.

My unsolicited advice
For starters, if you are one of those people who lives in a mid-sized-to-major city and scrunches up their nose in confusion or non-recognition when I mention the name of a local free alternative weekly newspaper, you probably aren’t well-enough informed about what your city has to offer to viably complain that there isn’t anything to do. Start there – look for the free rags in the foyers of restaurants, coffee shops, libraries and bookstores, or search for “free weekly + (name of your town)” online. Hunt through their calendar listings and see what you’ve been missing, then consider going someplace you’ve never heard of. If the unknown scares you, pack hand sanitizer and low expectations.

Otherwise, here is my all-purpose, non-geographically specific list of suggestions about things you can do on a Friday or Saturday night.

Part One – Going Out
Gallery openings
I weep when I consider the uneaten cheese cubes cast into garbage cans when an artist loads up a snack table, hangs his or her work for all to see and no one comes.

Actually, in my town, I’ve found that it’s rare that no one comes, even if it’s just people questing for free cheese cubes. Whatever your motivation, it would behoove you to become one of those people. Don’t think that you have to know what you’re looking at. It’s better that you come with questions.

See live, original music in a smaller venue
I obviously have my biases when it comes to this one, but I would be remiss if I didn’t evangelize a little about live music. The fact is, if you love music, and haven’t ever seen it live, in an intimate venue, your relationship with it is effectively stuck at second base.

While it’s true that if you are anywhere between 35 and 65 years old, you can probably have a fairly intimate experience with some band that specializes in covering all the music you sang in the shower when you were twelve, that is not the same as seeing an original act. Connecting with a bunch of people through drunken nostalgia can be fun, but connecting with something new and stirring can actually be transcendent. (Don’t expect that at your first show, but believe me, it happens.) It also makes you smarter and better looking.

I haven’t gone to them as often, but all the same concepts may apply to theater, dance and other live performances.

Go to the drive-in or an independent movie theater
I’ve found the cost of mainstream Hollywood movies offensive in recent years, especially given their soggy quality. I don’t know if exorbitant numbers of writers, directors or film editors are snorting bleach these days, but an awful lot of big-budget films seem to be about 20 minutes longer than they should be. This makes entertaining movies mediocre and mediocre movies excruciating.

The fact that my city still has a drive-in has made many a burdensome movie almost bearable. (I’m talking to you, Titanic.) I can sit there and groan over the scenes that ought to be deleted and only annoy my husband. Because drive-ins now send audio through your car radio signal instead of on those old window speakers, you can still be moderately awed by the actions of magical creatures and things blowing up on the screen, and also have the steering wheel conveniently handy to bang your head against during inexplicable jumps in plot and/or dialog.

And yes, supporting independent films (or at least independent theaters) is healthy for you and me. Although I’ve been disappointed in several indie movies lately because they too often seem like shallow vanity projects for award-seeking stars, when they are good, they are really good. And worth seeing on the big screen.

Do guerrilla theater
Why are you hellbent on being entertained when you could be the one doing the entertaining? You don’t have to have an agent or a cause. Join or look to these people for inspiration. (I’m especially fond of their freeze series. Another great one is Look Up More.) Going to public places in full costume when it’s nowhere near Halloween is also a good idea. Consider it an anthropological investigation.

My brother had a few of these inspired moments in his youth. Like the time he and a friend made up fake fliers in support of building a canal in the center of Broad Street here in Columbus. The kicker was the suggestion that our city’s replica of the Santa
be floated down the middle of the canal as an innovative form of public transportation.

To be continued next week, with suggestions about what to do if you’re staying in.

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Political stumping

As of now, I am not stumping for anything or anyone, but I am definitely feeling stumped.

For example… how is it that I learned more about Hillary Clinton’s policies during her informal interview with David Letterman (who, as much as I love him, is a mediocre interviewer at best) last week than I did in the entire segment on 60 Minutes with Katie Couric on Sunday night? Why was Barack Obama asked all about his campaign, his future, his family, while Clinton was mostly asked, in not very subtle terms, to please cry about Barack Obama and her apparent perfectionist of a father?

And why, as primary elections plow on, does every newscast I watch seem to paint Clinton as some kind of strange svengali cuckquean? It’s to the point that I, who really wasn’t a big fan of hers, have begun to 1) feel sorry for her and 2) feel that the media is even more ghoulishly, lip-smackingly sexist than I thought.

I remain undecided on the Clinton vs. Obama question, though. Assuming the Ohio primary does still matter, I’m at a loss about who to vote for. And that is rare.

As far as Hillary is concerned, I am not a fan of her war and anti-terrorism decisions, or the middling, poll-driven behavior that her husband was also so prone to. That said, I feel the Constitution has been gutted and skewered for the past eight years, with real “activist” anti-science appointments throughout the court system and trounced civil liberties. Hillary could hit the ground running and begin restore many things more quickly. And I prefer her health care and family policies. Being a member of a self-employed household, health care cuts closest to the bone for me.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that Obama seems to embody a spirit of Democratic renewal for all kinds of American people. The fact that he is pulling so many who may have felt disenfranchised out to the polls is already a vital contribution to the country’s political future. He is damn inspiring, complex, interesting and someone who, because of his lack of baggage, I wouldn’t have to hold my nose to vote for. I don’t know that he could have the immediate impact that Hillary could, but when you think about some of those vaunted, fallen political leaders of the 1960s – the ability to orate well and inspire can ripple through generations.

I am open to persuasion.

P.S. Since Edwards left the race, they have been struggling with this question over at MOMocrats too.

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The joys of local TV journalism

I used to think that the Midwest generated an inordinate amount of hysterically bad local television journalism. I was never sure whether the lack of substance (or a lack of a sense of irony) indicated that too many TV reporters grew up in sanitized pods, made the assumption that their audience did or just spent far too much time sniffing hair gel.

Then I watched a broadcast on a local Washington DC station, where the anchor stumbled through horrifying murder statistics and a puff story about zoo babies with a clock behind him that remained bizarrely crooked for the entire broadcast. And I watched some New York City-area broadcasts with their own amateur qualities. I realized we heartlanders are not alone.

Of course, John Stewart’s Daily Show has made the parody of the self-absorbed TV “journalist” obliviously reporting on a story that seemed clearly insane to the rest of us into an art form. But I’m glad to see that the real thing is still out there, alive and well (in this case, from Michigan). Although, watching this, I have to suspect that the producers have a sense of humor:


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Bye Bye Bill Maher

I felt pretty betrayed at the end of “Real Time with Bill Maher” last weekend. Being one of those people who has actually done things like written to Sinclair Broadcasting in protest of their censorship practices (they were the galvanizing force that got his network show cancelled a few years back), I’ve always found his understanding of gender politics awfully limited, but I was glad he was out there, shaking the trees for free speech.

But his “New Rules” chastising breastfeeding moms that held a “nurse-in” at Applebees restaurants across the country, just came across as petty, unfair, and a clear case of the “look-at-me-ism” he absurdly accused these women of. I know journalists like this – people who go off the rails on a topic that they know will stir things up because they just aren’t getting enough hate mail lately, and hate mail is something that they’ve come to rely on to validate their celebrity. If it wasn’t deliberately disingenuous, then it was certainly horribly, horribly researched.

First, there were some facts that he just got wrong. He said that the Applebees nurse-in was the “world’s first,” when, in fact, these kinds of formal protests have been going on for some time. Wasn’t it only last year when a bunch of moms held one outside the studio where they tape “The View”? There have also been protests of Delta airlines, Starbucks, even hospitals. The purpose of these protests certainly isn’t vanity – it is the raising of awareness of a public health issue.

Maher is one of the only pundits out there who routinely addresses environmental problems created by our food supply, the toxic nature of additives like high fructose corn syrup and the nationwide health problem of obesity. So it’s baffling to me that he knocks the promotion of a health choice that is well known to reduce the risk of childhood obesity and a variety of illnesses, has health benefits for women, is completely ecologically sound and could have far-reaching economic benefits if it were promoted more effectively (over infant formula, which is often the product of behemoth drug companies).

The events are also an opportunity to re-acquaint business owners and the general public about the breastfeeding laws in our country, many of which protect a woman’s right to feed her child anywhere she deems necessary. In other words, companies should thank “lactivists” because they typically get so much media attention, they make managers revisit laws and policy, hopefully to the point where they make sure everyone who works for them realizes that it’s illegal for us to them to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave even if they are offended by a naked breast.

Lastly, his suggestion that women just “cover up” is basically moronic, and only forgivable in that he has clearly spent no time around infants. Hello Bill – babies have arms and hands, and it doesn’t take long before they begin to figure out that they can be used to pull blankets and things off of their faces. They also don’t have the cognitive ability to understand things like “but the people around you will be uncomfortable if you do that here” or “you’ll have to eat later.” Incidentally, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with any number of national health agencies, recommend that mothers breastfeed for a year. The World Health Organization recommends two years. So yes, in a healthier world, babies would have teeth and the ability to say words before being weaned, and after the first 2-3 months, a blanket on the head is not going to stay there long.

At any rate, I certainly don’t have any problem watching and listening to a person I disagree with. I’ve watched Bill Maher for years (since his days on Comedy Central) and liked and disliked lots of the things he had to say. But in this case, his ignorance was personally insulting. If he doesn’t do any mea culpa on this, I definitely won’t watch him again for a while, if at all.

Add this to what I read about Facebook and MySpace at IzzyMom today (namely that breastfeeding images have been removed as “obscene” even as hundreds of pro-anorexia groups are free to give women directions about how to starve themselves), and I’d say it’s been a pretty depressing news week for chicks.

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Charting Cyberspace, Labor Day Edition

Pop Culture
Children’s television makes a remarkable number of musical references to classical compositions. My knowledge of symphonies and concertos is nowhere near exceptional, but I’m amazed by how much I recognize when, say, “Little Einsteins” is on. Here’s one possible explanation: Wikipedia’s extensive list of popular songs based on classical music.

If the new Clive Owen movie “Shoot ‘Em up” is as clever as it’s previews or web marketing suggest, it may be the first movie I laugh at this year.

Mysteries of the brain
Here’s one of the hardest things to recoup from my pre-motherhood days: creative flow.

A whistling genius who decided to spend the last 15-16 of his 58 years as a five-year-old died in August. Here is the New York Times’ obituary for Joybubbles (his legal name).

There is some mighty fine writing out there by moms in blog-land.

This week, I was moved to tears by words at Velveteen Mind, most recently Camille was a Lady, Katrina was a Bitch, which led me to the wrenching Victor Vito.

It takes a certain kind of skill to write about happy times without stumbling into clichés, but Oh, The Joys has a knack for it. I particularly loved this post.

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Sympathy for the revel

After the past couple of weeks of mockery and scorn over her endless bender, I was actually relieved to see some traces of compassion for Britney Spears in the media this week. Being a sometimes music critic, my views of her popness have not always been flattering ones. But something about having your own toddler makes you extra sensitive to the cathode crows pecking away at a new, young mother, particularly one who seems to be coming undone in front of the world.

Most moms know that the very act of living with a newborn can make you feel ferociously inadequate, even if your strongest postpartum symptom is that diet diagnosis parenting magazines and books call the “baby blues.” Whether you are a pert little jezebel or comfortably frumptastic, your relationship to your own body and the outside world fundamentally changes with a pregnancy.

Every pregnant woman and new mom, famous or no, automatically becomes a little bit of public property. People touch you, bless you, look at you in disgust and pray for you in the cracker aisle of the grocery store. If you nurse in public, some people congratulate you and others openly gag. When your child cries, you can be eyed with suspicion, scorn or sympathy, depending on your karma. And when you look to those who can be your greatest salvation – other mommies – you sometimes find exactly what you need, but other times, they can sting you more deeply than you imagined possible.

I can’t imagine living through this period of life as a sexual icon surrounded by cameras, sycophants and gossip feeders. And I really can’t imagine what the hormonal effect of consecutive births, combined with the babyweight shedding at the frenzied pace of an image-conscious celebrity could be. Blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce may be the first person that I’ve seen publicly suggest the taboo possibility of postpartum depression, even though it’s hard for many moms I know to imagine that it doesn’t have something to do with this. Rebecca Traister of Salon has the measure of what Spears culturally represents.

And then there is this heartfelt, little soliloquy from Craig Ferguson. I’m never up late enough to watch him, but after seeing this and last week’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show, he has impressed me as a truly decent man:

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The one-person revolution

Whenever people talk about social change beginning at home in the U.S., it generally begins with recycling – something you can make part of your daily life that is good for the planet. The effectiveness of this has been hotly debated (I like Cecil Adams’ take on it), but it remains widely embraced as one way to to at least reduce the beating the environment is taking.

For the more personally committed, organic food and hybrid cars were the next step in living responsibly. I was amazed enough that finding organic baby food was simply never a problem – when I saw Organic Rice Krispies at my mother-in-law’s house, I realized how mainstream this message had become. (If you’ve watched The Future of Food, obvious consumer demand for organic food does feel like a victory.)

Then yesterday, I read this: Vegetarian is the new Prius, and I wondered how far I can take things. Ever since my pregnancy, I have tried to buy more meats that promised no use of antibiotics, free range chicken, organic milk and greater use of soy as a protein. I’m not al that structured about it. I buy cheaper butter, my nearby grocery stores do not always carry the eco-friendlier choices and sometimes organic products are just really damn expensive. I figured as long as I was making some effort, it was better for my body and the earth. Now I’m seriously wondering if what I’m doing is enough.

And while we’re at it, in the spirit of movies like Blood Diamond and steaming cup of fair trade coffee here’s a story about products to avoid because of the violence and exploitation they foster.

VH1 is also airing a documentary that looks really interesting this week: Bling’d: Blood, Diamonds and Hip Hop.

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Hey, it’s “for women”

Since we’re on the subject of “Unsolved Mysteries,” here’s a question I’ve pondered for years now:

Why is that show always always on Lifetime, the alleged “TV for women.” According to the network’s schedule, reenactments and stories about women disappearing into the night after their cars break down on freeways or as they lay peacefully in their beds merits two hours of its daily schedule.

I have never understood why so much of “women’s” programming is centered around tales of random acts of violence, infidelity, injustice and thievery. Mind you, while some of Lifetime’s movies are cheese-filled homages to real-life women who have overcome obstacles, there are plenty where the women simply don’t survive, or we just watch them getting repeatedly brutalized by men, the justice system or cultural circumstance. It’s like one long PG-rated snuff film, shot entirely in soft-focus with a cast clad in angora sweaters, pink blush and hair scrunchies.

When I saw an ad promoting “Betrayal Weekend on Lifetime” several years ago, I knew that the network, functioning behind the wispy veil of consciousness-raising, had completely run amok.

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