Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Today is the day

Hard as it may be to believe, the following is not the finale of a PFLAG-sponsored educational film designed to inspire gay teens to come out of the closet. It's Zac Efron's solo number from High School Musical 2. It's also one of the more magnificently queer things I've ever seen. Zac struggles with his conscience, executes some killer running tuck jumps, stares angstfully into his Narcissus-like reflection in a pool of water and ultimately decides that he "will never try to live a lie again."

Did you ever get on a ride and wanna get off?
Did you ever push away the ones you should've held close?
Did you ever let go? Did you ever not know?
I'm not gonna stop--That's who I am.

Presumably, all of his future rides will allow him to get off.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fake karaoke machine

Do you like Cadallaca? Or the Aislers Set? If you do, you might like Ann Arbor's Ghostlady.

If you like the earliest Sleater-Kinney and Gossip records, you might like Manchester's (UK) Hooker--not to be confused with half a dozen dude-rock bands with the same name. "Because of You" does a stellar job of imitating several songs off That's Not What I Heard, and "Fall to Pieces" is scarily convincing as an unreleased outtake from S-K s/t. Corin Tucker's vocal influence seems to have taken root all over the place these days. The second half of Gamine Thief's "Stereo Stereo," for instance, always makes me do an aural double take. "Wolf vs. Owl," too.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Her beautiful launderette

Megan Holmes has been posting some beautiful photo essays lately. She has an especially good eye for empty public spaces, and for the visual poetry hiding out inside places and things we've all seen a million times before, like gas stations and motel balconies and boxes of Bounce dryer sheets and used-up ketchup packets. Some pictures feel cinematic, but in a Jem Cohen sort of way. Cinema not as literal kineticism at all, but as epic stillness. These are some of my favorites:

Doing laundry
Dinner with Grandma
Going on tour
Getting stuck in an airport

Friday, January 18, 2008

Everything but Yul Brynner

Bobby Fischer, megalomaniac, world chess champion, genius and bigot, died yesterday at the age of 64. In my opinion, his greatest achievement was not defeating Boris Spassky but providing inspiration for the musical Chess, whose Act II opening song "One Night in Bangkok" went on to be covered by approximately 10,000 different artists, each determined to out-camp the last.

One of the most determined was Canadian singer Louise Robey, whose subsequent video also serves as a tidy summary of everything that was crucial in 80s music videos, and possibly the 80s as a decade: Orientalism; the ironic use of wedding dresses; day-glo; black and white checkerboard floors; erotic snake handling; floating golden orbs; the hairstyles of Joan Collins; leotards; white suits; muscle men; name-dropping Somerset Maugham; and anxiety about transsexual sex workers.

The costume design here was clearly ahead of its time. M.I.A. and Tahita Bulmer are but dowdy copycats by comparison! But don't let the fashion distract you. Even Robey's Alexis-Carrington-at-the-Copacabana ensemble can't surpass the beautiful tragedy of Tim Rice's lyrics, which include Siam's/ gonna be the witness / To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness; I'd let you watch, I would invite you / But the queens we use would not excite you (!); and I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.

If the chorus sounds a little like "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" to your ears, it may be because it was written by Björn and Benny from ABBA. Robey's whitest of white raps also echoes Nina Hagen's in "New York, New York." Perhaps, in a post-"Rapture" world, awkward white rapping was considered the wave of the future. Or even earlier...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The fabric of a tutu / any man could get used to

It's telling that Miuccia Prada could haul out as staid, respectable and (mostly) conservative a menswear collection as she did this week and still inspire the kind of jaw-dropped astonishment that rippled through the press. Yes, there were a couple of pleated hip sash items that invoked tutus. Yes, there were skintight tops and a sort of halter and that knickers-outside-trousers business. But have we really never seen anything like this before? Gaultier, for instance? Is our stranglehold on femininity in men so invincible that we're startled when it takes even the shallowest breath? It's possible that the reaction to Prada has been more about the models than the clothes--those tutus wouldn't have looked so twinkishly suggestive on standard-issue beefcake.

I disagree with the suggestion that Prada has sex on the brain; this collection is not about sex at all, but rather the denial of sex. These clothes seem designed to be looked at, lusted after, theorized, maybe even petted a little, but nothing more than that. It would get the organza all greasy.

The prospect of feminism thumbing its nose at haute couture is marvelous nonetheless:

Speaking after Sunday’s show to Suzy Menkes, the fashion critic for The International Herald Tribune, Ms. Prada quipped that the collection was revenge on men for the social and sartorial contortions they impose on women. She laughed when she said it, but she clearly wasn’t kidding around.

It is no stretch to suggest that the Prada collection read like the manifesto of a gender revanchist. The man in Ms. Prada’s current vision was domesticated and so passive as to be a neuter. One notes this not merely because the models looked abnormally robotic and were given nothing to wear outside the house.

Like a flipped version of the Unwomen in Margaret Atwood's feminist parable “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the Prada Unman was gotten up in humiliating tutu belts, severe high-collar shirts that buttoned up the back and odd cummerbunds that disappeared in a chevron down the front of trousers conspicuously lacking a fly... <Read more>

Friday, January 11, 2008

Riding in cars with girls

The Portland Mercury, an alt weekly I write for now and again, started up its own music blog yesterday. You can trust these people; they realize, for instance, that the Lil' Mama remix of "Girlfriend" was better than the original. Lil' Mama offset Avril's smarminess, broke up the "Mickey" pep rally claps into beats with breathing room, and made it possible to do some pretty interesting queer readings that don't require transplanting the song's entire context into a drag bar the way the original did.

Make no mistake--an Avril Lavigne drag queen squealing I don't like your girlfriend...I think you need a new one would be great. But the remix video scraps the Preppy Avril v. Punky Avril face-off in order to concentrate on the rag-tag homoerotic misadventures of Avril and Lil' Mama. There may be boys in the back of Lil' Mama's drop top, but they barely register; they're just groping, disembodied hands reaching out of the back of the frame. Lil' Mama is the one in the driver's seat, picking up Avril and throwing an affectionate arm over her shoulder maybe a couple more times than is necessary.

Forget boys. The remix video is all about the watermelon Bonne Bell coded lesbian union of LIL' MAMA AND AVRIL LAVIGNE (as the lyric reminds us over and over again, and their vaguely romantic graffiti project attests). Doodling hearts around their joined names is optional. "Hey hey! You you! I could be your girlfriend!" Avril shouts at no one in particular, only to have Lil' Mama reply enthusiastically, " I'll be your girl, Lil' Mama be your girlfriend!" Who, exactly, is being girlfriends with whom here? Any kind of explicit boy love object is so missing from the video, it's tempting to elide him altogether.

In its crypto-lesbo subtext, "Girlfriend" is but a step away from that masterpiece of crossover collabo dyke-baiting "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," in which Eve offers Gwen Stefani a ride on her...erm...dune buggy (note the replay of the pickup scenario from the "Girlfriend" remix...apparently, a la Thelma & Louise, demi-erotic sisterhood is all about car travel), wears a black PVC jacket, fedora and suit top and scandalizes the naffs at a swanky party with her unapologetic, deviant Eve-ness. The glares and whispers that ensue make a lot more sense when you assume Gwen and Eve are holding hands when the camera's not looking. At the end they both get arrested and jailed, naturally.

The original "Girlfriend" runs on the narcissistic double performance of its star, but it ultimately goes the way of Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker" rather than Britney Spears' "Gimme More." The two Mariahs duking it out over Jerry O'Connell in a movie theater ladies' room was all good satirical fun, but the video it left it at that. "Gimme More" seemed to be after something...well, more. Britney I, in a blond wig, giggles at a bar with a couple of ladyfriends and watches black-haired Britney II execute a sloppy (if slightly sinister) pole dance. "I see you!" Britney II slurs, and Britney I looks up, fascinated. The entire video seems to be about getting off on watching Brit-Brit getting off on watching herself. If there's a better metonym for the Spears trauma industry, I can't think of one.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Gloria Steinem pulled a Virginia Woolf today in her New York Times op-ed, pointing out the dubious electability of a female Barack Obama:

The woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity...If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

In A Room of One's Own, Woolf laid out her famous Shakespeare's sister argument this way:

She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face...what is true in it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare's sister as I had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.

Steinem didn't necessarily have this specific passage in mind when she wrote her op-ed. But even if she didn't, she played the same rhetorical gambit, imagining a successful male icon's female twin in order to show how a lucky throw of the gender dice determined his success. If gifted women in the sixteenth century were doomed, their twenty-first century counterparts are still handicapped. Who, speaking of the election, better fits the bill right now of the "half witch, half wizard" chimerical marvel, "feared and mocked at," than Hillary Clinton? If she loses, will she end her days in a lonely cottage outside Chappaqua?