Sunday, December 9, 2012

Great Covers of Bad 70s Songs

I consider it an accident of birth that I came to musical consciousness during the early 70s. And because my parents bought me a (red!) Radio Shack handheld transistor AM radio (it looked exactly like this, swear to god) when I was in fourth grade or so, that musical consciousness was moreover shaped largely by the popular songs playing on local southeast Florida stations.

It wasn't until 7th grade that we all discovered FM radio, and it wasn't until high school that we began to realize what utter crap most popular 70s music was. But by then, the damage was done. Vast portions of my brain had been deeply and indelibly marked by the sounds of Sonny and Cher, Tony DeFranco (remember "Heartbeat (It's a Lovebeat)"?), the Carpenters, and Bread, and by songs like "Kung Fu Fighting," "Disco Duck" (people, this actually became a #1 hit) and "Car Wash Song" (and I'm talking about the Rose Royce song, not the Jim Croce one, although the fact that there were two really popular songs about working at a car wash in the 70s should tell you all you need to know).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mansplaining the Meltdown

The weirdest moment in HBO’s 2011 film Too Big to Fail is undoubtedly the one when Michele Davis, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (played by Cynthia Nixon), suddenly announces that she doesn’t know how she’s going to explain the looming financial meltdown to the public. In response, three Treasury Department men protectively gather on chairs and sofas around her to patiently describe just how this shitstorm happened and what it means.
This might be a good moment to point out that Davis is the only woman in the entire film who isn’t a wife or a secretary. This might also be a good moment to point out that Davis’s job was to handle public relations for the Treasury department, meaning that her job description was to explain to the public what was going on in the economy. That she probably didn’t need to ask for help about how to do this, and that Paulson (played by William Hurt) was reportedly in the habit of asking her for such advice, rather than vice versa, is conveniently left out of the film. This is a textbook example of what has since come to be called mansplaining, the term coined to describe when men patronizingly explain things to women that they already understand, often better than the men attempting to explain it to them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gettysburg, Monticello, Homeland

It's hard to decide whether Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson is generating more public discussion this week. Lincoln, of course, because of Lincoln, a film about the sixteenth president and the Civil War that has left historians and others debating its accuracy and wondering how it manages to leave black people out of the story altogether. And Jefferson because of Henry Wiencek's recently released book Master of the Mountain--which according to some misrepresents the third president as a monster and according to others doesn't go nearly far enough in acknowledging his monstrosity. In both cases, it's pretty clear that American audiences prefer to continue revering our past presidents as mythological political heroes, figures we can turn to for stories about American moral and ideological purity, bereft of any complicating details that might taint or compromise that fantasy.

But if you ask me, the most compelling readings of both Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson this week were on Showtime's television series Homeland. I'll admit to being a bit behind on my viewing of the series (and those who are keeping up may by now have little interest in my take on what happened several episodes ago), but the show seems to me to be offering a sustained reflection on why it's a mistake to fetishize America's political figures.