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Archive for the ‘TV Time’ Category

ESPN’s recent documentary, O.J.: Made in America provides an excellent look at the complicated intersections of race and class in the U.S. The five-part series documents how O.J. Simpson rose to fame as a Heisman trophy winner at USC, the first NFL player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, and a trend-setting spokesperson for various corporations.

Born in the San Francisco projects, Simpson’s trajectory mirrors that of many Horatio Alger characters. That it occurred in the 1960s made Simpson a perfect example for those who argued (like many today) that if Blacks would just keep their heads down, work hard, and buy into the values of White America, success and acceptance would follow. Interviews from the time indicate that Simpson largely bought into this idea himself.

For me, the relationship between Simpson and race was the most interesting aspect of the documentary. His charisma and success on the football field allowed him to largely transcend the racial restrictions of the time and live a life surrounded by wealthy Whites. Despite this, the trial for the murders he committed (and nearly everybody in the documentary – even his friends – is convinced that he committed them) became a referendum on race in L.A. following the Rodney King trial. Anger at the LAPD’s racial injustice led to a nation that was sharply divided along racial lines about Simpson’s acquittal by a mostly-Black jury but the trial also made Simpson Black again in the eyes of the public and a pariah among his former White friends.

Today, Simpson is in prison as a result of a ridiculously long sentence for a relatively minor crime in which he attempted to steal sports memorabilia that he believed had been stolen from him. Those in the documentary believe that this sentence is essentially payback for Simpson getting away with murder, which was itself payback for Rodney King. Some even blame Simpson’s mid-’90s trial for exacerbating the racial divide in the U.S. The juxtaposition of White and Black interviewees and their views on particular issues is also revealing, even if the conclusions that I took from these comparisons are not likely those that members of the Trump demographic are likely to draw.

Overall, I highly recommend all five parts. I watched most of them on demand through my cable provider and they are also available on ESPN’s Watch ESPN website. Be aware, though, that there are a number of descriptions (including recordings of 911 calls) of Simpson’s domestic violence prior to the murders and a few extremely graphic images of the murdered bodies of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman that I had to look away from during the discussion of the trial. There may be some short portions that could be used for class discussions, though the issues involved are probably best considered with a complete viewing.


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For your viewing pleasure, and in light of the response to her video for “Formation” and Super Bowl appearance (backlash to which, according to one Fox News writer, “continues to grow”), here is Saturday Night Live’s brilliant response, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black”:

 

Keep in mind that if your workplace is freaking out over the realization that Beyoncé is, and has always been, black, you might need to put on some Adele to sooth them:

 

Update: Here is a more detailed discussion from Doug Hartmann.


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Following David Bowie’s death on Sunday MTV posted a video from 1983 in which Bowie criticized the station for playing few videos by Black artists. When the interviewer asks what Black artists “would mean to a 17 year old” Bowie quickly notes the implication that he means a White 17 year old and states that he knows what it “would mean to a Black 17 year old” to see him/herself reflected on TV. Also interesting is the interviewer’s frankness about the fact that MTV would play Black artists only if they were popular (and profitable) among Whites.

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Late December is not only the time for grading and holidays, it is also the time to repost things that were written long ago as an alternative to writing something new when busy with grading and holidays. (Alternatively, one might also post old things by others!) In keeping with this tradition and the approach of Christmas, here are some Christmas-themed posts from the past:

2015: Life after murder for Kevin Mcallister

2015: ELF ON THE SHELF!

2015: Preferred pronouns on the shelf

2014: Christmas as social control

2013: Christmas at Fox News

2012: Kevin McCallister, murderer?

2012: Toys for rich and poor

2012: Toys for boys and girls

2012: Thoughts on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

2011: Holiday advertising gone wrong (a.k.a. the Folgers commercial)

2010: The world’s most offensive Christmas song

2009: Christmas spells relief

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook for links to holiday-themed posts a few times a year and non-holiday-themed posts the rest of the year.

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I recently watched the new documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck on HBO, which has gotten good reviews since its premier (currently 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). As a child of the ’90s and fan of Nirvana, I was interested in a viewing experience that reviews promised would allow me to feel like I had gained some insight into Cobain’s life and death. Afterward, like trying to understand how people can argue that “Sliver” is a great song, I was confused.

The first thing I thought of when the movie was over was The Passion of the Christ. Like Mel Gibson’s movie about Jesus’s last days, I don’t think that Montage of Heck would work for somebody who isn’t already familiar with its main character. Also like viewers of The Passion, I suspect that the positive reactions are due less to the quality of the story than to the ability to see a beloved figure’s private life. The fact that video footage of Kurt Cobain as an innocent little boy exists is amazing, but seeing it doesn’t really inform us about what happened later. As a result, my second thought was of Boyhood, which I doubt would have received as much acclaim if the exact same story were told but the adults were aged with makeup and the kids were played at different ages by different people.

Like Boyhood, Montage of Heck may be getting by on the process of its creation. That director Brett Morgen was provided unfettered access to these private materials, even if they are not flattering for those involved. Still, it would have been nice if he had provided a stronger link between those materials and the interviews in the present. When the fallout from the Vanity Fair article accusing Courtney Love of using heroin while pregnant is discussed, for example, headlines are shown stating that Cobain and Love were being investigated by Child Protective Services and that Cobain’s mother fought for custody of their daughter, Frances. Not a single interview, however, touches on whether any of these headlines were true. If they were, wouldn’t a statement from Cobain’s mother about the decision to fight her own son for the custody of his child be fairly important to the story?

The lack of these connections is problematic, but could be written off as a director not wanting to ask difficult questions of the people who are providing him with access to his most important material. The lack of another connection, though, is inexcusable. Throughout the movie it seems clear that Cobain’s passions were music and heroin, yet Morgen never addresses how one affected the other. Krist Novoselic, Nirvana’s bass player who is featured heavily in the movie, never talks about whether the band was angry with Cobain about his addiction or whether they confronted him about it. He doesn’t talk about whether his creativity was increased or decreased by his drug use. The movie doesn’t even make a clear connection between Cobain’s drug use and his suicide.

In the end, I was left feeling like I didn’t understand Cobain any better than I had before. Maybe, as a Nirvana fan, I just knew most of these things from reading interviews and news stories. I suspect, though, that despite Frances Cobain’s assertion that she didn’t want the movie to focus on her father’s mythology, those who participated in interviews largely didn’t get the memo. For example, Wendy O’Connor, Cobain’s mother, claims that she nearly started crying the first time she heard Nevermind, Nirvana’s breakthrough album, “Not from happiness. It was fear” that “this is going to change everything. And I said ‘You’d better buckle up…because you are not ready for this'” seems a bit too convenient. Novoselic’s lack of complaint about the cancelled shows also doesn’t do much to chip away at the myth of Cobain.

We’re left, then, with a look at Cobain’s life from his perspective. (I will say, though, that I really liked the way that Cobain’s journal pages were recreated in layers.) “Read my diary,” he writes to an early girlfriend. “Look through my things and figure me out.” Morgen has looked through his things, but we’re no closer to figuring him out. Maybe the real myth about Cobain, like anybody who has committed suicide, is that we can ever understand the reasons.

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Based on his movies, you may have been surprised by how intelligent and engaging Russell Brand is when discussing various issues on TV. While he is certainly more aggressive than Jon Stewart (although Stewart can be aggressive, too), Brand’s web series The Trews suggests that he would be a worthy successor when Stewart leaves The Daily Show later this year. Despite the fact that Brand seems to spend most shows talking about current events from his bed (fitting?) he has the ability to interject his humorous takes on serious issues between clips from various news shows. In the episode below, he discusses recent murders in Chapel Hill, NC and Copenhagen in the context of the broader cultural scripts regarding Muslims and terrorism. I’d watch a Daily Show with Russell Brand.

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Today is December 15, which means that there are 10 more days to gear up for Christmas or, alternatively, ten more days until you will stop hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” everywhere you go. In either case, here are some snarky Christmas-themed posts to pass the time:

2014: Christmas as social control

2013: Christmas at Fox News

2012: Kevin McCallister, murderer?

2012: Toys for rich and poor

2012: Toys for boys and girls

2012: Thoughts on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

2011: Holiday advertising gone wrong (a.k.a. the Folgers commercial)

2010: The world’s most offensive Christmas song

2009: Christmas spells relief

Christmas Bonus: A subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club? No, its the Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog for 2012, 2013, and 2014

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook and I promise I will stop playing “Jingle Bell Rock” (and doing the dance from Mean Girls).

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