Posts Tagged pop culture
After watching the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to the U.S., I’ve come to the only logical conclusion: we suck.
Today’s pop stars have nothing on Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and the juxtaposition was actually a little painful to watch.
Of course, music is a subjective thing. Some poor lost souls will always think Katy Perry is better than the Fab Four, and they are entitled to their opinion.
However, there is one part of the Beatle legacy that is undeniably missing from today’s cultural scene: revolution.
People celebrate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles in the U.S. because it marked a major shift in American culture. They brought rock n’ roll to the mainstream, and became powerful advocates for political change.
Today’s music is many things, but it’s not revolutionary.
Yet the connection between music and political protest is still viewed as important. After all, shouldn’t there by a ’60s-style mass cultural movement for gay rights, or against the hegemony of the One Percent?
The idea of perpetual revolution has always been an important part of American political philosophy.
Thomas Jefferson believed that a revolution should occur every few decades, if for no other reason than to remind leaders that true power rests with the people.
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure,” Jefferson said.
However, I feel that’s been difficult for the generations that came after the Baby Boom, because there’s a pervading sense that all of the revolting has been taken care of.
Younger generations share more values with previous generations than the Boomers did with the “Greatest Generation,” which won World War II, but was also intensely rigid and bigoted.
Like most things in 21st century America, the battle has become hopelessly nuanced in discrete, with no zeitgeist to unite different elements behind a common front.
Epochal cultural shifts like the emergence of rock n’ roll, or the political awakening of the 1960s don’t happen very often, which might explain why looking at today’s crop of artists, it’s hard to spot another Paul McCartney.
Then again, revolutionary ideas wouldn’t be very revolutionary if they arrived punctually. If we want social change, we need to do the best we can to make it happen in whatever way we can.
That way, we can brag to our children about how much better our generation is than theirs.
Jake Kara sent me this photo of a 1980s Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that looks like it’s either trying to get the viewer’s attention, or is having a seizure.
This car has what collectors call “patina,” which makes it look incredibly out of place parked in the center of Monroe, Connecticut, a town with a lot of history and a lot of money.
The third-generation Firebird, produced from 1981 to 1990, is one of those cars that seemingly obligates its driver to grow a mullet. They always seem to look like this car, and always seem to be heading to the local 7-11.
That wedged shape also made third-gen Firebirds popular fodder for “Fauxrrari” body kits, which transformed them into Ferrari Testarossa knock-offs.
This Firebird did have some good qualities, though. It was the basis for KITT in Knight Rider, and it was one of the few true American muscle cars of the 1980s.
The Firebird, and its Chevrolet Camaro twin, were among the few 1960s performance nameplates to survive the purge that took place in the early ‘70s, at the hands of rising insurance costs, EPA regulations, and OPEC.
This car’s “High Tech” aluminum wheels identify it as a 1985 (or later) model, which means it has a 305 cubic inch fuel-injected V8 under the hood. When new, that engine was good for 210 horsepower. That doesn’t seem like much, but keep in mind that a base 1984 Corvette only had 205 hp.
So this car’s owner deserves a little credit for going for the Trans Am and not a regular Firebird, although how they ended up with this example is a question for the ages.
In fact, there’s plenty of mystery surrounding this seemingly unremarkable car. Did that ding in the front bumper come from a dramatic police chase? Why did the driver back into that space in such a photogenic way? Why is the car winking at us?
By people, I mean film critics. They don’t seem to understand that superhero movies are based on comic books.
In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark won an impressive victory over a fire-breathing Aldrich Killian, but according to certain critics, he destroyed American culture in the process.
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis said the film exploited imagery of terrorism for cheap thrills, without addressing any of the issues behind that imagery, and said that releasing the film so soon after the Boston Marathon bombing shows that Hollywood is out of touch with the real world.
NPR’s Linda Holmes criticized Tony himself, lamenting that his egotism, wealth, and use of technology to cocoon himself make him the “new Captain America.” Steve Rogers doesn’t use remote controlled drones to fight his battles, right?
I’m not saying that Iron Man 3 deserves critical praise, in fact quite the opposite. For movies like this, being faithful to the comic books that form the source material is as important as artistic merit.
While writers and directors do have to make certain decisions about how to transform a comic book character into a movie character, or even about which comic books to make movies of, critics still need to stop treating the resulting movies as if they materialized from thin air.
Certain things about Iron Man simply can’t be changed, like the fact that he’s a rich white guy, or that his arch enemy is a guy called The Mandarin, or that he fights people. Without those elements, the cinematic Iron Man might be more nuanced, but he wouldn’t be Iron Man.
Iron Man and most of his colleagues predate the movie craze that is enriching their owners, and many of the political issues they are now accused of exploiting. When Iron Man debuted in 1963, Osama bin Laden was six, and America was in the middle of the Cold War.
People seem to be aware of this. In “The Amazing Spider-Man and the Modern Comic Book Movie,” a dialogue with Dargis, the Times’ A.O. Scott notes that “our superheroes have been around for a very long time.”
Of course, superheroes are capable of changing with the times. Tony fought Soviet-themed villains like the Crimson Dynamo when they were still relevant, and The Mandarin has gradually shifted from an old school megalomaniacal villain into a terrorist.
Still, there are certain things that cannot be changed. In the same article on the “Modern Comic Book Movie,” Dargis acknowledges that superheroes predate the movies that depict them, and claims that is he problem.
“The world has moved on — there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state — but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in “The Avengers,” will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes. What a bunch of super-nonsense,” she says.
A team of white guys saving the world does seem inappropriate in our post-feminist, post-civil rights world, but this isn’t just any team of white guys, it’s the Avengers. They resonate because of who they are, not because they are white and male.
Superheroes are popular because people like them. They like the idea of them, and more importantly, they like specific characters like Iron Man and Captain America. That’s why, when a movie that does them justice (no pun intended) appears, they turn out in droves.
While it’s not impossible for a superhero movie to have an important message, or to meaningfully engage with important issues, that is all secondary to the “superhero” part of it.
If you’re looking for cultural critiques, Iron Man 3 is not the movie for you. If you want to see Iron Man in a movie, it is.
It’s not easy to follow a legend, as this Ford Mustang I found at a local grocery store demonstrates (obviously not this exact Mustang; I didn’t have a camera on me). It’s the 1971-1973 fastback that succeeded the legendary 1960s ‘Stangs.
The Mustang launched midway through 1964 and a spectacular hit parade followed. There were Shelby GT350s and GT500s, Boss 302s and 429s, and the Mach 1. All were clothed in sheetmetal that has become so iconic that Ford revived it in 2005.
The 1971 Mustang wasn’t that successful. It was considered too ungainly, and perhaps its styling was a little too forward-thinking. Still, as the ‘60s wound down, the first few iterations of Mustang style were popular, but not the hallowed legends they are today. It’s hard to blame Ford for trying something new.
This less-loved Mustang had its good points, too. Like its predecessors, there were performance versions (Mach 1, Boss 351), and it starred in the original Gone in 60 Seconds. Also, it was infinitely better than the Pinto-based Mustang II that succeeded it.
Ford is getting ready to roll out a new Mustang for the 2015 model year and, as in 1971, there’s talk of radically new styling. Will it become a new Mustang icon or fade away like this grocery getter? That all depends on what it looks like.