Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Has Been Totally Aug-some!


Due to some bizarre confluence of conditions, August has been the most productive and popular month in the history of this blog; whether one measures our growth since our inauguration (as the Pandora Institute, on January 26th, 2006), rebranding as the Pop Culture Institute on December 25th, 2006, or the date we hit our stride, August 5th, 2007*, in terms of hits and page views August 2008 was the shit. Only two months last year - September and October - saw more posts as well, and given how many I've been republishing, I suspect things are only going to get better between now and the end of the year. Provided, that is, I can stay off the sweet weed - which, with an incentive like this, won't be a problem.

As anyone who reads USA Today knows, bar graphs don't lie; the one above confirms that in the past 31 days the 180 posts I've put up (including this one, officially my 2,680th post) garnered 1,768 page hits and 2,241 page views. My current averages are: 64 page hits and 95 page views a day and rising (not including visits from the two computers from which I regularly post, natch!); while this translates into about twenty readers a day, those who do read appear to be coming back for more. Now, I'm no statistician, but that all seems pretty rockin'.

Well, that's enough blather; I've got a new record to break!


*Also known as The 1,000th Post.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Addressing My Critics: Madonna Vs. Mariah


Well, I must say that for all the posts I've published here, and for all the scandalous things I've written, I've been pretty lucky with the negative comments. In fact, I can think of only one other (nearly a year ago now) in the more than two and a half years I've been at this - it originated from Rome, and basically said "you suck you should quit"; I was highly amused by that, as though the opinion of one stranger (possibly the Pope) would convince me to chuck away all the work I've done here. Oh! And there was that one other tense time when I dared to criticize San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom for having sex with someone else's wife, but that was sent anonymously from a friend with the intention of drumming up a controversy and potentially readership - a manipulative tactic I cannot support in any way, no matter how well meaning it might have been.

I think in both cases I handled things fairly well, by dealing with both of those promptly when they happened within the body of the blog rather than posting them as comments. I choose to do the same with this one; I will continue to reserve the right to douse anyone who flames me in the best way I see fit today as well.

Having published the final Madonna birthday post at 12:30 AM I decided to take myself to bed and try to get some sleep; between the heat wave and my idiot neighbour I quickly gave up on that idea and decided to check my emails one last time. That's when I discovered the following comment, received at 1:35 AM from a stranger named Bojan:

"Nobody can't ever be bigger,better than Mariah.Mariah rules.
Mariah wasn't pushed by her ex-husband.It was MANdonna,whose sales wer calculated to make her slaes records bigger.IT IS CALLED PAYOLA,HONEY.
Even for a 100 years from now,Mariah will always be remebered as a truly talented music GENIOUS,unlike MANdonna who will always be just an average,untalented singer,pseudo acctres and failed movie director.

Whomever they are, they've covered their tracks well; I've been unable to detect where the hit came from. My last reader was from Mahidol University in Thailand, and by deductive reasoning I can only assume that my offended party a) is not a native English speaker, and b) could benefit from a refresher course in Buddhism in a big way. If, in fact, that's where the comment originated.

Now, even aside from the ghastly spelling and usage, I can pretty much tear this comment apart in my sleep. Since I'm awake, though, it'll not only be easier but way more fun as well.

I accept that, preferences being what they are, there are going to be people who prefer the badly sung screeching of Mariah Carey over Madonna any day; it so happens that my friend Emma Uganecz (a trained opera singer and vocal coach) one day spent the better part of an hour outlining for me in a very calm and rational manner how badly Mariah Carey sings, and how she's damaging her voice singing the way she does. She went into breath, and phrasing, and used highly scientific terms I couldn't even hope to understand; what it all came down to is, the way Mariah passes breath over her vocal chords is damaging to them, the kind of damage that erodes her upper register every time she hits that show-offy dog whistle note of which she is so fond.

Now, as to the rest... I once worked in a record store, so I know how Sony Records used to force us to buy any new Mariah Carey album by the hundred rather than the dozen so as to inflate her sales figures; we always ended up sending back half to three-quarters of them, and returns aren't calculated into sales figures. Three quarters of the Mariah Carey CDs shipped to our location ended up chipped and shipped to China to make Happy Meal toys. Warner Music Group did no such thing with a new Madonna album, which anyway outsold Mariah Carey 2 to 1. I know this because I used to do the monthly inventory counts. As for Bojan's use of the word "payola", that word refers to the bribing of radio stations to play an artist's music, another tactic frequently used by Sony.

Tommy Mottola's links to organized crime are well known, and have been the subject of punditry for years; Sandra Bernhard did a hilarious bit about it in her act for a long time. Despite the fact that when Mariah Carey married him she put herself and her record label into a serious conflict of interest is of the utmost importance, but for the sake of this post it's neither here nor there. No other female artist at Sony (and damn few of the male ones either) got much promotion while Mariah and Tommy ruled that roost, as the majority of the annual promotion budget went to make Mariah Carey look like a far bigger star than she is.

Mariah Carey's music is repetitive and boring; some might call it familiar and soothing. There's a lot more Madonna on the radio stations I listen to than Mariah, and that's even considering that Warner Music Group is no longer promoting Madonna. True, Madonna's acting has not been the greatest, but then again did anyone see Glitter? I didn't think so. Once again, these are preferences, and therefore not for me to judge. I have no issue with Mariah Carey as a person; whenever I've seen her on talk shows she seems sweet enough, and I truly felt for her when she had her meltdown, as the destigmatization of mental health issues is one of the chief aims of the Pop Culture Institute. I only wish Mariah would cut the MOR crap and sing better material, maybe even write a song or two herself, in much the same way I wish Madonna would stop control-freaking her directors long enough to let them wring a decent performance out of her for a change.

Well! Now that I've got that off my chest, maybe I can finally get some sleep...
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Adventures Of A Lame Duck President: The Prank Call

PhotobucketPoor George W. Bush... Despite a high-profile mini-tour of Asia over the past week (culminating in a visit to the Olympics to pay homage to his new overlords, er, support American troops - ATHLETES! - support American athletes...) he finds himself with more and more time on his hands as his advisers a) abandon the sinking ship of state like the rats they are and/or b) learn to say 'Barack Obama' without clenching their teeth like they used to while partying with George, back in the old days. Under the circumstances, leaving him unattended near an open phone line was not the best idea...

George W. Bush: Heh heh heh... (ring ring) Foreign phone. Sounds funny. (ring ring) Heh heh heh...

Pakistani Telephone Operator: Hello?

W: Uh... Yeah. Is this Islam-is-bad?

O: Yes, this is Islamabad. What number please?

W: So this IS Islam-is-bad?

O: We must have a bad connection. You sound just like that infidel sell-out to the West Salman Rushdie who should die in a hail of bullets when you say that. What number please?

W: Uh, I was just wondering... Is your refrigerator running?

O: No sir it isn't.

W: It isn't?

O: No. Thanks to rolling power cuts, the papadams my wife packed for lunch will go bad. (sigh) I guess another bout with dystentery is the fate Allah has chosen for me.

W: Well then, in that case, do you have Prince Albert in a can?

O: No sir. That is tobacco, a stimulant forbidden by the Koran.

W: I see.

O: We do, however, have Osama in a cave.

W: What? What was that?

O: Only kidding, President George W. Dumbass.

W: Aw, no fair! How did you know it was me?

O: Because you do this every week sir.

W: But I disguised my voice!

O: By impersonating yourself.

W: Dang!

O: Now if you don't mind, I'd like to keep this line clear. We're expecting a call from Kim Jong-Il.

W: Wait! What?

(click, brrrrrrrrr...)

W: Damn crazy Paki... Gets me every time. Heh heh heh...
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Thursday, August 07, 2008

See For Yourself: "Mata Hari" (1931)

I was lucky to find this clip on YouTube, of a scene from the film Mata Hari featuring the electric chemistry of Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro. Yeah... I doubt that even sophisticated CGI techniques could make a Republican believe there's so much as a glimmer of heterosexuality on display here.
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Screened: "Mata Hari" (1931)

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As entertainment, Hollywood movies cannot be beat, especially those from the 1930s and 40s; as history, though, Hollywood films from any age are never anything but pure hokum. Ah, but what gorgeous and entertaining hokum they are... A Dutch dancer with a Swedish accent (and an Indonesian name!), a Russian pilot with a Mexican accent, and a German spy with an American accent, all feature in a movie set in Paris (but clearly made in California); typically, the real story, while just as interesting, isn't half as much fun as this exotic tomfoolery.

Despite its unusually high hokum content (even by Hollywood standards) the film was a runaway success when it was released. Humans, it seems, are unable to resist a bit of myth-making, even if it means abrogating the truth; as always, it is one of the stated aims of the Pop Culture Institute to simultaneously exult in and help unmake these myths.

Greta Garbo plays the woman herself*, slinking from lover to lover in a series of increasingly slippery velvet dresses; plagued by his love for her is General Serge Shubin, played by Lionel Barrymore, one of the final romantic roles of his career before he was shipped off to play Andy Hardy's father. Ramon Novarro encloses their love triangle, as Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff. However, none of Garbo's scenes - especially the love scenes - are in the least erotic. Small wonder; Lionel was the Barrymore least likely to ever enflame anyone's ardor, and mannish as she was - even though she's playing a dancer, she has all the grace of a tractor - Garbo was still too much woman for Novarro, who would have preferred that she hadn't been one at all. Scenes that once made millions swoon now look like... Well, like hokum.

As an aside, the film contains a significant reference to Our Lady of Kazan - last mentioned on this blog as recently as July 8th - who momentarily becomes "the other woman" whom our Russian swain betrays for lust. After their tryst, Garbo relights the eternal flame she'd made him snuff out previously with the sort of anti-Christian insouciance that had not only brought on the Motion Picture Code but subsequently caused it to be enforced.

Also scattered throughout the film are portraits of Tsar Nicholas II, another of our favourites here at the Pop Culture Institute; these would have added an extra layer of meaning, giving a Thirties audience the chills; the movie is set in 1917, the same year as his overthrow, events fresher in the public memory then than now.

So I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone, provided they don't have a report on Mata Hari due in which they will be marked for accuracy.

*Today would have been Margaretha Zelle's 132nd birthday.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

What Pride Day Means To Me

Unlike in previous years, when I've wittered on about "community" and "human rights" in this space, today I've decided to discard the pretense and come clean; when it comes to Pride Day, although I enjoy my annual glimpse at oodles of boobies and the opportunity to move among drag queens in the daylight, the only thing I really care about seeing is hot homos. The rest of the year, of course, I am specifically forbidden access to them, and have to make do instead with a potent combination of porno, straight guys, and imagination. Here then are - in my own humble opinion - the ten hottest guys at Vancouver's Pride Day this year (some of whom, I admit, may be straight). ~ MSM


Number Ten: This is J, the Trojan model I voted for to be Mr. Trojan via text message at the fair following the parade. I included him because - hello? can you not see him? - but I decided that, in keeping with my politics, I'd have to put him last - if only because he's obviously spent every day of his life basking in the admiration of others, and missing out on the greater acclaim of a rinky-dink blog like this one won't mean bupkiss to him.


Number Nine: A beefy guy with a baby? How am I supposed to resist that? I'm ostensibly only human, after all. Not even the fact that he's overtly Christian is a turnoff - that's some powerful cute there.


Number Eight: As usual, the police were at the parade, trying to trick convince gays into joining the police force, where they will then be given the most dangerous assignments and denied backup; this is a game (also played by security guards) called "Smear The Queer" popularized by the LAPD in the 1980s with Mitchell Grobeson. My only hope is that, despite being given bait like this, gay men resist joining the police force en masse; or, if they do fall for the bullshit line that the police care whether gay men live or die, may I suggest turning the tables and playing a similar game entitled "Get The Het". I trust you boys will be able to figure out how to play...


Number Seven: I make no apologies for appreciating the male body as it's supposed to look, before sedentary jobs and additive-laden foods render it a shapeless, weakened mass not unlike my own. I occasionally find myself wondering what my life would have been like if I'd been born attractive - more like daydreaming, really - but in recent years don't have the energy to waste on envy, preferring simple admiration instead.


Number Six: Even in a shirt, this is clearly a tidy little bundle of cuteness; I included him despite an abundance of same simply because of his haircut, which rendered him a) the dead spit of the guys I used to crush on in high school, and b) the farthest thing from a twink clone I saw all day, which probably means he's straight. Still...


Number Five: Gifted cartoonist and quintessential artist John Crossen has long been one of my favourite people, an assessment just about everybody he's ever met will share with me. Only it's not just his mind I admire; in person he puts one in mind of an even humpier, even funnier Dan Butler. It was great running into him following the parade, and smoking a J in the shade of a tree with English Bay on one side and about 50,000 of Vancouver's finest people on the other.


Number Four: This year's living Parade Marshall (his co-marshal was the late author Jane Rule) was Sahran Abeysundara, a spicy treat from Sri Lanka, who made an impassioned plea to the assembled throng on behalf of gays on the Subcontinent, who live with far less freedom than do their counterparts in the West.


Number Three: Being painted saffron gives this fuzzy little morsel an exotic flavour, visually at least.


Number Two: Vancouver's next mayor is going to be Gregor Robertson, a charismatic entrepreneur and former MLA whose advocacy on behalf of affordable rental housing for the city's working poor has gotten him plenty of press, not to mention earning him nearly as much respect from the Pop Culture Institute as his matinee idol looks and lean frame. Given the ease with which he rollerbladed the entire route, pressing the flesh the entire time, running for mayor should prove a dawdle by comparison.


Number One: Much as I expected, despite the masses of flesh and beautiful faces on display, by far the hottest guy at Vancouver's Pride Day this year (as much for his flesh and his face as his fire) was human rights worker and Facebook heart-throb Luke LaRue, whose radiant soul is on constant display thanks to an ever-present smile. So much so, in fact, that even though this photo was taken at the same f-stop as the others, it still seems over-exposed, and thus I had to struggle to render an image from it, not least of all because my glasses kept fogging up.
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