Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pop History Moment: Dr. King Had A Dream

I often wonder what Dr. King would think if he were alive today; blacks participating in all walks of life, being the President, even... And yet the comment roll at YouTube beneath this particular video would indicate that his dream is still something of a nightmare.

The clip is long - over 17 minutes - and if you think you don't need to watch it, click the YouTube icon instead, and read what some wonderful people have written about Dr. King and the message - the famous I Have a Dream speech - he delivered that steamy afternoon in August 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.
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Robertson Davies: The Writer's Writer

Robertson Davies is one of those writers I almost feel obligated to read, being a Canadian and being a writer and all; in fact, my fellow writers often give me grief about never having read one of his books. Still, every writer has their blind spots - I know people who claim to be novelists who've never read Dickens - and in my case it's Robertson Davies.

PhotobucketLike vitamins, exercise, or other things you know to be good for you but eschew them anyhow, Robertson Davies has somehow never made his way into my intellectual routine, despite the benefits I may be missing because of it. The only reason I can think of for why this is so is that Davies always seemed like an old man to me, and I guess I figured his books would likewise be for old men. I always assumed I'd get around to reading them when I was old... So, any day now then.

The other thing that turned me off is probably his penchant for writing in trilogies; reading a book, even a long one, is one thing, but reading a book that would then lead into a second and a third seems like more commitment than an addle-brained magpie like me can be expected to make.

While Davies was in his forties when The Salterton Trilogy appeared, and in his sixties when The Deptford Trilogy (arguably his most famous) was being published, he was already into his seventies when The Cornish Trilogy (his last complete trilogy) dominated Canada's literary landscape. These were the ones which were ubiquitous during my school career, whether The Rebel Angels (1981), What's Bred in the Bone (1985), or The Lyre of Orpheus (1988) - and they're still readily available today. Rare is the yard sale I don't run across at least one of these titles in a well-worn, oft-read, much-loved paperback - which is all the testament I should need to convince me to read them.

Davies' writing career (and life) ended with a duo, the unfinished The Toronto Trilogy... In addition to novels, he also wrote short stories, essays, criticism, plays, journalism, and opera libretti as well as contributing to academe during his long career in words. Born on this day in 1913, Robertson Davies died in December 1995, while at work a follow-up to Murther and Walking Spirits (1991) and The Cunning Man (1994), in other words the third book of the Toronto Trilogy that wasn't to be...
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Roger Tory Peterson Is For The Birds

I suppose, like many people, I've been a bird-watcher all my life; it was when I was about eight, though, that passively watching birds - as in, 'Oh look, there's a bird' - became a lifelong fascination with them, resulting in many hours since spent observing their behaviour and paying attention to their variety. Hours, I don't mind saying, which have been among the best and most wisely spent of my life.

PhotobucketThat was about the time the books of Roger Tory Peterson came into my life, via that shelf in my grandfather's study where they were kept. They were books which I soon spent altogether more time with than my grandfather did, and so in time his books became mine, since he was always inordinately generous that way.

Peterson's avidity in the field of ornithology is evident not just in the enthusiasm with which he presents his subjects but in the accessibility he grants them as well; many so-called experts like to cloak their disciplines in layers of jargon, or otherwise render them impenetrable to outsiders, so as to keep out the riff-raff I imagine. Peterson, though, seemed to understand that the more people looked at birds the better chance these delicate creatures would ultimately have at survival in our midst. As urban sprawl and pollution render the entire world a kind of coal mine, all birds eventually become the canaries in it, as witnessed by the vast die off of species in the middle of the 20th Century due to the widespread use of DDT.

On what would have been the hundred and second birthday of Roger Tory Peterson, the Pop Culture Institute would like to suggest that you take the time to watch a bird today, even if it's only an urban species like a pigeon, crow, or seagull. I promise you the result will be a calmer soul and a refreshed perspective on our place - and theirs - in this world.
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Sir John Betjeman: A Rebuttal by David Brent

Actually, that's Ricky Gervais as David Brent, from BBC2's smash hit sitcom The Office, offering a typically naff rebuttal to Sir John Betjeman's immortal poem Slough. Oddly enough, The Office holds a couple of unique distinctions here at the Pop Culture Institute; not only is it one of the few Britcoms I can't abide, it's also one of the rare shows whose American version I like better. The main reason for this is that I've worked for people like David Brent, and so each episode is like a queasy trip back in time for me, to a place where my work life was dominated by a ghastly twat.

To be fair, Slough only came 42 out of 50 in the book Crap Towns, meaning places like Oxford, Brighton, and even London rated worse.
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"Slough" by John Betjeman

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town -
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women's tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren't look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.
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In Memoriam: John Betjeman

To people who aren't poets, poets are either semi-divine - and therefore revered for their ability with words - or else assumed to be pompous and/or stuffy*; Sir John Betjeman, who served as Britain's Poet Laureate and was knighted in 1960 (which honour was later upgraded in 1969), described himself in Who's Who as a 'poet and hack', a description many of the poets of my acquaintance would readily apply to themselves. The ones who wouldn't are self-important tosspots anyway, good only for their entertainment (and potentially food) value.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1906, Betjeman spent his life turning his back on the comfort of a middle-class upbringing, despite the impossibility of doing just that in a country obsessed with class - a country in which a posh person could utter a yob sentiment, but if it was made in a posh accent would be utterly discounted by the same people at whom it was aimed (or, more likely, considered ironic and result in either a thumping or a development deal, depending on location). It's no wonder poetry is still so popular in a country where what one says matters less than how it's said.

Somehow Betjeman managed to obtain considerable popularity in his dotage thanks to numerous appearances on television, by managing to become a parody of the slightly dotty professor, an avuncular figure whose fruitless opposition to the indignities then being visited upon the English countryside became must-watch programmes amongst the selfsame smug nouveau-Londoners whose zeal for urban sprawl were largely responsible for that degradation in the first place.
Poems like Slough offered a visceral reaction to the many horrors of post-war Britain committed by urban planners, whose misanthropy is evident in every block of flats, community centre, and gasworks they got off on tearing down an elegant row of Victorian houses to build. Although Betjeman eventually apologized to the people of Slough for having referred to their city using a peculiar poetic device known as 'the truth', it's not possible for a town which is home to 850 factories to be anything but a visual abortion, no matter how many chav-bait saplings one plants.

Betjeman died in May 1984, survived by his domestic partner Lady Elizabeth Cavendish; his most prominent memorial today is a statue of him outside London's St Pancras Station, the kind of elegant Victorian pile of which he whole-heartedly approved.

*Or, conveniently, whatever third option coincides with your own view.

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Pop Culture In Retrograde: Cigarette Advertising

This post was first published on this day in 2008; I could have rewritten it to bring it up to date, but having just reread it I kind of like the flow of it so I didn't! ~ MSM

Every so often I run across something on YouTube so out of touch with our times I feel strangely compelled to post it; that's when the wheels start grinding, and usually by the time I figure out how to justify it, I've seen something shiny and moved on, or else otherwise lost my window of opportunity.

Well, since I've gone on my reduced doobage diet, those same wheels hardly ever grind. So while physically I could still lose a foot race on level ground to a whale, mentally I'm back to running circles around a cheetah. That's why, when looking for a video to replace last year's Nancy Kulp birthday tribute, I came across this bit of brain toxin; simultaneously appalled and delighted, I knew about three seconds in I just had to inspire the same reaction in my readers. Not content to merely post it, I had to also create a new feature to showcase it; entitled Pop Culture In Retrograde, I hope to use the new feature to discuss those things (such as bigotry, the Republican Party, and in this instance tobacco) rendered disgusting in the minds of thinking people by an increasing social sophistication.

Back in the day, as we see, tobacco producers were allowed to sell poison using the medium of television; everyone, it seems, was in on it - including the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies, at the time one of the most popular sitcoms on the air. Here we see Nancy Kulp as Miss Jane Hathaway inculcating in the brainless rube Jethro (Max Baer, Jr.) a filthy, disgusting habit with the permission of his TV father Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen), in much the same way Winston has done on a daily basis since the brand was introduced in 1954.

Nowadays, of course, people have come to their senses; next on the agenda, the elimination of alcohol, cars, and tyranny from everyday use...
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In Memoriam: Nancy Kulp

Nancy Kulp moved to Hollywood in 1951 to work in publicity; instead, she went into the movies. By 1962 she found herself on The Beverly Hillbillies - the number one sitcom in the country, and for which she and her work were nominated for an Emmy in 1967. How's that for publicity?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKulp will always be remembered for her winking portrayal of sex-starved spinster Miss Jane Hathaway; with her lockjawed accent and the prim cut of her suit she made an excellent foil for the gang of rubes at the center of the action. Watching her mooning around after Jethro is surely one of the funniest things that was ever on television.

After the show was taken off the air in 1971, Kulp continued acting for awhile, ran unsuccessfully for office in 1984, tried her hand as an acting coach, and eventually retired. Born on this day in 1921, she died of cancer in Palm Springs in February 1991.

Kulp was married to Charles Dacus for a decade from April 1st, 1951; little else is known about him. Boze Hadleigh claims to have interviewed Kulp in 1987, an interview in which she owns up to her 'bisexuality'; Hadleigh, however, has a reputation as a fabulist, so his account must be taken as such.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of William of Gloucester

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By all accounts, it was a charmed life...

He was baptised William Andrew Henry Frederick in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury; his uncle George VI and grandmother Queen Mary were among his godparents, joining The Viscount Gort, Lord William Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, and Lady Mary Hawkins. As a small boy Prince William went to live in Australia when his father, the Duke of Gloucester, was sent there to serve as Governor-General; he later served both at the wedding and coronation of his second cousin, Elizabeth II.

Educated at Eton College, and Magdalene College, Cambridge, Prince William earned a BA in history; he was later awarded an MA. After spending a year at Stanford University, he joined Lazards Bank. Subsequently he went to work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, under which aegis he was posted to Lagos and Tokyo. As his father's health began to fail in the early 1970s His Royal Highness returned to Britain to assume management of their home, Barnwell Manor. It was around this time the Prince was diagnosed with the family illness, porphyria.

An accomplished pilot, on this day in 1972 His Royal Highness appeared at an airshow at Halfpenny Green, an aerodrome near Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands. There his Piper Cherokee crashed in front of 30,000 spectators; also killed in the crash was the Prince's co-pilot Vyrell Mitchell.

Proof that no one's life is charmed, no matter how it looks from the outside.
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"That Don't Impress Me Much" by Shania Twain

Even though her ballads are a kind of torture - in fact, you could say 'they don't impress me much', except not even I would be that obvious, would I? - when Shania Twain decides to boogie the results are often spectacular...

That Don't Impress Me Much was released in December 1998 as the sixth single from Twain's internationally popular 1997 album Come on Over; the video was directed by Paul Boyd, and shot in the Mojave Desert at El Mirage Dry Lake.

Today it's her birthday, and with any luck she'll be able to enjoy herself; it hasn't been a good couple of years for Shania Twain, what with her marriage to Mutt Lange breaking up and all. Still, she's rich, she's hot, I think she'll be alright...
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The Sad Story of Emmett Till

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The brutal murder of Emmett Till was a pivotal event in the early days of the American Civil Rights Movement; for some reason, the same people who had no problem with black adults being killed for no good reason went even whiter when the same crimes were committed against a child...

While visiting relatives in Mississippi, the 14-year-old Chicagoan whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, referring to her casually as 'baby'. According to his relatives, he was always being funny like that; Mrs. Bryant, on the other hand, was not amused. Clearly, being called baby by a child meant that child deserved to die (provided, of course, that child was black.)

Three days later - on this day in 1955 - Bryant's husband Roy, 24, and his 36 year-old half-brother J. W. Milam, kidnapped Emmett Till from his uncle's house. They took him to an abandoned warehouse, where he was beaten, shot, and had his eyes gouged out. The murderers then proceeded to dump his body in the Tallahatchie River, a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. He was found three days later.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketRoy Bryant and J. W. Milam were later acquitted following less than an hour of deliberation by a jury of their peers - 12 white men.

For his funeral Emmett Till's mother Mamie had to fight for an open casket, and she got it; she wanted the world to see what had been done to her baby, and they did. The photo at left was widely reprinted at the time, and caused considerable outrage, fortunately more of it aimed at the killers than the editors.

Mamie Till-Mobley died in 2003; click on the top photo for her obituary.
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POPnews - August 28th

[Whether or not this photo was actually taken on this day in 1917 only
to the sort of people who should never ever use the Internet.

475 CE - The Roman general Flavius Orestes forced Julius Nepos - de jure ruler of the Western Roman Empire courtesy of his uncle-in-law, Leo I, who was ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire - to flee his capital city, Ravenna, for Dalmatia, where he completed the remainder of his rule... Meanwhile his successor, Romulus Augustus, would allow Rome to fall to Odoacer on his watch in September of the following year.

489 CE - Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, defeated the army of Odoacer at the Battle of Isonzo, forcing his way into Italy.

1189 - The Crusaders began the Siege of Acre under Guy of Lusignan.

1565 - The city of St. Augustine, Florida, was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

1640 - During the Second Bishop's War King Charles I's English army under Lord Conway lost to a Scottish Covenanter force commanded by Alexander Leslie at the Battle of Newburn.

1789 - William Herschel discovered a new moon of Saturn (its sixth-largest) which was later named Enceladus by his son John Herschel in 1847; it's also known as Saturn II.

1845 - Scientific American magazine published its first issue.

1862 - During the American Civil War Union general John Pope engaged Robert E. Lee as the Second Battle of Bull Run - known in the South as the Second Battle of Manassas - began; the first battle was fought on the same ground in July 1861. Both were Confederate victories, although while the first one lasted a day the second one would stretch out over three.

1879 - Cetshwayo, the last King of the Zulus, was captured by British forces.

1884 - The first known photo of a tornado was taken; given the bulkiness of camera equipment at that time, as a photographer I consider this act to be as brave as it was reckless. History, however, does not record the name of the brave soul responsible for the ground-breaking shot, which was taken about 45 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of Howard, South Dakota.

1907 - United Parcel Service, better known as UPS (and not, apparently, pronounced 'oops') was founded as the American Messenger Service by James E. Casey in Seattle, Washington. Its first delivery? A box of opium, which was still legal in the United States at that time. The name UPS came later - in 1919, to be exact.

1913 - Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands opened the Peace Palace in The Hague.

1917 - Ten suffragists were arrested while picketing in front of the White House.

1924 - Georgian opposition forces, in the guise of the Committee for the Independence of Georgia, staged the August Uprising against the Soviet Union; naturally the movement was ruthlessly suppressed by Sergo Ordzhonikidze on orders from Joseph Stalin.

1953 - Nippon Television broadcast Japan's first television show, including its first TV advertisement.

1963 - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

1964 - A race riot began in North Philadelphia; when it finally ended, after 3 days, although no one had died 341 people were injured, 774 people were arrested, and 225 stores were damaged - many so badly that they never re-opened.

1982 - The first Gay Games were held in San Francisco; the brainchild of Tom Waddell, the Games were later denied the opportunity to call themselves the Gay Olympics because the International Olympic Committee was then (and still is) homophobic.

1996 - The rancorous divorce of the Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales was made final.
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