Thursday, January 20, 2011

"So Help Me Girl" by Gary Barlow

Birthday wishes go out today to Gary Barlow, the former member and principal songwriter of the boy band Take That, whose solo career has proven very successful indeed - even if it pales in comparison to that of his fellow band mate, Robbie Williams...

So Help Me Girl was released in July 1997 in the UK as the third single from his debut album, Open Road, while it became his first US single in September of that year; the song went all the way to 11 in the UK but failed to crack the Top 40 Stateside, stalling at 44*. The album's first two singles - Forever Love and Love Won't Wait - both went to the Number One spot in the UK.

So Help Me Girl was originally performed by American country singer Joe Diffie in 1994, and was written by Howard Perdew and Andy Spooner.

*On the Hot 100, that is; it did, however, get all the way to #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

When it was announced that Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz was engaged to marry Belgium's heir apparent Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, in 1999 the country was, to put it mildly, taken by surprise*; the Prince had never been romantically linked in public to any woman before, despite then being nearly forty years old...

PhotobucketOne further surprise concerned his future bride's heritage; a noblewoman of Walloon heritage and descendant of Poland's Sapieha family, when she one day becomes Queen she will be the first Belgian-born woman to fulfill that role.

Following their December 1999 marriage, the Duke and Duchess set about increasing the size of the Belgian Royal Family, which they have done (so far) by four... Princess Elisabeth, born in October 2001, is poised to be the country's first queen regnant, following a change to the country's laws of succession in 1991; she was followed into the nursery by Prince Gabriel (in August 2003), Prince Emmanuel (in October 2005), and Princess Eléonore (in April 2008).

In addition to a regular schedule of royal duties, Her Royal Highness works on behalf of the Princess Mathilde Fund, which was established by donation of the monetary gifts the couple received upon their marriage. The Foundation's special focus is on aiding the most vulnerable in Belgian society, and annually (since 2001) has awarded the Princess Mathilde Prize in order to support special initiatives toward that end.

*Or inasmuch as such a thing is possible, at least, the Belgians being renowned for their unflappability.
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The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian


Although the date Saint Sebastian died (let alone the year*) cannot be known for certain, the event is commemorated by the Catholic Church on this day, which makes this as good a day as any for me to write about it. The fact of the matter is that so little is known about him - and his story is so close to the myths of Apollo anyway - that he may, in fact, have never existed; it wouldn't be the first time Christians made someone up in their relentless drive to wipe out every belief that came before them... Not by a long shot!

A n y w a y... For those of you unfamiliar with the story, apparently Sebastian was serving as a captain of the Praetorian Guard while secretly practicing Christianity; he was discovered, naturally enough, and was sentenced to death during Roman Emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians. In fact, despite being riddled with arrows once he miraculously didn't die of his wounds, and so had to be martyred twice! Still, whether he's real or not Saint Sebastian has precisely the kind of realness we value above all others here at the Pop Culture Institute - namely, that he exists in an abundance of art. He is, in fact, one of the most frequently depicted of the early Christian martyrs**.

Almost always shown as a handsome young man - as he is in the work shown above, by Hans Holbein the Elder - he has also been captured on canvas by Botticelli, Perugino, Titian, Pollaiuolo, Giovanni Bellini, Guido Reni (who painted him seven times), Mantegna (three times), Hans Memling, Gerrit van Honthorst, Luca Signorelli, El Greco, Honore Daumier, John Singer Sargent and Louise Bourgeois among many others. A 1976 film about him - Sebastiane, directed by Derek Jarman - drew on the homoerotic aspects inherent in many of the depictions of the saint, and in doing so drew a great deal of controversy*** to both the film and himself. All of which means that, in addition to his patronage of soldiers, plagues, arrows, and athletes, Saint Sebastian has become the de facto patron saint of gay men as well.

*Possibly 288 CE.
Alongside the likes of Joan of Arc, for instance.
Or, to use a more correct term, publicity.
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Pop History Moment: The Inauguration Of Barack Obama

Thanks entirely to the mismanagement of George W. Bush and the complete failure of neoconservatism, the 44th President of the United States came to office - on this day in 2009 - facing the kind of uphill battle that would make a Sherpa go pale... Not only did he have to live up to the expectations of the majority of Americans who voted for him (as well as the vast numbers of people the world over who currently support him) in a way that is in keeping with his own evident integrity*, he came to office faced with the potentially fatal opprobrium of millions of racists among his own citizens, as well as all of those people whose lives in Christ seem to be inspiring them to call on their redneck brethren to hasten his death. Because that's what Jesus would do.

Being a lifelong cynic, when something or someone seems too good to be true I am immediately wary; yet I've never been wary of Barack Obama, not in the least. True, he seems to be going out of his way to coddle the people who didn't vote for him, even though nothing he ever does will ever be good enough for them**. He also seems to be doing what he feels is right vis-a-vis the whole 'ending discrimination' thing; again, despite the fact that his foes get off on discrimination, and seem to feel they should have the Constitutional right to do it, even though the US Constitution couldn't be clearer than the teachings of Christ that such behaviour is wrong.

*Especially for a politician!
**Again, no matter what they say, because of a) his name, and b) his colour, and for no other reason.

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The House of Grimaldi: The Death of Antonio I

My more 'with it' readers will already have ascertained that the picture at right is obviously not one of Antonio I, Prince of Monaco; it is, in fact, a picture of Antonio Banderas. Alas, the Google gods have not seen fit to supply me with any image of this elusive Grimaldi - foiled yet again! - and so I have had to make do. I figured since I have to spend a certain amount of time writing this, I might as well have something I like looking at when I do.

PhotobucketRather than dampening my zeal for writing about the House of Grimaldi, though, the paucity of available information on them tells me that I am moving the Pop Culture Institute in the right direction; namely that of creating original content for the Internet, rather than simply posting about the same old crap that a million others do, say, every time Lindsay Lohan does whatever it is she does, especially if it involves a gusset.

A n y w a y... Antonio I was born in January 1661, to Louis I and Catherine Charlotte de Gramont. His June 1688 marriage, to Maria of Lorraine, was personally arranged by France's King Louis XIV; in those days, of course, the Grimaldis were more or less based in the French court at the Palace of Versailles. The couple would eventually have six children, only two of whom - Louise-Hippolyte and Margaretha - would survive infancy.

Assuming the throne following the death of his father in January 1701, in addition to being the Prince of Monaco and the Duke of Valentinois, Antonio I had added to his family's list of hereditary titles when he was created the first Marquis of Baux, a title by tradition given to the eldest son and heir. Following the death of Antonio I on this day in 1731, five days shy of his 70th birthday, a minor controversy occurred... Since at the time a female succession was generally frowned upon, as part of a deal brokered with the Sun King it was agreed that Louise-Hippolyte's husband Jacques François Goyon de Matignon would be given the surname Grimaldi, and co-rule with her when the time came. Which is exactly what came to pass*...

*Alas, although it came to pass, it didn't go so well; as popular as Louise-Hippolyte was among her subjects, that's how unpopular her husband would be. But that's a story best left for another day...

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"Remembering Audrey": A Tribute To Audrey Hepburn

Describing the appeal of Audrey Hepburn, who died on this day in 1993, is like describing the appeal of fresh air, cool water, or a baby's smile; not only is it impossible - although here those who knew her best try their hardest - it's entirely beside the point. As with many of the best things in life, why they're the best means less than the simple enjoyment, enlightenment, and enrichment they bring...

Whether acting in a movie or acting on behalf of the world's most vulnerable people - its children - everything Audrey Hepburn did was imbued with grace; since she moved through the world in an aura of compassion, everyone who met her was utterly charmed. An even greater tragedy than her early death from cancer - aged only 63 - was that because of it she was unable to do all she wanted to do; so while her life was cut short, her work lives on - both through UNICEF and through the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.
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Remembering... Audrey Hepburn

Can it really be nearly two decades now since this light went out in the world? Amazingly, yes; it was on this day in 1993 that Audrey Hepburn died.

Audrey_HepburnUnlike so many others, though, who are glowingly eulogized just weeks before people's true feelings begin to emerge, there have been no attempts to assassinate the character of Audrey Hepburn in the years since her passing. The simple reason for this is that the actress and humanitarian imbued everyone she knew, everyone she met, and a considerable number of total strangers as well, with a magic that few of us - myself included - can hope to understand.

It was more than beauty, though she had that in abundance; it was kindness, a kindness born of the worst kind of cruelty. Having lived in Arnhem, on the front lines of the Nazi invasion, and then through the subsequent occupation of The Netherlands during World War II, having served that country's Resistance as a teenage courier despite considerable peril, when she later visited refugees on behalf of UNICEF - for which work she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - she understood what their privation, their suffering, entailed first hand.

She won The Big Four, which feat alone would have made her a rare breed; she was a fashion icon who cared not a whit for clothes, a natural entertainer yet not needy, modest when she had every reason to brag... In short, she was a consummate human being, and her very existence gives us hope that we may someday see her like again.
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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

When it was announced, in January 1999, that the Queen's youngest son Prince Edward would be marrying Sophie Rhys-Jones the chattering classes momentarily became the snickering classes; Prince Edward, of course, had always been the quiet one, demonstrably ill-suited to military service, theatrical even...

PhotobucketTheir wedding that June came at a time when the Royal Family was desperately in need of a 'New Diana', or so the tabloids said; the image of courtiers shuddering at the thought of another strong-willed neurotic whirlwind capable of wielding her popularity as a cudgel in their midst is one which amuses me still...

Originally determined to keep her job as co-founder (with Murray Harkin) of RJH Public Relations, in the end it was her own indiscretion (as much as the entrapment of the tabloid journalist Mazher Mahmood of News of the World) that, in 2002, finally put an end to the myth that such a thing was possible.

In fact, both the Earl and Countess had been drawing increasing ire for the perception that they'd been using their royal status to get ahead in business; the 'fake sheik' scandal merely proved the tipping point, whereupon they both withdrew from the private sector.

In recent years they have taken on an increasing share of public duties, especially in light of the Queen Mother's March 2002 death and the modest curtailment of duties by the Queen following her 80th birthday in April 2006.

Currently the chatelaine of Bagshot Park in Surrey, the Countess of Wessex is patron of Girlguiding UK and Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps among others. Her Royal Highness has had three difficult births to date: the first (in December 2001) was ectopic and did not carry to term, the second (in November 2003) resulted in the birth of Lady Louise Windsor (who arrived a month early, but was otherwise healthy), the third (in December 2007) saw the arrival of the Queen's eighth grandchild James, Viscount Severn.
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Pop History Moment: The Inauguration of JFK

Way, way, way back in the olden days - when it was expected that an eloquent person would be elected President - this is the kind of non-partisan unity-making speech one came to expect from the Leader of the Free World. So while John F. Kennedy's personal life may not have been entirely above reproach, when he was at the microphone - when it actually mattered - he was a leader.

The ideals expressed in this speech - the abolition of poverty, support for the family of nations and the quest for peace - were seemingly antithetical to the previous Administration, built even as it was on the previous President's promise (spoken twice! yet never once meant) to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The light at the end of the tunnel is this; on this day in 2009, at another inauguration which contained echoes of this previous one, someone took the oath of office (or tried to, anyway - thanks for nothing Chief Justice John Roberts, you douchebag) who wasn't even born on this day in 1960, and there's nothing but hope in the land that he, unlike his predecessor, will actually obey it.


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POPnews - January 20th

[While the city of Rio de Janeiro was founded in March 1565 by Estácio de Sá, the area where it was eventually established was first explored by Gaspar de Lemos on this day in 1502, 63 years earlier. Which begs the question: what the heck were they waiting for? More paradise?]

250 CE - Emperor Decius began a widespread persecution of Christians in Rome with the martyrdom of Pope Fabian; thanks to his efforts, not only do most Christians still have an entirely unfounded persecution complex but ever since then around the world they've been complicit in the persecution of millions of people over the past two millenia - what with the Crusades and the witch-burnings, missionaries and sectarianism and being all judgemental against the express orders of Jesus, leading to the murders and suicides of untold numbers, many of them their fellow Christians. So thanks for that half-assed effort, Emperor Decius, you shit... At least Diocletian put a little effort into it.*

*While it's not entirely tongue-in-cheek, my tongue was in the vicinity of my cheek when I wrote this. ~ MSM

1320 - Duke Wladyslaw Lokietek became King of Poland.

1356 - Scotland's Kind Edward Balliol abdicated.

1502 - The location of the present-day city of Rio de Janeiro was first explored, giving the area its name.

1523 - Christian II was forced to abdicate as King of Denmark and Norway; after he'd gone into exile the crown was offered to his uncle, Frederick of Holstein, who reigned as Frederick I.

1576 - The Mexican city of León was founded by order of the viceroy Don Martín Enríquez de Almanza.

1649 - England's King Charles I went on trial for treason and other 'high crimes'.

1839 - At the Battle of Yungay, Chile defeated an alliance between Peru and Bolivia.

1841 - Hong Kong Island was occupied by the British when Captain Charles Elliot of the Royal Navy landed at Possession Point; the occupation was formalized by the Treaty of Nanking in August 1842.

1921 - The first Constitution of Turkey was ratified; the country had until recently been part of the Ottoman Empire.

1936 - Edward VIII was proclaimed King of England following the death of his father, George V.

1942 - At the Wannsee Conference - held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee at the height of World War II - senior Nazi officials decided on the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Question', accelerating The Holocaust.

1972 - After British Prime Minister Edward Heath rose in the House of Commons and announced unemployment figures of 1,023,583 - the highest rate of joblessness in the United Kingdom since the 1930s - Speaker of the House of Commons Selwyn Lloyd was forced to suspend the sitting for ten minutes before order could be restored.

1987 - Church of England envoy Terry Waite was kidnapped in Lebanon, where he was held captive for 1,763 days; he was finally released in November 1991.

1990 - The Black January crackdown of Azerbaijani pro-independence demonstrations was undertaken by the Soviet army in Baku.

1994 - Telesat Canada's Anik E-1 communications satellite spun out of control, forcing newspapers and radio and TV broadcasters to scramble to re-establish their news feeds.

2001 - Philippine president Joseph Estrada was ousted in the EDSA II Revolution and was succeeded by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
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