Friday, February 04, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Death of Karen Carpenter

For the most part our expectations of cultural figures - models, actors, singers - are quite low; we like them to do their job, make a good job of it when they do, be consistent (even if their thing is being inconsistent), and most importantly keep a sense of humour about themselves. All the rest - the cockamamie health and beauty regimens, the ill-considered political opinions and religious practices, in fact the whole parcel of their inevitable tabloid travails - are all well and good but are just as likely to drive the public away as to evoke widespread empathy...

PhotobucketEvery so often, of course, the life of a celebrity (because it is lived so famously) can teach the world a lesson or two in a way that an ordinary life cannot*. Such is the case with the sad demise of Karen Carpenter...

Apart from statistics nobody can say for sure how many women (or men, for that matter) starved themselves to death because of anorexia nervosa before Carpenter herself succumbed to the ravages of the disease herself on this day in 1983; the problem with statistics, of course, is that even when the numbers represent people they are not people. Karen Carpenter, however, was not just a person but a person whose soul seemed to shine through her delivery of a lyric. By endearing herself to great numbers of the public throughout the Seventies as both vocalist and drummer with The Carpenters, she may have inadvertantly helped those same people to understand a disease they might have previously thought was neurotic or self-inflicted or whatever** - that is, if they thought (or even knew) about it at all.

Of course, what makes the case of Karen Carpenter so sad is that she'd actually turned a corner on her disease, and may have in fact eventually made a full recovery, if only anorexia weren't so hard on all the body's systems, including the heart. Ultimately, it was a cardiac arrest that claimed her, although anorexia had weakened her to such an extent that even if her heart hadn't failed her her liver or kidneys might have anyway. She was 32.

*Which may just be the greatest value of celebrity culture.
**A fairly judgemental stance utterly lacking in compassion, in this blogger's view.
share on: facebook

"Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia

Birthday wishes go out today to Natalie Imbruglia, whose song Torn was the big song the week I moved to Vancouver, in June 1998; despite its semi-saddo lyrics, the track has always imbued me with the hope I first had in moving here. Well, that initial hope is long gone, but the song - and its video - are still here!*

Imbruglia came to fame** on the Australian soap opera Neighbours, playing Beth Brennan Willis; despite the wooden melodrama favoured by that show, Imbruglia's performance in this video is anything but (even though, technically, it has been known to inspire wood).

Torn originally appeared on the 1997 album Left of the Middle, which was such a monster hit that its successors White Lilies Island (2001) and Counting Down the Days (2005) couldn't possibly measure up - and they didn't. In the years since, Imbruglia has busied herself by appearing as Rowan Atkinson's love interest in the 2003 film Johnny English***, as well as being spokesmodel for cosmetics giant L'Oréal. She also married and divorced Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns before releasing her fourth album, Come to Life, in October 2009.

*Kidding! Kinda... Anyway, these days there's a new kind of hope, at least.
**As did
Russell Crowe, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Holly Valance, and of course Kylie Minogue!
***A copy of which, naturally enough, finds itself in the permanent collection here at the Pop Culture Institute.

share on: facebook

Facebook Is 7!

It was on this day in 2004 that new media whiz-kid Mark Zuckerberg rolled out Facebook, the immensely popular social networking site which was originally intended to keep students and faculty of Harvard connected. As membership was opened up, more and more people signed on, and today more than 500 million users over the age of 13* use the site to meet, socialize, stay in touch, over-share, and occasionally perpetuate the injudicious cruelties of high school against each other every single day.

All of which has not been without controversy... There are those who refuse to use it because of the site's business practices, which I try not to think about since doing so could potentially make my eyes roll to such an extent that I might self-induce a stroke. These are the same people who put gas in their car, pay their cable bill, and eat fast food with nary a thought. Still others have banned the site in their work places due to concerns over productivity, rather than banning, say, middle managers from having access to PowerPoint. It has also been intermittently banned by those harbingers of freedom Syria and Iran, so if you're forbidden from Facebooking at work, you are entirely within your rights to liken your employers to Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

All I can say is, I can't even remember how I used to procrastinate before Facebook... Even the regular Internet - you remember, the one with all the porn on it - was never as distracting as this!

*The Pop Culture Institute can in no way endorse these numbers as, from personal experience, we know of people with multiple profiles as well as users under the age of 13, but in the interest of kissing ass is happy to parrot the numbers Facebook has provided.
share on: facebook

Pop History Moment: The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst

In one of the more curious confluences of my life, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst provided me with the impetus for this blog; all the writing, all the research, everything I've done on it, for it, and to it over the past four years came about because, on this day in 2007 (actually February 7th) I was thinking about what kind of posts to include on the Pop Culture Institute, and I had the brilliant - yet unoriginal - idea to write about history in a glib and revisionist (in other words, contemporary) style. Turning to the BBC's exemplary website On This Day I latched on to the one interesting article I found there for this day, and I was off.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingNow, more than 4000 posts later, I've come back around through the year - four times! - to the one that started it all. Given the importance of it, and its place in the history not just of this blog but of the world, I have nonetheless deleted it because it was crap, and started all over with the one you find below. Despite my evident and oft-stated reverence for the past, when it comes to the improvement of this blog nothing like sentimentality over a few hastily assembled words is going to stand in my way.

* * *

A n y w a y... It was on this day in 1974 when 19 year-old newspaper heiress Patty Hearst (granddaughter of tycoon William Randolph Hearst) was kidnapped from the San Francisco apartment she shared with her fiancé Steven Weed. She was taken by a left-wing urban guerrilla group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA); their original aim had been to trade her freedom for that of some of the group's members who'd been imprisoned. When the request was refused, they compelled the Hearst family to distribute $6 million dollars in food to the poor of the Bay Area, only to renege on their end of the bargain to release her when the food distributed was considered to be of poor quality. Even Hearst herself was heard on an audio recording criticizing the quality of her father's efforts.

The subsequent imprisonment of Patty Hearst remains controversial to this day, largely due to Hearst's own claims of having been brainwashed by the SLA, not to mention the skepticism of many to believe in what is called Stockholm Syndrome, but also because she was held by the them in the San Francisco area for more than a year - during which time she took part in a highly publicized April 1974 bank robbery - before the police managed to capture her. During that time, Hearst had taken as her nom de guerre Tania.

Hearst was finally arrested for bank robbery in September 1975, and her trial began in January 1976; poorly defended by F. Lee Bailey, she was sentenced to seven years in prison in March 1976, but had served only 22 months when the remainder of her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. Hearst was released from prison in February 1979, just three days shy of the fifth anniversary of her capture, published a memoir of her time with the SLA (Every Secret Thing) in 1982, appeared as the mother of a brainwashed kidnap victim in John Waters' camp classic Cecil B. DeMented (2000), and was fully pardoned by President Bill Clinton in January 2001, on the last day of his presidency - the same day he issued his more notorious pardon, that of Marc Rich.
share on: facebook

"Naked Girl Falling Down The Stairs" by The Cramps

On this day in 2009 Lux Interior, vocalist for The Cramps, died of a heart condition called aortic dissection; along with his wife of 37 years Poison Ivy, the pair were the only permanent members of the band whose skillful blending of punk, garage, and rockabilly not only helped to bring about psychobilly but made them fixtures in the scene that coalesced around Manhattan's CBGB night club in the 1970s.

Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs originally appeared on the band's eleventh album Flamejob in 1994; the track also features the work of Slim Chance on bass and Harry Drumdini on - what else? - drums.
share on: facebook

POPnews - February 4th

[In this early colour photograph we see, seated from left, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Russian Premier Joseph Stalin during a photo call at the Yalta Conference. The representatives of the so-called Big Three are here joined by the Royal Navy's Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal (both standing behind Churchill) and the US Navy's Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (standing behind Roosevelt). The stated purpose of the Yalta Conference was to to discuss the re-establishment of nations conquered by Germany.]

211 CE - Roman Emperor Septimius Severus died, leaving the Roman Empire in the hands of his two quarrelsome sons, Caracalla and Geta.

708 CE - Pope Sisinnius died; he was succeeded by Constantine, who ascended to the papal throne on April 25th.

960 CE - The coronation of Zhao Kuangyin as Emperor Taizu of Song initiated China's Song Dynasty, which would last more than three centuries.

1789 - George Washington was unanimously 'elected' the first President of the United States; he remains the only President to receive 100% of the Electoral College votes, which he did twice - the second time was on the same day in 1792.

1794 - Slavery was outlawed in all French territories and possessions, apparently.

1810 - The Royal Navy seized Guadeloupe from the French; British occupation would last until 1816, although for fifteen months from March 1813 the island was officially the property of Sweden (although it would remain under British administration).

1825 - The Ohio Legislature authorized the construction of both the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal.

1859 - The Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in Egypt.

1861 - The Confederate States of America was formed in Montgomery, Alabama.

1899 - The Philippine-American War is traditionally held to have begun.

1945 - The Yalta Conference began. The meeting of Allied leaders at the Livadia Palace in the Crimea would last until February 11th; it was preceded by the Tehran Conference and followed by the Potsdam Conference.

1948 - Ceylon (later renamed Sri Lanka) declared its independence within the British Commonwealth.

1957 - The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) - the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, launched by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in January 1954 - logged its 60,000th nautical mile, matching the endurance of the fictional Nautilus described in Jules Verne's 1869 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

1969 - Yasser Arafat assumed the chairmanship of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

1980 - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini named Abolhassan Banisadr as president of Iran.

1991 - The Baseball Hall of Fame voted to ban Pete Rose from induction.

1992 - Hugo Chávez Frías led a coup against Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez.

1999 - Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela.

2004 - Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg.
share on: facebook