Monday, February 14, 2011

"Valentine" by Delays

And why not end Valentine's Day at the Pop Culture Institute with the song Valentine by Delays, which originally appeared on their 2006 second album, You See Colours?
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In Memoriam: Kevyn Aucoin

Of all the purveyors of beauty in recent memory, Kevyn Aucoin was one of the first to emphasize the beauty within; this refreshing lack of misogyny toward the female face made his early death in May 2002 from a pituitary tumour all the more grievous...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1962, Aucoin was adopted as an infant in Shreveport; aware that he was gay from an early age, he wasted no time in hot-footing it to Manhattan. After a requisite (if brief) time of struggle, he was discovered by Vogue, and within a short period of time he became the highest paid makeup artist in history.

The most interesting aspect of Aucoin's work (at least in terms of the Pop Culture Institute) was the number of celebrity transformations he undertook, even going so far as to publish them in book form; turning Christina Ricci into Édith Piaf, Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins into Josephine Baker, and Winona Ryder into Elizabeth Taylor would have been enough on their own to make him famous, but seeing as he was already famous when he did them they actually represent his desire to continue improving his skills. Given that he'd attained the sort of pinnacle in his career normally inducive to laurel-resting makes his already impressive achievement even more so.

Aucoin's legacy rests in the three books he published - The Art of Makeup, Making Faces, and Face Forward - which continue to serve as inspiration to aspiring makeup artists everywhere.
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Happy Birthday Your Serene Highness

Hans-Adam II - the son of Franz Joseph II and Countess Georgina von Wilczek - is the fifteenth Prince of Liechtenstein, which role he has fulfilled since succeeding his late father in November 1989; in addition to being head of the Princely House of Liechtenstein he's Duke of Troppau and Jägerndorf.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1945, in July 1967 the Prince married Marie Aglaë, Countess Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau; together they would have four children - Prince Alois, Prince Maximilian, Prince Constantin, and Princess Tatjana. In 1969 His Serene Highness graduated from the University of St. Gallen with a degree in business and economics. It's not gone to waste; as the owner of the LGT Banking Group, he's considered one of the wealthiest heads of state in Europe, with an estimated personal fortune approaching $5 billion.

Since August 2004 Prince Alois - Hereditary Prince and Count of Rietberg - has begun undertaking many of the day-to-day duties in the very hands-on management of the principality; one of the last of the executive monarchies left in Europe, in March 2003 the Prince was granted even more powers as the result of a referendum. He had threatened to abdicate if not given the absolute power to dissolve the country's parliament, suspend any law or indeed any government minister... In the end the measure passed by a firm two-thirds majority.

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Pop History Moment: Khomeini Issues Fatwa Against Rushdie

On this day in 1989 Iran's theocratic dictator Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (shown, bottom right) took literary criticism to a new level when he issued a fatwa against Indo-British author Salman Rushdie (shown, below left) and his publishers over Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses*; naturally enough, many of those who were so mightily offended by it (including him) had never even bothered to read it - which is precisely the sort of assertive ignorance usually favoured by the professionally censorious.

PhotobucketThe provocation in Rushdie's book began with the title... It seems there's a passage from the Qu'ran which was dubbed the Satanic Verses by the historian Sir William Muir; since, in the opinion of the Prophet Muhammad, the words contained therein** hadn't been from Allah but rather from the Devil they were later redacted by him, and ever since then merely referring to this passage has been considered sacrilegious.

By entitling the book thusly, Rushdie had therefore instantly branded his whole work as being the work of the Devil, at least among orthodox Muslims - as personified by the Ayatollah. Since Rushdie was raised a Muslim, he must have known that his portrayal of the Prophet would be likely to raise some ire, but there you have it...

PhotobucketOf course, anyone familiar with Rushdie's work would know firstly that he holds nothing sacred except for his own iconoclasm, and secondly that he is not in the least religious; what the uber-religious consistently fail to understand about their threats of damnation (as happened in this instance) is that they only work on their own faithful and on no one else. Of course, Khomeini's condemnation of Rushdie wasn't religious but political in nature - although like the Ayatollah himself it was politics concealed in cleric's clothing. The very real threat of being murdered did, however, force Rushdie into hiding, necessitating a huge expenditure by the United Kingdom to nevertheless make a valid point that the quality of a society is determined by the artists it nurtures as much as by the safety those artists are given to comment upon and thus help to shape that society.

PhotobucketKhomeini's fatwa was a first in modern times for the West, but it wouldn't be the last - even that bitch who has everything, Barbie, is the subject of her own (no doubt bright pink) fatwa; what each subsequent experience has highlighted is the extent to which fundamentalist Islam is identical to other fervently religious communities in its desire to destroy culture and even those who create it if necessary.

The fact is that the 'issue' of Rushdie's wrongdoing wasn't an issue for moderate Muslims; they more sensibly felt that Rushdie's ultimate reckoning would be with his creator - whose wisdom in assessing what, if any, blasphemy had occurred would would be far superior to the judgement of any mere human. Except, of course, that Khomeini - whose personality cult fed his paranoia and ego to the extent that he felt he and he alone spoke for Allah on Earth - wasn't in the least bit reasonable.

Ultimately, Khomeini's fatwa and the ongoing jihad against the West it caused has been to the detriment of Islam, in much the same way the current zeal for identity politics hampers any reasonable dialogue about bigotry to occur, by reacting to the potential offense of an unenlightened inquiry rather than seeing it as an ideal opportunity to enlighten.

*Published in September 1988 and the winner of that year's Whitbread Award the following November 8th the bannings and the bombings it inspired began occurring more or less simultaneously. By March 1989 Britain had broken diplomatic ties with Iran as a result.
**The offending passages allow for prayers of intercession to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses - Allat, Uzza, and Manah - in direct contravention of Islam's monotheistic principles.

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In Memoriam: Jack Benny

Although Jack Benny's career began at the height of vaudeville, the success he had there left him ideally situated to be intimately involved in the foundation of each of the three new media that would eventually replace it - namely radio, television and (to a lesser extent) movies; unlike so many of his former colleagues, though, rather than washed up by the early 1930s when vaudeville was, he was still building momentum...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1894, as a child Benny was trained in the violin, which would become his foremost prop in later years. Whenever his trademark low-key humour failed to impress out would come the violin, and after a few minutes of sawing away on that hapless instrument he'd have the audience right where he wanted them again - namely doubled over laughing. Despite this act of his, Benny was a very accomplished violinist indeed, and when he wanted to he could use it to easily wring a tear from even the most jaded eye.

Of course, Benny's comedic gifts were so subtle I can scarcely believe they worked in vaudeville, and so visual besides they would've been rendered impotent on radio as well; where Benny chiefly benefited was in having a certain command over (and an audience in) multiple forms of media at once - meaning radio audiences could easily visualize his rolled eyes and his slow burn, having seen them so often on stage or in film...

By the time The Jack Benny Program became one of the first sitcoms on CBS-TV in October 1950 it had already been on the radio for 18 years, a generation of broadcasting that had transformed a once-minor vaudevillian into a media institution, and even aided in the assistance of the sitcom genre; in many ways, Benny's show was a lot like Seinfeld - the main character had the same name as the star, and lived a vaguely similar life, whereas like his future counterpart in reality both the character and the life he led on camera were actually an inversion of the truth.

Unlike many stars, who took the funniest lines for themselves, Benny played a kind of mannered straight man off of whom everyone else could play - making him an incredibly generous and rare kind of performer indeed. As a result Benny's co-stars - his real-life wife Mary Livingstone, announcer Don Wilson, hapless tenor Dennis Day, friend and confidante Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, as well as his on-air rival Fred Allen - were all as hugely popular in their day as the man himself.

Having comported himself with grace and dignity for more than 60 years, Jack Benny died in December 1974, having passed on a role in the film version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys - a role that would ultimately earn his longtime friend George Burns an Academy Award.
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"Aaiye meherbaan" by Madhubala

Shakti Samanta's classic 1958 film Howrah Bridge today provides us with an excellent example of the myriad charms of Madhubala - one of the biggest stars of the Indian cinema from its so-called Golden Age - singing Aaiye meherbaan*...

Born on this day in 1933, Madhubala died just nine days after her 36th birthday, in February 1969; she'd been living with a ventricular septal defect - more commonly known as a 'hole in the heart' - since it had first been diagnosed in 1950. At the time of her death she was married to fellow actor and playback singer Kishore Kumar, whom she'd married in 1960. Oddly enough (or not, considering the nature of Indian cinema) Madhubala's co-star in Howrah Bridge is her future brother-in-law, Ashok Kumar.

*I apologize in advance if you feel this spelling is incorrect; while conducting research for this piece I found the title of the song spelled at least five different ways. In the end I chose the spelling I considered to be the most prevalent. If there's a better way to do it, help a whitey out and leave a comment.
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Pop History Moment: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre


Possibly the most famous gangland hit in history, the St Valentine's Day Massacre was little more than a skirmish in terms of the ongoing turf war between the South Side of Chicago's Italian mob (run by the notorious Al Capone) and that city's North Side Gang (headed by the less famous but even more dangerous George 'Bugs' Moran). Originally planned by Patrick Leedom as Moran's assassination, in this sense the attack against the SMC Cartage warehouse at 2122 North Clark Street (in the city's Lincoln Park neighbourhood) was a complete and utter failure. Moran was running late and Capone's men, mistaking one of Moran's associates for him, moved in and carried out their orders before they should have.

In total seven men were lined up against a wall and Tommy-gunned to death by four of Capone's thugs that day (probably led by Fred 'Killer' Burke), including Peter Gusenberg and Frank Gusenberg (both Moran goons), Albert Kachalik (Moran's deputy), Adam Heyer (the gang's bookkeeper), Reinhard Schwimmer (a gang follower), Albert Weinshank (an associate of Moran's bearing a remarkable resemblance to the gangster, whose appearance that day likely saved Moran's life), and John May (a mechanic who had worked for Moran but wasn't a member of the gang); when he later found out that none of the men killed was the one he'd been gunning for Capone (vacationing in Florida to provide himself an airtight alibi) was reportedly apoplectic with rage.

In almost every other way as well, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre was a disaster; in public relations terms, it galvanized the citizens of Chicago against organized crime, something the combined atrocities of the first lawless decade of Prohibition had failed to do. Over the next five years law enforcement would step up to address the problem of rampant crime brought about by, and entirely due to, Prohibition; by the event's fifth anniversary not only had Prohibition been repealed but the newly-empowered FBI had managed to neutralize most of the remaining key players, including Capone and Moran themselves...
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What's The Occasion? St. Valentine's Day


There have been many people called Saint Valentine - most of them martyrs in Ancient Rome - although none of them were deemed important enough to be mentioned in the Chronography of 354; it was Pope Gelasius I who first declared the Feast of St. Valentine in 469 CE - and about all we know concerning the saint being honoured by the day is his name and the fact that he was buried in Rome, on the Via Flaminia. And that there are at least two who fit that description!

Although first depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1463, St. Valentine is described as having been martyred during the reign of Claudius II when he was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians; the Roman Martyrology, published in 1583, only mentions the one Saint Valentine - the same one 'known' to us today.

Valentine's feast day, of course, just happens to fall during the ancient feast of the Lupercalia, so while there's no appreciable crossover of rituals between the two, the ancient festival was one dedicated to fertility and childbirth; the more strenuously Christians insist, however, that their holidays were not imposed upon the pagan ones in a concerted effort to quash the old ways the less likely I am to believe them, and I was never much inclined to believe them before. Needless to say, of all the saints' days venerated by the Roman Catholic Church, that one in honour of an obscure bishop who just happened to be martyred on an important Roman holiday is about the only one still observed by all and sundry* - including many non-Christians - is a bit of a coincidence I for one cannot let pass without a suitably snide remark...

The day really became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, during the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, as documented in his Parliament of Foules, and many subsequent 'scholars' merely backdated those associations to includes the figures and rites of Late Antiquity; no one knows quite when the day became associated with the persecution of single people, but most bets are on late in the 20th Century. Since the Lupercalia was observed with the slaughter of a goat, and since single people are currently being scape-goated for causing (among other things) global warming, perhaps the old ways and the new will once again unite when some loving couple somewhere will murder some pathetic single loser for ruining their expensive, chocolate-y day...

Only time will tell.

*Other than, of course, St. Patrick's Day!

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Pop History Moment: "First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's Tour Of The White House"

On this day in 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy took television viewers on a tour of the White House with CBS reporter Charles Collingwood; her restoration efforts included both interior spaces - such as the Blue Room, Green Room, Red Room, Yellow Oval Room, and Treaty Room - as well as exterior, and involved (among other things) restoring furniture pilfered over the years by outgoing presidents. Throughout the tour Mrs. Kennedy spoke knowledgeably about many of the pieces found in the house and their relationship to the executive mansion's former tenants.

Her efforts on behalf of restoration and preservation at the White House left a lasting legacy in the form of the White House Historical Association, the Committee for the Preservation of the White House which was based upon her White House Furnishings Committee, a permanent Curator of the White House, the White House Endowment Trust, and the White House Acquisition Trust.

Following her husband's assassination in November 1963 the East Garden was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden in honour of the woman who had done so much to return sophistication and grandeur to a White House which had become dowdy and lacklustre through lack of care.
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POPnews - February 14th

[When it came to tit-for-tat retaliations surely neither the the Allies nor the Nazis could have hoped for a worse Hell on Earth than Dresden; once the cultural and artistic capital of Germany, the morning after the city was relentlessly firebombed it was home to cinders and little more...
Yet from its ashes it has risen, reborn!

842 CE - Charles the Bald and Louis the German swore the Oaths of Strasbourg in both German and French, allying West Francia and East Francia.

1556 - Protestant Thomas Cranmer - Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI - was declared a heretic by their Catholic successor, Mary I; he would be burned at the stake five weeks later.

1779 - Captain James Cook was killed by native Hawaiians near Kealakekua on the Island of Hawaii.

1859 - Oregon became the 33rd US state.

1912 - Arizona became the 48th US state.

1945 - On the second day of an intensive two-day operation Allied forces began a devastating aerial fire-bombing of Dresden; the event was later famously recounted in Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

1949 - The Asbestos Strike began, marking the beginning of Quebec's Quiet Revolution against the tyranny and cronyism of Union Nationale Premier Maurice Duplessis.

1962 - First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy took television viewers on a tour of the White House.

1966 - The Australian dollar was introduced on the day that country's currency was decimalized.

1979 - In Kabul, Muslim terrorists kidnapped Adolph Dubs, the American ambassador to Afghanistan; Dubs was later killed during the ensuing gun battle between his kidnappers and police.

1981 - A fire at Dublin's Stardust Nightclub killed 48.

1990 - 92 people were killed when Indian Airlines Flight 605 crashed near Bengaluru.

1994 - Andrei Chikatilo - also known as the Rostov Ripper - a Russian serial killer convicted of murdering 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990, was executed by a single bullet to the back of the head.

2005 - Lebanon's former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated, prompting the country to once again fall into chaos.

(Although by tradition POPnews items are always an odd number - and I try my best to always include 19 items - in honour of Valentine's Day, today there are 14. ~ MSM)

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