Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quote of the Day: Paul Mooney

“If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”
So says comedian Paul Mooney in Chris Rock's new documentary "Good Hair". Mooney was quoted in the New York Times yesterday in an article that explored the politics of black women's hair. Is it selling out to straighten it? Is not straightening it a political statement? Or is it fashion? Or is it convenience?

Michelle Obama straightens her hair. But when her 11-year-old daughter Malia wore her hair in twists for a trip to Rome, the conservative blogosphere reacted bizarrely.

“For black women, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said UC Santa Barbara professor of black studies Ingrid Banks, quoted in the Times article. “If you’ve got straight hair, you’re pegged as selling out. If you don’t straighten your hair, you’re seen as not practicing appropriate grooming practices.”

So which is "blacker," straightening or not straightening? And why is highlighting and dyeing not considered unnatural? White women with curly hair straighten, too, and white women get extensions. And yet the fact that the desire to modify one's hair is universal doesn't seem to make the issue less racial for black women.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

I saw this beautiful shortened Volkswagen bus at the Back to the Fifties weekend at the Minnesota State Fair earlier this summer.

In related news, Britain's "best A-Team van replica" is for sale for a mere £30,000. That's about $50,000 right now. It's normally for hire as a special event limo (£400 for the first hour, £50 per hour thereafter; £1 surcharge per mile from Bristol.).


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Dover-Calais Hovercraft

When I was in the U.K. ten years ago, a friend and I crossed the English Channel by giant hovercraft. To see one of these things start up, with those giant swivelling propellers, the whole thing rising as the skirt inflates, is amazing. It's at least as big as the Staten Island Ferry -- which is to say the size of a small building -- and yet it glides across the cement landing like it's on ice.

Riding in one is delightful. It's quick, and it's noisy. But it's very comfortable.

Prior to that, my only experience with such a machine was a G.I Joe hovercraft my friend Jeff had when we were growing up. I guess I didn't know whether or not they really existed commercially -- I figured they were more like jet-packs and flying cars.

And so it was sad to see that the U.K.'s channel hovercrafts have been taken out of service. See below.

Dictator Kitsch

When former President Bill Clinton was in North Korea to rescue former Vice President Al Gore's wayward reporters, he was photographed with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in front of a huge and garish mural.

It's dictator kitsch, writes, Eric Gibson in the Wall Street Journal this week:
"'Kitsch' has become a byword in the culture for anything over-the-top or tacky. In art, it’s meaning is more specific. It refers to works trafficking in facile, base or false emotions—most often sentimentality—and whose imagery is off-the-shelf and formulaic, a debased version of a once-original aesthetic idea. Need to conjure that warm-and-fuzzy feeling? Cue the fiery sunset. Looking to express fragile innocence? Bring on the shoeless urchin carrying the bird with the broken wing."
Later in the article there's a great anecdote about a Russian artist who was employed by the Soviet Union as a creator of Socialist Realist art. After the fall of the Soviet Union, his transition was clumsy: "so ingrained were his earlier habits that every time he painted the face of Jesus, he wound up with a likeness of Lenin."

In fact, there isn't so much difference between religious kitsch and kitsch employed in the service of totalitarian regimes. Take this poster of Moroni, a character from the Book of Mormon. Aside from the fact that it looks computer-generated, like something out of a late-90s era video game, the rays of sun could just as easily indicate religious themes as socialist ones.

Perhaps a better example, one from the same company Real Hero Posters, is this one of the Bible character Ruth. Here, we see a proud agricultural scene, complete with dramatic sunlight, sheaf of wheat, and a low perspective that makes the figure look large and heroic. This looks positively Soviet, yet it's quite the opposite.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Obituary: John Hughes

Before today I assumed that any movie John Cusack did prior to 1990 was among writer/director John Hughes' many 80s era teen movies. In fact, Better Off Dead (1985) was wriiten and directed by Savage Steve Holland, who also did One Crazy Summer a year later. The Sure Thing (also 1985) was a Rob Reiner movie, and Say Anything (1989) was written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

So what did John Hughes direct? It's actually only eight movies:
Sixteen Candles (1984)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Weird Science (1985)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
She's Having a Baby (1988)
Uncle Buck (1989)
Curly Sue (1991)
He wrote far more, including:
Mr. Mom (1983)
Vacation (1983)
European Vacation (1985)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
The Great Outdoors (1988)
Christmas Vacation (1989)
Home Alone(1990)
He continued to write for Hollywood; his name appeared in the credits for recent drivel like Drillbit Taylor, Maid in Manhattan, and all five Beethoven movies (the ones about the big dog).

Although I've seen enough bits of each to fake it, I've never sat down and watched the entirety of Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club -- two of Hughes' most famous movies. As a child of the 80s, I loved Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But looking at his oeuvre, I realize that the sum of it is greater than the individual parts. Making allowances for the teen comedy genre, Ferris Bueller may be the only really good movie Hughes did. None were great. Many resonated strongly with white, middle class and upper-middle class kids who grew up in the 80s.

I was pleased to see a respectfully dissenting view of Hughes' work from New York Magazine's movie critic David Edelstein. "I found it gruesomely unfunny," he wrote of Sixteen Candles. "I often found his films difficult to watch. I didn’t buy the relationships, and I couldn’t get past the self-pity and anger." He was bothered by "Hughes' racist stereotypes" (Sixteen Candles foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong comes to mind here).

Edelstein is as puzzled as the rest of us about what happened to Hughes' career:
"At the height of his success, Hughes got strange, and stories abound of his unpleasantness. (I interviewed him once for a Rolling Stone story I decided not to write and found him neither nasty nor nice—not indifferent, just… neutral.)"
To most of us, he just dropped off the face of the earth, sort of like an 80s moviemaker version of J.D. Salinger. But he was actually more like fellow 80s writer/director Savage Steve Holland, who, after Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer kept working steadily, but did nothing anyone has ever heard of. It's just as sad, really, but at least he made a living.

John Hughes died of a heart attack in Manhattan. He was 59.

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Who Dares Question the Scottish-ness of Haggis?

Not Scottish novelist Alexander McCall Smith. He's defending the offal dish in yesterday's New York Times. Apparently, someone found a haggis recipe in a 17th century English cookbook. But is that proof that the English came up with haggis before the Scots? McCall Smith:
"Of course there was no published Scottish recipe for haggis before then, for the simple reason that it would have been quite unnecessary for Scots to publish a recipe for something that everybody in Scotland knew how to make. Why state the obvious? It’s as simple as that."
He continues, saying that Scots well know that it was their culture that came up with television, golf and whiskey (not the American, Dutch, or Irish cultures).

I should note that there are some who claim that it was the Chinese, those creators of noodles, the compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing who invented golf. And maybe skiing, before the Norwegians.

It's a matter of pride to me that my people, the Minnesotans, invented the post-it note, scotch tape and masking tape, water skiing, frozen pizza, indoor shopping malls, spam, roller blades and the snowmobile.

Haggis, which is traditionally sheep's offal with spices and oatmeal stuffed into a sheep's stomach, is one of my favorite culinary treats.


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