Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Friday Buzzkills: May Day! Mayday!

Fun fact: The “Mayday “ distress signal is derived from the French phrase m’aider (“help me”), and thus has nothing whatsoever to do with May Day, the midsummer holiday famous for the pagan ritual involving the erecting of a large phallic symbol and dancing around it like a drunken idiot. But while the two share no overt link, there’s something to be said for the coincidental way this year’s kickoff of our annual summer descent into loud, mindless entertainment coincides with our equally loud, equally mindless panic—and lest we forget, many interpreters believe that the most famous of all Maypole-related songs (“Ring A Ring O’ Roses”) was nothing but a fun little ditty about the plague. Anyway, whether you’re just drifting off into your midsummer night’s dream, or broadcasting a call for help, all you’re getting in return is the ashes and staticky bursts of Friday Buzzkills.

- Now that we’re in this airless, confined space together: How’s your own pandemic going? Considering “Swine Flu” is currently the top trend on Twitter, it’s obviously on everyone’s mind, but other than giving us a chance to relive the ’70s and providing even more evidence that Joe Biden should never be allowed to speak for more than 30 seconds on any topic, ever, what have we learned? Specifically, where did this stuff come from? Medical professionals will tell you it was transmitted from animals to humans, but as we learned last week, these are the same monsters who want to inject your kids with autism, so they’re probably not to be trusted. Instead we must always turn to two bellwethers of public opinion: the spoiled celebrity, whose enviable, incredibly shallow worldview will always serve as a loss leader for the common man; and the loudmouth talk show host, whose convoluted theories are a great canary in the coalmine for the moment when all rationale has finally been sucked out of the country and replaced by hot gas.

For the former, what better “proudly ignorant man on the street” could you seek out than Paris Hilton, who this week responded to a TMZ “reporter” asking whether she was concerned about swine flu by sniffing, “I don’t eat that”—a confusion seemingly shared by thousands of people who have similarly sworn off eating pork, which is every bit an effective strategy for avoiding the virus as, say, staving off Lou Gehrig’s disease by refusing to visit the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Oh, if only it were as simple as giving up our daily pound of bacon, but as anyone who listens to right-wing pundits knows, this disease is at best a sinister plot by the Obama administration to fully return our country to the Jimmy Carter era and at worst, just the inevitable result of allowing Mexico to breathe the same air as us, a hypothesis put into especially nasty terms this week by Boston radio host Jay Severin. Making frequent reference to “criminaliens,” Severin let loose on our sickly neighbors to the south this week, saying:

Now, in addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico — women with mustaches and VD — now we have swine flu… When we are the magnet for primitives around the world — and it's not the primitives' fault, by the way, I'm not blaming them for being primitives, I'm merely observing they are primitives — and when you scoop up some of the world's lowest of primitives in poor Mexico and drop it down in the middle of the United States — poor, without skills, without language, not share our culture, not share our hygiene, haven't been vaccinated… Millions of leeches from a primitive country come here to leech off you…


In the flood of complaints that followed, the station suspended Severin indefinitely, prompting dozens of his defenders to invade the comments section of the Boston Globe with accusations of liberal censorship and cries of, “The truth hurts!” and “Jay calls it like he sees it!” Which is certainly a valid point: After all, if anyone has the proper vantage point to spot a leech on America’s underbelly, surely it’s a swill-spewing bottom-feeder. (And it’s not Severin’s fault. We’re not blaming him for being a swill-spewing bottom-feeder. We’re merely observing that he is a swill-spewing bottom-feeder.)

- In related news: L.A. lampreys Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt have graciously agreed to fill the void left by the departing Lauren Conrad with the stifling vacuum that is their own day-to-day on The Hills, so this week everyone’s favorite celebrity couple that no one is sure why they’ve heard of set out to increase their already ludicrously inflated profile with a series of photo-ops that also included an exchange of marriage vows or something. And because every pandemic needs a prom king and queen, the couple bravely ventured into Cabo San Lucas, where they spent the week being photographed walking the beach and even making out while wearing surgical masks, because these are the desperate, attention-grabbing measures you resort to when you’re determined to have a “pre-honeymoon” and yet no one wants to pay exorbitant fees for pictures of your second wedding in a month. See Mexico? You’re not the only nation that can export uncultured, unvaccinated, primitives without skills!


- Even with the Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Abhorrent People antics of Heidi and Spencer to keep us entertained, odds are that this is the last sickly hurrah of The Hills, which means it’s high time we find another batch of ungrateful, over-privileged youth to despise and/or emulate. Unfortunately, reality television is such a province for wannabe stars that it’s become far too self-aware. The solution? Exploit that self-awareness by recruiting the most navel-gazing, unjustifiably smug species on Earth: the Williamsburg hipster. Now that the story of The Hipster Grifter has achieved blanket coverage, and the “hipster” archetype itself has become so common that niche porn videos are being shot in the Dim Mak warehouse (poetic, in a way, considering how much jack-off material that label’s already released), it’s about time to kill the “hipster” off once and for all by turning it into a household meme. Check out the open casting call for this “major network TV show pilot,” which, if picked up, should have the majority of New York’s twentysomethings unironically wearing Dockers and enrolling in CPA classes by the second episode:

Did you wake up today around 1:30 EST in your industrial loft, pull on your favorite (and only) pair of cutoff jean shorts, and take a leisurely stroll down Bedford Avenue in search of organic green juice and the new DFA on vinyl? Do you tap the family trust fund every time you need to make rent? (or do you have to fix bikes for a living?) Does your tattoo have a story to tell? Do you jam with a hardcore band on the weekends and DJ on the weeknights? Are you cooking tofu right now for you and your seven roommates? Do you barely make it into Manhattan three days a week for "college"? Is that handlebar mustache merely for comedic effect? Do you consider 25 "old age"? Do you idolize Dan Deacon? Do you fold clothes at American Apparel? Are you SO not worried about getting swine flu 'cause that shit only happens to poor people? Were you recently the victim of the Hipster Grifter? Or even better, are you THE Hipster Grifter? And most importantly, what are you going to do this summer now that the McCarren Pool Parties are over???!!!”


Other questions: Do you enjoy having all of your carefully curated tastes reduced to a series of warmed-over clichés parroted back to you by television producers? Does your desire to be famous for doing nothing supercede any wariness you may have about being famous for being despised? Are you even more desperate for attention than this clearly mocking ad suggests? Have you, in fact, never seen a reality show before? P.S. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: So TOTALLY over, right?

- Still, sad and repugnant as it is, at least Top ’Bag (or whatever they plan on calling it) is digging a fresh grave rather than just unearthing the same old corpses, which is why we’re betting it never makes it past the pilot stage. After all, as we’ve proved every week, originality isn’t exactly a blue-chip stock these days; in fact, we’ve apparently become so desperate for material, we’re remaking things no one liked the first time, such as the misbegotten 1991 Rik Mayall/Phoebe Cates comedy Drop Dead Fred, which Universal is currently reviving as a starring vehicle for British comic Russell Brand. Though the film picked up a cult fanbase—thanks, no doubt, to endless, compulsory repeats on HBO—Drop Dead Fred was nevertheless a critical and commercial failure, so in the words of Fred himself, “When something’s not working right, the best thing to do is tear it apart to make it better.” Hence a plot to “Beetlejuice it up” with an expanded universe full of other imaginary friends, a concept currently being developed by writer Dennis McNicholas, who will no doubt apply the lessons he’s learned from this summer’s Land Of The Lost on how to take comics who are only funny when they’re not being censored and force them into wishy-washy PG-13 movies that satisfy neither kids nor adults.


- But then, making a film that appeals to all age groups is next to impossible (if you’re not Pixar, anyway), as the MPAA has seemingly only gotten stricter over the years—which doesn’t exactly bode well for Robert Zemeckis’ planned sequel to his groundbreaking live-action/animation blend Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The original film was full of murder, sexual innuendo, and heaving cartoon breasts, most of which would never pass a PG rating these days. But an added inch to Jessica Rabbit’s neckline is probably the least of our worries with the update, as Zemeckis has reportedly begun focusing on the sequel with the intent of importing the dead-eyed motion-capture technology he’s been using to scar children with ever since The Polar Express. Because as George Lucas has repeatedly demonstrated, movies are first and foremost a forum for showing off whatever software you installed that week, Zemeckis says the new Roger Rabbit is destined to be an entirely CGIed beast—never mind that the whole point of Roger’s story was that he inhabited a two-dimensional world that was being threatened by 3-D humans. After all, what’s a little continuity if it stands in the way of producing soulless art?

- And hey, speaking of unnecessary sequels and dead-eyed, soulless art: This week curiously accurate sociopolitical yardstick and occasional musical act Creed upgraded the alert level on its inevitable reunion to “Summer Tour Followed By New Album,” with singer Scott Stapp avowing that the band’s new material is “fresh, edgy, raw, passionate, honest, and it rocks,” which probably means it’s got some keyboards on it, and at least four or five belabored “resurrection” metaphors. The album will be called Full Circle, which is either a surprisingly poignant commentary on the way we’ve already managed to cycle our way back to the waste-bin of “post-grunge,” or it’s about how Stapp and his bandmates have gone through all the ups and downs life has thrown at them only to come out stronger or what the fuck ever.


- Second acts are never easy, of course, and as much as we may rip on Creed for returning to clean up with all the stadium tours of small-town Georgia and New Jersey it can, the band obviously still has a fanbase who refuses to let it die. Not everyone can go gently into that good night and slip from an international stage to being an ineffectual nobody as gracefully as, say, John McCain. The man who once took every calculated measure he could to land a job he didn’t really even seem to want has these days been released from the burden of pretending that he knows how to fix things, leaving him free to do exactly what he’s good at: Cracking jokes on talk shows and regaling everybody with his war stories all over again on AMC. This week it was announced that McCain has been tapped to host a Memorial Day marathon on the classic movie channel, providing the interstitial patter between films like Patton and Hamburger Hill by easing viewers into Extenze commercials with anecdotes from his experiences as a prisoner of war punctuated by creepy use of the phrase, "My friends."

Meanwhile, his former running mate Sarah Palin turned up on American Chopper yesterday in an episode focused on building a motorcycle “to honor Alaska’s 50-year anniversary of being a state,” because nothing would “honor” the state more than a custom-built chopper gifted to the one person who’s done more to paint Alaska as proudly white-trash, with the added bonus of getting her on the TV again. Hey, remember when McCain and Palin’s whole campaign was about how Barack Obama was more celebrity than politician? Do you think maybe some people are just genetically resistant to irony, or is this some sort of new virus that we should start freaking out about?


- A seminal figure of the Beat movement, artist and organizer Michael Bowen was a fixture on the San Francisco scene in the 1960s, where he first rose to prominence in the counterculture as a cofounder of one of the nation’s very first alt-weeklies, the San Francisco Oracle. With friends like Dennis Hopper and Janis Joplin, Bowen later organized several prominent celebrations like the “Love Pageant Rally” and, most famously, the “Human Be-In,” a performance art “happening” attended by Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary that later gave rise to the “Summer Of Love” and thus the entire hippie movement. Bowen was also behind one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam protest: In 1967, he drove a carload of flowers to the Pentagon where “peaceniks” were in a standoff with armed military men, then distributed daisies to those front lines, many of whom then placed them in gun barrels. Bowen continued painting and etching right up until his death this week at the age of 71.

- Were it not for the guiding hand of John Weller, his son Paul likely never would have formed influential mod-punks The Jam—nor The Style Council, nor any other musical project. Weller’s father was unusually supportive of his son’s ambitions to be a rock star, buying him his first guitar at age 12, shuttling The Jam around to its gigs, financing its earliest demos, and eventually throwing himself wholeheartedly behind Paul by becoming his manager and making sure no one ever took advantage of him. (The Times has an amusing anecdote about Weller, taking exception to his slagging of a Style Council album, lifting the head of Polydor out of his chair and telling him, “You don’t speak about my son like that.”) After many loyal years and lucrative projects between them, John left Paul behind this week, dying at the age of 77.

- For nearly 20 years, Danny Gans was one of the most popular performers in Las Vegas, known for his quick impersonations of celebrities ranging from Al Pacino to Stevie Wonder  to Regis Philbin. Although never quite a household name away from the Strip, Gans was one of the city’s biggest draws, and was voted “Entertainer Of The Year” for 11 years in a row. Gans died in his sleep today at the age of 52; the cause of death has yet to be determined.

Have a super weekend!

[Friday Buzzkills will return May 15.]


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