Remember when Obama declared, “The cynics fail to understand that the ground has shifted beneath them,” and how everybody suddenly felt like our big momma bear had finally arrived to make everything better—to restore our national vision by licking us clean of all the eye-boogers of corruption? This week proved he wasn’t just being naïve: Liars are being tossed out of office, cheats are no longer being rewarded with hush-hush bonuses, and there’s a renewed sense of justice being restored to a society that had lately only seen that word attached to daytime TV shows that featured tough-lovin’ judges settling dry cleaning disputes. Maybe Obama was right about the earth moving after all—or then again, maybe it’s just split wide open to swallow thousands of jobs and homes, and all this housecleaning at the highest levels is too little too late to save a nation that made its bed long ago but never got around to lying in it. Oh, the cynics understand that the ground has shifted all right. We’re looking at the fault lines right now: They overlook the ever-widening chasm that is Friday Buzzkills.
- These days, even the biggest feel-good stories of the year have a dark and depressing side: Take the controversy surrounding Danny Boyle’s odds-on Oscar contender Slumdog Millionaire, the heartwarming tale of an Indian boy who escapes poverty without resorting to violence that has now been accused of exploiting poverty and instigating violence. Troubles began when the parents of the film’s two youngest stars, Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail, told reporters earlier this week that they felt as though their children had been underpaid for their work, and that since filming life had actually worsened for them: They still live in the “same tangle of makeshift shacks”—although Asharuddin’s family’s barely even had that once “illegal hut was demolished by the local authorities, and he now sleeps under a sheet of plastic tarpaulin with his father, who suffers from tuberculosis.” Boyle responded by pointing out that he had already arranged a plan to pay both actors “a substantial sum of money” when they reach 18, but only if they stay in school. Which is great, except all the media attention has made it impossible for them to attend school. Furthermore, even Boyle admits that by merely announcing the fact that they have a trust fund makes them a target of “gangsters who would take advantage of them immediately.” Oops.
But hey, at least he’s trying, right? After all, Boyle only wanted to tell a story, and maybe draw attention to and thus help improve conditions in certain parts of India, and set an uplifting example for the country itself. Except, uh, the country doesn’t want any part of it: In addition to well-below-average box-office reports, several organized protests have openly attacked the film, accusing it of reinforcing Western stereotypes and insulting citizens by using the term “slumdog”—which, as it turns out, isn’t even a familiar word to most Indians. Oops again. In fact, some have deemed it so offensive that they’re threatening to burn Boyle in effigy, and a police investigation has even been tasked to look into the matter to determine whether it “hurts the sentiments of slum-dwellers” (who are, apparently, nevertheless cool with being referred to as “slum-dwellers”). Um… Yikes. So it seems as though last year’s most inspiring film is inspiring some of this year’s angriest protests—and what’s worse is that merely by us talking about it (yes, even little old us), we vulturine journalists have put the young stars of the film in danger, as a Fox representative recently told Defamer that all the “unwarranted press attention” has forced them put the kids in flats that they’re paying for themselves—which in addition to the trust fund, practically makes them wards of the studio. That’s gonna work out great. Why not just go ahead and set an opening ransom right now?
Exploitation, racism, child endangerment… So much madness and we still haven’t even gotten to the worst part: All this negative attention at such a crucial time could end up giving Best Picture to The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, a relatively safe film whose only crime is exploiting the part of people’s brains that can’t remember Forrest Gump from the first time around.
- We understand if you somehow managed to avoid any discussion of this; after all, it’s but a far-flung foofaraw compared to this week’s biggest homegrown controversy. No, we’re not talking about Rod BlagMillaJovovich. We’re talking about the axis-tilting reveal of Jessica Simpson’s “new, fuller figure” which—like the existential-crisis-inducing discovery of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cellulite before it—set the Internet aflame with arguments over whether she could now be considered “fat,” answered by familiar debates as to whether even having such discussions is detrimental to women and endemic of our society’s chauvinistic disregard of real-world body types and blah blah blah. As with any sort of “scandal” involving a woman’s hips, seemingly everybody with a vagina and a BMI over 15 had to weigh in (get it?) with their own vituperative response—which is why Kim Kardashian took time out of her busy schedule of glancing coyly over her ass to tell People.com that she thinks Jessica “looks hot!” (See? Because Kardashian is also “curvy,” and curvaceous celebrities have to stick together. For the sake of all the little girls who might otherwise take up bulimia or whatever.) Even Simpson’s ex Nick Lachey actually got someone to write down what he said, which is that he “hopes she’s happy, whatever size she comes in.” Way to defend her honor by implicitly comparing her to a box of fries, dude. But the harshest critic of the critics was Jessica’s little sister Ashlee, who took to her MySpace soap box and put the “controversy” in the context of Barack Obama’s election, saying:
“I am completely disgusted by the headlines concerning my sister's weight. A week after the inauguration and with such a feeling of hope in the air for our country, I find it completely embarrassing and belittling to all women to read about a woman's weight or figure as a headline on Fox News.”
Ashlee’s right. Whither Camelot, y’all? We’re not sure we can stand to live in a world where female pop stars are judged by their looks. Isn’t it supposed to be about art? Not their art, per se… But you know, the art they get from other people? People who aren’t as pretty?
- Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there: The supposed new era of unity apparently hasn’t been embraced by the makers of New In Town, who—after spending months applying the proper shade of lip gloss and number of high-heeled mishaps to make sure their film “tugs at the ovary”—somehow overlooked that some people might find their film deeply offensive. No, not people who still can’t figure out why Renée Zellweger is allowed to star in movies. We’re talking about the entire state of Minnesota, decent citizens who are sick and tired of the condescending “you betcha” and “don’tchaknow” dialects forced upon them by filmmakers looking to paint the entire state as a collection of moose-hunting, tapioca-slurping Sarah Palins who speak solely in woodsy colloquialisms about gophers and whatnot. While most critics merely brushed the film off as the irritatingly formulaic fish-out-of-water, “what you need is the love of a good man” rom-com that it is, some were inspired to take more direct action—such as Associated Press reporter Christy Lemire, who actually urged the “good people of Minnesota” to “stand up! Fight back! Take back your state and your culture and your accent!” Of course, if anyone actually followed her lead, it would set a dangerous precedent. After all, where would comedy be without the stereotype? Then you’d have to rely on characterization and plot, and how the hell do you sell that in a 30-second trailer?
- Along with fat-bottomed girls and funny-talkin’ Midwesterners, this week proved yet again that homosexuals still have a long way to go before they’re treated as equals. How can you tell they’re in trouble? Because GLAAD apparently couldn’t find anyone to honor with their annual “excellence in media” award besides Tyra Banks, whose greatest contribution to the cause is that she makes women seem so insanely self-centered and emotionally unstable that it’s enough to make any man stop and weigh his options. What’s even sadder about this questionable coronation is that America’s Current Top Model For Why Our Culture Is Doomed is notorious for her backhanded social “experiments,” which attempt to empathize with marginalized groups (such as overweight women) by having Tyra treat them like walking cartoon characters—and her latest involves putting a hand-selected group of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals together in a room so she can “observe” them. Here’s where it gets particularly “fierce”: The editor of the Gay Socialites blog wrote this week that he was rejected by Tyra’s producers because they were “looking for someone who was a bit more ‘queeny’ to participate in Gay Town.” (Yes, it’s called “Gay Town.”) Solid choice, GLAAD, although we’re sure that Katy Perry and the guy who plays the swishy assistant on Ugly Betty were disappointed. Maybe next year!
- Or hey, maybe they could give it to Joey “Faustian bargain” Fatone, who recently entered the pantheon of all-time awkward red carpet moments (non-Gary Busey division) when he cornered Milk star James Franco at the SAG Awards and conducted a painfully stilted line of questioning that—besides a hee-larious semen joke—basically amounted to, “You played a homosexual. Wasn’t that weird, dude?” Click to bask in our era of enlightenment.
- The fact that Fatone is still granted the use of a microphone that is not secretly rigged up to squirt him in the face, just before it’s revealed that his stint on the red carpet has all been part of some elaborate episode of Punk’d, only goes to reaffirm something we’ve known for a long time: TV is officially out of ideas, randomly slapping shows together with spit and glue and hoping to piggyback them on an episode of House before anybody notices how awful they are. However, we were not aware that things were so dire that NBC would order 12 more episodes of answer-to-a-question-we-specifically-didn’t-ask laugh vacuum Howie Do It, or even think about reattempting a small-screen adaptation of the 1989 film Parenthood, a movie most notable for being Joaquin Phoenix’s first dalliance with public masturbation. Parenthood joins a Black Freighter-like raft of ’80s retreads headed your way that includes a TV version of The Witches Of Eastwick—meaning late, lamented author John Updike will have barely gotten comfortable in his grave before he’s forced to spin in it—and another live-action Masters Of The Universe film, a movie based on a cartoon that was initially created to sell action figures, which, according to Variety at least, is being revived explicitly to sell more action figures.
- But for the nadir of this whole “reimagining” trend, you need look no further than the The Story Of Bonnie And Clyde, a new reworking of the Depression-era gangsters’ story with Hilary Duff in the lead role. We cede the floor here to Faye Dunaway, star of the famous1967 version, who upon hearing the news exclaimed, “Couldn’t they at least cast a real actress?” (Ms. Dunaway: Clearly not a Lizzie McGuire watcher… Or then again, maybe she is.)
- Of course, it’s hard to blame our “artists” for being shy of taking risks (even though that’s ostensibly what artists are meant to do). After all, these are tough, uncertain times—an age where virtually every arm of the media is so covered in small, shallow cuts it’s like the people in charge are all freshman girls with self-esteem issues. (Ashlee was right!) The New York Times recently pointed out that television has even become so desperate for advertising, it’s actually giving up prime-time real estate to the likes of the Snuggie and other infomercial-grade fare, while The Wall Street Journal has been reduced to running full-page ads for Amish room heaters. Still, bemoan the withering of the gray ladies if you must, but at least this bodes well for people like 50 Cent, who might now be able to get his new side business selling dietary supplements in front of the eyes of someone besides groggy insomniacs wondering why Kevin Trudeau looks so angry. And hey, it’s not like Fiddy’s relentless selling out is any sort of harbinger that we’ve entered some sort of end time where all of our artists (however loosely defined) are forced to “sell out” just to make ends meet; after all, at this point he’s pretty much a month away from co-hosting a VH1 reality show where aging ’80s celebrities compete to see who can be more “gangsta.” (Concept copyright Friday Buzzkills.) No, we’ll know we’re really in trouble when we see… oh, I don’t know. Iggy Pop shilling for life insurance. But that would never happen!
- Okay, so maybe things really are that bad. As it turns out, not even love can conquer all—even when defies the odds and produces a bunch of sappy-sweet songs like The Swell Season’s supposedly star-crossed Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who announced this week that they had ended their cute/kinda creepy relationship. If a 37-year-old Irishman and his 19-year-old Czech girlfriend can’t make it work, what chance do the rest of us have?
- John Martyn was an innovative songwriter who came of age alongside contemporaries like Nick Drake, developing a years-ahead-of-its-time ambient, eerie style—thanks to his early adaptation of elements like tape loops and an Echoplex—that would inspire thousands of guitarists to experiment with delay pedals, and which later proved to be an influence on groups as diverse as U2 and Portishead. Although Martyn himself never garnered much of the limelight, he was a true musician’s musician, and his ’80s albums featured guest appearances from Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Phil Collins, while his former tourmate Eric Clapton was known to cover Martyn’s most famous song “May You Never.” His later years were marked by failing health: In 2003 his right leg was partially amputated after a cyst burst in his knee, and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he continued recording, collaborating with Paul Weller and Mavis Staples on his final studio album, 2004’s On The Cobbles, and performing live as recently as last year. Martyn died this week at the age of 60.
- One of the two remaining original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Powell survived the 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of most of his bandmates, sustaining severe facial lacerations in the process. The ordeal caused him to be born again, and he spent some years afterward playing in the Christian rock group Vision, but eventually rejoined a reassembled Skynyrd in 1987 for a tribute tour and remained with it for over two decades. Powell died this week at the age of 56; his passing leaves guitarist Gary Rossington as the only surviving member of the original band.
- As a publication that obviously gets a lot of mileage out of celebrity gossip, we owe a considerable debt to James Brady. The former editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Women’s Wear Daily, and New York played a crucial role in developing the machine of modern tabloid journalism by creating and writing the New York Post’s Page Six, which continues to traffic in the sort of quick soundbites and titillating tidbits that Brady seemingly inhaled like so much oxygen, then later working as a longtime columnist for Parade. The Emmy-winning (for his live interviews for CNBC and CBS) writer also authored five novels during his time on Earth, but his most lasting legacy is—for better or worse—creating a template for turning the minutiae of the rich and famous into a viable industry, and for that we’ll forever be grateful. (And slightly embarrassed.) Brady died this week at the age of 80.
Have a super weekend!