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Announcement!

The fabulous Robin Jacks and I have started a new pop culture blog.  It is called The Mystery Diary. I will primarily be blogging there for the foreseeable future. I’m really excited about this, and expect new posts to go up much more frequently than they have here.  Check it out, and please adjust bookmarks, readers, subscriptions, etc.

 

Stuff may go up here occasionally, maybe videos and stuff.  But most of my pop culture critique-y stuff will be over there.

Jean Grae – Cookies or Comas Mixtape

It’s hard to believe it’s only been three years since Jeanius, Jean Grae’s last official album, was finally, finally released. We got to legitimately listen to the still-exciting “Intro” (some of us may have been listening to illegitimate leaked copies for awhile…) on which she raps “Jean, change your flow/No”. Now we have have Cookies or Comas, Grae’s DJ Drama-hosted mixtape, released in anticipation of this coming fall’s proper LP, Cake or Death. I have often thought of the Jeanius line while listening over the past few days, because on Cookies Grae changes up her flow on virtually every track.  It’s an impressive show of versatility, to say the least.  A great rapper for a very long time, on Cookies Grae sounds noticeably greater, jaw-droppingly great. Her always-fantastic lyrics have never been denser, sharper, or more hilarious, but her rapping itself sounds astoundingly effortless as she bobs and weaves through complex internal rhymes and tongue twisters. Her delivery is cool yet animated, and incredibly entertaining. She’s sometimes confrontational, sometimes goofy, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes all three at once, like on her freestyle over Kanye’s “Blame Game” beat on which she raps “I’m facing this February with less morals, Less normal, more Nellie Oleson, less Laura, Had it with explorations, less Dora” while vividly depicting the deterioration of a relationship. Yet Grae can just as easily tell cathartic tales of creative violence that leave promising (if  over-hyped and under-baked) children like Tyler the Creator far back in the dust of their own retreading, or contribute a breezy alphabet rap that’s equally concerned with history and blasphemy.  It’s not hyperbole to say that one can easily imagine Grae going toe to toe with Jay or Em or [insert your favorite rapper] and wiping the floor with them.

Grae hasn’t exactly set the bar low for herself on Cookies of Comas, what with appearances by Pharoahe Monch, Royce Da 5’9″, and frequent trader-of-guest-spots Talib Kweli. To say Grae holds her own with these highly respected rappers is an understatement. They all provide memorable verses, but this is the Jean Grae show, no mistake. Her personality and vision bring remarkable cohesion to Cookies, which hangs together better than most proper albums, despite a wider range of subject matter and tone than most rappers cover in their entire careers. Cookies is a thrilling rollercoaster ride, hurtling from song to song with controlled urgency. It’s a lot like Coney Island’s Cyclone actually: tossing riders around, leaving them bruised, confused, and possibly whiplashed, yet despite all warning signs never running off the tracks. With the possible exception of PJ Harvey’s eviscerating maybe-masterpiece Let England Shake, it is also the best album I’ve heard this year. And it’s a fucking mixtape. God knows what we’re in for with Cake or Death.

It is tempting to give over the rest of this post to quoting some of my many, many favorite lyrics, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. Suffice to say that my first listen through Cookies was my giddiest experience in recent memory, and genius hilarity piled on top of stabbing insight on top of joyous juxtaposition of syllables and concepts. I’d rather play you the mixtape and gesticulate like a moron than try to explain much more (yet) about why it’s so great. It’s obvious why it’s so great, just listen to it. You can! For FREE! No, really, legally, it’s supposed to be free, not in a property-is-theft way, in a Jean-wanted-it-that-way way. Right here!

After you download and listen to Cookies, you can go geek out over the lyrics over at Rap Genius, where they (with Jean’s explicit blessing and occasional awesome notes) have been annotating the album. I may have contributed a note or two or tens. What? You can do it too! In fact, please do.

Now Streaming on Netflix: Maid in Sweden

I guess I should put a Trigger Warning on this. This post will be about a 70’s sexploitation movie that has rape in it. A lot. So if that’s not what you want to read about today, or ever, skip this post.

Round about 2:15 am this morning, I found myself tiring of the Arrested Development marathon I’d instigated. I was unsleepy, and looking to prolong my Roku-induced comfy narcotic cocoon. This is how I came across Maid in Sweden, a 1971 “Romance” starring Playboy model and “Swedish sex bomb” Christina Lindberg that Netflix thought I might like. It looked hilariously dated and ridiculous. I was reminded of my misspent youth watching Troma and forgotten, heavily censored incoherencies of the ’70s on USA Up All Night. I missed Rhonda Shear.

Yes, perhaps Maid in Sweden was the perfect viewing choice for 2:15 am on a Saturday morning. Customer reviews had granted it an average of two stars. The secret to the doubling of the number of stars the film actually deserves is revealed right on the cover art:

Lindberg is very pretty. And, unlike many US productions not filmed in Sweden, she is as naked as promised through much of the film. Perhaps Maid in Sweden wouldn’t have been on Up All Night, actually. After cutting all the nudity, They’d be left with about 25 minutes of unbearable dance and ice skating montage sequences set to swingin’ sixties generarock. All the songs were by the same set of dudes you’ve never heard of, who weren’t even given the dignity of a one-off band name in the credits. Instead, there was a list of crappy songs and the explanation that they were “sung by [list of random dudes].” So I guess the instrumentation I’d heard was accomplished not by bass, guitar, drums, and occasional sitar, but human voices. This may be the single most amazing fact about Maid in Sweden, but I’m not sure. There’s some stiff competition (lol!)

Maid in Sweden concerns Inga, a naive teenage farm girl (really) played by Lindberg. Despite the title, she is at no point employed as a maid. She does, however, receive an invitation from her older sister, Greta, to visit Stockholm and stay at her groovy flat. Inga is very excited about this. She removes her shirt repeatedly in preparation for her arrival in the big city. The big city is fun times, but also confusing and scary for virginal Inga, as Greta Lives With Her Boyfriend. She also drinks, smokes pot, and Has Sex. Sometimes in view of Inga. I’m fine with the rest of it, but: EW. Come on, Greta, are you really going to invite your sister to travel all the way from your family farm just to traumatize her?

Well, yes. The film contains the minimal structural necessities of a coming-of-age flick, but is primarily a series of old school, soft core sex (and rape, more on that later!) scenes, interspersed with dreary montages and occasional stilted, superfluous dialogue. I probably should have muted it, the thing might have been more effective as a silent film. I found myself just resenting the oft- incomprehensible line readings of horrible dialogue. Not funny-horrible, boring horrible. The trailer gives you a pretty good sense of exactly what you’re in for:

Wait, I lied. The bad dialogue looks disproportionately amusing in the trailer.

But about the soft core scenes, which battle it out with Lindberg’s breasts themselves to be the film’s essential raison d’etre: does stuff like this even exist any more? Fairly graphic, full frontal (ladies only, all you see of the dudes is their butts. Which is fine, cuz these dudes are gross) sex scenes that contain no creativity or penetration, but otherwise are just flat-out porn. The film was almost charming in it’s anachronistic cliches, and its visible pubic hair, and far out “Sex is fun! Smoke pot! None of this makes any sense!” message.

Then it got all rapey.

Greta’s live in boyfriend is the immediately repellent Carsten. He was the creepy blond dude in the trailer, trying to get Inga to smoke pot because it’s “relaxing”. He is played by Krister Ekman. Greta is played by Monica Ekman. This raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions that I don’t wish to investigate. From the moment of her arrival, Carsten leers at Inga a lot, usually while “teasing” her in some mean spirited, borderline abusive manner. Inga gets gross glimpses into his sex life with her sister, and is I guess supposed to be both frightened and intrigued. It’s hard to tell, what with the lack of logic, writing, and acting. Needless to say, Inga’s psychology barely exists, let alone makes any sense. She begins having sexy rape nightmares, and thus discovers masturbation, which could be…fine. Sexploring rape fantasies in soft core could be okay, but this shit makes no sense. It has nothing to do with any human-like, real or fictional teenage girl’s fears and desires. It does have a lot to do with the targeted viewers’ desires to imagine raping attractive teenage girls, or watch others doing the same. This scene bugged me because we’re supposed to be seeing Inga’s fucking subconscious, but it has nothing to do with her as a subject. Neat trick, that. Comparatively speaking, though, I was actually not that horrified by the exploitative, poorly shot and edited nightmare/wet dream sequence, even with its nauseating kalidescope f/x and equations of drinking beer with inevitable attempted gang rape and forced lesbianism (really). That was, comparatively speaking, ok. At least it was somewhat novel.

What really creeped me out was when Inga is then actually, repeatedly raped. First by some D-bag friend of Carsten’s, with whom Carsten and Greta semi-explicably send her off into a date-rape trap. And after he rapes her, they start dating! Then the awfully edited young-love montages start up. So many minutes of decent grade film were lost to Inga and the rapist strolling around the countryside, making moon-eyes at one another, all set to that same interminable non-band’s ear-rotting abominations. I still have this one recurring theme (Inga’s?) stuck in my head. Not cuz it’s such a catchy ear worm, just because it was repeated so. Many. Times. I mean, I assume that’s the soundtrack to romantic montages, I fast forwarded. Inga and the rapist also have poorly shot (but seemingly consensual) sex a lot.

Eventually pervy Carsten ends up home alone with Inga, and gets the opportunity to spy on her taking an extra-foamy, slow-motion shower. As you might expect, he eventually bursts in and rapes her. Greta comes home and catches them in the act (in which, at this point, Inga has apparently become an enthusiastic participant, natch.) Greta is sad and Inga goes home, no longer a girl, not yet a woman. Actually, by this film’s logic, I guess she is a woman.

As Whoopi Goldberg might say, of course none of this is “rape-rape”! Partway through each assault, Inga suddenly stops fighting and yelling “No! Stop!”, and starts groping some skeezy Swedish dudes ass while appearing to enjoy herself. The film equates rape with sex, there is just no distinction. I mean, these rapists aren’t even “troubled” or naughty (well, Carsten is, but he was cheating on his gf by raping her sister!) they’re just doing what needs to be done for everyone to loosen up and have a good time. Inga’s initial rape is portrayed not only as not-terrible, but as the greatest thing that’s ever happened in her life. It’s her big sexual awakening, and this isn’t The Story of O here, folks, this is a good old, all-American, Swedish sexploitation romp. Rape was just the necessary way for any two people to have sex for the first time back in the 70’s, at least in Sweden, did you know? Historic, geographical sex fact! It always ended up being a great time for everyone, so no harm, no foul. It’s not even sexist, cuz ladies can be rapists, too! [see: rape nightmare/wet dream sequence]. But they can only assault other ladies, of course. Men can’t be sexually violated, silly!

The message is basically a patriarchal twist on “all sex is rape” + rapists know best. It is, to put it mildly, an abominable message.

Fantasy themes of rape in porn, soft core or otherwise, are theoretically fine in and of themselves. But this shit was gross in its pandering to, reinforcing, and celebrating of horrible hegemonic myths of women’s inherent lack of sexual agency. While feminist and other liberatory movements have made cultural inroads, clarifying the difference between sex and rape, a scary number of people still believe that ladies are all naturally submissive and actually want to be raped even, if they don’t realize and need to be raped-in to it. Lots of people, probably mostly dudes, fail to understand that while plenty of people of all genders can ethically and healthfully enjoy role play or fantasy involving “rape”, actual rape is actually, always, completely wrong and horrifically damaging. It continues to confuse and fascinate me that an adult human being could not comprehend that fantasizing about about rape or happily choosing to engage in submissive scenarios is kind of the opposite of being sexually assaulted. If you have fantasies, they are your fantasies, if you choose to be submissive, you’re (hopefully) making a choice based on your own desires. That’s empowering. Actual rape takes away your choice, is actively opposed to your desires, and is, by definition, always, a violent and violating act. I can’t believe I just had to type that out. But this is what its come to with Maid in Sweden.

At least there are more and louder voices in the mainstream explaining what should be obvious truths than there were in 1971. I wonder how this film was received in its time. The whole sex/rape/fantasy/reality confusion thing was such a disaster then. I mean, at least now you might have to go to a frat house to hear the kind of blatant “Yay-rape, it’s not so bad, why not just try to enjoy it?” talk that used to be all the rage amongst supposedly leftist, activisty dudes [perhaps I should do a future “Now Streaming on Netflix” about Fritz the Cat, I’ll have to check if its still streaming]. To hear that shit now you have to go all the way to…Whoopi Goldberg on The View. IDK, you guys, maybe I’m off, but making “tasteful” (yes, my internet research has, mortifyingly, turned up usage of that adjective in reference to this rapeathon) soft core rape-porn in 1971 seems even scarier than if there was something like this on cable today. Maybe just because its so dated and corny that it’s hard to imagine creepy guys looking at it as an instruction manual (they have actual, modern, un-kitchy manuals now. God, I’m depressing myself.) But at least now, some of Maid in Sweden‘s fans point out that one should not take the rape-turns-to-fun message seriously, or as anything other than a fantasy. Well, one person said something like that. Perhaps more typical was the position this IMDB reviewer/Maid in Sweden fan took:

Inga gets exposed to sexual pleasure during a rape scene, which I’m sure many will object to. She’s being raped but half way through she realizes that sex is something good and I’m sure some might see this as sexist or even worse but I don’t think any deep messages where trying to be send with the scene

Now that we’ve got that clarified, let me treat you to a non sequitur: though IMDB has no record of this, I recall seeing a credit given in the opening sequence to “Mike Hunt”. Also, as IMBD has archived, director Dan Wolman chose the nom de filme “Floch Johnson” for this project.

Despite the fact that Lindberg doesn’t really do much acting in this, she has a nice screen presence and photographs amazingly in the parts where the camera was operated properly. It is true that she is very hot. I can’t really blame anyone for wanting to look at her boobs. There are worse things to build a movie around than giving viewers the opportunity to do this. BUT: said movie didn’t have to be as wretched, creepy, and hateful as Maid in Sweden. It’s a fucked up movie. I watched it so you don’t have to.

If I’ve somehow stoked your curiousity, be prepared to employ your >> button. It’s boringer than I’ve probably made it sound.

A Few Words on George W. Bush Caring About Black People

You’ve probably read parts of Matt Lauer’s amazing interview with our former president by now. To recap:

“[Kanye West] called me a racist,” Bush tells Lauer. “And I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, ‘I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘This man’s a racist.’ I resent it, it’s not true.”

Lauer quotes from Bush’s new book: “Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust.” Lauer adds, “You go on: ‘I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low.’

President Bush responds: “Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt ‘em when I heard ‘em, felt ‘em when I wrote ‘em and I felt ‘em when I’m listening to ‘em.

Lauer: “You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?”

Bush: “Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And it was a disgusting moment.”

Lauer: “I wonder if some people are going to read that, now that you’ve written it, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this — “

Bush [interrupting]: “Don’t care.”

Lauer: “Well, here’s the reason. You’re not saying that the worst moment in you’re Presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.”

Bush: “No, and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple.”

…and we have particularly hellacious bingo.

Where do we even begin? That Bush has the gall to call Kanye’s remarks “disgusting”, an adjective he does not apply to his budget cuts, which ended necessary work on levees, leaving New Orleans vulnerable. Or the budget cuts to FEMA that halted planning for hurracaine preparedness in New Orleans. Or his buddy-buddy rich white guy network appointment of the completely unqualified Michael Brown to head FEMA. Or his own well documented inaction while a US city was being destroyed.

Dear Bush, you were the president of the United States. We care about how you behaved in that capacity. We don’t care what you feel in your heart of hearts, or the innermost thoughts you may murmur to Laura as you drift off to sleepytime. Maybe, deep down, you were thinking “How did my caring-a lot-about-black-people self ever end up enacting policies that disproportionatly harm the very people I care about so much? I am bursting with pain and empathy for the countless suffering people I could have made markedly safer, but didn’t because it was politically expedient to sell them down the river. My god, the death and destruction in New Orleans will haunt me for the rest of my life.” Actually, no, I’m sure your head has consistently been way too far up your own ass to ever think anything like that, but even if you had, it hardly matters. What matters is what you did.

Through his immoral budget cuts, negligent nepotism, and woeful inaction, George W. Bush is directly responsible for the deaths of a whole lot of black people, and the horrible suffering of many more. His priorities were things like his bullshit wars, his cronies, and making sure he beat every other US president ever for most vacation time while in office. Black people–in general, and in New Orleans specifically, here– were not his priority. It might even be fair to say…he didn’t care about them?

Yet Bush really resents that Kanye effectively called him “a racist” because “that’s not true”. And we know it’s not true because Bush said it’s not true and, well, who knows the man better than himself? Just like all the asshole bloggers and trolls who brilliantly deflects analysis of the racism in what they type, and thus invalidate all criticism from anyone attempting to tar them with the r-word, because they’re not racist. Why? Because they said so.

After all, just like the countless PC police officers on the internet who just wanna make racism arrests by manufacturing the appearance of racism where it totally wasn’t at all, Matt Lauer is apparently manipulating the audience and twisting Bush’s words by reading them exactly as written, in context. He said Kanye’s dis was the lowest point in his presidency? Well, while “lowest” may mean that there were no lower points–ie Katrina itself, 9/11, etc etc etc–it does not mean that really, because he cared about those things also! A lot! Stop saying “but not as much”, stupid lying liberal media tricking the folks at home with heathen, basic logic! He cares because he says he cares! Political leaders should be judged based solely on what he says, no fair judging based on what they actually do! Mean!

I love how Bush sees an apt criticism of his murderous mismanagement primarily as a chance to whine about his own perceived victimization. Poor widdle W. Very presidential. Also very much like how a whole lot of people–very often (though by no means exclusively) privileged white men–deal with criticism of racist things they did or said. Turn it into a personal issue. Not an issue worth discussing because their words or actions perpetuate racist ideology and systemic racism, which affect actual people in the real world. You know, that world that’s outside of their own racist ass.

Activists protest slaughtering of Canada geese in front of Bloomberg’s mansion

On August 9th, Friends of Animals organized a spirited demo protesting city plans to kill more geese, right across the street from Chez Bloomberg. I went over to check it out, and chatted with some friendly people. I didn’t actually join the demo because I felt underinformed and a little weird about standing amongst signs decrying the “animal holocaust”. Not that these same thoughts hadn’t already gone through my mind–I mean, they did round up the geese and gas them to death, for god’s sake–but I tend to oppose citing the holocaust for shock value when making an animal rights point. Or any activisty point.

I’m glad they were there, though.

If you want to tell Bloomberg’s office how you feel regarding geese killing you can:

Call the Mayor’s office at 311 (in NYC)
Call 212-NEW-YORK.
Fax a message: 212-788-8123.
Email the Mayor.

While you’re at it, the man does deserve a thumbs up (for once) for his support of Park 51. Its worth voicing your support in the face of so much opposition.

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Good Things This Week

The Power Remix dropped. I love it. I’ve listened to it countless times. I wish Kanye didn’t regress to “don’t put out? I’ll put you out!” style misogynylol at the very end, but annoyance is somewhat ameliorated by how nice it is to hear what a good rapper he has become.

Seriously. Let’s talk about this now, because I don’t think I ever wrote a blog post about my fucking anger at how many times The College Dropout made best of the aughts lists over Kanye’s later albums, or was referred to as Kanye’s breakthrough-and-best. It’s not. It’s just not. If it’s your favorite, fine, and it’s a really good album and has its specific charms, but Late Registration and definitely Graduation (and, because I’m feeling bitchy, I’m going to argue 808s and Heartbreak as well, even) are all better albums. Kanye’s songwriting keeps getting better, his production keeps getting more ambitious and he keeps pulling it off. The most striking thing to me is his rapping, it keeps improving by leaps and bounds. On TCD I liked him as an emcee, which went a long way, but his rapping was only okay. Now he has verses that are better than Jay-Z’s when they go head to head on a song. What is that? His rhymes are better and more versatile, his flow has become a distinct, serious weapon, and he keeps switching it up. It’s something. It’s pretty inspiring, really, the man keeps pushing himself as an artist in the way few who taste pop success with what could be formulaized do. He could have become College Dropout kitsch, but he keeps moving forward in accordance with the artistic waves that seem to genuinely inspire him. I wish that Gaga/West tour would happen now. Or, better yet, a West/M.I.A. tour, the Hated On tour. It would be great.

Anyway, apart from the brief sexist detour, the song is just great. Really. Five mics. I wonder if all those pics of Kanye and Swizz and Mos Def in the studio were a fakeout, as I didn’t hear anything about Jay being on the track ’til I actually heard the song. It’ll be nice if Mos is on something on the new album, though.

Seriously though, I’ve listened t the thing like ten times today. It makes me feel so much better.

-If I weren’t listening to the Power Remix so much, I’d probably listen to this more:

It’s Jean Grae on a 2001 Mr. Len album called Pity the Fool. Matador put it out; I guess something went sour there because on Jean Grae’s own excellent solo debut, Attack of the Attacking Things, she has a track called “Knock” on which she wishes “a big ‘fuck you’ to bitch Chris Lombardi at Matador”.

Here is some sort of fairly official looking video, though Jean Grae is not in it, It’s also not the full 9 minute song, which is very worth hearing in its entirety. But, if you’re interested: