DJ Spooky Witnesses a “Rebirth”

DJ Spooky Witnesses a “Rebirth” (photo)

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A prolific artist and writer, Paul D. Miller is still best known under his “constructed persona” as the experimental trip-hop musician DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid. Miller’s latest multimedia project could begin classifying him as a film director, sort of, as his “Rebirth of a Nation” is a feature-length remix of D. W. Griffith’s seminal yet blatantly racist 1915 Civil War epic “Birth of a Nation.” Applying a similar methodology to what he does as a sampling, manipulating DJ, Miller’s deconstruction of the original film has been hyper-colorized, with digital effects added, its previously silent soundtrack reinvented musically (aided by the Kronos Quartet) and politically (via Miller’s eloquent commentary running throughout). I spoke with DJ Spooky himself earlier this month to mix it up about the (former) white man’s world, who owns memory and why he wants to collaborate artistically with Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and Dubya himself.

Can you remember back to your first viewing of “Birth of a Nation,” and your initial reaction?

I saw it back in college. It was hard to take seriously: “What the hell is going on with this?” It’s usually taught [to be] looked at as a historical document. I went to a small school in Maine, Bowdoin College. We were in the middle of nowhere, so we had a lot of free time on our hands. I got a chance to do quite a bit of reading and watching crazy, quirky films. When I saw it in the ancient early ’90s, as a young plebe at Bowdoin, it was surreal. Here is this heavyweight film, but what’s all the controversy about? It seemed like a comedy show.

You’ve said that “Birth of a Nation” set the tone for the country. Is cinema so powerful that it could keep up a momentum of prejudice for several decades?

Absolutely. It’s funny, right now, [with the] Sonia Sotomayor nomination, the Republican right is frothing at the mouth. They’re saying she’s like the KKK without the hoods. It’s wildly hypocritical, saying she’s racist. [laughs] It doesn’t stop with the Republicans, they’re like characters straight out of “Birth of a Nation.” That was the first film to really show how deeply flawed elections are. It’s also the first film to show a black person getting elected to the highest office of the land, so the resonance with contemporary culture is very direct. I’m looking at Obama versus these Gingrich-types as an update of the similar narrative.

You can’t say “Birth of a Nation” set the tone without looking at what the actual tone was. [There was] the restructuring of American culture after the Civil War, and a century-plus of deep racial unease in the American psyche. If you look at the beginnings of American pop culture, it’s the minstrel show, whites in blackface caricatures, saying nonsensical stuff, but immensely popular. Whether it’s the Beastie Boys or the Rolling Stones, it’s still a similar narrative, just updated and remixed. I’m not saying these guys are KKK, but the idea is their appropriation of racial politics through this prism of entertainment and mass media.

06222009_RebirthofaNation.jpgMinorities are expected to be the U.S. majority by 2050, and Obama’s our chief executive. Is it still a white man’s world?

What is “white”? I think we need preservation. “Whiteness studies” is quite intriguing right now. [laughs] If you’re an American growing up, you’re going to be bombarded by hyper-multi-cultures: your family going to a Japanese restaurant, your mother doing yoga. The bigoted Archie Bunker stereotype, that’s pretty remote to most people, but the power and economic dynamics of whiteness are clearly defined. It’s the self-entitlement that Bush… he doesn’t represent all of white America, but [those] easily subdued by these breathtakingly incompetent idiots. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton. Bush graduated with a D-minus average. [laughs] But he was on cruise control. Nobody questioned his intellect, in the Republican camp at least. Maybe whiteness right now is about strange insecurities popping up, or neuroses about becoming a minority? Whites, on the planet, are a minority — the majority of the human species is Asian, then black and Latino.

I like your idea of the director as DJ, but with this project, I even see you as an essayist. I’d be curious to hear you expound on that idea, and what it means for future projects.

Most of my work is about this idea of looking at texts. I’m very interested in how we tell stories in the 21st century. Don’t forget, 2004 was the last major election cycle before YouTube. I really think that YouTube, if it had been around, would’ve changed the dynamic of how the Republicans [circulated] disinformation.

DJ culture is an amazing way of getting information out. It’s telling an underground narrative, something that says “You are the media generator.” You’re not receiving mass media, you’re producing it. That’s turned the whole media landscape on its head. You’re going to be seeing a lot more people pulling bits and pieces from the media, and making compelling statements from collage. It’s this blender of all the data around us.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.