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Reality versus mantras: Common, Larry Gatlin and The White House

Reality versus mantras: Common, Larry Gatlin and The White House (photo)

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As of yesterday, conservatives were on attack about Michelle Obama’s invitation of the svelte-and-sexual rapper Common to a poetry reading at the White House. Ostensibly bored with its own content and mimetic design, Huffington Post’s conservative counterpart, The Daily Caller, went looking for a most-readily decontextualized piece of Common’s backstory. In a segment recorded for Def Poetry, he defends Kobe and the King of Pop and suggests burning a Bush of the presidential variety. The piece was such political fodder that even Sarah Palin managed to fire off 25 thoughtful characters about the situation, via Twitter: “Oh lovely, White House…” Fox News, of course, diligently covered the story; the White House retrenched, sort of.

It’s easy to launch racism charges at the right’s criticism of Common, but that’s problematic for two reasons: First, we’re betting black country star Darius Rucker wouldn’t get the same treatment from Palin and her pals; after all, we don’t remember any stump speeches about Common’s Gap or Zune commercials. Those are good for the economy. Rather, what the right seems to be attacking here is the honesty and complexity–really, the thoughtfulness, in spite of or maybe because of its pop-culture accessibility–found in Common’s work. When Common raps on record or offers a rhyme tonight at the White House, he’s offering his view of the world. If that means he’s complaining about the woman who came home with him from the club just to watch movies and fall asleep or extoling each of the lessons he’s gleaned from reading the texts of history’s dominant religions, the worldview offered in his discography seems real and developed. Sure, Common has said things over the last two decades that might irk a lot of people, whether that be through his songs about sex or his sociopolitical stances. But his career has been defined by writing about more than one thing, more than just liking orgasms or not liking the president. The right seems scared of a voice that’s offering its mind’s full view–a complicated view of reality, no matter who it might offend.

Personally, I’m offended for related reasons by “Americans, That’s Who,” a single issued earlier this week by the country-gospel group Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. In a Monday press release, Gatlin, who won a Grammy for “Broken Lady” back in 1977, had this to say about the glossy country dross: “We’ve known for some time that it would take a groundbreaking, monumental event for us to release this single to radio. The death of Osama bin Laden meets those qualifications. We would like to send a very special ‘thank you’ to the members of SEAL TEAM SIX and all of the brave American men and women in uniform who risk their lives to keep us free. Who are these good people? AMERICANS, THAT’S WHO!”

Let’s forgive the fact that Gatlin, always one for a gathering of arms, is trying to cash in on someone dying and pay attention to what he’s saying. The three-minute tune essentially lists all the things he thinks that American citizens and soldiers have done for victimized people in foreign lands. For Gatlin, the list includes feeding, clothing and housing poor people. Soldiers have freed folks and expanded democracy while leaving families for possible death overseas, all for freedom of speech. Somehow, though, Gatlin also takes a jab at the effete American media, singing that you won’t read about these beneficent efforts in the paper, though he’s certain that they’re true. Go ahead, Common, and consider the irony.

The tune ends with a full minute of harmonizing of both the title phrase and “Glory, glory, Hallelujah,” lifted, of course, from an old spiritual and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” No where is there any hint of the mistakes we might have made or continue to make as a country; for Gatlin, we’re all good, all the time. Too stupid and stilted to be a Trey Parker and Matt Stone satire, “Americans, That’s Who” presents a reality that’s so mitigated–or, really in Gatlin’s case, made-up altogether–it isn’t even expression. It’s a Hallmark greeting card version of a complex national identity, with the sort of sloganeering that, come campaign time, is scary.

The left, then, shouldn’t be surprised into reaction by the right’s condemnation of Common; it’s nothing more than the standard treatment the liberal media gets for not adhering to the Fox News cycle. Rather, it should be concerned that a song like “Americans, That’s Who” could ever be taken seriously, that it could be a single worth selling and singing. There’s nothing more motivational than a mantra.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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