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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.