Critical Hit!!

pop culture (and everything else) explored

4 Reasons to Bike to Work

Originally posted on THE WMEAC BLOG:

The percentage of Americans who bike to work has increased 60 percent over the last decade. And while their commute is a little longer than before, this new fleet of bikers is finding that adding a few minutes to their morning commute pays off. Here’s 4 reasons why you should join them:

Biking keeps you in shape

You don’t have much free time penciled into your busy schedule, so spending an hour or two of it in the gym is a big sacrifice. And let’s be honest: if you have to choose between watching the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” and doing a cardio workout, there’s really no competition. But if you bike to and from work, you get two cardio workouts built into your schedule every day. And you do it without giving up any “Game of Thrones” time. Biking is a great way to stay fit

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STRIPPED!

STRIPPED documenary

STRIPPED is a documentary made by fanboys, for fanboys. The film explores the digital expansion of comics as a result of the death of newspapers. Unfortunately, viewers with the most rudimentary understanding of the comics industry won’t gain much from this documentary except hype. It’s a love that binds most of the documentary from any kind of critical evaluation. That is the doc’s deepest flaw: it never looks deeper into the industry it loves to give to the audience a substantive overview of comics aside from a brief historical trends.

So much of it could be condensed that it’s hard not to write fo the film as a waste for time. For instance, a segment about how “web comics work,” while entertaining, ultimately pads the running time by insert faux 8-bit gameplay to illustrate the web comic industry. (It also intersects into capitalist consumption of identity, which I wrote about earlier.) Another segment that plays around with an expository section presents the sheer exploitative nature of the comic strip industry, but fails to make any sort of criticism. It limps leaves the viewer to make the connection, because after all, no comic creator is going to criticism the system if it means their job is on the line. The over reliance of talking heads invested in the very system being discussed leads to no critical backbone to the entire piece.

STRIPPED’s lack of depth also arises from its own confused purpose. The film widens its breadth and attempts a basic introduction to the world of newspaper strips, accessible for anyone. This is partly the reason why it lacks any depth into the material. It explores the very basics of comics, much of which any casual comic reader would already know.

Some of the only concrete things I learned from this film include:

  1. Many popular cartoonists have become managers of their product rather than artists.
  2. The mass exploitation of cartoonists. In terms of newspaper print, half of their profits go to their managers who work with newspaper publishing.
  3. Some of cartoon’s origins in illuminated manuscripts of encyclopedias and the like.
  4. Garfield was popular enough in the 80s to have his own American Express commercial.

This lack of substantive material is more disappointing considering the majority of viewers for this documentary are already comic fans who know this material well. The film’s purpose is adrift: it posits itself as an accessible doc for any person, yet lavishes affection for all the creators that will people the fanboy audiences (who won’t gain much else from the entire doc.) In addition to the doc’s lack of scope, his uncontrolled passion for the medium drains the film of substance as well.

The filmmakers worship at the alter of popular cartoonists, regardless of their artistic merit. Unbalanced screen time, with a peculiar long interview with Greg Evans (Luann) It seems he’s the only one capable of explaining the death of print affecting the comic industry. Meanwhile, creators like Jim Davis (Garfield) or Mort Walker (Beetle BaileyHi & Lois), who haven’t picked up a pencil in years (instead managing their business brand), get screen time merely for being popular.

A brief audio clip of Bill Watterson is given the utmost reverence, preceded with a length explanation of who he is and why it’s so important he’s actually giving an interview. Of course, the real reason everyone is so crazy about Watterson is that Calvin and Hobbes was the last comic strip everyone liked. In terms of newspaper print, nothing has received the universal love and acclaim ever since.

STRIPPED interviews

From the STRIPPED website.

Dear Mr. Watterson is a similar documentary that fawns over the comic medium more that it elucidates. The beginning remarks of The New York Times review notes the compounding problem of lack of scope and overwhelming passion:

It’s not entirely clear what documentaries larded with fawning testimonials aim to achieve. A professional seal of approval for the cautious? Reassurance for fans secretly gnawed by doubt? Peer pressure?

STRIPPED doesn’t know either. All it does know is its own admiration for the medium of comics. It lauds any creator, whether a genius of a hack, in its gushing romanticism of the comic art form, ultimately failing to elucidate much of anything.

Racism, Sexism in Taylor Swift Video “Shake it off”

Shake it off Taylor swift music video

Taylor Swift’s newest single is “Shake if Off,” about shaking off any vapid criticisms.The new video highlights this through all sorts of dancing. From ballet, to street, to color guard, all sorts of talented individuals ‘shake it off’ with the klutzy Swift. She plays herself up as the butt of the joke through her lack of dance skill, not fitting in any crowd until she stops acting and dances freestyle with her fans in the end. One segment is notably different however, where black backup dancers dressed in stereotypical hip hop outfits shake their asses, while Swift acts scandalized. A New York Times opinion likens Swift’s reaction to a dismissal of the entire trope, noting other black dancers featured through the video. This does not counteract the fact that the faces of these particularly racialized women (included ‘white trash’ coded women) are rarely seen. They do not break the hip hop stereotyped images they represent as objectified bodies.

Swift is getting criticism for this video, which isn’t surprising, especially when the video cover art is this:

taylor swift shake it off

Lily Allen received similar criticism with her video for “Hard Out Here.” While that song’s lyrics explicitly prods at the patriarchy and sexism, the video still exhibits black bodies in incredibly objectifying poses. Notably, Allen remains in a less revealing outfit, while the rest of the black women dancers are in much more explicit clothing. The dances all pour champagne on themselves while slapping each others asses. The video blurs the lines between portrayal and parody, and ultimately undermines its  ‘progressive’ message.

Swift’s song is analogous: while its stakes are much lower in terms of lyrical and video content, it’s caught between portrayal and parody. Swift and the music video production staff probably had good intentions, but unfortunately, this video is another strike against black female bodies.

Muzak Kollection: “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago

A new series introduced here, The Muzak Kollection will examine those Muzak hits that surround us everywhere we go. 

This is the model for the dregs of Muzak. It aces every criteria: mid-tempo, middle of the road, clean content, and a focus on mids and highs. In this case, it’s Peter Cetera’s voice surfing over a deluge of soapy synths.

Cotton candy has more substance than this song. It’s grandiose clichéd lyrics are so vague and uninspiring (ha) that the song could easily pass as a CCM track. Just remove the few lines of romance, and replace them with some CCM tropes. It’s easy.

Chicago didn’t always peddled in such sweet nothings. An underground mainstay of the 70s, Chicago began to hit it big when partnered with writer/producer David Foster, who pushed for more power ballads for frontman Cetera. In 1984, Chicago XVII debuted and later became their best-selling album, with “You’re the Inspiration” a top 5 hit. It was popular enough that Cetera left the band for his own solo career to spread ever more dreck. Thus “You’re the Inspiration” is not just the symbol of awful Muzak, but an important nexus of all the bad synth power balladry of Peter Cetera. It’s monstrous beast if there ever was one, and one of the all time worst.

Next time, we lighten up a bit with Phil Collins’ cover of “Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes.

Intro to New Series: The Muzak Kollection

I hear a lot of Muzak at my current job. I found it curious at first, but haven’t followed up on my thoughts about it for now. Muzak is omnipresent, yet unrecognized. It is everywhere, and influences us whether we realize it or not. Here are the main features of most Muzak songs:

  • Mid-tempo: Mid-tempo is key to keeping customers strolling through the stores at a leisurely pace. Too energetic, and customers will respond accordingly.
  • Middle of the Road: Pop/rock accessible to anyone and everyone, with no alienation save for those disillusioned with the man, man.
  • Squeaky clean content: Nary a innuendo or cuss word to be found.
  • Emphasis on mids and highs: Store speakers are not made for music. Songs with less focus on bass and more on vocals are typical.

This is the recipe for the banality that is Muzak. What fascinate me is how songs arrive in this infamous pantheon, and motivates me to write about them. Each entry in my new series with examine the songs’ context, how they fit into the standard Muzak traits, evaluate whether or not they’re actually good.

We’ll start tomorrow with the white whale, Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration”

 

 

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