Archive for April, 2010

In Defense of Ke$ha

April 21, 2010

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a fan of Ke$ha. I’ve heard Tik Tok, Blah Blah Blah and now Your Love Is My Drug, and while I’m not going to say she’s personally responsible for the death of music…

This weekend (April 17, 2010), she appeared on Saturday Night Live and her two odd-to-say-the-least performances has been met with near universal derision. Yet it might be the first thing from Ke$ha I’ve actually appreciated, and not just because she actually tried to sing. (Unsuccessfully but she did try.)

We’ve known from the start that Ke$ha can’t sing. Her songs are 90% autotune and she’s not even subtle about it. The songs themselves are not good either, even the massive hit Tik Tok (which is really about the hollowness of club life and how every drink you drink and every hour you spend in the tanning bed does not disguise the fact that you’re merely a placeholder for the next replaceable hot, young thing. Tick tock ladies. Your time is running out.)

Anyway, for anyone who’s followed Ke$ha’s meteoric rise to superstardom, she’s created a certain image for herself. A skanky lush. Our first impression of her in the video for Tik Tok is of a girl crawling out of a bathtub, completely wasted and presumably pumped full of male semen from a wide variety of donors. It’s how she rolls.

Then she goes to Saturday Night Live. Plenty of performers on SNL just stand on stage, crank out whatever bullshit dirge the record company wants to sell and get off to forced applause. If Ke$ha did that, no eyebrows would have been raised. I mean of course, people would have critiqued her terrible singing but it’s not like people would have asked “why isn’t she stumbling on stage, vomiting into a bucket and passing out after singing about pedicures on her toes-toes?”

Yet Ke$ha threw a complete curve ball at the audience. She created a bizarre stage show in which she created not just one but two whole new images. In her first performance (Tik Tok) she appears in some space-age aluminum jump suit with an American Flag cape showing her hitherto unknown patriotism. Her comically out-of-sync backup dancers were dressed as spacemen. Then, about halfway through this rendition of her major hit, she stops to posit the question “Did you ever think maybe we were the aliens?” Look at her rocking the Middle School Stoner Talk. Then, in her second performance (Your Love Is My Drug), she’s dancing around in Day-Glo body paint.

So what’s up with this massive change? One theory I’ve come up with is that she was so enthusiastic about Obama’s announcement that he wants to go to Mars that she was inspired in the same way that people in the 1960s must have been when Kennedy announced we were going to the moon and thus the two performances actually make up one story. Tik Tok was about America once again venturing beyond the stars hence the astronauts, futuristic space suits, and American flags everywhere. In Your Love Is My Drug, she represents the aliens that we meet on our travels through interpretative dance. It’s kind of like a musical version of Tracy Morgan’s Astronaut Jones.

That’s the only theory I have.

Like I said, I have to give credit to Ke$ha. She’s not a singer. We know that. She knows that. So at least she tried to figure out some way to entertain the audience. She didn’t stand there like a lump and awkwardly mumble her way through her songs, she didn’t a jig after getting busted for being a fraud on national television. She tried to sing, she actually performed and while this doesn’t make me a fan of Ke$ha (and I will continue to try to avoid her music like the plague it is), I can’t condemn her for trying to do something.

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Forgotten But Great Movie Characters: The Racist Joke Guys in Soul Man

April 6, 2010

Nineteen years after Sidney Poitier taught a decrepit Spencer Tracy (what? he was old) to accept interracial relationships based on the power of love and nineteen years before Ashton Kutcher taught Bernie Mac the same thing through a sing along and by ripping off Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Mark Pelfrey Watson taught all of us uptight white people a thing or two about race relations taught in the 1986 dual identity comedy classic Soul Man.

Background: Watson (C. Thomas Howell) is a rich white kid accepted to Harvard Law School but his rich whiteparents won’t help him pay his way. He can’t get loans or financial aid so he applies for the Henry Q. Bouchard Memorial Scholarship, which gives the best black Harvard law student from Los Angeles a full ride. But he’s not black?! What’s a plucky young go-getter to do? Watson takes some experimental tanning pills to change his skin color (which makes him look more grey-ish than black), dons a jheri curl (kind of) and during one semester (give or take) ends up learning a very important lesson about race and racial equality.

(about 37 seconds in)

While there were many classic characters in the movie- Ayre Gross’ sidekick/best-friend-to-Watson character Gordon Bloomfield, James Earl Jones’ James Earl Jones-ian Professor Banks, Melora Hardin’s trying-to-sleep-with-every-race-she-can Whitney Dunbar- the two stand-outs were fellow classmates Barky Brewer (Wallace Langham, later of Larry Sanders and CSI fame) and Booey Fraser (Eric Schiff, of Soul Man fame). From the first time Watson arrives on campus to the end of the first semester when grades are finally revealed (the end of the movie), every time we see Brewer and Fraser they are telling racist jokes. We see them several times and it’s always the same thing: they say pretty old, standard, vaudevillian even racist jokes (e.g. “There’s one thousand black guys and one white guy- what do you call the white guy? The warden!”), the supposedly black Watson overhears them, they see Watson and say “no offense.”

What makes them so fascinating is that the racist jokes are seemingly all they talk about; it might be the only thing they do. Several possibilities account for for this. One is that Watson just happens to walk by them at the worst possible moment. Another is that they’re just saying these jokes to screw with the kind of douchey Watson. Or, what we’re probably supposed to think, it actually is all that they talk about.

(used to illustrate a point, not to identify myself with Brewer and Fraser)

We all have a stock knowledge of off color jokes. If you say you don’t, you’re lying. You might not say them in pleasant company, you might not laugh at them, but you at least know some. That’s all I want you to admit. But can you imagine having a three month stable of old racial jokes? It’s not like the two law students are evolving the art of the joke, updating them to the new decade. We don’t see them making fun of any other minorities (to the best of my recollection). They’re not adding anything new to the black joke arsenal. The stamina required to repeatedly do zingers for even a couple of days is impressive by itself (you’d expect to be worn out after a few hours) but they do it for months. They must have put incredible amounts of research into pre-Civil War jokes books for material.

And for their bizarre obsession that was already years out of place in the mid-eighties, The Racist Joke Guys in Soul Man are Forgotten But Great movie characters.