22 September 2009

Mad Men: A Renaissance of Respectability

In the last few months, you could not even walk you dog down the street without your neighbor stopping you and asking, "Hey buddy-you see the new "Mad Men" episode last night?" (that is to say, in 2009, you actually know your neighbors). The show is a complete pop culture phenomenon, putting the dinosauric and dying AMC network back on the map. Besides the stellar writing and wonderful performances from the entire cast, there is more to their success that cannot be measured in Emmys and Golden Globes. Like any period film or series, the imagery hearkens back to a time that no longer exists in this world; something fantastic that cannot be imitated or duplicated.

Yes the show is smart and sexy and incredibly styled, but the thing that is most captivating for audiences is the nostalgia it creates for something lost in our current culture, and that is the notion of respect. While the 1950s and early 1960s were a time for various degrees of oppression, it was also a time when a firm handshake between men meant something, when raising your voice in a professional setting was looked down upon, and most of all, when there was inherent faith in the good of man. Now, our culture has taken cover under a guise of "freedom of speech" and "freedom of expression" to mask our new-found affinity for brash behavior. There are only so many episodes of Jerry Springer or Flavor of Love/I Love New York that can be stomached before the realization hits that the easiest and cheapest way to garner attention in our society is to cause some heightened form of disrespect against another person. It is not to say that I haven't found some amusement from outlandish behavior on some of my favorite shows, but it is important to remember that that is fiction and should stay that way. Somewhere along the way, the primary social function became dysfunction, and standing our proverbial ground meant losing a common sense of decency in the process.

The first thing you learn when studying communication is that every part of our being is conveying some message at any given time of day-the way we speak, the way we write, and even the way we dress. In the Mad Men-era, showing up to work in a full suit was the standard, not the exception. My father, to this day, still travels in a suit, scarf, and trailings of his finest cologne wafting through the air. The fact that I do not currently travel in a suit confuses him about as much as Facebook does, but I completely understand his viewpoint of dressing well to convey a message of self-worth. Caring about one's appearance directly translates into the amount of respect one expects from themselves and others.

Now, who is to say a 22-year-old knows anything about the 1950s? Frankly, I don't even remember the Berlin Wall, and only have vague memories of the time my mother embarrassingly bought me a New Kids on the Block school folder, but I can wish for a time when general pleasantries were exchanged among familiar and unfamiliar folk alike. A recent article from LA Confidential stated, "One of Mad Men's proudest accomplishments is not only appealing to the older generation who is more familiar with the era, but also to a younger crowd who yearns to learn of it.'…for most of the people on the show there is a vicarious thrill to looking at these people who were glamorous and put together and have this really sexy way of being in the world,' [says lead actor Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper on the show]". At the same time, there should be little romanticizing of this time period, with it's open displays of sexism, racism, and homophobia, but when identifying some of the defining characteristics of the 1950s and early '60s, one cannot deny the prevalence of respectable behavior. Simply speaking, it was cool to be nice.

14 April 2008

Original Hip Hop: Outdated?

Rap music is, by it's very nature, a politically expressive art form. It was heavily influenced by negro spirituals and work songs of American slaves to reflect the contemporary movement of inner city youth. Now, two hip-hop artists, The Roots and Rhymefest, are set to release respectively their most political albums to date, tying in themes of the streets with those of a universal context. The Roots' Rising Down is an aggressive and frustrated record, highlighting the injustices of the judicial system and the sad state of hip hop today, which lacks inspired movement and a unified culture. Similarly, Kanye West-protégé Rhymefest is putting the final touches on El Che, a Che Guevera-inspired album about sacrifice and struggle. In terms of rap and hip hop culture, these are two of the most heavily anticipated albums of the year, but why aren't these previously mainstream acts getting any mainstream attention? One possibility is the emergence of ringtone rap, that is, rap music which is single and not album-driven, using simplified beats and annoyingly catchy choruses. The terminology was coined when it was realized that many of these effort-free songs were being bought and downloaded as cell phone ringtones (which in today's market can generate a lot of revenue for an artist). With two amazing, concept-driven albums on their way I wonder if there is room in this heavily saturated marketplace for this return-to-the-fundamentals type music or if the quick, money-making, bastardization of a vibrant culture is here to stay. This week, I posed this question to the blogosphere (which I have included below), commenting on a post by Cyrus of the blog "A Jogging Session With Cyrus", questioning if hip hop is really dead, and also Nah Right, a Complex Magazine blog which included a video of Rhymefest talking about the ideas and values behind his new album.

"Hip Hop Is Dead" (quite literally pictured at left)

Great post! I can see how much hip hop really means to you, literally pumping through your veins like the blood in your body. There needs to be more people like you, who will forever go down with the ship, even if it's sinking. You mention that you do not think hip hop is dead, but regretfully fading away. I don't know if you are aware, but The Roots and Rhymefest have new albums coming out in the next few months, and I, for one, consider them real hip hop. The new albums are gritty, intense, and tell stories about inner-city struggle, which is what I believe real hip hop is about. Do you consider this new music real or just another delineation from the golden era of the culture? It is true that no one today sounds like Run DMC or KRS-One, but even though the tone and the rhyme patterns have changed, I think some elements stay the same, don't you agree? Soulja Boy and Mims and all of those other ringtone rappers don't seem to appreciate the history of the culture they are representing, and maybe if they did they would not continue making soulless songs on Casio keyboards in their bedrooms. The problem with hip hop today is that, for many acts, there is true artistry missing, and without art there is no music-period. I have to disagree with you, though, when you say hip hop is dying or fading away, I just think it is misplaced and it is up to us to find it. It just takes some extensive looking, and everyone in the culture and the community must work together to reassert its dominance in the mainstream media. The worst part about the current trend is that we, the listeners, are doing nothing to stop this change. The only way hip hop will stay pure is if we work together to keep it alive. The essence of this music is the community, and if we work on that, the rest of the pieces will fall into place.

"Video: Rhymefest on his Album, El Che"

Rhymefest has a lot to say and I’m glad he’s saying it. This video is an inventive and effective way to not only get the word out about his new album, but inspire change in the hip hop community. ‘Fest says in the video, ” People criticize me…but what are YOU doing?” I was just thinking about how everybody is saying “hip hop is dead”, but no one is doing anything about it. Rhymefest offers a unique perspective and a gravitating personality which will make people stop and listen. I do somewhat agree, though, with the commenter “Jersey Spic” because it is true rappers have now abused the name of Che Guevara (pictured right) for a few years now. I wonder if many rappers even know who he is and the full extent of what he did in Argentina. I think Rhymefest is different, though, because not only was he named after the revolutionary, but he does not seem as one who takes on topics and issues lightly, especially concerning the amount of change he wishes to inspire. Do you think he is abusing the Che Guevara image and legacy like so many others, or do you think he is really genuine in his admiration and acknowledgment? I also wonder if you have any idea what he meant when he said “Hip hop is separated in two right now, I want to do something different”? In my best guess, the two subdivisions he is referring to are “conscious” hip hop (i.e. those with a message like Kanye West, Common, or Mos Def) and “party rap” like Mims, Soulja Boy, and Jibbs. So is he saying he does not want to be a part of conscious hip hop and carve another unique path, or does he want to stay on that “real” hip hop side? I am not exactly sure and I hope by the time his album drops he will have the answers. I would have liked to hear a few words from you, the author, on the video as well, but maybe simply posting the video was response enough. Rhymefest really is one of the most underrated lyricists of our generation, and even if he is never remembered for his music, I hope that is remembered for his contributions to the hip hop culture and the state of society at large.

06 April 2008

The British Are Coming: The Rise of The Female UK Invasion

The British Invasion of the 1960s was an important musical movement, giving America such great and timeless bands as The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones. That revolution was amazing for the American music scene, but only one female act successfully emerged from that time period--Dusty Springfield. Now, we are on the cusp of another UK explosion, which is less documented, but arguably even more important than the first. Last week, Leona Lewis was the first British woman to have a Number One single on the US Billboard Charts in over twenty years, making history and officially ushering in a new era of British hit makers in the United States. The achievement is laudable not only because they are successfully breaking into an extremely difficult (and fickle) American market, but also because many of these success stories are women of color. It may just seem like music is a short-term form of entertainment or something just to pass the time, but our culture is so saturated with the medium that, subconsciously, change must emerge, and with this diverse group of women currently making a name for themselves, the gender and racial barriers are slowly starting to disappear.

Senegalese rapper Myriam summed it up perfectly when she said, "You are a woman before you are an artist." Women have had to struggle in this industry to obtain a voice since the very beginning. With men controlling a vast majority of the business, it was difficult for women to get a word in edge-wise about their sound, look, or depiction in the media. "Images of women in music are still very chauvinistic." says Joyce Cobb, a music professor. "There is this emphasis on sexism and women have bought that idea. Women tend to feed into the fantasies of men, becoming nothing but sexual objects." For example, an artist like Christina Aguilera, who has an undeniable voice, is forced to skim down to her bare necessities to sell albums. She is not a unique example either-Britney Spears, Fergie, Mariah Carey and countless others have all used sex in some way to sell their music. In the past, it was always about sex and image first with female musicians and talent trailing at distant second, but over the years that archaic system has slowly begun to change, and women are now starting to be seen as strong, intelligent, and meaningful forces within the industry.

Amy Winehouse (pictured right) began leading the pack last year with the breakthrough album, Back To Black. Her voice was reminiscent of the 1950s girl groups, mixed with contemporary beats and rhythms that produced a fresh take on an old, successful standard. Undoubtedly the raven-haired singer's music brought fame and success, but her attitude and unique style made her a star. Winehouse's lyrics were very blunt, straight-forward, and sparked with a candor not often seen in women's music. To make it in the music industry she could not simply be soft and feminine, but strong and audacious like the boys. One music executive describes this take charge trend, stating, "In the '90s, we got into this whole 'lad' thing where men were going to be men again," he says, "but the girls got into that as well, and you sort of had the 'ladette.' The younger girls coming through have sort of emerged out of that kind of fearless, mouthy, post-Oasis, post-lad culture." Winehouse knew she had to physically take charge of her career, or someone else was going to do it for her.

The only thing working against Winehouse, though, is her very public battle with drug abuse. While I am not defending her actions, I do feel as though she has received harsher criticism on the matter than most men would. Equally-outspoken British chanteuse Lily Allen vented her frustrations, stating that "I don't think the press like young women doing well, or having fun. I mean, James Blunt goes out and gets on it and no one cares. We do that and it's all over the papers. It's sad. Those people who write for those gossip magazines, they're not even writers. They can't even punctuate." It is completely unfair, but one cannot forget that a double standard, in this industry and in society, still exists for women. If Winehouse wants to continue her success then she must realize that she is, right now, a very empowering singer. She is the leader of a new generation of British women, and to continue breaking down the cultural barriers between the US and the UK she must lead by example, keeping the focus on what is important- the music.

Winehouse received a lot of criticism for garnering success by performing typically black music, but regardless of the fact, it was talent mixed with her unique sense of style that made her famous, which is something all women (and honestly men as well) need in this fledgling industry right now. America is arguably the toughest critic in the world, holding up a strictly high standard for new acts, and if nothing special or different is being brought to the table then an artist will not even make it through the front door. In addition to Amy Winehouse, a new crop of singers from the UK are women of color. Leona Lewis, Estelle, Corinne Bailey Ray, and others have all achieved individual success in the American market with their music that transcends racial and musical boundaries. The fact that Leona Lewis (pictured left), a Londoner with humble beginnings who gained success on a British reality show, could have the most played record in the United States is astounding. Although extremely beautiful, this is one of only a few times where a singer's looks have taken a backseat to her talent, which is a testament to her and the close management of her image. While Winehouse opened the door for other Brits, and made a lot of positive strides, others also equally learn from her mistakes.

The fact of the matter is, the talent speaks for itself, and maybe the United States is finally beginning to open up and expand its cultural, color, and gender boundaries, recognizing that a good song is universal. American musical legends like Elvis and Johnny Cash achieved success by interpreting the music of other cultures, but very rarely has any sort of world music (i.e. music from other countries outside of the United States) been incorporated successfully into American music or penetrated the US market. The success of these singers lies in their ability to knock down these social limitations and unify them at the same time. Some may call the Female British Invasion a fad, but no one can deny that it is a step toward progress and tolerance, and I for one, take pride in this constantly changing and racially melding landscape.

28 March 2008

Exploring the Web: Related Sites of the BdBent Blog

When exploring the World Wide Web, I came across ten more sites that readers may enjoy. Each one takes a different stance on entertainment news, relaying the best information in their given subject matter, and also fulfilling the Webby and IMSA criteria. The first of which is Ain't It Cool News, a witty, no holds barred review of film and movie happenings. Combined with it's comic book-style layout and breaking news stories (though some may be deterred by its excessive use of exclamation points), Ain't It Cool stands out above and beyond all the other movie sites. Similarly, there is CHUD (an acronym for Cinematic Happenings Under Development), which directs its focus toward more macabre films, but has seemingly endless reviews of myriad movies. They boast their extensive message board which, though daunting, is incredibly fun and interactive. Equally interesting, but much sleeker than CHUD is Switchblade Comb, a blog devoted to indie music, movies, and comedy. With its beautiful design and minimalist approach, Switchblade's short posts bring light to little known gems from the far corners of the entertainment industry. Also writing for the indie crowd, but with a touch of mainstream culture, is the Any Given Tuesday blog over at SenBaltimore.com. The articles exhibit excellence in journalism and provide readers with a full and complete analysis of the latest entertainment news, particularly music. On the other hand, Arjan Writes, an extremely popular blog, chooses to draw attention to new and emerging music acts, as opposed to the mostly established ones in Any Given Tuesday. Arjan has been at the forefront of the sonic revolution, prominently featuring acts that are not in the mainstream yet, but very well could be in the near future. Constantly and consistently updated, it revels in its ability to be focused, innovative, and refreshing.

Inverse is another music blog, showcasing rap and hip hop culture. The content is passionate, thought-provoking, and features hip hop that is not about cars and diamond grills, but about social movement and powerful messages. The blog posts may be short, but they always bring new ideas to the table. Speaking of substance in entertainment, the site andPop advertises just that. Featuring the very best in bubblegum culture, the online magazine seeks to find the heart (and humor) in its seemingly shallow content. It has so much information pertaining to music, entertainment, technology, and gaming that there is something for everybody. Marketing Pop Culture is another interesting take on the industry, weighing the successes and failures of pop culture peddlers. It is probably one of the most compelling and intelligent critiques of the entertainment industry that I've ever seen, and the author, thankfully, does not shy away from controversial topics such as the war in Iraq or illegal file sharing. Controversy is not a foe of Truthdig either, a political blog of which I am particular proud because it was started by my beloved and world-renowned professor, Robert Scheer. This 2007 Webby Award-winning blog does not just speak about politics; it speaks about life and the issues that are important to our everyday lives. With over thirty years of journalistic experience behind it, Truthdig provides an honest and eye-opening account of the world. Finally, there is my favorite website, Nylonguys.com. Starting as a supplement to Nylon Magazine in 2005, the web-based appendage to the printed bimonthly highlights progressive movement in fashion, technology, and the entertainment industry. Cool and colorful, its forward-thinking photography (see above) pops off the page showcasing the already stellar articles. Their ability to think differently, but act globally is what sets this entertainment magazine apart from the rest.

10 March 2008

Disease Prevention: Integrating Television Storylines to Promote a Healthier Society

The age of the "After School Special" is over. As society grows and changes in new directions, television producers must think of innovative ways to implement socially conscious messages into their programming. With the success of telenovelas in Latin America and The Norman Lear Center's Hollywood, Health, and Society Program, using embedded storylines to promote health awareness has become more popular than ever.

For those who do not know, a telenovela is a limited-running television serial that was created and popularized in South America. The programs became so popular that South American health promotion and disease prevention agencies asked producers to implement storylines bringing awareness to issues affecting Latino communities. The results were positively staggering, and after running storylines on Alzheimer's Disease and adult literacy, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to their nearest health and literacy centers. With proof that the formula could work, American producers hoped to replicate this same success in the States.

Initially, health conscious programming began with youth-based shows like Saved By The Bell , that advised children against the perils of drugs and alcohol, but prime time programming like Friends used their immense popularity to promote issues like safe sex and STD testing. Even recently with the first American adapted telenovela, Ugly Betty (pictured left), the characters have made positive strides in the advancement of immigration reform and healthy body images by integrating those themes into their storylines.

Current Presidential candidate Barack Obama, despite not being an actor or television personality himself, has released a series of telenovelas hoping to garner Latino support in California. Obama recognizes that issue-embedded entertainment programming is a valuable tool, and creatively speaking, that puts him one step ahead of his competitors.

So why television? Why has this medium proved most effective for translating social content? Well, with the repetitious nature of T.V., viewers are able to develop parasocial relationships with characters over a long period of time. Christine Camilla, a researcher at West Connecticut State University, had this to say on the matter, "Depending on the amount of time spent watching, a [viewer] may create the illusion of friendship and or relationship to a television persona that in fact they have never met. Theorists have claimed that these relationships can in some cases be life changing and personality molding, but definitely life impacting." Constants in everyday life tend to shape who we are as individuals, so it is entirely possible for our world view to grow and change based on the type of programming we have available. With the rapid change in television shows and the increase of mind-numbing programming (like Flavor of Love on VH1 or Next on MTV), producers often feel they have a social responsibility to promote issues relevant to the current culture. Kristin Moran, from the University of San Diego, studied the impact of telenovelas saying that, "the largest portion of learning involving one’s adaptation to society takes place through such observational learning... especially when it comes to new experiences. If a teenager has little or no experience with an activity the observational learning from others becomes more important." Television programs provide a window to other ideas, values, or cultures that an individual may not otherwise be exposed to on a daily basis. Watching shows in which characters take the right course of action concerning a particular dilemma provide a visual reference point which viewers can refer back to in future situations.

The Norman Lear Center's Hollywood, Health & Society Project, was recently established to provide television executives with up-to-date medical research to incorporate into their health-based storylines. On the new ABC show Eli Stone, The HHSP worked in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control, and placed an information title card (pictured right) at the end of the closing credits, asking viewers to strongly consider the importance of childhood vaccinations and autism testing. On another ABC show, Guiding Light, one of the main characters contracted HIV, and the network subsequently set up a website to help answer viewer questions about the disease.

While all of the US intention is well and good, as of yet their integrated programming has not had as widespread of an affect on viewers as the Latin American telenovelas. This may due in part to the much larger selection of programming Americans have available, and if audience members are forced to split their attention between different shows it could mean less focus on education-entertainment. It may also be the way in which the shows are presented. If an episode becomes too didactic or preachy, American viewers especially are more likely to be turned off by that and change the channel.

Regardless, critics of the programming must realize that change cannot occur overnight. Since foreign programming does not translate easily into American markets, television networks must experiment with their shows to find the most effective method. We should not be so easy to dismiss this type of educational entertainment, because it is an unobtrusive, wide-reaching tool that may just save a person's life someday.

03 March 2008

Linkroll Overview: Bridging Society and Entertainment

This week I chose to focus on various resource materials (compiled on the left) which will help you obtain a better understanding of what exactly I hope to accomplish with this blog. In searching the Web, I discovered other sites that promote entertainment and/or social issues in some way. When I am creating a new post I use their content, which most certainly fill the criteria of the Webby and IMSA guidelines, as jumping off points, hoping that they will inspire some sort of new and interesting idea that I can further explore. The first of which is Beat Magazine, an Australian-based online entertainment magazine that adds a little spunk to current events. The bright and aesthetically appealing site excels in adding a human element to pop culture news. Likewise, TV Squad is a fun, interactive musing of current television programs. It gives a great recap of shows while the authors add in their two cents. The Hollywood Reporter is the go-to guide for anything relating to the business of Hollywood. Would you like to know how much money a studio is investing in a new movie or how good (or bad) the ratings were for your favorite television show? Well then this is your source. While the site does not come off very warm, it is not intended to be an editorial, and therefore does a fantastic job of relaying the facts of the entertainment industry. The New York Times Movie Index is also a great resource for film news. While some may argue that it has a liberal slant, it is fantastically organized, often focusing on films strong in content, as opposed to generic Hollywood blockbusters. Karma Jungle is one of the most interesting concept blogs I have ever come across. The author ponders how exactly does our social and entertainment footprint on the world affect us spiritually. Simple and sleek, it is content-rich and always fascinating. Along those same lines, Muse Free is a socio-political blog, critiquing the American value system with witty, thought-provoking jabs along the way. What this site lacks in design more than makes up for it in content. The tellingly-named Good Magazine is another political commentary, also analyzing human actions, but focusing on ways in which people can make positive changes in our world. While I feel the web page itself is cluttered, it is jam-packed with information and constantly updated. Also promoting good deeds is the Daniel Pearl Foundation, in memory of the journalist (pictured at right) slain in Afghanistan, created to inspire charitable works through media and music. If it is simply music news you are looking for, then Pitchfork Media is a wonderfully comprehensive resource of current music. The site layout is both bold and subdued, creating a community atmosphere through its blog-style articles. Last but certainly not least is my favorite organization, The Norman Lear Center for Entertainment. The blog on the site continues to carry out the center's message of promoting and advancing tolerance, democracy, and social change through entertainment. It is scholarly, well designed, and above all else-passionate-which is the essence of every great blog.

20 February 2008

Political Movies: The Emerging Trend of Politically Motivated Films

With the Academy Awards approaching this weekend, the whole world eagerly waits to see which pictures will be the nights big winners. This year is particularly notable, because never have the films been so richly colorful and politically charged. From Michael Moore's Sicko, a documentary on the United States' faulty health care system to Gone Baby Gone, a tale of corrupt police officers and the loose boundaries of morality, the films are direct responses to what is going on in today's society. One reason for the abundance of these films is most probably an inspiration from the current administration. As a society we are a safe enough distance from the September 11th attacks that we can begin to criticize exactly what truths we hold to be self-evident. There is a growing sentiment in the country that we can no longer blindly follow those that have been chosen to lead us. The films nominated this year ask audiences to think critically about the choices and decisions they make, because they are more important now then they ever have been.

Another reason for this boom is the growing shift between politics and entertainment. In the past, films about war and political conspiracy were controversial, but now filmmakers and activists realize that to spread their message, especially to the youth, they have to think creatively, and submerge these issues in creative mediums. The blog entry "Look On The Dark Side" by Ben Gold criticizes the lax attitude of the American people about torture in the Middle East while reviewing the new film, Taxi to the Dark Side. Also drumming up buzz is the new Sean Penn film, Milk, based on the life and times of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first gay city supervisor. It was not a subject I knew much about, but in researching it, and reading the article "We Can't Wait for Milk" by Nathaniel R. including quotes from various bloggers and authors, I realized that is it one that is still very relevant to our socio-political climate today. I have left comments on those blogs, which I have provided below, trying to find answers in the film industry's quest for social change.

"Look On The Dark Side"

Thank you, Mr. Gold, for your critique of the film "Taxi to the Dark Side of the Moon". I agree with Mr. Gibney in the sense that many of the issues facing our country are not just political issues, but personal issues as well. As American people we tend to have a superiority complex, and any sort of unjust treatment we practice is chalked up to "national security". We are so concerned with soldier US soldier deaths, but we never consider how many innocent Iraqis were killed at the hands of American soldiers. Those names and those faces never make the newspaper, and it is inspiring to see Gibney try to translate those stories onto film.

As of right now we are under such a dangerous leadership, and it makes you wonder who is the real terrorist in all of this. If we do not get the full story over here, I can only imagine what orders the soldiers must be getting. They enlisted in the armed forces to protect and defend, but on what scale? and to what cost?

It is interesting that the War in Iraq mirrors the Vietnam War in so many ways, but even over 30 years later, we still have not learned from our past mistakes.It is a war for nothing that affects everything. The only thing that I have some contention with is that it is almost unfair to expect so much from the American people, since we want to believe in our leadership so badly. We WANT to believe that they are fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness like it was established so many years ago. As citizens we must take an active role, but as people we want to believe that our appointed leaders are constantly fighting for good.

The film makes you wonder what exactly our reputation is in the rest of the world. I wonder if they fear death at the hands of a tyrannical government the same way we do. I can't help but notice the advertisement for "There Will Be Blood" further up on the page, because it seems almost apropos. There will be blood in this battle with Iraq, there HAS been blood, but at what cost? If anything, this film at the very least will make viewers think critically, and help paint a wider viewpoint of our current political climate. If it makes people ask questions, then it has done its job.

"We Can't Wait for Milk"


I can say that after seeing Into The Wild, I am excited to see Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch working together again. The life of Harvey Milk is such a fascinating story, one that I feel today's generation (which includes myself) has missed out on.

So much attention has been paid to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1970s that it is a nice change of pace to hear about the history of gay rights, which is just as much a part of our American history and framework as is anything else. Milk's life eerily mirrors our current political situation, with people being quieted and stifled simply for speaking out against the current system.

It is also goes to show that a person of a different color, creed, or sexual orientation can hold political office just as well as any former leader. We are deep in a national debate between Obama and Clinton, but when it really comes down to it, the color or the gender or religion has nothing to do with how they will hold office. Sure, their individual experiences will aid in their decision-making, most likely making them more compassionate leaders, but it has nothing to do with their abilities. What we do know, is that their election will bring a positive change to this country, one that will hopefully be read about more in the history books than Milk is now. As Milk said himself, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Hopefully, whoever wins this current election, will help open one more door.

It's a shame that Milk's assassin received the short sentence that he did, proving that then and even now, gays still have a lot of work to do to be considered equal citizens. There is still a lot of bigotry that exists, but as a straight man of color, I am just existed to see this movie so that it may open the gates of discussion and hopefully bring a more tolerant viewpoint to today's society. It is important to realize that this seemingly political story is deeply embedded in all of our personal histories, and it is time we finally get to see our past, so that we may grow and learn for our future.

10 February 2008

Jack Johnson Leading the Way: The Environmental Initiative in Music and Entertainment

Musician Jack Johnson has most notably been linked to his relaxing fireside melodies and surfer heritage, but now he can add one more attribute to that list: environmental entrepreneur. Last summer, Johnson and his team completed work on a fully solar-powered recording studio they called The Plastic Plant, which housed the complete production of his new album, Sleep Through The Static, released this week. Bamboo stalks create the floorboards and the walls are insulated with recycled blue jeans. During the building process there were no major mishaps or roadblocks. When asked about the productivity of the new studio, the only disparity Johnson (pictured left recording in the studio) could note is that, "it feels nice to use the solar-powered studio, but there’s no difference when you’re inside." The misconception is that converting to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle will be more expensive and time-consuming, but the limited funds of the indie-labeled, simple-living Johnson should help prove otherwise.

So far a relatively small number of entertainment sources have employed eco-friendly efforts, but those who have have seen incredible results already. The Philadelphia Eagles were the first major sports team to start a green initiative back in 2003, introducing solar panels and more trees and shrubbery to their home stadium (among other things), and a spokesperson for environmental organization GreenMark (which has since worked with the Eagles, professional football teams, and similar franchises) recently said that, "“If we do it right, [going green] should not cost any more money than it normally would,” continuing, “We can leverage commercial investments into green events the same way we’re doing elsewhere in sports because there’s a payback in the companies that want to align with us.” Meaning, companies that pay for normal advertising are willing (and probably more likely) to invest in a landmark and innovative idea. There is risk involved since this is setting precedent and no one knows for certain how great the financial reward will be, but there is risk in all aspects of business, and it is better to take that step in a positive direction that will help the environment instead of the negative trend of wasting energy that we have become accustomed to in the American society. Entertainment companies should not look at this change as a detriment, but as an asset since they will produce the same (or even better) quality product for equal or lesser value. As the concept becomes more widespread “Green building materials will become less expensive to produce and last longer,” the GreenMark spokesperson said, thereby essentially creating more bang for their buck.

Following L.E.E.D (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) regulations, creating more eco-friendly studios, stadiums, and venues would not only cost less to build, but less to run and maintain as well. L.E.E.D buildings use less energy and water, and for artists who are continually rushed to finish an album because of the high price of studio time can now begin to breathe a little easier and slow down the recording process. Record companies are already losing money due to illegal file-sharing, so the smart solution would be to cut as many unnecessary expenditures as possible so that the total loss is not as drastic as it has been. Another way to cut cost and benefit the environment is to continually support a transition to digital music as opposed to physical disc production. While it is not a perfect solution, it is easier, more technologically advanced, and cost effective as the price of printing discs and record store overhead are no longer necessary.

In terms of an entertainer's fan base, not only will they not lose fans due to their eco-conversion, but are more likely to gain an increasing number of supporters. On July 7, 2007 Former President Al Gore brought together 150 musical acts for Live Earth (pictured right), a benefit concert to raise awareness about global warming and the energy crisis. The event was broadcast to over 30 million people worldwide through television and online media, so not only was it an opportunity to raise awareness, but it was great promotion for all the artists and bands that participated. It exposed them to various new audiences and presented them as leaders in the global crusade against environmental abuse. While some say the event added to the problem, seeing as many artists took private jets to perform at the concerts, the overall good they were doing i raising awareness far outweighed the effects of their carbon emissions. Entertainment media like television and radio often forget how extremely powerful and persuasive they are. Instead of simply making artists like Justin Timberlake or Gwen Stefani pimp products for companies such as McDonald's or Hewlett-Packard, why not have them take on a fresh initiative while still working with those heavy investors? The New York Times reports that, "'McDonald's has been flailing for years because it's having trouble getting a handle on an authentic story for the company at a time when customers are looking for authenticity,' said David Altschul, president at Character, a consulting company in Portland, Ore., that specializes in creating and reviving brand characters." With the successes of the film An Inconvenient Truth and the aforementioned Live Earth, it would be in McDonald's and other corporation's best interest to join forces with the conservation effort. After the turmoil of the Bush administration, studies have shown that people want change, and it is up to world leaders (which includes entertainment media and other big corporations) to help facilitate those efforts.

In the end, Jack Johnson does not appear to be some tree-hugging health nut, but most likely a smart businessman and a concerned citizen of the world. We have the technology to change the way we use ad produce energy, but it is all a matter of who will take the first steps in the pursuit of change and progress. As Johnson stated, "It’s more just a thing of, 'Why not?' We got this new office, so why not put solar panels on the roof? Why not use recycled blue jeans for the insulation?" It may be difficult in the beginning given our dependence on oil and other carbon burning resources, but in the grand scheme of things it does not take a lot of effort to make a big change that is beneficial for both the on-going pursuit of capitalism and most importantly--Mother Earth.
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