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Busy, busy, busy. So much to do, so many traitors to be shot. You’d think a victorious tyrant would have his hands plenty full in the aftermath of Spain’s murderous 1936-39 civil war. It turns out, though, that Generalissimo Francisco Franco had long nursed a secret desire, one he was uniquely in a position to satisfy at the outset of his nearly four decades in power. But where in the world did he find the time to write the screenplay for a feature-length film? Never mind that the end product is as artistically shoddy and morally repugnant as anything that ever defiled celluloid, it still gives a fascinating peek through the thick velvet curtains that lead to the lobby of a dictator’s mind.

Film-buff Franco didn’t often go to the movies. The movies came to him. On engagement-free Saturday evenings a projectionist would be admitted to the head of state’s residence on the outskirts of Madrid where a screening room had been installed. Ministers on urgent business would be roped into attendance. It went on like that until old age began gnawing at his attention span, decades down the road. Hitler, too, was acutely conscious of the cinema’s potential for manipulating the masses, but left the hands-on part to his deputy, Goebbels. And Mussolini certainly praised the carbon-arc projector as “the world’s most effective weapon.” But his movie producer son, Vittorio, revealed that Il Duce could scarcely make it through 15 minutes of virtually any film you could think of without dozing off. More… “General Franco Jumps the Shark”

Robert Latona is a journalist based in Madrid, Spain.

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There was a time way back when, if you were a serious comics fan, you could keep up with everything being published in a reasonable manner. Maybe not read everything per se, but you could at least be aware of all the movers and shakers and titles of note within a given year.

That era has long since passed. There are so many genres, markets, and subcategories of the comics industry these days — webcomics, art comics, kids’ comics, superheroes, manga, manwha, comic strips — that keeping track of it all is a flat-out impossible task.

So a caveat is in order: I have no blessed idea if these are in fact the best comics of 2017. Perhaps there are other comics out there that, had they been waved under my nose, I would have liked more than what’s listed below. What we have here are merely my favorite comics that came out in 2017 that I actually read. At least for the nonce. Who knows how I’ll feel about anything, comics or otherwise, come the morrow? More… “Comic Countdown”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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There was an older man at a dinner party, relaying the history of his marriages. His first one, he told us, was a disaster. He was too young, she was too young. It lasted only a few years and then it ended angrily. He thought he’d never remarry, but then he decided he wanted to have a child. He married another woman, who turned out not to want children, but, he assured us, he eventually “wore her down.”

There are all sorts of struggles that take place within a marriage. Conflicting desires create situations without the possibility of compromise and so one partner tries to overpower the other’s will. Wives do this as well as husbands. But there was something about the way the story was told that caused the women at the table to immediately exchange worried looks and inhale deeply at the words “wore her down.” He wanted a child, but for that he needed a woman’s body. He procured a woman’s body, and when that body was not compliant, he forced compliance through manipulation and control. The man was a writer, and so I am making the assumption that he told this story with a particular intention and that that intention could be analyzed. I understand that this is probably unfair.

More… “No Giggling Ghost”

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.

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“Does anyone under 25 play an instrument anymore?” grumbled one veteran producer in response to the recent MTV Video Music Awards show. “They need to take the M out of these awards.”

Audiences had an even harsher verdict on the MTV event. Ratings were down a whopping 34% over the previous year — and 2015 ratings had shown a comparable decline versus 2014. In an industry that agonizes over shifts of a fraction of a percent, this kind of free-fall is unprecedented. The music business brought out its biggest guns for the MTV event — Beyoncé, Kanye, Rihanna, and Britney, among other one-name phenoms — and the show was broadcast on 11 different networks, including VH1, BET, CMT, and Spike. Even Comedy Central gave the event wall-to-wall coverage. But I don’t think anyone is laughing now.

More… “Does the Music Business Need Musicianship?”

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. He is the author of ten books, most recently How to Listen to Jazz

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Netflix’s newest series, Stranger Things, premiered July 15, and it has swiftly become one the most talked about shows of the summer. Each major media outlet has published their own think pieces, quizzes like “Which Stranger Things Character Are You?” have circulated, and Winona Ryder (who stars in the series) has made her comeback as a magazine cover girl.

There aren’t spoilers in this essay. Or shouldn’t be, unless you consider the lack of information an incredible spoiler (and I hate these type of concessions, because plot is secondary to the creation of character, formation of relationship between audience and narrative, and the feelings depicted and attached to the narrative). The only spoiler I’m going to provide happens by episode three, when teenager Barb goes missing, pulled by a monster into a pool and through to the “other side.” Despite being a minor character, I became infatuated with Barb.

More… “We Got to Talk about Barb”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Earlier this month, a Florida restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Sports Grille started adding an “automatic gratuity” of 15 percent on every in-house order. In staid, statist Europe, that’s par for the course. In America, you see it on cruise ships, in tony establishments run by celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller, and in less luxe setting when parties of six or more are involved. But for a lone diner, grabbing lunch at the kind of place that puts an extra helping of vowels at the end of its name to show how much personality it’s got? Say it ain’t so! This is where real America eats. And real America does not deserve a unilaterally applied service charge on its Fried Mozzarella Sticks and Windy City Nachos!

 

Even a committed socialist such as… More…

Tom Bissell is a David Foster Wallace man. I mean that specifically. DFW’s essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again contains “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” In that essay, Wallace wrote these momentous sentences:

Most scholars and critics who write about U.S. popular culture … seem both to take TV seriously and to suffer real pain over what they see. There’s this well-known critical litany about television’s vapidity, shallowness, and irrealism. The litany is often far cruder and triter than what the critics complain about, which I think is why most younger viewers find pro criticism of television far less interesting than pro television itself.

It would be difficult to overestimate the relief this sentence brought to many critics under the age of 40. It signaled that we had definitively turned the page on an era in which you had to go through the motions… More…

Are you tired of change? Are you fed up with extreme makeovers, disruptive innovation, the constant pressure to extend your product line? In a world overdosing on frantic novelty, are you perfectly happy thinking inside the bun? You may feel guilty about your lack of ambition, your indifference to life coaches, plastic surgeons, the spiritual handymen, and Oprah-certified hucksters who promise you dynamic transformation. You may feel alone, out of step, defective in a world that prizes self-improvement above all else. But at least you still have AC/DC, the patron saints of high-voltage complacency, to believe in.

Thirty-five years into a career that has seen less innovation than Fidel Castro’s beard, the Aussie rockers are at the top of the Billboard charts. They sold 784,000 copies of their new album, Black Ice, in its first week of release. They’ve just embarked on an 18-month world tour. Wal-Mart, the only place… More…

John McCain was right. Lehman Bros., Fannie Mae, AIG be damned, American workers are strong. They’re still innovative, still entrepreneurial, still willing to spend long hours pursuing their dreams with no immediate reward in sight. Of course, you won’t find them amid all the short-sellers and subprime lenders on Wall Street. Or even in the small towns (unless you count meth dealers as entrepreneurs). But in Hollywood and Las Vegas and the theme parks of Orlando, they’re everywhere: hip-hop fiddlers, flaming baton twirlers, Day-Glo human Slinkys. In 2008, the old-fashioned novelty act isn’t novel at all. It’s commonplace. And that’s pretty amazing.

This is, after all, the reality TV era. If, like Brooke Hogan, you’re the daughter of a famous person, you get your own TV show. If, like Dina Lohan, you’re the mother of a famous person, you get your own TV show. If, like Kim Kardashian, you live… More…

 

The season of popcorn blockbusters, beach reads, summer girls, and boys of summer has arrived. And the only thing missing is the (un)official song of the summer — a ubiquitous pop smash that demands we shake our hands in the air and sing along as though we had not a care in the world.

In 2007 that song was “Umbrella,” by Rihanna; the year before “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley brightened our June, July and August.

So where is this year’s hot, hazy hit? Although New York magazine recently handicapped eight potential summer songs (including Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” and Coldplay’s “Violet Hill”), a leading contender has yet to emerge. And at this point, we’re starting to run out of summer.

If you wish to play the game of blame, the death of the monoculture has… More…