Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson And The Elephant

In 1994, Vanity Fair published "Nightmare in Neverland," the first of several articles that convinced me that Michael Jackson's relationships with children were messed up. Written by Maureen Orth, these cover stories stood out because they were deeply reported, incredibly detailed and well sourced. Most of all, they were disturbing. I came away thinking that even if nothing illegal took place (and that's a stretch), Jackson, at the very least, displayed appalling judgment and had been sheltered from the consequences of his "eccentricity" for a long time.

Orth still stands by her stories, and as she pointed out recently on Vanity Fair's Web site, the King of Pop's camp never legally challenged them.

As the shock of Jackson's death was wearing off, I re-read "Nightmare in Neverland" to get some perspective. It is just as damning now as it was 15 years ago. I realize he was never convicted, but there was far too much smoke surrounding that situation for me to believe that there was no fire. Nearly all the adults around the then-13-year-old alleged victim seemed to be asleep at the wheel. I mean, what kind of parent lets a kid have multiple sleepovers with a non-related adult, some of them away from their direct supervision? What kind of grown man engineers them?

Of course, there are a lot of people who don't want to be reminded of this. I have heard more than one person say that they hope Michael is remembered for his artistic contributions and not the scandals that consumed his life from the '90s on. But why does a person's legacy have to be either-or? It is entirely possible for a person to be very gifted, very famous and very disturbed. After all, this is a man who said he dangled his baby over a balcony railing "out of innocence." Yet, one of my friends was taking heat on her Facebook page for refusing to join in the public grieving.

If the adulation has been overwhelming, it's because many people (me included) were mourning the young, charming Michael Jackson and the memories that go along with the image. But that person left the building a long, long time ago, if he ever truly existed. Michael Jackson left behind some wonderful, timeless music, and he helped give Gen X one hell of a soundtrack for its adolescence. Along with that is a very large, creepy elephant in the room.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hello, Gorgeous

Is there a comics fan out there who didn't love J.H. Williams III's ravishing art work in Detective Comics No. 854? Greg Rucka's introduction-to-Batwoman storyline was certainly good, which I expected. But Williams' visuals stole the show, and I am already steeling myself for the inevitable letdown when a new artist takes over. It's been a while since I really lingered over the pages of a comic book this way or re-read it just to ponder how the artist pulled it off.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What A Week

I don't care how politically incorrect it was; "Charlie's Angels" was the show for girls of a certain age in the 1970s. Show me the woman who didn't want to be Farrah, Jaclyn or Kate back in the day, and I'll show you someone who grew up on a commune.

I had the "Charlie's Angels" dolls, but as far as I'm concerned, my collection was never totally legit. Why? Because my mom couldn't find Farrah. Instead, I had to settle for the plastic likeness of her second season replacement, Cheryl Ladd. No disrespect to Ms. Ladd, but it wasn't the same. "Charlie's Angels" without Farrah was like Van Halen without David Lee Roth. (And considering that "The Six Million Dollar Man" was also one of my favorite shows, I was heavily invested in that whole Lee Majors/Farrah Fawcett-Majors thing.)

My friend V. and I were talking about how we tried to re-create the Farrah flip with a curling iron and rollers, which is difficult for a black girl with unprocessed hair. The results were unintentionally funny, but such was the extent of Farrah's Breck girl appeal.

Gen X has had a pretty awful week in the icon loss department. Like my friend B. said, it makes you want to go find Madonna and give her a hug, just in case.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"The Hangover:" Maybe You've Heard Of It

The news about Michael Jackson had me in a weird mood, so I was grateful when my husband suggested we get a sitter and to to a movie. Naturally, we picked "The Hangover," a movie that my friends without children saw weeks ago. I knew it had to be good when my little sister raved about it, because if you looked up "jaded urban hipster" in the encyclopedia, her picture would be next to the term.

"The Hangover" is indeed a very funny and endlessly quotable film, though it strikes me as the kind people will either love or hate. As Bradley Cooper's character Phil might say, if you're gonna be all sensitive and shit, don't bother going. The road trip movie has been done to death, but "The Hangover" is totally aware of what a cliche the Vegas bachelor's weekend is - which is why it's so much fun to see things go terribly, outrageously wrong. Plus, I like comedies that are essentially about the dynamics of friendship and the roles we all play in our various tribes.

Cooper's role? Sexy beast. I'd seen him in a couple of earlier movies, but either I wasn't paying close enough attention or dude has skyrocketed up the hotness scale since then. And I love Zach Galifianakis' utter lack of vanity in playing Alan, a creepy misfit (and Jonas Brothers fan!) whose idea of bonding involves a blood pact. Ed Helms is a stitch as a henpecked dentist who, at one point, sings an impromptu ballad about Mike Tyson's pet tiger.

Of course, there's already talk of a sequel, but I hope a bigger budget and heightened expectations don't ruin the magic.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Goodbye, Michael

The morning after Princess Diana died, my husband woke me from a deep sleep and thrust the newspaper in my hands. It didn't seem quite real, and I remember thinking that only the deaths of Madonna or Michael Jackson would have been more shocking.

It's an understatement to say that Michael Jackson was a complicated figure - a crazy talented human being who belongs on pop culture's Mount Rushmore. I can't imagine what popular music would sound like without him. As his story became increasingly bizarre and tawdry, I wanted to believe that the handsome icon of my youth was separate from the facially unrecognizable tabloid fixture of the last 15-plus years. Genius and darkness often go together, but the disconnect between what I hoped and what I suspected was pretty extreme in this case.

As I wrote last year, seeing other artists attempt to pay tribute to M.J. - something we'll be seeing plenty of in the days ahead - has always been a little sad. It will be even moreso now.

I'm going to go listen to "Off The Wall," easily one of the best R&B albums ever made. I never get tired of listening to it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pardon The Interruption

Not like anyone cares, but I'm boarding an Amtrak tomorrow with the family for a vacation in our nation's capital. My daughter C. has told all of her friends that she's going to see "a statue of Hammerhead Lincoln," and J., our son, is annoyed that we can't pay the Obamas a visit.

Washington, D.C., is one of my favorite cities. Let's see if it still is by the time this trip is over.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Target, You Disappoint Me

Dear Target:

I am madly in love with you. You know that. Most days, I would crawl on broken glass past a Wal-Mart to get to your beautiful Thakoon T-shirts and Method body washes. The only way Wal-Mart could get me to switch teams is by hiring greeters who look like Idris Elba and Simon Baker - and maybe not even then.

That being said, Target, mixing the plus-sized clothes with the Liz Lange maternity wear is an asshole move. And do I really need to point out that the LL outfits are better looking? It's like someone at corporate said, "Fat is fat. Plus-sized, pregnant, who cares? But let's put the big girl clothes slightly behind the maternity wear, since pregnant women are only fat temporarily."

I can wear quite a few things in your Misses section now, but since my bottom half refuses to go quietly, I still need stylish, plus-sized stuff to cover it. But it's not just about me. You're better than this. You're the discount retailer with good breeding, remember? This is not behavior befitting a store that brought Thomas O'Brien to the masses, and I expect more from you.

Hopelessly devoted to you,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Best Use Of Ferns, Ever

Everybody's all about Zach Galifianakis now that he's in the hit movie "The Hangover," but some of us saw glimpses of his awesomeness a while ago. And for free! His "Between Two Ferns" sketches on Funny or Die — in which he needles celebrities with bitter, inappropriate questions — are laugh-out-loud funny. My favorite is his interview with "Hangover" co-star Bradley Cooper. Best line: "You are on the cover of Details magazine, which is a nice publication if you have run out of cologne." This is trumped only by the frightening appearance of Carrot Top.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Red Robin Doesn't Suck

When word first began circulating about all the Bat-family reshuffling, my first question was, “What’s going to happen to Tim (Drake) Wayne?” After Wonder Woman, Tim – Robin III, if you like – is my favorite DC Comics character. With Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne cast as the new Batman & Robin, I was afraid DC was going to so something dumb like “kill” Tim or send him off-grid for a year during the reboot.

Alas, Tim is alive and (sorta) well as Red Robin, but I had no expectations that Red Robin No. 1 would be good. In fact, as I reluctantly handed over my $2.99, I was mentally preparing for abject disappointment. What a pleasant surprise that it was a good read and a thoughtful step forward for the character.

Unlike Dick, Tim became an orphan relatively recently, when his biological father died in the events of “Identity Crisis.” Batman’s disappearance has hit him particularly hard, and it certainly doesn’t help that Damian – who once tried to kill him – is not only wearing the Robin costume but also taunting him as an imposter. Bruce may have adopted Tim, but Damian is playing the biological card.

At first, this struck me as outrageous. Why would Dick allow that evil little shit to be Robin to his Batman? But considering the enormous responsibility Dick feels to honor Batman’s legacy, I can see how he would take it upon himself to raise and rehabilitate Damian as Bruce might have. He views Tim as his highly capable younger brother who can assist the new team in any way he likes. But Tim, angry and grieving, isn’t convinced that Batman is dead. So after punching Damian in the face (yay!) he heads to Europe to think, fight some bad guys in a new costume and, ever the detective, search for Bruce.

Tim almost always has his wits about him, so it’s interesting to see him question his state of mind and place in the world. Chris Yost’s storyline is pretty intense, and the art’s not bad – though Tim seems to morph into a 30-year-old bodybuilder when he’s in costume. Overall, it’s a promising character evolution that has raised my hopes for Red Robin considerably.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Parenting Fail

Actual conversation with my 4-year-old daughter, C., on the way to preschool:

"Mommy, remember this old Jonas Brothers song? 'Vereh superstitious, writing's on the waaaaall ...' "

"Nononononono. That's not theirs. A man named Stevie Wonder sang it first."

"No, he didn't."

"Um, yes, he did. That song was written before they were even born. It's a very old song."

"(Sigh.) No. They sang it in a video. Remember?"

And then I launched into a semi-hysterical recounting of Stevie Wonder's life and times, which surely changed her mind. When I told my friend M. what happened, he suggested I buy "Songs in the Key of Life" immediately and pipe it into her room, then repeat with "Innervisions" and "Talking Book."

I hadn't planned on conducting an intervention between swimming lessons and play dates this weekend, but C. has left me no choice.

Monday, June 8, 2009

She's Got Legs

If you're a woman of a certain age in Tallahassee, you have to be OK with seeing uber-fit, gorgeous, (much) younger women all the time. In a town with two universities and a community college, they're a given; a fact of life. A friend in her 50s told me that I'd eventually get to a point where I'd stop seeing them through competitive eyes and regarding them in the fashion of a lovely painting or vase of flowers.

It started happening somewhere around my 37th birthday. Maybe it's because I was out of the breeding game or reasonably certain that my husband wasn't going to leave his family for a psychology major named Destiny. But ever since then, when I see a pretty young woman (inevitably) jogging down the street, my first thought is usually, "She's adorable! I hope she doesn't think she's fat."

That is, 99 percent of the time. I am human, and every blue moon, I see someone so outrageously fit/attractive that I want to drop what I'm doing and find a 24-hour gym that also offers plastic surgery. One such moment came Friday night, when the husband and I were hanging out with friends at a new wine bar. A mini-skirted woman with the best legs this side of 2000-era Britney Spears walked in, and we muttered a collective "Holy shit." I can't even hate, because it was clear that Hot Gams (left) has a serious workout game. Even when I was 22, my legs did not look like this.

I'm sure she and her friends wondered why some suburban mom was pointing a camera in their direction, but the moment had to be documented. Identities have been protected, though if it were me, I would want the world to know.

Shot Through The Heart

I've written before about how much I've enjoyed Ultimate Spider-Man, easily one of the most consistently well-written comics I read regularly. After a long, satisfying run, the title ended last week with No. 133. I'm still too upset to discuss this coherently, not necessarily because the book ended but because of the godawful way it ended. Imagine one of your favorite television shows going out in a giant, flaming ball of WTF, and you'll have an idea of how pissed off I am.

Brian Hibbs of The Savage Critics put it perfectly: "Fuck. Seriously, you can't do a wordless comic for $4. FUCK, and no, you can't end your run on the book on such a downer note. Especially not a book like this."

Thanks, Marvel.

It's Always Hammer Time

A flash mob promoting M.C. Hammer's new reality show — complete with gold parachute pants — dropped in on some unsuspecting L.A. shoppers. Man, you never see stuff like this at the Blair Stone Kohl's.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Damn It.

My good friend J. mailed me a big care package of books, and this was included. Yes, I am reading it. I know I said I wasn't going to read its predecessor, "New Moon," but it's too late for me now. Save yourselves.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Holy Flying Batmobile!

Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin No. 1 turns out to be the perfect comic to banish "Battle for the Cowl's" bad aftertaste. The story quickly establishes that this Batman (Dick Grayson) and Robin (Damian Wayne) team will have a totally different dynamic than Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake. The villains are both comedic and horrifying, and the Batmobile flies! I know Frank Quitely's art is polarizing, but I thought some of his panels — especially the full page of Batman and Robin diving through the air — were downright breathtaking. Did I mention that the Batmobile flies?

After being reduced to a semi-wussy joy rider in "Cowl," Damian, the alleged result of a Talia-Bruce hookup, is back to being an arrogant badass. He's rude to Alfred, whom he refers to as "Pennyworth." When Dick admits that being Batman is intimidating, Damian basically tells him to step aside if he's not up to it. Dude is 12 years old, tops. His altered Robin costume and Doc Marten-esque boots are dope as hell.

What I liked most about this book is the way it combined pure fun with some of the more macabre elements Batman books are known for. The balance was just about perfect, as was the overall introduction to this new series. It's that rare comic that made me impatient for the next installment.

New Favorite Thing: Ill Doctrine

My friend T. alerted me to the presence of Jay Smooth's intelligent, enlightened hip-hop commentary last week, and I'm hooked. Jay's thoughts on the intersection of race and popular culture are particularly insightful, as shown in his his post on the Asher Roth "Nappy Headed Hoes" Twitter controversy. I also enjoyed his video chat with Dan Charnas, another person steeped in hip-hop culture who happens to be white. The topic: hip-hop and racial humility vs. entitlement. People are often defensive or dismissive when talking about race, which is what makes this so refreshing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Princess And The Peeved

So far this week, I’ve read two essays about America’s princess problem. They aren’t the first I’ve read on the subject, but this piece at The Root is the only one I’ve seen from an African-American perspective. Disney is debuting its first black princess, Tiana, via “The Princess and the Frog” later this year.

Like any good feminist raising a daughter, I’ve noticed that the princess culture, popularized by Disney, is absolutely everywhere — and it’s annoying. A few weeks ago, I took C. to a full-on princess birthday party and nearly went blind from the room full of sequins, sparkles and bright pink flotsam and jetsam. Nails were painted and dusted with glitter. Feather boas and satin slippers were donned. PrincessMania ’09 wouldn’t have been my choice for a party theme, but C. and the rest of the guests had fun.

Of course, I’d love for film studios to make more animated features about spirited girls who don’t wear ball gowns. It was a little depressing to see intrepid tomboy Dora the Explorer get the princess treatment a few years ago. And yet, I can’t work up a lot of outrage over the unveiling of the unveiling of another princess movie. As I’ve said previously, it’s a big deal for black girls to see themselves in the Disney tiara for once. Adults can have valid debates about vapid, man-dependent representations of women, but from where I’m sitting, black females haven’t exactly had the luxury of being stereotyped as fair damsels in distress (See: “Snow White”).

Besides, if you’re a 5-year-old girl, chances are that you like slightly tacky things that sparkle. This is the age when kids are acutely aware of gender differences, and some of them embrace the most obvious symbols of those differences — like princesses — with a vengeance. It would be nice if popular culture would help us out, but it’s up to parents to teach our children to get past that — and that it’s more important to be competent, confident and kind-hearted than to look like Sleeping Beauty (or Zac Efron). I’m much more worried about the bullshit yet to come, like when she turns 10 and hears her friends talking about going on diets and wearing whatever junior trollop gear the stores are peddling.

I’d prefer it if my daughter didn’t like pink quite so much, but that’s more my problem than hers. She loves her some Cinderella and Belle, sure, but she also swims and does gymnastics. She digs Wonder Woman and Supergirl — her costumes of choice the past two Halloweens — and she is far more self-assured than I was at twice her age. I seriously doubt she’s growing up with the idea that sitting around looking pretty adds up to a meaningful life.

My daughter has plenty of time to learn that being a princess is a fantasy that has little to do with being a woman. For now, I'm OK with her enjoying the sparkle.

Monday, June 1, 2009

That Glass-Shattering Sound You Hear Is Me Shrieking Like A Little Girl

Zachary Quinto + Dairy = OMG

I don't know if this is some kind of super-hot advertising campaign from the Dairy Farmers of America, but I like it.

How About We See The Movie First?

When we took the kids to see "Up" this weekend, we got a look at the trailer for Disney's upcoming animated film, "The Princess and the Frog." This is a big deal, because the movie features Disney's first African-American princess, Tiana. Having grown up in the Obama era, my children have no idea how significant this is. But I couldn't help sneaking glances at my 4-year-old daughter C. to gauge her reaction. She didn't say anything about the princess being "brown" — her term for herself — but she was clearly stoked. C. is all about the princesses.

Old Disney movies, products of their time, have had some howlingly racist moments in them. But the company isn't stupid, and it wants Tiana & Co. to make lots and lots of money. Think of the dollars to be made in merchandising alone. Disney needs black parents and their daughters to like "The Princess and the Frog."

That's why I'm a little annoyed that people are already branding the movie racially insensitive (See the New York Times story here.) Critics say it's wrong to set the fairy tale in New Orleans because of the Katrina tragedy and — Jesus Christ — that the prince is too light-skinned. Seriously.

True, the prince isn't easily racially identifiable, as he has straight hair and tan skin. But that makes sense, given that New Orleans has long been a multicultural city. And so what if he's not black? I hate to invoke Barack Obama (again), but given that our president has a white mom and an African dad, isn't a bit silly to demand that the prince look a certain way? To be perfectly honest, it's more important that Tiana herself has clearly African-American features and dark brown skin. The female beauty standard in this country still skews Caucasian, so when the person wearing the tiara doesn't, it matters. The powers at Disney (or at least their consultants) seem to understand this.

More to the point, I wish people would wait to see a movie before condemning it or accusing it of all kinds of offenses. Maybe the movie will make me cringe in horror when I see it, or maybe it'll just suck. Until then, I'm going to assume that Disney wants Tiana to take up residence in my home alongside High School Musical and Phineas and Ferb.