Category Archives: Media

“Communist” Russia and the Health Care Debate

A socialist revolution is brewing in America, and it's coming from that communist country Sarah Palin can see from her shores.

A socialist revolution is brewing in America, and it's coming from that communist country Sarah Palin can see from her shores.

Clearly, much misinformation has been spread about the proposed health care reform.  Obama’s plan is in critical condition, crushed and twisted as it is by so much talk about death panels, nationalized health care horror stories, red revolutions and, by natural extension, Russia.

It is hilarious to me that many of the disgruntled right wing citizens at town hall meetings call on Russia to heighten the pitch of their feverish and delusional worries.

For starters, Bill O’Reilly says the health care debate is about socialism, not health care. This sets the stage for all kinds of interesting things to happen.

A Pennsylvania woman was invited on the Fox show “Happening Now,” after saying to Sen. Arlen Specter at a town hall meeting, “I don’t want this country turning into Russia.” Later, on the show, she appears to be reading from a teleprompter and narrates a little bit about herself, saying that she used to be indifferent to politics, but then she started reading about the “Constitution” and the “founders of this country.” And then she concluded that the country was ripping itself apart and health care was going to turn us into Russia.

Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others also attempted to prove that Obama’s health care plan was leading us swiftly towards the path of communism. Their evidence came straight from the mouth of the beast, or I guess that’s what they hoped we’d think. PRAVDA On-line published an editorial saying that America was turning Marxist. Dobbs, Beck, Limbaugh and others asked hypothetically: who knows Communism better than the former mouthpiece of the Party? If the Russians recognize Marxism in Obama’s policies, it must be there! They’ve lived through it!

The part that sucks was, PRAVDA On-line is not the same thing as Pravda, the communist newspaper which existed 1912-1991. Furthermore, the editorial itself has a number of spelling errors and is surrounded by ads for “Russia’s Most Desirable Single Women,” and an article declaring “Pregnant Baby Girl Born in Saudi Arabia.” Read that headline again. Amazing.

In other words, it’s a classy and reliable news source and should be trusted for its American policy analysis.

It’s not that I am surprised by the slippery slope arguments saying expanded government role in health care = socialism. I expect as much.

But its the conflation between Russia and the Soviet Union that really gets my goat. When these people say Russia, they mean Soviet Union. Hell, if they meant, “I don’t want our health care system to be like the health care system of the Russian Federation,” I would agree with them. It’s not a very good system.

How long will it take for Cold War scare-mongering to die? Apparently, a long fucking time. I feel so bad for Russia. It has just about the worst reputation of any country in the paranoid sector of American cultural imagination.

Fortunately, one crazy out there at least knew the proper name for Communist Russia. “This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China,” he said to Senator Specter. Well, not exactly. But we’ll take it one step at a time.

–anna

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Maureen Dowd Plagiarizes

You know something? I really don’t like Maureen Dowd. I don’t like her smugness, her hostility towards feminism, her cutesy nicknames and elaborate fictional scenarios involving politicians and Cabinet members. I don’t like the self-congratulatory air pervading her every column, or how she frequently touts her superior experience, name-drops and shamelessly parades her excellent connections.

Indira and I have often shared a laugh in the past about Ms. Dowd, who has written several books, one of them called “Are Men Necessary?” An adapted magazine article that sums up the thesis of her book can be found here.

Dowd blames feminism for her troubles with men, who are apparently intimidated by her beauty and her brains. Feminism, she says, made getting along with men harder. Men now mistake Dowd and her assertiveness for a castrating feminazi and flee in the other direction.

The funny part is that probably she doesn’t get along with men (or anyone? who knows) because she’s likely unpleasant and perhaps a tad boastful. LOOK WITHIN MAUREEN. IT’S NOT FEMINISM’S FAULT THAT YOU HAVE BAD LUCK WITH DUDES.

One other thing I don’t like about her is that she was extremely vicious about Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and was one of her toughest and most unreasonable critics. She often made Chris Matthews’ criticisms look justified.

All this adds up to why I didn’t care when Maureen Dowd was found to have plagiarized a paragraph of another blogger’s work. If at first I found her writing obnoxious and her manner condescending, now I can be justified in thinking that she is an unprincipled journalist and a poor writer.

The Times would do better to stop hiring token conservatives and mix it up by hiring more people of color or an interesting woman or two. To quote my favorite Times critic, Manohla Dargis, I would like to see this happen “not because of some ‘politically correct’ imperative but because it makes the discussion more interesting.” WORD! (Dargis was talking about film critics, but the same principle easily applies here.) Indira once commented that Bob Herbert may be among the best of the bunch, but his genius is doomed to languish in obscurity forever.

Besides Herbert and Dowd (who is the biggest sexist of the bunch), all the other columnists are white men (many with economics backgrounds) in their 50s and 60s. You really know the op-ed page sucks when I enjoy reading David Brooks the most. (I’m not joking. I find him insightful, even if I disagree with him on many occasions.)

So let Dowd take a break to examine her conscience, NYT, and hire Indira or I in the mean time.

Pitchfork Continually Surprised by Talented Women

pretty, pretty princess who you might be sorta interested in, i mean, if you like chick singers, dude

by anna

Like many music enthusiasts in the world, I have a love/hate relationship with Pitchfork. My most exhilarating encounters with music criticism occurred while reading Brent DiCrescenzo’s outrageous (yet emotionally stirring!!!) reviews while I was still in high school. Pitchfork has informed the way I conceptualize music; it created the first paradigm for richly informed, detailed, obsessive music criticism, thereby driving the blurb-driven snark machines of Rolling Stone and Spin into the bitter, bitter dirt of irrelevance.  Also, Pitchfork has contributed to my vision for a blog like this one, in which I deconstruct a Beyonce single in like 1000 words.

Back in 2005, DiCrescenzo wrote a column chronicling various indie prototypes created in Pfork’s reviews, among them an intellectual female artist known as “The Stef,” and the freak-man-boy known as “The Sloth.” In it, he describes Pitchfork writer’s analyses (both underlying and upfront) of women musicians:

Specifically, writers paint Fiona Apple and Cat Power’s Chan Marshall as hormonally capricious victim-savants and read all their lyrics like Psy.D parents unlocking a daughter’s pink diary, while Devendra Banhart’s jabberwocky skews as fecund genius.

and later…

When convenient, male songwriters slip into omniscient skin to amuse and illuminate, while female songwriters meddle in their first-person emotions, unable to escape the black hole of their romantic astrology. Naturally, emotional analysis always overshadows technical musicianship in Stef reviews.

In other words, reviewers focus on the emotional qualities of women artists’ work, while they are more generous with men, granting them agency over their identity.

Too bad no one ever heeded his words over at the magazine. Despite Pfork’s “Best New Music” section featuring a larger proportion of women-led acts than perhaps ever before, the language of the reviews stirs in me a reaction similar to that of feminist bloggersresponses to The New Republic’s recent profile of Sonya Sotomayor. (That’s a whole ‘nother controversy, but one that revolves around the reading of a female subject through a lens of motherhood and unhinged emotionality.) Do a close, or fuck, a distant reading of some of these reviews, and all the acceptable feminine identities are neatly rolled out in a matter of four goddamn sentences, then the woman artist in question will be shoved into each and every niche, until she is a sex symbol, a princess (!!), a mother, and an earth-goddess.

So, czech out the latest example, from the review of St. Vincent’s Actor.

Annie Clark, the musician otherwise known as St. Vincent, projects an aura of eerie perfection– beautiful, poised, good-humored, and well-adjusted to a degree uncommon for rock performers, let alone ordinary people. She’s clearly not oblivious to her disarming qualities. On the covers of both her albums, her wide eyes and porcelain features give her the appearance of a cartoon princess come to life, and in the songs contained therein, she sings with the measured, patient tones of a benevolent, maternal authority figure. The thing that separates Clark from any number of earth mother Lilith Fair types, however, is her eagerness to subvert that effect. Her album covers may showcase her pretty face, but her blank expression and the tight framing leave the images feeling uncomfortably ambiguous. Her voice and arrangements are often mellow and soothing, but those sounds mainly serve as context as she exposes undercurrents of anxiety and discomfort hidden just beneath a gorgeous façade.

Clearly, St. Vincent has an authoritative presence; but the critic here qualifies her assertive vocal tendencies as “maternal,” for no reason I can tell other than Ms. Clark has a woman’s voice. And, Lilith Fair? I don’t hear much 90’s lesbian music going on here; St. Vincent is more akin to those indie musicians pushing the classical envelope. Again, the only thing I imagine would conjure such a comparison would be her womanly voice.

Also, she’s a pretty pretty princess.

If Dicrescenzo is arguing that critics assume an insulting lack of agency on the behalf of women artists’ identities, this review pats St. Vincent on the back for being shifty; she has stealthily avoided all the traps pfork has set up for her.

Behold:

With that in mind, the album is perfectly titled, as Actor proves St. Vincent as an artist capable of crafting believable, complicated characters with compassion, insight, and exacting skill.

“Thanks, guys! I am capable!” I’m certain that’s what Ms. Clark was thinking when she read that.

You know who else is capable? Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan. Check out the last sentence of the recent review of Two Suns:

Not only does Khan hold her own, there are moments when she holds his, too [on the song The Big Sleep]. That she’s capable of doing so is evidence enough that we should be paying attention.

Apparently Pfork needs a lot of proof from the women artists they review. I find it uncanny, not to mention lazy, that these two reviews end almost identically. Furthermore, the fact that Khan “holds her own” with a man is supposed to prove to us we can pay attention now? Thanks for the permission.

Then again, I am relieved that the critic even came to that conclusion, given his best efforts to totally undermine the seriousness or aesthetic worth of Bat For Lashes in his opening sentence:

Natasha Khan likes pretty things: fur, gold, melody, the moon, feathers, things that sparkle, chords that resolve.

The thing I am most shocked about is the weird lack of awareness running through these articles. Aren’t these music critic dudes at all sensitive to the potentially cringe-inducing usage of words like, “capable” or “pretty” or “maternal?” Didn’t these hip young men ever take a gender studies class? Don’t their girlfriends get annoyed with them? Have they ever talked to a woman?

I am not proposing censorship, I am proposing a little sensitivity. I am delighted that women artists are being reviewed favorably by Pfork, but I won’t be satisfied until they apply the language they use in reviews of dude bands/acts to the womenfolk.

State of the News Round-Up

The third time ain’t a charm for Fox News, who has now apologized THRICE to the Barack Obama camp in recent weeks for bad pundit behavior. It all started when Liz Trotta said “Osama…I mean Obama” should be assassinated.

Then you’ve got E.D. Hill and her unsubtle attempt to describe Michelle and Barack’s fist-pound as a “terrorist fist jab.” Rumor has it she discovered the term on a comment on HumanEvents.com. Now that’s classy, fair, and balanced: E.D. Hill gives voice to the inflammatory voices of fringey weirdos on conservative fringey websites. She apologized, but Fox pulled her show anyway. Bet she didn’t see that one coming!

Finally, on Wednesday, a running ticker on Fox News referred to Michelle Obama as “Obama’s Baby Mama.” (See above video.) While this racially/racistly charged epithet slowly rolls across the bottom of your screen, note the advice of Michelle Malkin, beacon of enlightened and elevated political discourse in a world of spiteful commentary. Responding to the recent realization among journalists that Michelle Obama could be the next Hillary Clinton–that is, the next woman to be ripped to shreds by a media threatened by assertive lefty lady types–Malkin explains that conservatives should attack Michelle Obama based on the content of what she says, and not “make gratuitous and [sic] cheap shots that have nothing to do with the substance of what she’s saying.”

Ah, if only “cheap shots” were what was really at stake! Instead we’ve got Fox News commentators attempting to subliminally message viewers into thinking Obama is a terrorist (instances 1 and 2) and another one to remind us that all black people come from a culture that does not share American family values.

Fox News hardly needs Stephen Colbert to mock them these days; they are a parody of themselves. Does this spell the beginning of the end for bloated non-news? In the post-Clinton Campaign media universe, even the New York Times takes note of the kind of tripe that passes for commentary on news shows. It is time that the news media, especially cable news networks, does some soul searching. But who am I kidding? Cable news is an industry built on the mountains of self-righteous and bull-headed NONreflection. Cable news applauds the loudest, brashest, angriest, most appalling people. Soul-searching is the antithesis of the pundit’s job description.

And yet with Tim Russert’s untimely death, maybe everyone will take a step back from the ungodly din of punditry and try to appreciate what it is to be an inquisitive, articulate, and excited member of the news media. We can only hope.

–Anna