A Welcome and a Definition

Culture Vulture: "A person with a strong, sometimes obsessive, interest in the arts." Culture Vultures spend a lot of time observing the world. This is where those observations come out.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

La Vida Loca

I want to apologize in advance for getting on the soapbox this week, as I never wanted this to be a political blog. However, the news of Ricky Martin finally coming out this week caused the issue of gay visibility and celebrity to come to the forefront and I just had to throw in my two cents.

For those who missed it, Ricky Martin finally ended over a decade of speculation about his personal life by saying in an interview he was "a very lucky homosexual man." I applaud him for finally coming out, even though the response was something along the lines of "No duh!"

Some of the comments I saw on blogs and newsites were also along the lines of "Why should we care?" or "His personal life is his business." While I understand that line of thinking, I disagree with the sentiment.

To be frank, there's a lot of shame in the gay community. A lot of gay people are afraid to come out, and a lot of people feel gay people should not be allowed to the same rights as straight couples. The only remedy for these issues is education and visibility. If people can see actors, musicians or politicians who are out and happy, it shows that we are normal people and not ashamed of who we are. If a celebrity chooses to remain in the closet in public, it only emphasizes the shame.

I think the most troubling thing is what is known as the "glass closet." Basically, everyone assumes the celeb is gay because he/she hides his social life so fervently. Many times, there may even be confirmation of the gayness out there but the celeb won't admit to it. Everyone knows when a male celebrity says: "I don't talk about my love life" he's not hiding a wife and three kids somewhere.

I understand that coming out can be viewed as a political statement. I also understand that not every celebrity wants to be an activist. I also don't expect Ricky to appear at the Grammys with his boyfriend and start making out on the red carpet. If every gay celeb would simply say: "Yes, I am gay but no I don't talk about my personal life." I think that would make a big difference.

So kudos to Ricky Martin! I've always been a fan, but I have to say I like him even more now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jane Austen Kvetches

As I mentioned in my previous post, I read several Austen tribute novels for my thesis. By far, the one that stood out for me was Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen in Boca. The book follows the trials and tribulations of May, Lila, and Flo, three Jewish widows living in the Boca Festa retirement community in Boca Raton, FL. Their love lives follow closely the problems poised to several of the female characters in Pride and Prejudice.

While you may think a retirement community is pretty far removed from Regency England, Cohen surprises and draws a lot of parallels. Consider this: the women of Boca Festa don't work and spend many hours cultivating their hobbies. These women live off an income, and they deal with a severe shortage of available men in their tiny community. Cohen definitely makes it work.

May falls for Norman, a successful leather goods salesman who recently lost his wife. However, Norman is friends with the pompous Stan, a retired English professor from Florida Atlantic University. He doesn't approve of any of the women at Boca Festa, as both he and Stan spend time at the more exclusive Broken Arrow community. Stan gets under the skin of Flo, a retired librarian who prefers books to men. Flo speaks her mind and isn't afraid of it. She becomes intrigued by Mel, a retired journalist who weaves tales of international travel and doing work for the CIA. Meanwhile, Lila gets engaged to Hy, a boring man who rattles on incessantly about the accomplishments of his children and grandchildren. Even though no one likes him, Lila wants to marry because she is afraid her retirement income will run out. Sound familiar yet?

While mirroring Austen, the novel also tries to give you a sense of life as a retiree in Boca Raton. If you enjoy Austen, I recommend this as some great fluff for light reading. Cohen also wrote a book called Jane Austen in Scarsdale, which mirrors the plot of Persuasion. However, I think Boca is definitely the stronger piece.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jane Austen and the Undead

Around this time last year, I was in the thick of writing my master's thesis on Jane Austen and her enduring popularity. My main idea was that Austen had become a pop culture icon, supported by several adaptations, remakes and at least a library's worth of tribute novels. (If you ever find yourself in the Rollins College library, please make it a trip downstairs to the Archive Room and visit my thesis. I highly doubt it gets many visitors.)

If I working on my thesis today, I would probably feel the need to include the very recent phenomenon of the intersection of Jane Austen and the recent vampire craze started by the Twilight series. Austen fan-dom has cropped up all kinds of books, from high-brow wit almost worthy of Austen herself to glorified romance novels. However, the books that have come out in the past year have been almost exclusively featured Austen characters as monsters, vampires and even zombies (a quick Google search of Jane Austen vampire brought up 497,000 results.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out about a year ago, just as I was wrapping up my thesis, so I did not include it. This book entwined Austen's words with some added stories about zombies. I have not had the chance to read this, but it's apparently a very popular book.

Jane Bites Back came out last December is about Austen herself living as a vampire and taking revenge on the writers who copy her works. Even though I don't usually like vampire anything, I do like the tongue-in-cheek aspects of this book and it looks like it might be a fun read.

One thing I did note in my thesis was that Austen's books were often molded to suit the tastes of the day. Her plots and themes are pretty universal and easily adaptable. So while the vampires and the zombies may not be what I think of when I think Austen, I can definitely understand this recent change in Austen-mania.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Trump Bunch

Until just last week, I had never seen The Apprentice in any of its incarnations. However, I was home feeling less than stellar and just wanted to zone out in front of the TV. Little was on, but I caught a rerun of the latest season of The Celebrity Apprentice and I have to say, I got hooked.

If you've been living on Amish farm and haven't heard of the show, various celebs of varying amounts of notoriety use their business sense and talents to win challenges with Donald Trump as the puppetmaster, uttering the famous "You're fired!" at the end to a disgraced celebrity. One reason I think I never watched the show is Trump himself. Basically, I have always thought that Trump's persona is annoying. He embodies the stuff I think those of us on the outside hate about heterosexual men: He's egotistical, hot-headed, loud, and acts like all women want him. However, he is mostly in the background in the show, so the celebs really take center stage.

Some of the celebs I've never heard of (Maria Kanellis) or vaguely heard of (Carol Leifer) or don't care about (Bret Michaels). However, there are some celebs on the show I do enjoy: Cyndi Lauper (great singer, interesting personality), Sharon Osbourne (she's really trying to assert herself as a shrewd businesswoman) and Curtis Stone (one of my favorite TV chefs and sexy to boot).

I can not write about this show without mentioning the most notorious candidate: Rod Blagojevich. That's right, the disgraced governor of Illinois and all-around douchebag. He spent much of the first episode introducing himself and adding that he was totally innocent of charges. He comes across very calculating and very much the politician. He may have thought that appearing on the show would provide some sort of good PR, but I think he overestimates his likability. It's an interesting comment on American society and media that a disgraced politician would appear such a show.

I will say Blago did provide some humorous moments with his scandals. The celebs are divided into 2 teams and were supposed to run a restaurant and make money in tips. The teams with the most money won. Each celeb was told to call their contacts to see if any big donors were willing to show up and shell out a nice tip. When someone off camera asked Blago who he called he said something to the effect of, "Anytime I call anyone asking for money, they usually hang-up the phone!"

The Celebrity Apprentice
is on at 9pm on tonight.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Over the weekend, I went to see the newest Tim Burton film, Alice in Wonderland. I am not a huge Tim Burton fan, but I am a huge Alice fan. I was very curious to see a Burton-esque version, especially in 3-D.

While the movie had some great visuals, I have to say I was very bored 30 minutes into the movie. First off, many elements of the original books were completely bastardized to produce a new storyline. The most blatant of these off storylines is the Jabberwocky terrorizing Underland (for some reason, it wasn't called Wonderland) and somehow embodying all the power of the evil Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter.

Even if I was willing to enjoy the plot for what it was, I thought the plot was overly simplistic and full of holes. Alice is now 19. Her life is a Jane Austen novel gone wrong, where she is forced to marry this awful Lord. She flees her engagement party to follow the White Rabbit, and ends up back in Wonderland. The Red Queen has overtaken everything and terrorizes everybody. The only hope for Underland is if Alice can slay the Jabberwocky and restore the White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway. Alice believes she is dreaming and feels she cannot live up to this task. The Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp, shows her the way. One of the biggest plot holes was why the White Queen couldn't do this herself. She made some halfhearted speech to Alice about "a vow of peace." However, she later leads a battle against her sister, the Red Queen.

Even though Depp is usually known for his stand-out performances, he was really phoning it in for this one. He was all over map: sometimes he sounded quiet and effeminate, and sometimes he would launch into a loud Scottish brogue. Mia Wasikowska, who played Alice, was pretty blah and one dimensional. Carter did well with what she had, but my favorite performance was Hathaway's odd portrayal of the White Queen. She acted a little flighty and airy-fairy, and wore a costume that looked like she had borrowed from Lady Gaga. I would say wait until the DVD comes out, but the movie is almost unwatchable in 2-D. 1 1/2 stars

Monday, March 15, 2010

Extreme Makeover: PBS Edition

Just like every good liberal, I always listen to NPR while driving in the morning. This morning I was subjected to yet another fund drive, a ritual NPR listeners and PBS watchers have probably heard hundreds of times: "Make sure you support the programs you have come to count on." Give now and make sure these programs stay on the air." Most of us give what we can, or maybe ignore it altogether and turn the dial. These fund drives seem to occur more often now, indicating that maybe they are not raising the money they should. I believe this indicates PBS really just doesn't work anymore. PBS should be dismantled or given a major overhaul.

Now, my statements might seem extreme. I do enjoy NPR and I will occasionally watch PBS, usually one of their documentaries. However, PBS/NPR operates under a business model that doesn't seem serviceable for 21st century. In 2010, the majority of Americans already pay for TV. People in my area pay somewhere between $50-$100 a month for cable. If the majority of Americans are already shelling out money for TV, how can a station justify asking people to shell out an additional $100-$200 a year? That's like going to a buffet and paying a flat fee to eat but then having to shell out an additional $5 for the shrimp cocktail.

Radio is not much better. Standard radio signals seem to be going the way of analog TV: Sirius and XM are becoming more popular, basically people now pay for radio as well. The NPR audience is shrinking and now seems like a boutique item for the liberal few.

The truth is, while PBS does put out quality programming, it is not necessarily something so unique that can not be seen on another channel. A channel that is already paid for by the audience. The other issue is that "public" TV is no longer that, it doesn't really represent a wide swath of American values. PBS/NPR often puppets the views of the majority of its donors: liberal college-educated professionals. While I am part of that group, I also recognize the bias of having such a small group of people control the content.

A solution might be to stop government funding of PBS and make it into a cable channel. Another maybe to dismantle PBS altogether and disperse the programs. Either way, these fund drives should become a thing of the past.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Revival of the Liberal Arts?

A recent article that expresses a lot of similar sentiments I have mentioned on this blog.

Banging Nerds

Until just recently, there seemed to be a death sentence placed on the traditional sitcom. Reality TV, dramas and hour long "dra-medies" seem to be more prevalent on the TV landscape. However, this one show that exists that seems to prove that sitcoms still have life in them: The Big Bang Theory.

The show centers around Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard, four young physicists and all-around fanboys. They live next door to Penny, a young hot actress who works at the Cheesecake Factory. She is from Nebraska and tends to be more real world, where the guys live in the bubbles of academia and sci-fi fantasy. Hilarity ensues.

One thing I like about the show is that it makes weird cultural and scientific references and expects the audience to keep up. The show is funny but it's also very witty and manages to work the references in without it feeling forced. I think one problem with traditional sitcoms was that the comedy often felt watered down in order to appeal to a broader audience. The jokes were usually either overly simplistic or stock ideas, probably to appear accessible. Overall though, the traditional sitcom treated its audience like idiots.

Another noteworthy thing is the show's appeal to gay audiences, despite not having an a gay character or really any gay themes on the show. There's a sense of the characters as outsiders, and how they cope in their own worlds, an idea that probably appeals to many gay men. Witty dialogue and strong relationships between the male characters probably doesn't hurt either.

I feel like in talking about BBT; I must go a little in-depth about my favorite character, Sheldon Cooper. Played by the wonderful Jim Parsons, Sheldon is the nerdiest of the nerdy. Gifted with an unusually high IQ, Sheldon cannot navigate the day-to-day social interactions that most people take for granted. He seems to have no sexual or romantic interests. He's fussy, clean, self-absorbed, and at times, child-like. However, Parsons manages to make him likeable. Sheldon also has an unintentional charm with all his idiosyncrasies. I have to admit to having a crush on both Sheldon and Jim Parsons. Overall, a worthwhile TV obsession.

Watching: The Big Bang Theory

Hiding in the Spotlight by Greg Dawson

Listening: ABBA Gold

Monday, March 8, 2010


During the Oscars last night, Best Supporting Actress winner Mo'nique dedicated her award to Hattie McDaniel, who won the same award in 1939. She won for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Word is Mo'nique wants to do a biopic of McDaniel's life and play the lead role.

I've always been fascinated by old Hollywood and McDaniel's story is definitely an interesting one. The daughter of slaves, she was a all-around performer who performed in minstrel shows. Although her role as Mammy brought her acclaim and notoriety, it also boxed her into a corner. Because of the limited roles for African-Americans, McDaniel was often cast as the maid or as a Mammy-type figure in movies. While she was discriminated against by the Hollywood system, she was also criticized by the NAACP and other organizations for promoting stereotypes of African-American women. While Gone with the Wind is a great movie, it's hard to imagine it would ever be made today: it trivializes slavery and race issues during the 19th century. The movie also made McDaniel a target of racism. She declined to attend the premiere in Atlanta for fear of racial violence.

She was married four times but never had any children. She died of breast cancer in 1952. She wanted to be buried in Hollywood cemetery where many celebrities such as Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks were married. However, the owner of the cemetery refused her because of race. She was buried in Rosedale cemetery instead.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Realness of the Real Housewives

Tonight marks the return of my favorite guilty pleasure: The Real Housewives of New York City. RH: NYC was my gateway into Real Housewives franchises and the other Bravo reality shows that showcase rich people acting trashy, a market Bravo has really cornered.

I think what separates the RH series from the others is the fierce individuality of the women who participate. Almost all the women who participate in the series have one like trait: They all have a very strong sense of themselves that does not necessarily sync up to what the reality of their lives is. Many times, the funniest moments are when the Housewife sees herself one way but comes across another way. Usually, this ends in some sort of altercation with another member of the cast.

Their affluence is almost secondary in the series. Sometimes the producers will throw in an aside about how much something costs or the extravagance of their lifestyles. However, I think Bravo has realized that's not why people tune in. In my opinion, people tune in to see self-indulgent acting badly in order to feel better about themselves. Well, I may have debt but at least I'm not morally bankrupt... However, that's not the reason I enjoy it. I think I more enjoy the interactions of the people and what makes them tick. The added level that they are usually somewhat powerful or at least power hungry and definitely indulgent makes it interesting as well.

One reason I love NYC so much is that it features Bethenny Frankel, the Housewife I love the most, and Kelly Bensimmon, the Housewife I hate most. (Often times, it's just as much fun to hate someone on a reality show as it is to like someone.)

I love Bethenny because she is ambitious,accomplished and beautiful; however, she never takes herself too serious. In fact, she throws out the bon mots better than anyone else on the show. On the other hand, Kelly seems to embody that fierce individuality more than any other Housewife. Her inflated sense of self is on a whole different level. Often times when faced with a hard truth about herself, she behaves like a member of some cult: denying everything in order to maintain her beliefs when the evidence is stacked overwhelmingly against her.

I know people often question the "realness" of the reality shows. There is an artificial element to RH: these women don't always know each other before the show. Often times, the social occasions on the show feel forced, like they are doing this for the show. However, the actual interactions seem very real. I find it hard to believe they could script that or incite such things.

Enjoy the mayhem!