Tag Archives: Whitney Houston

Living in a Pop Culture World…

Living in a Pop Culture World…

If Madonna had launched her career 30 years later, well, she’d be Lady Gaga. However, she’d probably name her big hit “Material Girl” “Pop Culture Girl,” as it’s more appropriate. The 1980s were the decade of acquisition and the 21st Century is so far all about escapism, which is achieved mostly through reality TV. Odd, that.

If our memories can stretch back far enough to contemplate the weeks after September 11, 2001, you’ll recall how we wondered if the grim reality facing us would allow for escapist entertainment. Also, odd, that. Of course, it would. In fact, it would demand it. The Great Depression gave us Universal horror movies, the Marx Brothers, and Fred and Ginger. The Great Recession gave us The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (working title — Not-The-Bride of The Bachelor). Maybe if we’d just fessed up and called it The Great Depression, the artistic product would have been better.

As Madonna might have sung, “We are living in a Pop Culture World.” It’s even become the dominant language. Try communicating with the average person without knowing the words “Snooki,” “Kardashian,” and “Fey.” No one discusses politics — either because it’s considered rude or uninteresting (“We won’t change our minds on this issue, so let’s just enjoy our lunch and discuss whether Brad and Angelina will ever get married.”). No one even explores the deeper meaning of our escapist entertainment. Generally, because it has none but also because deeper meanings inevitably return you to politics, philosophy, confrontation, and discomfort. We content ourselves with the personal lives of celebrities — as if they truly mattered to us. We even treat commercials, designed solely to sell us things, as “artistic expression.” We repeat one-liners from heartless sitcoms that are merely “clever” pop-culture references that reveal no true emotion — they conceal rather than reveal.

My intent is not to lament the situation, which is inexorable, but to ask that we acknowledge it. The reaction to Whitney Houston’s death has generated the same commentary we saw when Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson died. People are shocked by the outpouring of emotion. They wonder why the world stops when a pop culture figure dies. What about the nameless soldiers? That’s a good question. Here’s another: On February 26, will you watch the Academy Awards or spend the three hours reading Love My Rifle More Than You by Iraq War veteran Kayla Williams? Already read that one? How about One Bullet Away by Nathan Flick? The list goes on. More Americans have read the memoir of a TV writer than have read any first-person account of the Iraq War. I don’t judge. I just illustrate the reality of the world. On a daily basis, we reinforce what we considerable valuable.

Voltaire said that the living deserve our respect, the dead deserve only the truth. The truth is that our society lives and breathes pop culture. The emotion expressed on Facebook and Twitter when these figures pass on is genuine. Yet, suddenly, we feel shame for what our culture has become. I could cynically say it’s probably because no one enjoys being outside a party — even a funeral — looking in. If the pop culture figure is not important to us, we suddenly see the triviality of it all. If the pop culture figure is important to the individual, we suddenly comprehend the importance of naming a street in the figure’s honor or putting the figure on a stamp.

So, when the flags fly at half-mast for Betty White, I don’t want to hear a peep out of anyone.

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman”…

“I’m Every Woman” is my favorite Whitney Houston song, recorded when she was at the peak of her professional and personal success. As expected when such heights are reached, things were to slowly but swiftly decline afterward. It’s similar to how Mike Campbell answered the question in Sun Also Rises of how he went bankrupt: “Gradually and then suddenly.” Such is the price of fame.

The song’s infectious joy is also evident in its video, which features a visibly pregnant Houston (somewhat appropriate for a song celebrating all aspects of womanhood). She shares the stage with the past, present, and future of soul music: Cissy Houston (her mother), Chaka Khan, who first recorded the song in 1978, Valerie Simpson, who co-wrote it with her husband Nickolas Ashford, and then up-and-coming group TLC (Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a car accident in 2002).

Houston’s decision to cover “I’m Every Woman” was bold. Growing up in an R&B household, I knew that you just didn’t try to touch Chaka. However, Houston makes the song her own — her performance is youthful (she was not yet 30) but mature and confident.

Watching this video, it’s impossible to pity Whitney Houston — no matter how “gradually and then suddenly” things ended. Few people experience the happiness she feels in this video, and I don’t think she was just acting. I’ve seen The Bodyguard.

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Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Pop Life


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Newt Gingrich & The Sissy Gene…

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — excuse me, DR. Newt Gingrich, M.D. — made the following comment about homosexuality on Thursday:

Asked if people can choose to be gay, Gingrich told the Des Moines Register editorial board that he does not “believe in genetic determinism, and I don’t think there is any great evidence of genetic determinism.”

He said that certain people may choose to be gay if they have certain genetic traits and are raised in a certain environment.

“I think people have a significant range of choice within a genetic pattern,” he said. “I believe it’s a combination of genetics and environment. I think that both are involved. I think people have many ranges of choices.”

Why is it that heterosexual GOP presidentidal candidates appear to have more to say about homosexuality (what causes it and its impact on society) than actual homosexuals? Congressman Barney Frank was in the closet compared to these guys.

Politicians stating that homosexuality is a choice is nothing new, and it’s both illogical and irrelevant. If you don’t believe heterosexuality is a choice, then it would follow that neither is homosexuality. However, if you are inclined to believe that heterosexuality is innate and that certain people choose to veer from that norm, it’s irrelevant. Shouldn’t we value freedom of choice in the United States? It certainly is less of a threat to me and my wife if my neighbor is gay than if he chooses to own an assault weapon.

Where Gingrich ventures into dangerous territory (not for him, of course, but for gays) is when he states that one is more inclined to choose the homosexual lifestyle if they have “certain genetic traits” and “are raised in a certain environment.” He tacitly acknowledges a “Sissy Gene” but implies that it would remain dormant in the “right” environment. Those of us who possessed the “Sissy Gene” – whether we were gay or not — know the hell it can be growing up around those who either want to mock you or “fix” you.

I was a black kid who hated sports and loved musical theatre in 1980s Greenville, South Carolina. It wasn’t pretty. The only women whose posters I had on my walls were gay icons (Marilyn, Judy, Liza) or androgynous (Annie Lennox in her “Sweet Dreams” video suit). I once came home from school and my mother had replaced my Annie Lennox poster with one of Whitney Houston from her “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” days.

I told my mother, “In 20 years, the world will remember Whitney Houston as a crackhead who married a bigger crackhead and will recognize the generations-spanning genius of Annie Lennox.” I didn’t really say that but it’s one of the many reasons I want a working time machine.

My father also tried to help me with sports. I appreciated that he wanted to spend time with me, but it was agonizing. After he took me to a basketball game, my mother asked for a status report. “Well, he fell asleep during the first quarter, but I think he was almost happy before he dozed off.”

My parents were well-meaning. They only wanted their son to be normal. No parent wants their child to be called “queer” or “fag” (as I was) if it can be avoided. Almost 25 years later, I’d like to think we’ve reached a point where we can support differences. As writer Peter David once said, “There’s no such thing as normal. Just varying degrees of abnormality.” But Gingrich and his ilk wish to use their own political time machine to take us even further back: “If your kid winds up gay and thus suffers through all the crap that people like me are going to hurl at her, then it’s your fault. You’re to blame.”

Of course, this is about as effective as black parents trying to make their child “more white” because life would be easier. All you’re going to wind up with is a tormented kid. Or Carlton Banks from “The Fresh Prince” (oh, I got compared to him a lot as well — the white kids thought I spoke “queer,” the black kids thought I spoke “white,” the white kids got offended with the black kids for implying that they spoke “queer,” I sneaked off in all the confusion.)

Fortunately, twenty years later, TV has progressed from telling black kids that their only options are “white-acting” and “thuggish.” Right?

Oh, yeah, well done, “30 Rock.”

What’s most sinister about Gingrich’s comments is how it turns a common retort from gay-rights supporters on its ear: “Why would anyone choose to be gay?” That’s because we make it too easy for them. We let them have too many rights. Our coddling culture is just enabling their degeneracy.

Ultimately, my parents loved me and most likely would have supported me if I had been gay. Too many gay kids out there don’t have that luxury. Their parents’ love is contingent on making them look good in society’s eyes and will not hesitate to make life miserable for their “sissy” sons and “butch” daughters. So, we’ll have another generation of sons who dread sinking airballs in front of their fathers because it means far more than just losing a game, and we’ll see more girls forced to try to walk in heels when they’re more comfortable in Chuck Taylors.

Gingrich might like that world, but to me, it’s a hell on earth, and as Ricky Roma said, “I won’t live in it.”



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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Political Theatre, Social Commentary


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