The John Hughes Generation

breakfast clubBefore Gen Y, the voracious creators and consumers of social media, came Gen X, who built the infrastructure on the web that made social media possible. Where these generations intersect is through the movies of John Hughes, who suddenly passed of a heart attack while on a morning walk today in Manhattan, at the age of 59.

Hughes movies spanned from domestic gender role comedies like Mr. Mom to classic road movies like National Lampoon’s Vacation (for which he wrote the script), to the 90s Home Alone franchise.

But what really defined Hughes was his coming-of-age teen angst classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Buellers Day Off. My contemporaries grew up on those movies and saw ourselves in Anthony Michael Hall’s unrequited young love for Molly Ringwald. We could relate to the vicious social cliques and the politics of high school that The Breakfast Club explored and broke down. We all wanted to be Ferris Bueller and escape from boring classes, outsmart nasty principals, and sing on a giant float with fetching German lasses.

It’s unlikely that the teens of Hughes’ films could exist today. Being stuck in a school library on a Saturday for detention wouldn’t be quite the same punishment – between iPhones and Blackberries they’d never actually have to talk to each other. Ally Sheedy would be updating her Facebook status and posting to twitter about how bored she was while Judd Nelson texted Molly Ringwald something creepy. The nerd would probably be in the back creating a new app.

Ferris would never have been able to keep his location secret, someone would have snapped a picture of him on the float and posted it on Tumblr, or shot a video with their iPhone GS and posted it straight to YouTube. Simone would have been so overwhelmed with how much fun she was having she wouldn’t be able to resist checking in on FourSquare about her dinner with the Sausage King of Chicago and that Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Anyhow, that probably would have been the first place Jeanie checked. Busted!

Those teenagers existed in a snapshot of time – the 80s – but today when the news about Hughes broke, people from all walks – including kids who came of age a decade or more later – were posting those same stills from the Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink. The hairstyles may be dated, but the essence of the characters remains relatable for anyone who’s been through it.

That, incidentally, includes a whole lot of the people creating those movies for a new generation. From the LAT:

“[I]t’s hard to find a thirty- or fortysomething writer or filmmaker who doesn’t credit Hughes as a seminal figure in their movie education. “You see Hughes’ influence on all TV comedy, especially the stylized single-camera comedy,” says Apatow. “His great film characters, starting with Anthony Michael Hall in ‘Sixteen Candles,’ were big inspirations. When we were growing up, we were all like Hall — the goofy skinny kid who thinks he’s cool, even if nobody else does. ‘Superbad’ has that same attitude, that mix of total cockiness and insecurity.”

People like Kevin Smith and Diablo Cody give Hughes credit as an inspiration. Wrote Cody this afternoon on Twitter: “Truly saddened by passing of John Hughes. Was an idol to this magna-zoom-dweebie.”

Hughes joins a sad list in a strange summer where we’re losing icons of past eras, like Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. For the 80s, though, Hughes encapsulated that decade like no other. His films were a kaleidoscope of fashion, fears, hopes and kitsch from the decade of where we played Pac Man and wondered if any moment the Russians would drop a nuclear bomb on all of us.

He leaves behind a wife of 39 years, Nancy, two sons, John and James, and four grandchildren and a résumé of films that serve as a reminder of what it was like to be young and anxious in the 80s.

With Rachel Sklar, whose grandmother mercifully never felt her breasts.

DNC “Angry Mob” Ad Spurs Online Uproar, Questions About Accuracy

Picture 11The Democratic National Committee released a web ad Tuesday that seems to have hit a “Marathon Man”-style nerve with conservatives online. Entitled “Enough of the Mob,” the ad features clips of recent disruptions at health care town hall meetings, including a “Birther” with what looks like a large wonton wrapper in a Ziploc bag.

The ad has sparked a wave of anger and defiance from conservatives online, who collected their grievances under the hashtag “I am the mob.” The common refrain is that the ad amounts to demonization of dissent, similar to 2007’s “ Resolution”, and fearmongering, similar to conservative attempts to convince people that the reform bill mandates euthanasia.

The media, meanwhile, continues to debate the authenticity of these protests as grassroots movement vs. special town_hall_birtherinterest-funded astroturf.

Mary Katherine Ham, however, has broken one of the spokes in the DNC’s ad. She reports at The Weekly Standard that the Right Principlesplaybook” featured in the ad doesn’t actually spring from “high-level Republican political operatives” at all:

Right Principles has a Facebook group with 23 members and a Twitter account with five followers. MacGuffie describes himself as an “opponent of leftist thinking in America,” and told me he’s “never pulled a lever” for a Republican or Democrat on a federal level. Yet this Connecticut libertarian’s influence over a national, orchestrated Republican health-care push-back is strong, indeed, if you listen to liberal pundits and the Democratic National Committee, who have crafted a nefarious web out of refutable evidence.

It would be hard to characterize these folks as high-level, even in today’s Republican Party.

Ham goes on to deconstruct the route between Think Progress’ story, MSNBC’s reporting of it, and the DNC ad.

This is a great example of the pitfalls of taking shortcuts. The DNC would have been better served by laying out the funding sources of healthcare reform opposition, a difficult concept to fit into a 2-second graphic.

As for attacking the protesters themselves, the wisdom is questionable. The White House has avoided this so far, drawing a line between the protesters and the special interests behind them. The risk is that ordinary Americans will identify with the protesters, and see this as bullying.

On the other hand, the anger of the right at this ad might play right into the DNC’s hands, making opposition to healthcare reform seem unattractive.

A less risky, but tough to fit into 60 seconds, strategy might be to engage the protesters. Keith Olbermann reported last night on just such an example, a town hall meeting by Texas Democrat Gene Green that seemed to go pretty well. Given a fair hearing, it’s tough to relate to the fact that almost all of them have adequate healthcare, yet they oppose extending it to those who don’t.

In any case, it’s obvious that what the healthcare debate needs is less fearmongering, and more factmongering.

Theft Spreads: How the Sun UK Ripped Off The Rumpus and What Happened Next

StephenElliotLast week I published an interview with Jill Sobule on the website I edit, The Rumpus. The interview was the result of several weeks of back and forth questioning, and I was really happy with the finished product. Jill is an amazing person, fiercely individual, a true artist. A lot of that came out in the interview.

Another thing that came out in the interview is that Jill Sobule called Katy Perry a “title thieving little slut.” Jill’s biggest song was the 1995 hit “I Kissed A Girl.” Katy Perry’s biggest song is also titled “I Kissed A Girl” and was written with the help of her manager, the same guy who originally signed Jill to her label. Jill had resisted saying anything for a year, but during our interview her feelings finally came through.

For those that don’t know or are very young, I had a song in 1995 called, “I Kissed a Girl.” When Katy Perry’s version came out I started getting tons of inquiries about what I thought…As a musician I have always refrained from criticizing another artist. I was, “well, good for her.” It did bug me a little bit, however, when she said she came up with the idea for the title in a dream. In truth, she wrote it with a team of professional writers and was signed by the very same guy that signed me in 1995. I have not mentioned that in interviews as I don’t want to sound bitter or petty… cause, that’s not me.

Okay, maybe, if I really think about it, there were a few jealous and pissed off moments. So here goes, for the first time in an interview: Fuck you Katy Perry, you fucking stupid, maybe “not good for the gays,” title thieving, haven’t heard much else, so not quite sure if you’re talented, fucking little slut.

It took a few days but Jezebel noticed, then Rolling Stone. Then I noticed we were getting a trickle of traffic from The Sun UK. It turns out they had cut and pasted a large chunk of our interview, then posted a video of Jill, then followed that with a link to The Rumpus and a separate quote, making it seem like the original several paragraphs were there own.


I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at getting ripped off by a British bikini mag, but what happened next taught me something new about the Internet: theft spreads. Following the Sun was a mention at Holy Moly. And then the king of online celebrity sites, Perez Hilton, quoted the article linking back to the Sun, apparently figuring that was where the quote originated.

It makes you wonder, why bother? Why did the Sun steal our content when it would have been so easy to write, “In an interview with The Rumpus, Jill Sobule said…” It seems like that would have taken less work. It’s so easy to give credit. And since we’re an all-volunteer daily culture magazine that’s generally enough for us. But it turns out that stealing content is like littering. When you throw your trash on the ground the next guy does the same thing, and then the next, then the next. And soon the park’s covered in trash.

Or maybe it’s more like swineflu.

So fuck you Sun UK, you content thieving little slut.

Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries and the founding editor of The Rumpus.

Is Obama/Joker Poster Racist?


There’s a Barack Obama/Joker poster that’s spreading around the interweb like wildfire. It first surfaced back in April, but is catching on, now, in a big way.

The April Bedlam article noted a “Jim Crow quality” to the poster, and at least one writer has pegged it as being more than kinda racist:

The poster, which bears a very superficial resemblance to Shepard Fairey’s famous Obama Hope illustration, has been pasted on freeway supports and other public surfaces. It has a bit of everything to appeal to the drunk tank of California conservatism: Obama is in white face, his mouth (like Ledger’s Joker’s) has been grotesquely slit wide open and the word “Socialism” appears below his face. The only thing missing is a noose.

I think he’s overstating it just a little.

I don’t think the guy who made this intended to be racist, nor do I think the right wing is spanking themselves chafed over it because they’re racist (just behind-the-times dorks. Dark Knight came out, like, a geologic era ago). I give everyone 100% benefit of the doubt. When I was first writing this up, my 16 year-old son asked me what was so bad about blackface, and what the hell minstrelsy was. If you haven’t been the subject of it, you can be forgiven for not recognizing it.

I’ll even laugh at the guy who says the poster misses the point because the Joker was an anarchist, not a socialist. The premise of the poster is that Barack Obama is a joker because he’s a socialist, not that he’s socialist because he’s the Joker.

Having said all of that, this poster is immediately and strongly evocative of blackface minstrel shows. Hey, it happens, like when some ad guy accidentally snaps a picture of something that looks like a phallus. But, there it is. Care, or care not, ’tis a fact.

Once this was pointed out, however hyperbolically, the right wing was reluctant to give up their new plaything. Both Hot Air and Matt Lewis, among others, immediately went to the “they-did-it-to-Bush-too” defense. While I understand being defensive when someone puts a noose in your hand, this is a really poor analogy. Obviously, Bush didn’t belong to a group of people that had been historically mocked and demeaned through the application of race-changing makeup.

Even conceding that the poster is racially insensitive, I don’t think it should be censored. Art is supposed to provoke, and the as-yet-unknown artist may have intended to tweak the minstrel angle to make a statement about politicians in general, or Obama specifically. Believe it or not, he’s not universally beloved in the black community.

On the other hand, if you wear this as a t-shirt, you might rightly offend some folks. That might be worth the conversation, but it’s silly to pretend that the concern isn’t valid.

The Death of the Public Racist

danielleThere was a time when you could just say the N-word on television and no one would have batted a false eyelash. No one. Not in a world where this piece of video was ever deemed appropriate for the evening news:

Many of my own commenters on The Black Snob have noted, some with surprise, that among white Americans being called a racist is one of the worst things you can say (or be). This really shouldn’t be a shock since insanely overt racism was largely driven underground after the Civil Right Movement. By overt, I mean having the comfort to drop a “Martin Luther Coon … er King” on national television. That kind of overt. Where Strom Thurmond could flat out say he didn’t want “niggers” in his state’s swimming pools on the radio. That kind of overt.

For years if you wanted to say something racist it had to be in “coded” language – state’s rights, quotas, etc. You couldn’t flat out say something racist, but now there’s a new game in town. The “reverse racist” game. Now how a “reverse racist” is different from an old-fashioned racist I’ve been unable to tell, other than it appears to be the word du jour about conservative yakkadoodles to describe minorities who they feel are keeping the white man down. Usually said from the comfort of their multi-million dollar radio studios ensconced in their multi-million dollar homes.

The latest crier of “reverse racism” is Glenn Beck, who proudly declared that President Barack Obama is a regular ol’ racist apropos of nothing. He concluded that the president must have a serious problem with white people despite the fact that the president was loved and raised by nothing BUT white people.

I wonder if those white people who birthed and reared the president knew from the time he was but a wee babe that he hated their immortal souls? And does the president hate the white half of himself? Does he, in fact, call himself white racial slurs out of malice while singing the Negro National Anthem? Kind of like black, non-Jewish version of Ryan Gosling in “The Believer?” When he does bad things or makes mistakes does he blame “the whitey within?” Puh-leeze.

The NAACP recently released a statement condemning Beck that echoed my sentiments:

Mr. Beck’s statement was irresponsible and inflammatory at a time when as a nation we are attempting to engage in a constructive dialogue on race. Beck’s statements are an attempt to divide when we need to be united, an attempt to inflame with rhetoric when we need to discuss with thoughtfulness the serious question of race. It is a futile effort to distract from the serious issues of health care, the economy and the environment – issues that President Obama is tackling with foresight and fortitude.How could the President be a racist? A man of both African American and white heritage; a man who inspired millions of Americans to unite across the divide of race, religion and age in his historic run for the presidency. We commend President Obama for having the courage to discuss an issue that all too many Americans consider a third rail.

The “reverse racism” cry seems most used by those who are often called on for being the most insensitive to minorities and women – your Rush Limbaughs, your Glenn Becks, your Sean Hannitys. Basically, if you’ve been accused of being an actual racist at some point, you’re probably busy calling someone, on air, right now a “reverse racist” despite the absurdity of throwing loaded language to hide one’s own psychological projections.

As Kelefa Sanneh writes in this week’s New Yorker:

In the past few decades, though, reverse racism has undergone a similar redefinition, from symptom to system. Some who are skeptical of affirmative action, and of other programs designed to advance non-whites, consider reverse racism to be so pervasive, and so well entrenched, that it can only be described as systemic. (Think of Frank Ricci, the white firefighter who argued, successfully, that the city of New Haven had violated his civil rights.) And, despite Beck’s diagnosis of Obama’s “hatred,” many of the people who worry about Obama’s view of race see him not as personally bigoted but as complicit with anti-white interests and policies.

Considering how shameful and violent America’s racist past is you can kind of see why “racist” is a fighting word among white people. Any given Klan or Neo-Nazi rally and you’re likely to see more whites show up to protest their brand of ignorance than attend the actual rally. The Klan is a haunting old embarrassment, along with being highly offensive. The death of public racism lead to them from having a membership of Congressmen and judges to yokels and nobodies. Even if you ARE a racist, you don’t want to be associated with “racists.” Which is why Beck, et al, are quick to call others racists, throwing stones to hide their own prejudices. That’s why someone like Pat Buchanan is so wonderfully amazing in his unicorn-like ability to say something to the effect of “This has been a country basically built by white folks” with a straight face, mean it and not be a-feared that the boogeyman will get him for being so … well … you know.

While some are wondering if all the “President is a racist” rancor will lead to a return of more blatant and coarser racial rhetoric, I think the stigma of being labeled a racist is still so strong that even those who actual are ones, will never publicly adhere to it. They’ll dance around it. Flirt with it. Make out with it occasionally. But the days of declaring the love that dare not say it’s racist name are over. Because, the only thing worst than being a public bigot among white people is “child molester.” And if you’re a racist child molester … God help you. Even Klansmen hate child molesters. You’re not going to have ANY friends in prison.

Danielle Belton has been writing the popular “The Black Snob” blog since August 2007. She has contributed to the American Prospect, NPR, the Huffington Post and has been featured on Nightline. This column originally appeared on The Black Snob here. Learn more about Danielle here.

Spoiler Alert! Nothing Happens on Entourage (But We Still Watch)

entourage_8-4It was another exciting episode of HBO’s La La Land buddy comedy about the good life this week on Entourage: Vince slept with someone, E slept with someone, Drama made out a lot and Turtle went shopping.

This is the newest season of the once-interesting show – minimized plot points, maximized “character development.” And still, we watch (at least I watch). Why do we still care?

HBO’s inside Hollywood dramedy has seen many iterations since it premiered in 2004. There was the rise of Vince to superstar status, the fall to relative obscurity and his battle to come back. Along the way, he stayed true to his old NY buddies from home, now navigating the West Coast (this was a theme in HBO’s promotional push for this season, seen here and elsewhere). In the mix was arguably the strongest character, Ari Gold, to drive the show.

Now the character arcs are stagnant. Gold still has the most interesting room to grow, as he and his friend Andrew Klein play off each other over monogamy, business acumen and the spoils of victory in the cutthroat world of Hollywood. But the ‘boys’ are boring.

Still every week there are a few consistently funny jokes, and we tune in for the opportunity to banter about the latest ep at the proverbial watercooler. Entourage, in all its frivolity, is still pretty damn cool.

But for how much longer? HBO has been consistently smart about putting an end to huge series’ while still in their prime. The Sopranos ended after six seasons, as did Sex and the City. The best two HBO series of all time (in my opinion), Six Feet Under and The Wire lasted five.

Entourage is in the midst of season six, and wandering aimlessly. What does HBO do? Last week, it was renewed for season seven.

People will continue watching – not as many as True Blood or even Hung, but still an average of more than 7 million a week. But in order to keep the viewers interested, we need to see conflict, drama and surprise.

This week on Showtime’s hit Weeds, Nancy’s youngest son was shot by an errant bullet aimed at her on-again, off-again Mexican druglord politician boyfriend. The dichotomy between the two shows couldn’t be more clear. Although the same amount of weed is consumed on Entourage, their plotlines this season remain in a stupor.

For another point of view, we turned to Toure – a regular on MSNBC and fan of the show, as seen by his active Twitter feed:

I think we’ve got a pretty good Entourage season going on. A lot has happened and though it may not meet the drama of last season where it seemed Vince was spiraling down and out of Hollywood, we’ve got a lot happening. The boys are trying to grow up and move out of Vince’s shadow. They don’t want to be just his Entourage any more, they want their own businesses without Vince holding their hands. Vince feels the mobile frathouse thing they had slowly breaking apart but can’t do anything about it. Where last season had a bittersweet twinge because it seemed Vince might be losing his place in Hollywood, this one could end up bittersweet because the gang is growing up slash falling apart. Even Lloyd wants to grow up which is nice. Andrew Klein has turned out to be the loser Barbara predicted he’d be. Jamie-Lynn Sigler is a nice addition though it’s strange that she’s just a perfect girlfriend with no downside, no sacrificing to be made. E’s girlfriend is creepy, that won’t end well. I could go on. It’s a good season about maturing: Vince has already gotten his wings because the Scorsese film succeeded, Ari shows himself to be a mature man by scolding Andrew Klein for his indiscretion, and Lloyd, Turtle and E are fighting to jumpstart their careers. Only Drama isn’t trying: he’s more childish than ever. Such a hater, always there to kick Turtle or E when they’re down.

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