Category Archives: media and popular culture

Beyond Human: The Heaven’s Gate Cult, Transhumanism, and Me

A selfie with one of the Heaven’s Gate (post-mass suicide) photos, as shown in John R. Hall’s excellent 2000 study on new religious movements, Apocalypse Observed.

[Originally published on Disability Intersections on  March 21, 2014.]

Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religious Millenarian group based in San Diego, California, founded in the early 1970s and led by Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997) and Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985). On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an alien space craft following the Comet Hale–Bopp, which was then at its brightest.

–From Wikipedia’s entry on Heaven’s Gate (content warning on link for description of suicide and photos)

I’ve been fascinated with the Heaven’s Gate cult ever since I saw–as an 11 year-old–a huge photograph of the members’ dead bodies, apparently peacefully posed on bunkbeds,  on the front page of my local paper, under the rather alarmist headline (and all-caps) headline HOUSE OF HORROR. As I picked up bits and pieces of information on the group that the news media breathlessly reported throughout April and May of 1997, I began to wonder if the “house of horror” headline was overblown; yes, these folks had committed mass suicide, but they had also found people to whom they could relate and live with peacefully (albeit in a fringe religious group). Was that so horrifying? To most people–and to the media–it seemed like the answer was a resounding yes.

Continue reading

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yule gift guide, part 3: Things to Read

Today’s (VERY LATE) gift guide installment features books, glorious books! Not all of these were released in 2012, but they are all worth a look for your bibliophile giftees–or for yourself, if in the new year you’ve found that you need stuff to read.

Above: Selections from the following list.

Above: Selections from the following list.

Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman: I read this huge honker in a couple of sittings. Yes, it’s that interesting. Good for anyone who loves non-fiction, is not a Scientologist, and/or is thinking of majoring in Religious Studies.

A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres: More religion! Except this time, the subject is Jonestown. Journalist Julia Scheeres gets past all of the “OMG drinking the Kool-Aid” sensationalism surrounding the group’s mass murder/suicide, and in the process uncovers a fascinating story of people searching for meaning and peace–a search which ultimately led them to extremely dark places.

Sex & Disability, edited by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow: I reviewed this one for Bitch over the summer, but the quality of this volume is so good that I have no problem recommending at the drop of a hat (or drawers, really). Good for people who are into cultural studies, queer theory and studies, and/or (of course!) disability theory.

In the Peanut Gallery With Mystery Science Theater 3000, edited by Robert G. Weiner and Shelley E. Barba: Yes, it’s an academic anthology on MST3K. No, it’s not boring or tedious at all. This is a good one for media studies junkies, and/or people who have managed to sit through the very early KTMA episodes of the show.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: This was one of the funniest books that I read in 2012. The weird cover featuring a little taxidermied mouse dressed in a period costume is just the beginning–if you want to read anecdotes featuring a bathtub full of baby racoons, young Jenny accidentally running into a fresh animal carcass, and awkwardness at a weekend bloggers’ meetup, this is the book for you.

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson: Probably my favorite book of 2012, and certainly one of the most impeccably reported. This volume of British journalist Ronson’s collects many of his strangest and most compelling pieces, among them an interview with Insane Clown Posse (which can also be read herecontent warning for graphic descriptions of violence), a report from a week-long cruise for fans of infamously brusque psychic Sylvia Browne, and an amazing investigation of predatory credit card companies in the UK. The balance of “serious” journalism here with Ronson’s more humorous pieces is excellent, and I highly recommend Lost at Sea if you are a fan of British humor, investigative reporting, or nonfiction writing.

Non-Stop Inertia by Ivor Southwood: Those of you who are underemployed, or who are currently experiencing the purgatory of a stream of low-paid temp jobs, are sure to find much of what Southwood says about labor, capitalism, and the exploitation of young workers familiar–and, most likely, spot-on. I know I did!

All of Us or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area by Lincoln Cushing: A beautifully designed art(istic) history of the Bay Area’s famous (or infamous) reputation as a hotbed for anti-oppression movements does not disappoint. The posters included here are not just presented coffee table book-style, however–the text that describes each poster and its significance is enlightening, informative, and interesting to read. Anyone who says that history is “boring” should take a look at this book.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Quick update: My work, elsewhere

Hi, readers! I know I’ve been neglecting ye olde blog (and hopefully I will start to do better on the whole “updating it regularly” thing soon!), but I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of things in which I have been involved lately:

Last week, I wrote a guest post for Tiger Beatdown on Lars von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist, and how it relates to the pop cultural depiction (or lack thereof) of depression and pain, women and emotion, plus the unintended backlash that the expectation of “strong lady characters” has wrought. Go and join the discussion if you feel so inclined. Content warning for discussions of some graphic violence that the film depicts.

s.e. smith and I recently wrote an article (on disability culture on the internets and online feminism, naturally) for the latest print issue of Bitch Magazine, which is currently available for purchase or download. I also did the illustrations, which is kind of (read: EXTREMELY) exciting for me. We were interviewed at length by Kjerstin for the Bitch Radio podcast as well. Hooray!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Rating Holiday Albums Based on the Covers, part 2

This feature has been divided into two posts, since the first one was getting a bit long. You can view part one here. So, continuing with making silly comments about holiday albums! I know, Christmas was yesterday, but why not keep the momentum going?

Cover of Jewel's album "Joy: A Holiday Collection," which depicts the singer in some sort of heavily-edited, blue/gray tinted winter wonderland.This is your blue-grey toned Photoshop filter on “Unrecognizable” mode.

Cover of Bette Midler's album "Cool Yule," which depicts Midler standing happily in a snowy environment; she wears a white dress and a very large hat that appears to be made from red flowers.I’m totally coveting her hat. The rest of it (including the weird font), not so much.

Cover of James Taylor's album "James Taylor at Christmas," which depicts Taylor standing in front of a plain wall while dressed in warm clothing and holding a wrapped box.James Taylor looks quite nicely dressed up for Winter. Too bad he seems to be standing indoors, in front of a wall made of feces.

Cover of Hilary Duff's holiday album, which depicts the singer standing outside and next to a large sleigh while smiling happily. A wrapped gift floats above her head.There are times when words and/or speech disappear for me, and this is one of those times. Also, I can’t help but notice how there is a present directly above HiDu’s head. I don’t think she’ll be quite as happy when it falls from the sky. Is she able to make gifts levitate magically? This remains unexplained.

Cover of LeAnn Rimes' album "What a Wonderful World," which depicts a photograph of the singer surrounded by holiday trimmings.I had no idea that Glamor Shots was still around.

Cover of Bright Eyes' holiday album, which shows a black-and-white photograph of two horses in the snow, with a sleigh behind them. The photograph is placed on an off-white background.This is Bright Eyes’ Christmas contribution, which is so morose-looking that I now have an incredible urge to buy it.

Cover of Dolly Parton's album "Home For Christmas," which depicts Parton, dressed in white, sitting in a sled in a snowy outdoor environment.I want to buy this one, too, but for different reasons. Dolly Parton, you are my favorite implant-sporting woman.

Cover of Il Divo's album "The Christmas Collection," which depicts four young men in suits gathered around a table. They appear to be enjoying some alcohol.The International Male Catalog presents: CHRISTMAS!

Cover of Celine Dion's album "These Are Special Times," which features a sepia-toned portrait of Dion holding a small gift up to her face. She appears to be inhaling it.Christmas is the biggest sepia season of the year! Is there a reason why Celine appears to be smelling this package?

Cover of Charlotte Church's album "Dream a Dream," which features a likeness of the singer done in what appears to be oil painting.Thomas Kinkade’s first-ever celebrity portrait session goes tragically, terribly wrong.

Cover of Josh Groban's album "Noel," which depicts Groban smiling slightly at the camera while surrounded by gold-toned holiday lights.Someone got a little excited with the Photoshop on this one. Is it just me, or does Josh Groban look like he’s all, “I’M STEALING YOUR SOOOOOOUL” instead of smiling coyly?

Cover of Kenny Chesney's album "All I Want For Christmas...Is a Real Good Tan," which depicts Chesney sitting on a beach while wearing a red tank shirt, khakis, and a Santa hat.All I want for Christmas is for album cover designers to stop using computer graphics for nefarious purposes, such as putting little Santa hats on cover photos.

Cover of "NOW! That's What I Call Christmas Volume 3," which depicts the obxnious NOW! music series logo in a snowy environment.There are three of these?

Cover of Billy Gilman's album "Classic Christmas," which depicts a young blond boy sitting in snow and making a snowball while smiling at the camera.Billy Gilman: I, TOO, AM STEALING YOUR SOOOOOOUL.

Cover of the Victoria's Secret holiday compilation, which depicts a thin woman dressed in hot pink underwear, high heels and a Santa hat toting a large sack of gifts into the frame. She looks very happy.Merry Christmas! You get…I kind of don’t know what is going on here.

Cover of Brad Paisley's album "Christmas," which depicts an electric guitar festooned with holiday lights. There is a white cowboy hat perched atop the headstock.No, that’s not phallic at all.

Cover of KT Tunstall's album "Holiday Collection," which depicts the singer standing outdoors and smiling. The image has been edited to include a yellow ribbon on top of the photograph.I hope whomever designed this was severely reprimanded, both for making the normally lovely KT Tunstall look jaundiced, and for sticking her in a short-sleeved top OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING TUNDRA (or implying it, using the magic of cut n’paste). And then having the audacity to slap a bow onto such an atrocity.

I hope all of you who celebrate the holidays had a lovely time, and in case you didn’t get what you want this year, take heart: a Justin Bieber holiday album can’t be far behind.

Tagged , , , ,

Rating Holiday Albums Based on the Covers, part 1 (UPDATED)

A couple of years ago, I posted a bunch of images of holiday album covers on my Livejournal and attempted to make humorous comments about said images. Like obnoxious Salvation Army bell-ringers (and yes, that organization really is obnoxious, although I suppose one could just go with “noxious”) and insulting advertisements that pressure us–even in horrible economic times–to SPEND SPEND SPEND in order to show people that we really love them, holiday albums seem to be one of the more irritating (or hilarious) mainstays of the winter season in North America. There are many reasons as to why I find the holiday season ridiculous. This is just one of them. So, without further ado, I present “Rating Holiday Albums Based on the Covers,” now updated to include some holiday-themed albums released since mid-2008.

I got most of these images from music communities on Livejournal, because people on these communities seem to love holiday music. Good for them (also good for me, since I get to make a post like this).

Portions of the original post have been edited substantially, mostly to re-do repetitive jokes and fix some language and grammar issues.

Onward!

Cover of 98 Degrees' album "This Christmas," depicting four young men standing in front of a festive red background.

Could anything be less appealing than what looks like a J. Crew ad in record form? Let’s not forget to tell Nick Lachey to stay out of it.Cover of Aimee Mann's album "One More Drifter in the Snow," which depicts a white woman sitting on a plastic reindeer in an outdoor environment.I kind of love this one. Probably because of the plastic reindeer and also the font used.

Cover of The Carpenters' "Christmas Portrait," depicting an illustrated image of Santa Claus paiting a portrait of Richard and Karen Carpenter as an elf holds a paint pallette.

AHHHHHHH!!

Cover of Jessica Simpson's album "Rejoyce: The Christmas Album," which depicts a tan white woman with blond hair staring at the camera in front of a red background.

It’s beginning to look a lot like spray tan. . .oh, I mean Christmas.

Cover of Christina Aguilera's "My Kind of Christmas," depicting the singer standing in front of a plain wall while wearing a black crop top. The image is sepia-toned.

I don’t think the sepia tone nor the tank top that C. Ag is sporting here are particularly winter-appropriate.

Cover of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' album "Once Upon a Christmas," which depicts Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers smiling while surrounded by a large Christmas wreath. They stand next to a reindeer with large antlers.

Based upon the cover alone, I must listen to this album at some point. God, this is a brilliant album cover. It’s so deliriously terrible.

Cover of Mannheim Steamroller's album "Christmas," which shows a painting of a decorated, soft-focus holiday tree in dim light.

This looks like one of those bizarre ads that the Bradford Exchange puts on the back of Parade Magazine every Sunday.

Cover of Mannhein Steamroller's album "Christmas in the Aire," which depicts a snow-covered fir tree in an outdoor environment.

It’s the first Christmas tree ever constructed solely from bat dung!

Cover of Billy Idol's album "Happy Holidays: A Very Special Christmas," which depicts a be-suited Billy Idol singing into a microphone and pointing at something out-of-frame.

God, Billy Idol looks more like a skeevy lounge singer than ever before. I wonder if someone can talk him into doing a Christmas album with Scott Weiland. [Edit: I got my wish, sort of! See below.]

Cover of Aly and AJ's "Acoustic Hearts of Winter," which depicts two blond women relaxing in a wintry environment.

Somehow, I am reminded of the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Cover of Girls Aloud's album "Chemistry," which depicts four women in a kitchen environment wrapping gifts, placing a gift beneath a large tree, eating a cookie from a cookie sheet, and preparing a turkey, respectively.I am pretty sure that there is a Gender Studies dissertation just WAITING to be written about this cover.

Cover of Jackie Evancho's album "Heavenly Christmas," depicting a young blond girl wearing a festive dress sitting beneath what appears to be a large wreath.

No 11-year old with whom I have ever come into contact has had posture this good. Maybe Jackie Evancho is just that bad-ass, though.

Cover of Mariah Carey's second (!!) Christmas album, which depicts Carey sitting in an outdoor environment amongst holiday decorations while wearing a red dress with white fur trim.

If Mariah Carey’s album covers were as interesting and polished as her voice is, her second (!) holiday album would not be on this list. C’est la vie.

Cover of Tori Amos's album "Midwinter Graces," depicting Amos floating in the sky while wearing a long sleeveless dress.

Call me a Tori Amos fandom Luddite, but I vastly prefer the album covers of hers that prominently feature things like mud, firearms, and dead chickens rather than someone getting over-enthusiastic about CG. Check some of the inner booklet art, too:

Image of Tori Amos, wearing some kind of very shiny red dress with a huge circular collar, leaning over a sleeping angel while hoisting a lantern

Tori’s outfit looks like something that you would see in an early-1980s David Cronenberg film, and I think this is a major improvement over the cover of Midwinter Graces for that exact reason.

Cover of Scott Weiland's album "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," depicting Weiland standing in front of a dark background while smiling and wearing a collared shirt, tie, vest and fedora.

WEILAND, WHAT HAPPENED HERE. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU JUST STEPPED OUT OF A BANANA REPUBLIC HOLIDAY AD. HONESTLY.

Part two will be posted soon. Until then, feel free to post your favorite (or least favorite) holiday album covers in the comments.

Tagged , , ,

Maybe Not Quite The Worst Album of All Time: A Short Review of Lulu (2011)

Hi, folks! You may have noticed that I have not been around the blogging world as of late; the primary reason for this is because I am finishing my Master’s thesis and have not had much time to blog about anything important. Continuing this trend, here is a short review of one of the most polarizing albums of the year, the Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration Lulu. It is available as a two-disc album as well as a (rather perplexing) $120 special edition box set.

First, a disclaimer: I did not have high expectations for this album at all. Since I am probably one of the comparatively few people who still follows Lou Reed’s current output (un-ironically, I swear) and who also really, really liked 2003’s The Raven (because where the hell else are you going to get Lou Reed and Antony Hegarty collaborating on anything, and both Steve Buscemi and Willem Dafoe READING SELECTIONS FROM EDGAR ALLEN POE’S WORKS[!] on one record?), I was eager to at least give this collaboration a chance. I suspected that it would either be the best record of the year (HA), or the worst.

(The jury is still out on whether the album art is the worst of all time, however.)

There are a lot of things to pick at here: the ramrod guitar-bass-drum combo rockers that go on for six minutes; James Hetfield’s unfortunate backing vocals in many of the songs, which seem to signal that he is trying too hard; the creepiness of hearing a man who is nearing 70 years of age say, with apparent seriousness, “I am your little girl” (that would be from “Mistress Dread”; I know it’s a concept album, but come on); the fact  every song on the first disc could have been cut by a minute or so without any detrimental effect to the overall flow of the album.

However, there are a couple of songs that are at least listenable, if not great. “Iced Honey” is a fairly catchy, if somewhat standard, rock song. “Little Dog” is not terrible, either, save for the mention of the titular dog’s penis for no apparent reason. The album’s final track, “Junior Dad” is twenty minutes long and, strangely, is probably the best track on the album. Its length–and its interesting instrumental work–distinguish it from most of Lulu, if only because it is not (for the most part) yet another six-minute hard rock track that prominently features Lou Reed’s poetry read in a monotone and James Hetfield’s awkward backing vocals in all the wrong places. One wonders whether Lulu would still be a spectacular failure if Metallica and Reed had taken things in a more “Junior Dad”-esque direction. I think it would be a much better album if this were the case, but despite the album’s failures, I cannot call Lulu the worst album of all time.

No, my pick for the worst album of all time is still Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, which is an odd, somewhat overproduced collection of metal and rock covers from the conservative Christian crooner. It’s sort of like an alternate-universe version of the oeuvre of Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine, except Boone is — as far as I can tell — totally serious, whereas Richard Cheese and LAtM works really well because the audience is in on the joke. It seems that Reed and the members of Metallica are serious about Lulu also, but at least Lulu has a few things going for it (even if one of those things is TWENTY MINUTES LONG). You can tell that Reed and Metallica enjoyed making this record — even if the end result never quite comes together as a coherent concept album, or reaches the level of transcendent godawfulness that many of us expected. Maybe it’s one of those records where you either get it or you don’t. I, for the most part, don’t.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Music Monday: Cover songs!

I find cover songs, on the whole, super-interesting; many of them are slices of various musicians and bands at their worst or most outright bizarre (see Nickelback’s cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” by Elton John) or their best (see below). Love ’em or hate ’em, covers seem to be a perennially-discussed topic amongst fans of music and popular culture. There is even a website devoted to covers.

This post collects just a few of my favorites, because a post of all of my favorite covers would be entirely too long. Lyrics for each song are linked via the song title.

Garbage did an absolutely stunning version of “Candy Says,” originally by the Velvet Underground, a while back:

Next up is Tori Amos, about whom I should probably just write a whole blog entry because she is so prolific with cover songs (TAKE NOTE, me). Anyway, she covered a bunch of songs written by men about women for her 2001 album Strange Little Girls, but two of the arguably best tracks from those recording sessions did not actually make it onto the album.

After All” (David Bowie):

Only Women Bleed” (Alice Cooper):

This doesn’t mean that Strange Little Girls was a bad album, however. Check out her piano and voice cover of Joe Jackson’s “Real Men” — a searing indictment of traditional masculinity that is still pretty damn relevant in the present moment, even though it was recorded in the early 1980s:

Covers have also been a unique part of Tori’s live shows. I would be remiss not to include her absolutely gorgeous organ-and-voice version of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” recorded in 1996:

Then there’s her version of Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” performed on tour in 2005:

Speaking of Radiohead covers, roots/Americana musician Gillian Welch has been known to cover “Black Star” in concert; in many ways, her version surpasses the original:

Again surpassing the original (which may equal blasphemy to some Dylan fans, I know): Nina Simone sings Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’“:

I am including Antony and the Johnsons’ b-sided take on Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” because it is so radically different from the original song (check those string arrangements), but still awesome:

Patti Smith’s album Twelve is a collection of covers; if you’ve ever wanted to hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” interpreted as a folk tune WITH BANJO, this is an album worth picking up:

And lastly, recently-departed R.E.M. once recorded an amazing cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” Michael Stipe’s quiet falsetto is, in many ways, an intense counterpoint to original VU vocalist Nico’s monotone:

Feel free, as always, to link your favorites in the comments.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,