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cathy earnshaw (Berlin, Germany)

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I Should Have Known Better: A Life in Pop Management - "The Beatles", "Brian Epstein" and "Elton John"
I Should Have Known Better: A Life in Pop Management - "The Beatles", "Brian Epstein" and "Elton John"
by Geoffrey Ellis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars There are some good books on The Beatles, but this isn't one of them, 29 July 2009
It was the brilliant, troubled Beatles manager Brian Epstein (1934-1967) who plucked Geoffrey Ellis - a boyhood friend from Liverpool - from his job as Assistant Underwriting Manager for an insurance company in New York to become a personal assistant to him and The Beatles at NEMS Enterprises in October 1964. Assisting the supergroup in their administrative affairs (drawing up contracts, doing accountancy work, advising on tax law), Ellis was made Chief Executive in 1965, becoming Co-Director of Dick James Music Ltd after Epstein's tragically premature death.

You would think, given his proximity to The Beatles (and other stars such as Cilla Black and Elton John), that Ellis would be spoilt for choice in terms of what to tell. But instead we get a 250-page narrative that is low on insight and insider news and big on a rather snobbish attention to who has been made a Lord and who hasn't, and whether the stretch limousine which picked him up from the airport had a TV and a well-stocked minibar or not (yes, really). Such is Ellis's concentration on conservatism and moral values, that it is hard to imagine on the basis of his account that the swinging sixties saw any sex, drugs and rock n' roll at all. Take, for example the wild, druggy Sergeant Pepper release party attended amongst others by three Beatles, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull ("I was invited of course", Ellis tells us proudly, like a peacock spreading its feathers). Ellis's only anecdote for this evening is: "I went to bed and to sleep quite early...There were twin beds in the bedroom, and I woke to find the late comedian, Kenny Everett, in the other bed. We had no conversation as, by the time I left the house, he had not yet surfaced." It was scenes such as this that led The Times' music journalist Caitlin Moran to call the book "so bad it's good" when it came out in 2004.

Curiously, the only time Ellis seems to allow his narrative to become at all passionate is when he engages in a long vitriol against John Lennon. He seems to hate everything about the man, from "his scorn of the fans, his sharp tongue and his conscious nurturing of his 'working-class hero' image", to his general manner ("too clever for his own good"), and his treatment of his first wife Cynthia ("unkind and eventually beyond a doubt ungenerous"). Even the drawings Lennon did in his art college days when he was still a teenager incur his censure: "His simple line drawings are the work of a very minor talent indeed". Labouring the point, Ellis concludes: "I cannot overcome my distaste for his memory." More problematically, Ellis states that Brian Epstein - who experienced a painful sense of alienation growing up as a Jewish homosexual in upper middle class surroundings in the Liverpool of the 1940s and 1950s - "made problems for himself by his homosexuality", as if his sexual orientation was something he could or should have repressed. Aside from this apparent heterosexism, let us not forget that when Brian was alive, homosexuality was still illegal in England and Wales and was punishable by law. It was only in July 1967 - merely weeks before Epstein died aged 32 of an accidental overdose - that sex between consenting male adults over the age of 21 was decriminalised. Hardly an easy situation for the public Epstein to be in.

On a more affirmative note, Ellis admits that he likes the song 'Yesterday' (finally something positive!). It gets better: "I always found Paul very agreeable, and he can indeed be charming and co-operative". But - and with Geoffrey, there almost always seems to be a 'but' - "he can be waspish, too". Indeed "he had displayed his wilful side when he left the country on holiday when he was needed...".

Over the years some great memoirs and monographs have been written on The Beatles, as individuals, a group and as a phenomenon - Ray Coleman's biographies of John Lennon (1984) and Brian Epstein (1989), for example, or Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head (1994) - but, in my experience at least, this wasn't one of them.


Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made "The Beatles"
Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made "The Beatles"
by Ray Coleman
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The restless, debonair life of Mr. Brian Epstein (1934-1967), 27 July 2009
Could it be - with the 'Fifth Beatle' Epstein biopic in the pipeline, an online petition for him to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and talk of a statue being built in Liverpool in his honour - that Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, will finally receive the recognition he deserves? Sadly, it doesn't seem that the remaining Beatles are at the forefront of this "campaign": in fact in 2000 they published an autobiography suggesting that Epstein wanted to pay The Beatles a fixed wage in order to keep the rest of the band's earnings for himself (many others who knew and worked with him have rebuffed this, pointing to his financial inexperience and ineptitude at the beginning of his managerial career). Cilla Black, whom Epstein also managed, let it be known last year that she had written to Paul McCartney, hoping that he would help Epstein to be better honoured, but never received a reply.

So for the time being, those who want to learn, hear or see more of the charismatic Beatles manager will have to content themselves with three books, two of which are now out of print: Epstein's autobiography A Cellarful of Noise (published in 1964 as Beatlemania was at its most maniacal), Ray Coleman's Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles (1989) and Debbie Geller's The Brian Epstein Story (1999). And what a brilliant tribute Ray Coleman's biography is. Over 460 pages, Coleman - former editor-in-chief of Melody Maker and author of John Lennon: The Definitive Biography (1984) - unfolds the complex, multifaceted personality of the Beatles manager, peppering his account with engrossing insights, unseen photographs and private letters (showing Epstein's flowery handwriting). Written with the support and encouragement of the Epstein family, Coleman recounts Brian's erratic and eventful life, from his birth at 4 Rodney Street, Liverpool, to a rapid change of schools, his coming-out to his parents, the torturous identity problems he suffered as a Jewish homosexual, the short-lived theatrical training he received at RADA, his work at the family-owned NEMS record store on Great Charlotte Street to his discovery of the supergroup. Here Coleman debunks a few myths: Epstein had already heard about The Beatles before he set foot in the Cavern Club on 9 November 1961, not only from articles published in the Mersey Beat magazine sold at his shop, but also from numerous customer requests for their single 'My Bonnie' which had been released in Germany. Fascinatingly, Coleman also reveals that Decca was not the first record company to turn The Beatles down: EMI (who later signed them) first rejected them. Coleman reprints the rejection letter, confirmed by three senior producers at EMI, in which R.N. White informs Epstein: "We feel that we have sufficient groups of this type at the present under contract" (18 December 1961).

Tales follow of how the handsome Epstein (which he apparently liked pronounced Ep-steen) smartened and 'sanitised' The Beatles, hiding their private lives from fanatical fans and the hawk-eyed press. Of how he skillfully averted PR disasters after a Beatle had once again put the boot in. About how George Harrison was often the most difficult Beatle for him ("too demanding") and how pained he was by John Lennon's queer- and Jew-bashing humour. Coleman deftly denies claims that Epstein and Lennon had a homosexual relationship during their twelve-day escape to Barcelona in spring 1963 - a claim tediously reawakened by the new Philip Norman biography of Lennon. As The Beatles consolidate their fame, and Epstein takes on more and acts, he suffers a descent into acute insomnia, a gradual dependency on pills and alcohol (not necessarily unusual at that time), and an intensification of his long-standing loneliness and insecurity. His workaholic behaviour, characterised by an inability to delegate and a voracious desire to expand and succeed, became particularly straining. With his contract coming up for renewal in September 1967, Epstein feared losing control of The Beatles (correctly sensing a threat in the form of Allen Klein, who would later become manager of three Beatles after Epstein's death). But this doesn't prevent Coleman from capturing the jovial wit and flamboyance of the man. There is an amusing tale of Brian's chaotic erraticism: more than one colleague tells of how he had a habit of careering through red lights in his Bentley and then stopping at green ones (with the suggestion that he was in fact colour blind!).

Epstein's accidental death at 32 at his Chapel Street home in London - found with a "low lethal" level of barbiturates found in his blood - was a tragic waste. As one negotiating partner remembers, "[he was] a sensitive, cultured and caring person whose death struck me as a total waste. The Beatles never seemed to have that team stability when he had gone".

A gripping read!


John Lennon: The Life
John Lennon: The Life
by Philip Norman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I wouldn't mind dying as the world's clown. I'm not looking for epitaphs" (John Lennon, 1969), 19 July 2009
This review is from: John Lennon: The Life (Paperback)
There seems to be renewed interest in John Lennon at the moment. Two exhibitions have recently opened: one in New York organised by his widow Yoko Ono and one in Liverpool curated by his first wife Cynthia and son Julian; Cynthia also published a second memoir, John, in 2005; three not uncontroversial films have been made on his killing (Chapter 27, The Murder of John Lennon and The Killing of John Lennon) and a biopic of his early years is in the pipeline (directed by Sam Taylor-Wood). The relatively recent deaths of George Harrison (2001), long-term roadie Neil Aspinall (2008) and erstwhile Beatles lawyer Allen Klein (2009) have surely also brought Lennon back into the headlines. Reflecting this interest and also expressing it is Philip Norman's 800+-page biography John Lennon: The Life, which has arrived in good time for the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death next year.

So many books have been written on John Lennon (even rockstars have named children after him). Why should we keep on reading them? And the answer is, first and foremost, because he was a fascinating songwriter and singer. He also undoubtedly had a complex personality, seemingly ricocheting between headline-making arrogance and painful self-doubt, aggression and tenderness, tomfoolery and pleas for peace, neglect of his first son followed by becoming a doting househusband for the second, and seamlessly switching from marriage to a quintessentially conservative Liverpudlian wife in suburban England to a Japanese-American performance artist seven years his senior in downtown New York. In his 40 years of life, his relationship to politics likewise swung from candid disinterest ("It's selfish, but I don't care too much about humanity," he proclaimed in 1963) to peace activism and feminism as reflected in such tracks as 'Woman', 'Give Peace a Chance' and 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)'. Many of his songs - with and without Paul McCartney - irrevocably changed the cultural landscape and continue to enrich it.

On the positive side, Norman painstakingly evokes John's early years, his sense of identity torn between a playful, half-present mother, a father absent at sea, and the blunt, efficient protection provided by Aunt Mimi. We get a palpable sense of Lennon's vulnerability and anger as a terrible litany of unexpected tragedies is recounted: the sudden death of Uncle George from a liver haemorrhage in 1955, his mother being killed by a speeding off-duty policeman in 1958 when he was 17, the brain haemorrhage that killed his friend and bandmate Stuart Sutcliffe in 1962, and the drug overdose that deprived the world famous Beatles of their troubled manager, Brian Epstein, in 1967. Epstein's death unsettled and destabilised the Beatles juggernaut that had been running so successfully, efficiently and groundbreakingly up to that point. For Lennon, this - rather than the entrance of Yoko Ono in his life - marked the beginning of the demise of the supergroup.

To his credit, Norman doesn't shy away from illuminating Lennon's more unattractive traits and behaviour. Where Norman is weaker, though, is on the Dakota years. In contrast to the earlier attention to detail, the writing in these sections feels rushed and Norman seems to gloss over important changes that take place. How, for instance, can Lennon's sudden esotericism be understood (which is apparently so strong that he and Yoko let astrological readings determine the flight route they shall take from Japan back to New York)? How was Lennon able to care for his second-born (Sean) so lovingly whilst continuing to neglect his first-born (Julian)? What was it about Yoko Ono that so fascinated him and made him so open to her impact (on his music, his relationships, his politics and worldview) after a first marriage in which he seemed determined to ignore the wishes and needs of his wife? The developments in Lennon's character are passed over as if they were simply a matter of course, and this is a key flaw in Norman's book: he fails to provide a sustained analysis of the inner life of his subject. In the portrayal of his second marriage, he also - I feel - is too deferential to Yoko Ono's account of events (who initially had positive feelings about the book, thinking otherwise shortly before its publication). Also, his treatment of Julian Lennon is poor - for chapters he ignores mention of Lennon's neglect of him, only to compare Julian's music negatively to Sean's, stating that the former became a "Lennon clone" in the 1990s. The sense of foreboding that he presses upon the reader, where even the slightest reference to guns or death is apparently a dark foreshadowing of what is to come, can also be irritating and gives Lennon's assassination an unfortunate sense of inevitability which it shouldn't have.

In spite of the research and its length, this probably isn't the definitive biography on Lennon, and it certainly won't be the last word, but it has brought us much closer to an account of his life that in its sensitivity, sustained analysis and evenhandedness truly does it justice.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2011 7:46 PM GMT


No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars "I preach the gospel of I-don't-know, I'm promoting doubt", 10 April 2009
This road documentary satirizing organised religious faith, presented by US comedian Bill Maher and directed by Larry 'Borat' Charles, might not be perfect, but it's a necessary one. And timely, too, in this age of religious extremism and fundamentalism. Atheism is, Maher tells us, on the rise in the USA (16% of Americans are apparently now non-believers). Also (although Maher does not mention them) Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion (2006) and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great (2007) and The Portable Atheist (2007) have become huge bestsellers. And this year marks the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth.

Bill Maher (who grew up in a half-Catholic, half-Jewish household) opens the docu in the fighting spirit - "Religion is detrimental to humanity" - with which it ends - "Religion makes a virtue out of not thinking". In between he visits a truckers' chapel, The Creation Museum in Kentucky, the Vatican, Israel, and Amsterdam; he interviews rapper Aki Nawaz in a London subway, a bible belt senator from Arkansas, orthodox Jews, and Muslims as well as preaching Scientology in disguise at Speakers Corner. Disturbingly, he meets someone who believes that God intended the Holocaust as part of his Masterplan, and a Puerto Rican who has become rich claiming that he is The Second Coming. Maher frames the docu by talking of his journey from a confused religious upbringing to agnostic scepticism by interviewing his sister and mother (who died before the documentary was released).

He sidesteps Hinduism and Buddhism - ostensibly because it would make the film too long, but perhaps also because they are religious philosophies which permit more doubt that the ones he wishes to focus on. The film is essentially a call to the arms of 'rationalists' to voice their doubt more loudly so that non-believers become legitimate stakeholders in US society like smaller minorities (gays and lesbians, blacks, Asians, Jews, etc.). But he gets too smug and self-congratulatory, dominating and quashing his interviewees. At one point he even prints on screen the semantic mistakes of a senator, which backfires, coming across as arrogant and infantile. And he doesn't really try to get any balance into the debate or much depth to his discussion, preferring more simply to ridicule time and again the blind faith of believers. Recently he claimed in an interview that "to be religious at all is to be an extremist" - which seems just as zealous and self-righteous as the targets he lampoons. In fact, The Boston Globe claimed that Bill Maher was not looking for answers at all in this documentary - he was looking for targets.

So it's not without its faults then, but its challenging of religious faith is nevertheless fascinating, sometimes annoying, occasionally unsettling, and often funny.


It's All About Love [DVD]
It's All About Love [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: 5.20

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love is in the air, 30 Mar 2009
This review is from: It's All About Love [DVD] (DVD)
This movie from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg has radically polarised audiences and critics, with art house audiences rhapsodising about its "nightmarish beauty" and Dogma95 fans poking fun at its pretensions. It's been called a 'sci-fi romance', which might lead you to imagine some kind of soft porn starring Spock and Captain Kirk. Not so! It centres on two Polish emigrees in New York in 2021: John (Joaquin Phoenix) is flying to New York to get his estranged wife, ice-skating superstar Elena (Claire Danes), to sign the divorce papers, their relationship having buckled under the strain of "calendars written in different languages". But step by step, shards of a different reality splinter the surface of the plot: the news is filled with reports of lonely Manhattaners dying suddenly of weak hearts on the streets and in the subways. Snow starts to fall in July. And yes, Ugandans have started to fly. This is a futuristic and highly melancholic vision with a message, a comment for contemporary times, about being in thrall to technology, consumerism, commercialism and celebrity, and what is lost in the process. The earthier essentials - Vinterberg seems to want to say (in fact, he sometimes drives it home rather too explicitly) - are becoming buried under blankets of snow.

It'd be easy to mock this film (enough people have done that in newspaper columns and on message boards). But, if you're open to it, this is a beautiful and beautifully different film. There are the ice-skating scenes where four Claire Danes gracefully take to the ice, the authenticity of Joaquin Phoenix's acting, and the sweeping elegies of Zbigniew Preisner's original score. The accents may be a little shaky and there might be what Variety magazine tactfully called "significant deficiencies on the level of storytelling". But this is an ambitious and rewarding film - part thriller, part fairytale - and it's a story worth telling. (3.5 stars)

Extras include trailers and interviews with Phoenix, Danes, Vinterberg and co-scriptwriter Mogens Rukov.


Bodies (Big Ideas)
Bodies (Big Ideas)
by Susie Orbach
Edition: Paperback

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A meandering disappointment, 29 Mar 2009
This review is from: Bodies (Big Ideas) (Paperback)
Having read the glowing reviews and synopses of this book in the Sunday supplements - all of which eulogised the richness, uniqueness and timeliness of Susie Orbach's Bodies (2009) - I was disappointed to find it a hodgepodge of unchecked statistics, extreme examples and a meandering analysis which peters out before it gains cohesive momentum. It might be that expectations were high - Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978) is a longstanding classic and Orbach is co-originator of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty (as well as, incidentally, having been Princess Diana's therapist). And the broadsheets were perhaps willing this to be a book of great resonance - its starting points certainly make for easy copy. And its simple, stark cover already has the pretensions of an intellectual classic: A chipped, lipsticked porcelain doll represents the imperfect body; its bald head is hung in shame and its body pushed into the corner by an overwhelming sea of blue (suggesting, I imagine, that the environment surrounding the body shapes and defines it more than the material body itself does). This is a book that doesn't need marketing schnick-schnack on the cover, it'll sell by itself.

It is well-known that contemporary Western societies fetishize thin bodies and that the commentary on anorexia often simplifies the illness to a preoccupation with food. Or in Orbach's words: "Thinness has become an aspirational issue" and "is - falsely, I believe - promoted as a health issue in which the psychological underpinnings of appetite and thinness are bypassed". It has also been well reported that alarm over obesity in the Western world has been exaggerated and overstated, especially after the publication of Paul Campos's The Obesity Myth in 2004 and J. Eric Oliver's Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic in 2005. Orbach repeats the findings of these books, without hardly adding anything new (repeatedly in the book, I had the impression of an overreliance on established research and newspaper cuttings).

More problematically, Orbach regurgitates statistics from newspapers in the body of her text without having verified them. For example, she quotes that the diet industry was worth 100 billion dollars in the US in 2006, but the footnote offers no substantiation, stating simply that "This figure is used extensively". With statistics that vague, unreliable and unsubtantiated, it is perhaps wiser to not use them at all (or at the very least, reference the sources and calculations behind them). Predictably, many newspapers have taken up this "statistic" again, following Orbach's cue, and are quoting it as unambiguous fact.

And, finally, there is the story of Andrew: a father in his 50s who successfully convinces doctors to amputate both of his healthy legs so that he can automatically (and without speech) engender a longed-for sympathy in the eyes of strangers. Orbach's recounting of Andrew's body distress takes up nearly all of the first chapter, which purports to tell us of 'Bodies in Our Time'. But one or two very extreme case studies cannot convincingly be the basis for hypothesizing about the general situation regarding our relationships with our bodies. Ultimately, Andrew's extreme desire to self-amputate may well have more to do with individual childhood trauma than "our bodies being in crisis".

I have a feeling that this book strains to be one of those modern intellectual texts which, with a seeming lack of effort, unfold their insights to the reader. But such books (e.g. by Alain de Botton or Adam Philips) have usually been carefully structured with their "spontaneous" philosophisings smoothed into a cohesive, logically plausible sequence. If you try and mimic this "spontaneity" without the groundwork, what you often end up with is what you find here: a frustrating mish-mash of ideas.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 8, 2009 1:45 PM BST


Taking South Park Seriously
Taking South Park Seriously
by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
Edition: Paperback
Price: 19.41

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best scholarly analysis of South Park so far!, 29 Mar 2009
Of the three books I've read which analyse South Park - including Toni Johnson-Woods's Blame Canada!: "South Park" and Contemporary Culture and Robert Arp's ed. South Park and Philosophy - this is the best. The twelve essays actively avoid discussing South Park in a void, placing it instead in a tradition of satire that has always had crudity as a staple (e.g. Jonathan Swift) as well as in the context of the theatre of the absurd (e.g. Beckett). The contributors also show how South Park has been influenced by the US cartoons which preceded it (The Flintstones, Ren & Stimpy, Beavis and Butt-head and The Simpsons).

There is a good analysis of South Park and politics ("South Park must be seen as deeply politically ambivalent") and rebuttals of accusations that the show is antiliberal ("South Park is not simply anticonservative or antiliberal but antipolitical"). Its humour is understood as springing from the "ironic disjunction between the program's mature themes and language and its fourth-grade protagonists and crude animation style". But does its satire mean that viewers are allowed to feel comfortable with their own prejudices? And do we have to take its social commentary seriously if everything and everyone on the show is lampooned?

If that all sounds rather humourless, then that's because the twelve essays do tend to over-intellectualise the show and fail - as almost all accounts of the show do - to give adequate weight to its potty (or what academics like to call "scatological") humour and deliberate immaturity, forgetting that this is a comedy show! One contributor even sheepishly remarks in this context, "we do not wish to dwell unnecessarily on this grotesque and quite literally unsavoury image", as if readers wouldn't be able to stomach it! And some of the analysis is occasionally far-fetched: Robert Samuels argues that Matt Stone victimizes his Jewish mother and Jewish identity to bond with the audience, having internalised anti-Semitism. In fact Stone has spoken often in interviews of being an "agnostic Jew" who didn't grow up in an explicitly Jewish household, only becoming aware of his Jewish heritage in his late teens.

Trey Parker has recently complained that all anyone ever talks about now when discussing South Park is "its social commentary". This book won't change that by any means, but it's definitely worth a read for those interested in media studies and South Park fans alike. (4-5 stars)


South Park and Philosophy: You Know, I Learned Something Today (Blackwell Philosophy & Pop Culture) (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series)
South Park and Philosophy: You Know, I Learned Something Today (Blackwell Philosophy & Pop Culture) (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series)
by Robert Arp
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Potential readers of this book should know that..., 19 Mar 2009
"South Park and Philosophy" uses the show as a basis for introducing readers to philosophy rather than offering sustained close analysis of the show itself (e.g. one contributor to the essay collection uses Big Gay Al as a vehicle for discussing the arguments for and against gay marriage). The book is therefore not about the philosophy *of* South Park as such - a misunderstanding (or deliberately skewed marketing) which has led some readers to post about their disappointment on the US review page. If you are looking for closer analysis and commentary on the show, a better starting point would be "Blame Canada! South Park and Contemporary Culture" by Toni Johnson-Woods.

There are particularly good chapters from William W. Young II (on how South Park challenges social forms of repression and questions how television represses thinking), Catherine Yu (Is it morally wrong to laugh at the show? How would a real racist react to it?), Per F. Broman (on the function of music on the show) and Shai Biderman (What makes up personal identity in South Park and philosophically?). Henry Jacoby praises the critical thinking skills of Stan Marsh while William J. Devlin claims that it is Kyle who is South Park's true philosopher. Much of the more general commentary on the show is interesting but hardly groundbreaking - Cartman is an "ethical egoist", the show "revels in the absurdity of inconsistent moral beliefs", political correctness is being lampooned, etc. More interestingly, they suggest that extremists get a bad deal on the show because they implicitly threaten the free speech that makes the show possible.

Like the fluctuating quality of the show itself, there are weaker chapters amongst the 22 selected here (e.g. the ones on artificial intelligence, the representation of Satan in the South Park film, and Cartman and the law). Ellen Miller's essay on gender and sexuality seems particularly short-sighted, arguing as it does that South Park is pro-feminist philosophy! If you look more closely, however, Miller bases her claim on one episode (Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset) and indeed one character within that episode (Wendy Testaburger, who plays at best a side role in this very male-centric show).

Although some of the contributors fall foul of straining to be hip and refraining from criticising South Park for fear of being seen as having not got the joke, the collection deserves credit for at least devoting a chapter of academic criticism to the show's potty humour (other academics have sidestepped it when talking about South Park, which just seems absurd).

A mixed bag, then, and for die-hard fans probably too much philosophy and too little South Park.

(3.5 stars)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2009 2:40 PM GMT


Blame Canada!: "South Park" and Contemporary Culture
Blame Canada!: "South Park" and Contemporary Culture
by Toni Johnson-Woods
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pop culture analysis which avoids idolatry and overly academic approach, 13 Mar 2009
Things you can learn from Blame Canada! South Park and Contemporary Culture (if you're not a geeky fan and didn't know it all already):

* South Park averages 126 instances of sex, violence or foul language per half hour
* no fewer than 18 episodes in series 1-10 have religion as their central focus, making it one of the most religion-fixated shows on the small screen
* there are celebrity allusions in nearly every episode of South Park
* Cartman's subversive mom is based on Trey Parker's ex-fiancée, who was also called Liane
* Trey's mother and father are, like Stan's parents, called Randy and Sharon who are also a geologist and a homemaker respectively
* The character of Stan is largely based on Trey and Kyle on Matt (if the creators are to be believed)
* Cartman is the character with, apparently, "the most musical range" and the "most impressive original songs" (his favourites are from the 1980s)
* we most often see the consumption and not the production of food in South Park
* females rarely achieve their own personalities independent of their relationships with their children and/or husband on the show (Kenny's mother, for example, is not even given a first name)
* Trey and Matt originally wanted to do Chef's voice, but Comedy Central intervened and got singer Isaac Hayes on board who subsequently resigned over an episode ridiculing Scientology.

This book by Toni Johnson-Woods has great chapters on politics, food and drink, sex and gender, and celebrities. It begins, however, with a long chapter on fandom which is, I think, a mistake: most people are going to come to this book to read commentary on the show and not about now-dead sites imitating and extolling it with run-offs, trivia and the fan clubs. But Johnson-Woods' general approach - avoiding idolatry through not being a die-hard fan whilst at the same time resisting over-intellectualisation of the show's content - makes for interesting and accessible analysis in the other chapters. For example on racism: "It's important that racism's mouthpieces are the most despised, stupid and least admirable South Park characters, Garrison and Cartman. ...Their offensiveness is the offensiveness of the ignorant". Or on sexual politics: "A subtly misogynistic show, South Park generally portrays the girls as bitchy, controlling and materialistic". And on its politics generally: "South Park is anti-extremist. Just right of center, it garners praise from both sides of the political coin".

Recommended!


Crossing
Crossing
Offered by MMT-UK
Price: 24.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary acoustic songs from young US singer-songwriter, 22 Feb 2009
This review is from: Crossing (Audio CD)
The Crossing is the fourth album from Boston-based Meg Hutchinson, following Against the Grey, a live album and her debut from 1994. It's the first one produced by Crit Harmon (Mary Gauthier, Martin Sexton) and the one that landed her on the roster of Red House Records.

Already her talent for writing introspective poetic lyrics can be heard here, with geological fault lines emerging as a metaphor for the weakest points in one's own character ("I've been staring at my blindest faults / I've been looking for fault plane solutions") and images of flight surfacing in dream-filled sleep ("You know I'd sleep if I could / But when I do, I'd only dream of fleeing war-torn countries"). There are emotionally bare ballads bereft of sentimentality that manage to convey a tangible authenticity, largely down to the confessional power of her lyrics as on the Sum of This: "I don't know if / I can ever be more than the sum of... all this brokenness". But it's also the warmth of her voice and the strong authenticity of her tone that convinces you she's singing emotional truths that she knows by heart (it always seems pointless describing voices - you just have to hear it).

In spite of the literary quotes from Rilke and W.B. Yeats, this feels like lighter material than that on her follow-up album Come Up Full, which is threaded with deeper feeling and sharp, visual imagery. The Crossing bears a more radio-friendly production - and for me, the production really does get too soft on the closing song. Incidentally she plays in London and Ireland once a year or so and is a reliably good live performer! (4.5 stars)

Standouts (IMO): San Andreas, Coming up, The Crossing, Blessed


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