Awkward Katy, Injured Gronk: The Week's Best Pop-Culture Writing

The most intriguing articles about entertainment we've come across in the past seven days
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The A.V. Club
How Homestar Runner Changed Web Series for the Better
Todd VanDerWerff

Much of Homestar Runner’s animation is fairly rudimentary stuff. Arms go up and down. Mouths flap open. Characters stand in place while the background races past them to indicate movement. But all of that belies the program’s true strength: terrifically designed, perfectly written characters. The weirdos that populate Homestar’s world aren’t drawn from animated kids’ shows or even children’s books, but from another great American art form: the newspaper comic strip. As with Peanuts or Pogo, the characters may have hidden depths, but they’re largely defined by striking, singular personality traits. Homestar is the good guy, and even if he’s a bit of a nerd in the process, he’ll always return to that basic decency. Strong Bad proved too slippery for the antagonist role and ended up becoming something like a 10-year-old boy’s conception of everything that is awesome in the world. His brothers, Strong Mad and Strong Sad, were just what they sounded like. Coach Z was motivational, in his own weird way. The Cheat was basically Snoopy.

Vulture
Anatomy of a Hit: Why Sleepy Hollow Became Fall TV’s Breakout Success
Josef Adalian

Sleepy seems like the kind of show only a Comic-Con attendee could love: It's about a Revolutionary War soldier named Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) who, after a two-century slumber, awakens in the 21st century and immediately begins fighting demons and monsters alongside a sexy female cop (Nicole Beharie). Oh, and it takes the legendary headless horseman and turns him into one of the Bible's four horsemen of the apocalypse. But rather than a highly dense, mythology-laden sci-fi fantasy, the first four episodes have played like a small screen National Treasure (but with better acting). Bad things may be happening all around the characters on Sleepy, but the show never feels gloomy or ponderous, like, say, Revolution. Co-creator and executive producer Alex Kurtzman says this is all by design. He and longtime writing partner Roberto Orci produced Fringe for Fox, and while that show had an extremely passionate fan base, it was a relatively small one. "There's an audience out there for genre, but with Sleepy Hollow, we wanted to broaden the show out so you didn't have to be a genre fan to watch," he says. "We learned a ton from Fringe.

The biggest lesson can been seen in how the show has been structured: Kurtzman and his fellow producers opted to make sure each hour was at least partially self-contained. "From the beginning, we designed a show [where] there's a case every episode with a monster, or a supernatural problem, and they have to solve it," he explains. That doesn't mean Sleepy is aiming to be the Law & Order of fantasy thrillers. It is not a strict procedural. "While there will be resolution week to week, the characters need to have an emotional line that carries on throughout," Kurtzman says. "They're not going to have an emotional experience one week and then forget it the next. We're going to be building on something throughout the course of the show." One other thing which will remain consistent from episode to episode: Crane's wardrobe. He's been wearing the same ratty 18th century garb he wore in the pilot. "One of our rules is that Ichabod can never be comfortable," Kurtzman says. "The minute he looks comfortable, the story loses steam." That said, a future episode will deal with the matter of why Crane hasn't yet hit the Gape:  "We will be addressing that very soon," he says. "But we're not eager to take his clothes off."

The Week
Eminem's "Rap God" Is Incredibly Homophobic, and No One Is Talking About It
Scott Meslow

"Rap God" is Eminem's rapid-fire, six-minute anthem to himself, and it's peppered with brazenly and violently homophobic rhetoric. In the first verse, Eminem boasts of his ability to "break a motherf----r's table over the back of a couple f-ggots and crack it in half." In the second verse, Eminem goes off on a bizarre, homophobic rant: "Little gay-looking boy / So gay I can barely say it with a straight face-looking boy / You witnessing massacre like you watching a church gathering taking place-looking boy / 'Oy vey, that boy's gay,' that's all they say looking-boy / You take a thumbs up, pat on the back, the way you go from your label every day-looking boy."

The song is bad enough — but even more disheartening has been the way that so many websites have praised Eminem's rapping on "Rap God" while ignoring the song's problematic lyrics entirely. Time called the single "divine." Rolling Stone analyzed the song's influences without commenting on its content. MTV News took the time to collect Eminem's array of pop-cultural references without noting his homophobia. Worst of all is Just Jared, which took the time to painstakingly transcribe the six-minute song's lyrics — and took the coward's way out by writing "[?]" over every homophobic lyric in the song, as if they suddenly couldn't hear his crystal-clear vocals whenever he said something offensive.

AP / NBC, Dana Edelson

NPR
Katy Perry and the New Rules of Pop
Marc Hirsh

It's no longer enough for pop singers to simply stand and sing. Lady Gaga has her Gagaisms. Pink does literal acrobatics. One Direction's choreography is sort of there to prove that One Direction shouldn't really bother with choreography, but they still do it. Just about everybody brings dancers on tour and television with them.

Even pop stars whose images are built around being down-to-earth musicians aren't immune. Taylor Swift has elaborately choreographed set pieces in her shows. Alicia Keys, who more than anyone should be able to get away with just sitting at a piano and singing the songs she's written, featured dancers on her recent tour. For "Unthinkable (I'm Ready)," she joined one of them for an überdramatic sequence playing out a tempestuous relationship. So while it may be easy to say that, sure, Perry's just a shallow pop star who needs all the bells and whistles to distract from the fact that she's not a particularly good or interesting singer, that's irrelevant even if true. Perry doesn't have a choice — even Keys doesn't have a choice.

AP / Stephan Savoia

Deadspin
Why Injured Athletes Like Gronk Aren't Allowed To Be Cautious
Drew Magary

Having such monetary value as a player means that you become more acutely aware of the idea of preventive medicine. It's hard to take preventive measures for your health and prove to everyone that they will, without question, serve both you and the team well down the road. It's a vague field of personal health, which is why many people don't take active measures to prevent things like heart disease or other future catastrophic ailments. They only act when the damage has been done. And sports operates with the same mindset. You are either definitely at risk for further injury, or you aren't. But sometimes, it's not so simple. And it's in this grey area where Gronk and Clowney and Derrick Rose find themselves the target of scorn.

It's still a sin in team sports to prioritize yourself over the organization you play for, which is funny because neither NFL teams nor college football teams give much of a shit about their players. The team can always do what's right for itself and never be wrong. But if a player "chooses" (Gronk, technically, has not yet been medically cleared to play football) to take a few additional games off in order to protect his career, then he's put himself above the team and is therefore an awful person.

Salon
SNL’s Gender Equality Movement Left Black Women Out
Carolyn Edgar

It’s entirely possible – as Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress argues – that Thompson has exposed structural factors that make it difficult for “SNL” to find talented black women comedians. For instance, “SNL” does not use an open call process to search for potential new cast members. According to Franchesca Ramsey, producer of the popular YouTube video “Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls,” anyone can submit a video to “SNL” for consideration, but they must be invited by the show’s casting team to audition. It’s unclear how many black women submit audition tapes to “SNL’s” casting department, or how many black women are invited to audition for “SNL” each season — but if either of those numbers is low, one obvious solution would be for “SNL’s” casting department to increase the number of black women comedians and actresses they invite to try out for the show.

Although no one has identified what makes a person “ready” to join the “SNL” team, the show’s atmosphere and working conditions are known to be demanding. Fey described “SNL” as “a mix of hyperintelligent Harvard Boys (Jim Downey, Al Franken, Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel) and gifted, visceral, fun performers (John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Jan Hooks, Horatio Sanz, Bill Murray, Maya Rudolph)” – a unique culture where the ability to fit in is important. In some cases, it may be valid to reject a candidate on the basis of “fit” or “readiness,” but all too often, these are simply excuses for maintaining the status quo. If “SNL” were truly interested in embracing diversity and inclusion, its casting people would broaden their search beyond Harvard and improv powerhouses like Second City and the Groundlings to find talented writers and comedians of color of all genders — and then work to develop them into “SNL”-ready talent.

Pacific Standard
What Is Cool? Lorde and the Trouble With Talented Teenagers
Kevin Lincoln

Lorde’s 16-year-old-ness also plays into a more sinister aspect of culture. She’s a minor, but she’s also not playing as a minor; she’s not reminding anyone of her sexual transgressiveness. (Because remember: As a society dominated by a collective adult-male gaze, any young woman channeling her sexuality is inherently transgressive.) And this confuses much of the cultural apparatus that normally looks to sexuality when creating its consensus opinion around a female artist. By doing nothing in particular to frame herself sensually, Lorde has, in a way, thwarted the pop machinery.

She’s also a staunch, outspoken feminist. And there we have the root of the “issue” with Lorde. Much like Tavi Gevinson, she seems too good to be true, too smart for her years, too savvy and self-possessed and mature to possibly be a teenage girl. Unlike, say, Ronan Farrow, who has been universally adored and respected since his teenage years for constantly overachieving and subverting the idea of what a young adult is capable of, Lorde and Gevinson are viewed with suspicion and distrust. I’ll leave you to pinpoint the difference between them. Lorde’s cool both transcends and subverts her age, but it’s also an example of the world’s dualistic relationship with youth: We love it when our young succeed, but we still can’t quite believe it, either.
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Ashley Fetters and Spencer Kornhaber edit The Atlantic's Entertainment Channel. Nolan Feeney writes for and produces The Atlantic's Entertainment Channel.

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