Scary Mascots, Sane Clown Posses: 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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Queen of the Filtered Instagram Image, Beyoncé Critiques Our Airbrushed Beauty Culture
There’s something very powerful about Beyoncé taking ownership of her own image, as opposed to just surrendering to disgusting tabloid messaging about women’s bodies or straight-up selling off her image to the wolves at Us Weekly. But it’s worth investigating exactly how she chooses to use that power. The “Pretty Hurts” video ostensibly shows the judges nitpicking Bey’s flaws, but what viewers see are shots of a toned stomach and immovable thighs. In reflective hotel floor repose, she looks more flawless than ever. Beyoncé is the living embodiment of diversifying beauty standards for women in America, but in many ways, she now is the standard, and it’s still an unattainable one. Google “Beyoncé diet” to see just how she does it.
Being honest about the work that goes into attaining feminine beauty—and the pressures that are put on even the people who work at it the hardest—is better than one alternative, where the celebrity ludicrously claims that she just “eats healthy” and “runs after her kids.” And for stars like Beyoncé, embracing the feminist messaging helps refute the basic idea that women are just movable dolls of the beauty industry with no thoughts of their own, including complex perspectives on their own bodies. (Take that, parents who say “what’s in your head, it doesn’t matter.”) But this is also a concerted ploy. Today’s beauty queens don’t just project their images by restricting access to the candid paparazzi shots that fuel “worst beach bodies” slideshows. They also do it by rejecting beauty ideals vocally even as they reinforce them visually.
Why I Believe Jameis Winston's Accuser
I'm no shrinking violet, and those who now know about my rape are surprised that I didn't stand up for myself, that I didn't scream bloody murder from the rooftops about what happened to me. The only explanation I have is that I was one girl, a very young girl, and I believed that I would be up against several adult male police officers. It never occurred to me that I might tell them my story and they would believe me. From the beginning, my assumption was that they would side with my rapist, and it would be my job to convince them otherwise. I suppose I believed this because of the way I'd seen rape victims treated in the media.
If it's still hard to understand why women don't report being raped, look no further than the press conference given by Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs, announcing that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would not be charged with sexual assault. Throughout the press conference, Meggs referred to the accuser as "the victim," and it was clear that he felt that he couldn't get a conviction, not that a crime had not taken place. When Meggs was asked if he had considered charging the victim with filing a false police report, he answered, "I did not consider such a thing."
Inside the Rainbow Gulag: the Rise and Fall of Lisa Frank
Tracie Egan Morrissey
It's unclear whether Lisa Frank—the real woman and artist who founded the school-supplies brand in 1979—was fully aware of the whispers that had been circulating for years around her company's headquarters in Tucson, AZ. It's possible that she had no idea what people were saying about her husband, Lisa Frank Inc. CEO James Green. Rumor had it that Green was an unfaithful monster with a cocaine problem; employees feared he would destroy the company.
As it turns out, those fears were not unfounded. According to court documents and first-hand accounts from former employees speaking exclusively to Jezebel, the personal drama of Frank's marriage quickly turned into professional disaster.
The Band Leader
At the most extreme, a Rechtshaid production starts with four or five people playing instruments in a room but ends up as hundreds of unrelated bits of sound bolted together at a desk. Some of these sounds are sleek and modern; some are rusty and organic. Some — as is the way in our era of sandblasted jeans and all things mechanically "distressed" — get their patina from effects processors and VST plug-ins and the like. This is all standard for rap and pop, but less so for bands like Vampire Weekend, who still represent old-fashioned values like good musicianship, album-length statements, and whatever else listeners look for in Bruce Springsteen or Adele.
When it comes to the studio, Rechtshaid is irreverent by habit and prefers to do the wrong thing whenever possible. Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij remembers walking into a session where Rechtshaid had raised the level of the kick drum on a song called "Everlasting Arms" 12 decibels. ("One decibel, that's noticeable. Twelve decibels, that'sreally noticeable," Batmanglij clarifies.) Naturally, it transformed the song. "There was this hiss sucking back and forth in conjunction with the kick," Batmanglij says. "It was amazing." After a few hours, Rechtshaid and front man Ezra Koenig had toned it down. "I was unhappy about that," Batmanglij says. "So when it was my turn to open the session, the first thing I did was bring up the kick drum 12 dB."
Lorde and the New Teenage Dream
Of the many things that can be spun and manufactured amid the synthetic realness (no shots, Katy Perry’s crying scenes, early Lana) of Top 40, Lorde was presented to us fully formed and without filter, a precocious and astute girlchild, a pop protégé of uncanny talent. We loved her instantly for what she was (big voiced, confident, the “fuck you” inherent in her mere existence) as much as what she wasn’t. She was an outsider, a New Zealand girl too smart for her own good with a voice too big for her body, putting the lie to all we’d been taught about teen girls and pop music and the corrupting force of industry and attention.
Amid the staged catfights and ranked diva hierarchy of women in that rarefied Billboard air, fully clothed Lorde was all too easy to pit against Miley, who is nigh a decade into her Disney-assisted cultural thrust. Everyone loves an underdog. Lorde, the overachieving middle child of prole parents who had not assumed any sort of active role in her fame or career, came from across the world and bumrushed us. She was unassuming, her criticisms of other artists (valid, but potshots some) showed us a real girl, while Bieber pissed in buckets and threw up amateurish tags in Chris Brown’s honor. Lorde seemed like reasonable proof of pop justice, someone who merited the attention and power that was being heaped upon her.
Woollie: Behind the World’s Most Terrifying Sitcom Mascot
The mascot — a puppet with a person inside — appears for only a few moments in a few scenes of this episode. Woollie shimmies behind Jenna (Jane Krakowski) as she appears in a clip singing during the “Wool Bowl,” a fictitious college football game. (Per usual, Jenna is clueless about the social import of her presence; the announcer introduces her as “a singer, everyone!”) Then, later, when Jenna gets asked to be “the celebrity face” of wool, Woollie sits alongside an animatronic sheep (more on that later) and the head of the Wool Council (played by the stately Victor Garber) at a grand table.
For so little screen time, Woollie made a big impression on “30 Rock” fans (me) and Carlock himself. “Woollie has nothing to do with the story, really,” Carlock says. “I was trying to think of a not-terribly sexy thing that Jenna could be celebrity face of. It was always fun that she would get any kind of attention. So, as opposed to the Cotton Bowl, we had the Wool Bowl.” Like everything in the show, even the throwaway bits get great attention from the staff. While Woollie doesn’t do much, the Wool Council does move the plot along — Jenna is forced to be normal (or “wool”) and that tests her relationship with cross-dressing Paul L’Astname (Will Forte).
Live Fast, Die Young, Leave Behind a Beautiful Persona
Anne Helen Petersen
It’s remarkably similar to the way teenage girls have talked and continue to talk about a certain type of film idol, ones with beautiful faces and sensitive dispositions—David Cassidy, Davy Jones, Michael Jackson, Ricky Martin, River Phoenix, Johnny Depp Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, Justin Bieber—who only desire to listen and be listened to in return. It’s still sex, sublimated and sold as poetry.
Which is precisely why young, sexually uninitiated teens like them: sex is terrifying. Brando, who seemed to sweat sex, was terrifying. But Dean offered a means of channeling sexual energy into something far less threatening. Because many, even most, tween girls, whether in 1950 or today, don’t want to actuallyhave sex so much as think about it, and by “think about it” I mean “think about the way he’ll look at you.” The beautiful, often androgynous stars, even closeted stars never forced the issue; they just wanted to hold your hand.
The New York Times
Crisis for Insane Clown Posse: Getting Saner
The past year has been particularly trying for Insane Clown Posse, which, with an attitude that mixes silliness and over-the-top aggression, has built a worshipful cadre of fans, known as Juggalos.
On one front, the band is waging a legal battle against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose National Gang Intelligence Center listed Juggalos as “a loosely organized hybrid gang” in a 2011 report. On another, the band is pushing back against a former publicist who is suing Insane Clown Posse for sexual harassment. Add these challenges to the group’s continuing struggle to preserve its underground reputation while pursuing mainstream acceptance, and you have the makings of a full-blown existential crisis.