Pretty much every government uses culture as propaganda, so it should not be surprising that the United States did so throughout the Cold War. As a superpower involved in a multi-pronged proxy war for the hearts and minds of each and every inhabitant of Earth, how could it not? And the CIA was behind most of it.
While Hoover and his FBI men were busy red-baiting, tapping phones, and compiling dossiers on just about any American with even the most minuscule of leftist leanings, the CIA was simultaneously funding and promoting art by many of the same people the FBI was watching. Meanwhile, Joe McCarthy was attacking anything and everything with even the slightest hint of communism, once even raising a ruckus when he found a citation—a citation mind you—to a book by avowed Marxist Corliss Lamont in the bibliography of an Army publication.
At the exact same time that such insanity was sweeping across the government, the CIA was paying for the publication of books and articles by plenty of ex-communists and others with leftist leanings and Marxist pasts. The CIA showed a willingness, since its inception, to fund whoever made sense as a tool regardless of the political climate, and despite the politics of those funded.
As the twentieth century wore on, it seems safe to assume that the CIA continued acts of cultural propaganda. The files remain secret and the names redacted. We know some of what they did in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, but nothing after that.
An informed guess would point to rock ‘n’ roll and its various offshoots as an obvious art form to fund. If “freedom” and American individualism were the values to endorse in support of the American ideology, then the cultural wing of the CIA would have been remiss in its duties if it failed to utilize rock ‘n’ roll in its propaganda efforts. Especially considering the role rock music occasionally did play in the downfall of communism, in particular in Czechoslovakia, where the defense of the unfairly arrested rock band the Plastic People of the Universe helped unify a large group of once disparate dissidents. These dissidents eventually staged a revolution called “the Velvet Revolution,” which was purportedly named after the Velvet Underground, whose smuggled records were almost universally loved by those involved.
If individualism and “freedom” were the ultimate cultural tools to de-Bolshevize the world and make planet Earth safe for the free market, why wouldn’t rock ‘n’ roll become central to the next phase of the CIA’s cultural activities? In many ways, the Dionysian, self-expressive elements of abstract expressionism and other frequently funded art forms are just distilled and restated in a more popularly palatable form in rock ‘n’ roll, with the alcohol-fueled masculine fury of Jackson Pollock just updated and embodied in someone like Jim Morrison.
Moreover, while abstract art had its roots in Western Europe, rock ‘n’ roll is distinctly American. Derived from the blues. Mass marketed. Mass produced. Had its roots in “low” culture. Slowly but surely became a “high” art of its own, complete with a “classical” period. And although mass produced and mass consumed, it makes its listeners feel like the lone individual who understands the plight of the lonely rock ‘n’ roller.
More obviously, rock ‘n’ roll is also much more affordable. Not everyone can purchase a Pollock, but just about anyone can buy a record. Mass produced with mass appeal and relative affordability, rock ‘n’ roll reaches the proletariat, thus stealing communism’s target market. It’s perfect.
Could the CIA possibly miss this? READ MORE
In October, Tom Scharpling announced that his long-running comedy/music radio show, The Best Show on WFMU, would be ending its run tonight after 13 years on the air. Since it began, two presidential administrations ago as Scharpling often reminds listeners, The Best Show has become a staple of the comedy world with people like Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Tim & Eric, and tons more having become regular guests and fans of the program, which was doing what podcasts do but better years before podcasts were even a thing. On top of the show being a nonstop parade of some of the biggest names in comedy, Scharpling taking calls from the show's loyal listeners and resident weirdos is always a delight, and his pre-written phone calls with comedy partner Jon Wurster have been some of the funniest stuff going these last 13 years.
Everyone has had a couple months to deal with Best Show ending, and with its last episode, which airs on WFMU and streams online tonight at 9pm EST, it's the end of an era in the comedy world as this colossally innovative and influential show, which sees its devoted fanbase continuing to grow, comes to an end.
I talked to Tom Scharpling on Friday about what it's been like recording the final run of The Best Show, what's next for him, and his favorite moments on the show from the last decade-plus.
When did you decide that you were going to end the show?
I decided at the beginning of the year that I wanted to end it because of all the circumstances around what it takes to do the show. But I didn't want to announce it too early because I didn't want to do some lame duck show all year where people all are talking about how this is the last year and then you kind of can't do the show if that's the case. I also wanted to have the year to see if I changed my mind and if it made sense to keep doing it. I didn't announce it because I didn't want to go back and forth and back and forth and say I'm leaving then change my mind at the last minute and then when I have to leave, then it becomes the "boy who cried wolf" thing. I just wanted to make sure that if it was happening, that it was happening, and I'd have a good chance to say goodbye. I wanted it to be a full year of Best Shows that had nothing to do with the end of the show. READ MORE
You're not gonna love this one at first but stick with it for a bit and it'll catch up to you. It's nice when that happens, isn't it? [Via]
Okay, so you had something traumatic happen to you yesterday. But before we get into the incident itself, can you set the scene? Where were you? Who was present?
It was me and my CEO in his office. We were on a conference call on speaker phone with someone who was interviewing him.
So this was an enclosed space?
Yes, it’s a small office.
And we should point out that you are new to this job, correct?
Yes, six weeks in, still getting to really know the CEO.
And what do you do at this new job?
Well at a startup it's hard to really nail down, but for the most part: Executive Assistant to the CEO.
Ok so you are in your boss's office, new to the job, you're flattered he's included you in the call. Someone is on speaker phone interviewing him and you're listening intently, a little nervous someone will ask you a question, wondering if you should chime in…Then what happens?
I farted OUT LOUD. And I have to point out that the interview was only scheduled for one hour, and it happened about two minutes after that allotted hour.
So what you're saying is technically the hour was over and you should have been already back to your own desk, farting in safety? READ MORE
Noted at yesterday's opening of the Gowanus Whole Foods: the dude with the GIANT BREAD. And now we have answers, from one of the lovely Whole Foods employees. (It's a lovely staff there, by the way!)
— Nicole Rae Drummond (@nicole_rae) December 18, 2013
@Awl haha! was specially made for our "Bread Breaking" ceremony (like a ribbon cutting) he wanted it so I told him to take it HAHA Hilarious
— Nicole Rae Drummond (@nicole_rae) December 18, 2013
We love you, dude with the giant bread. We hope your carb coma was incredible.
So it's the Holidays again, which means everyone's going to come at you bitchin' about family. Let me throw my hat in the ring as a member of that (sizable) contingent. My mother and her husband live near where I grew up, about a seven-hour drive from where I live now. My father and his wife live out of state; I only see them twice a year or so. My two younger sisters both moved far out of state (to the same town no less) with their children within the past year and a half. The reason for this background—I'm the "only one left" close to visit my mother.
She's a sweet woman, but every time the holidays creep near, she starts in as the Cruise Director of a massive guilt trip. Why don't I (and my partner) stay with them for Christmas? "We have plenty of room! I'd love to see MY ONLY SON this Christmas. We can have Christmas Morning Together!!!" (Not exactly appealing. I'm coming into my late thirties and don't have children of my own.) This is a double squeeze as my birthday falls a mere two days after Our Good Lord Baby Jesus's (with whom she has a very, very close personal relationship).
It's not like I'm leaving her in a lonesome empty nest. Her husband has three grown children, all of whom have families of their own (my how the ChristFolk take that 'fruitful and multiply' line to heart). Most of them live close by, and she's surrounded with scores of kids and grandkids. The dinner is the long table of adults with two card tables full of rugrats, huge turkey with all the trimmings, massive tree, choir music; it's a dozens of prayers and invocations kind of holiday. It's a postcard Christmas, and I'm grateful that she has it. It's what she likes, and what she wants.
However, it's not how I (nor my partner) roll. We've been together for coming up on three years, and when the holidays come around, we just like to spend them quietly together. Go on vacation somewhere (often near where my mother lives, making turning her down all the more difficult). See friends. Drink and smoke and swear and be merry (all of which are verboten at my mother's domicile). We're Obama-loving, atheist, chimney smoking, whiskey swillers. To top it off, I'm a CIS straight dude and my partner is a female bi queer with an ex-wife. Imagine how that conversation with my mother went the first time around…. "So she's confused, then? Is she on drugs? Was she abused as a child? I should pray about this." My mother, her husband, and his entire brood are Born Agains. Nice, generous people who are always kind and sweet. But it's still uncomfortable; there is nothing to talk about, nothing to drink. And you have to watch your language for Chrissakes. Every third season or so, one of her husband's kids will challenge me to a debate on my atheism. Yeah. It's a really fun thing to discuss when there isn't a cigarette or a scotch around for miles. My partner thoroughly enjoyed all the ruckus in the household during the Prop 8 times, I'm sure.
Here's the final caveat. I'm happy to visit her around the Time of Christ's Mass. I've seen her every year since I was in college for the Holidays. I just have zero interest in the Events. The Big Meal, the Prayer, the 400 people in the house, all of them with little Jesus Spawn running around. In years past, I've even stayed the night. But since I've been in this wonderful relationship, I've wanted Christmas to be our thing, as a grownup adult couple. As such, we do not want to stay the night at her house (remember, the Good Lord requires us unmarried thirtysomethings to sleep in separate bedrooms for the duration). We'd have no cuddles for Christmas on her turf.
When I told my mother, gently but firmly (for now the third December in a row), that this is an adult vacation time for us as a couple and, since we have no children, Christmas morning holds no special magical allure, she told me I was being selfish (a very old, common retort from her) and that Christmas was "not about me." The implication is, of course, that it's about her, then. Again, we are totally going to be stopping by as I (and now with my partner, we) do every year. Again, I see this woman around the holidays every year. We just don't want to stay the night, do the Christmas Eve / Christmas Morning, Big Meal with Lots of Prayers thing. We want to stop by on the 23rd, or maybe the 26th, and spend the afternoon and have a quiet, small meal, and then drive back to our cozy hotel and fuck like the cute, secular, unmarried adult couple that we are. I explained this, (for now the third December in a row) thusly: "Mom, we'd love to see you this year, but as I've told you before, we don't feel comfortable staying the night at your house—particularly when you insist we have separate accommodations. We'd like to be in a hotel like usual." To this she said I was being "childish." She suggested I "grow up." Then things usually devolve into why I'm not married yet, and when am I going to get married, and why I don't have children yet, and when will that happen.
I keep having this conversation with her every goddamn year, Polly. And with my sisters now moved away, and as I get older (and still very secular, and still very unmarried, and still very much childless) the conversation gets more passionate, more unnerving. Her position becomes that much more intractable, and my response that much more hardened. It makes me want to fast forward to New Year's. It casts a shadow over our entire vacation. Because guess what the topic of discussion at the aforementioned quiet afternoon meal on the 23rd or so? "Why or why won't you STAY FOR CHRISTMAS?!?" I may be stubborn but I'm not soulless. The guilt works, Polly. Every January I feel like a Shitty Son.
Oh what to do?
Fed Up at Xmas READ MORE
It seems hard to believe that it was only just a little over a year ago when Mitt Romney was still something we had to worry about but then again the way things work these days it is hard to believe that anything was ever whatever fixed distance it now stands in reference to the present when you think about it for more than a moment. I mean, it was just last week that some hippie named Kif in my dorm was telling me about this band he liked from Washington who had a new album out and when I was all, "Eh, I don't really like hippie music," he was all, "Nah, man, they've got like a heavy punk sound," and I'm all, "Oh, you mean like Fugazi" and he goes "No, the other Washington, the Seattle one" and anyway he was talking about Nirvana and now they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which is impossible because, again, I swear just heard about them DAYS AGO. What the hell happened to all that time? Anyway, I guess you can watch this to relive that last moment where we were still proud of our country for rejecting this plastic dickhead before we returned to our regular routine of hopelessness, detachment and grabbing what we can for ourselves before it all comes crumbling down.
If you were one of the people who thought, "Oh, man, it is all over for Yuck" when Daniel Blumberg left the band, boy were you ever wrong. If you were one of those people who did not know that Daniel Blumberg was ever in the band Yuck, you're probably just like, "What a great band!" Either way, things tend to work out. Enjoy.
Notoriously mansplaining Times columnist Ross Douthat made a foray into literary criticism this weekend when he cited Adelle Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P as evidence for why fathers with daughters may, and should, tack conservative. Let me elucidate. In the dating milieu chronicled (astutely) by Waldman, women are vulnerable to shagging slightly misogynistic dudes like protagonist Nathaniel P. And these women are presumably someone’s daughter. Thus, Douthat’s “Daughter Theory” goes, fathers naturally hearken back to a more conservative society where they could be assured that their daughters lacked encouragement to date and sleep around, and were therefore no longer liable to have their feelings hurt ever, by anyone, particularly not by fictional character Nathaniel P.
I get it! Nate’s (slight but persistent) chauvinism is not the main threat to women in a novel devoted to dissecting subtle chauvinism. Rather, sex itself is the threat. What a bold analysis. What a brilliant jump from page to politics! I’m getting such a “tingle” from this, that I must extrapolate to wonder how, using a similar lens, Douthat would interpret other important works of contemporary and classic literature. Here goes: READ MORE
Seventy. Seventy. Three score and ten, this guy. It's a funny old world.
— Jon Bruner (@JonBruner) December 18, 2013
"In comparative terms, almost nobody on Twitter is somebody: the median Twitter account has a single follower. Among the much smaller subset of accounts that have posted in the last 30 days, the median account has just 61 followers. If you’ve got a thousand followers, you’re at the 96th percentile of active Twitter users."
Karen Prell performing Red Fraggle at Comic-Con. Photo by krysaia.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of "Fraggle Rock"'s first airing on January 10, 1983. In the spring, the cast and crew got together for a reunion in Toronto, where the show was taped. They gave toasts, performed songs, and ate well into the night. There was a Marjory-the-Trash-Heap cake topped with intricate sugar-paste Fraggles and Doozers that fed over a hundred people.
While most of the participants were getting on in years, two guests had not been old enough to work on "Fraggle Rock." Mark Bishop, the CEO of Marvel Media, and Matt Wexler, former executive producer at Spin Master Entertainment, both gave speeches attesting to the profound effect "Fraggle Rock" had on them at a young age. "Fraggle Rock" gave a lot of people the impression that they could do what they love for a living, and many of them now do.
But many don't. Corporate work culture has become particularly toxic in recent years. In August, a twenty-one-year-old intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch died from a seizure after performing eight all-nighters. His internship was paid, and that is a rarity. Last year, it came out that an account executive at Goldman Sachs called his clients "muppets," apparently meaning "clueless." This Thanksgiving brought the infamous Walmart employee food drive for fellow employees. In many companies, there are an array of methods for expressing disrespect for clients, bosses, employees, or even the company's mission. It's not really surprising when that mission is, at the end of the day, just accruing money.
I've spent the last few years researching Jim Henson's business practices as an antidote to this corporate wasteland. In my search, I came across a statement that I just couldn't shake. According to Dave Goelz, the performer who plays Gonzo, there was a familiar refrain at every reunion: "Over and over we heard them say it was the best job they ever had." From 2013, it sounds like one of the Storyteller's Fraggle tales: too good to be true.
I asked Jocelyn Stevenson, one of "Fraggle Rock"'s co-creators, about this. She is compiling a behind-the-scenes book due out next year. Everyone she interviewed told her: "Fraggle Rock" was the best job they ever had. I asked the show's producer Larry Mirkin, too. "Almost everyone who worked on the show has said that," he said, "and that's not an exaggeration." It's hard for me to imagine such a workplace actually existed. But it did.
Why was "Fraggle Rock" the best job so many people ever had? Co-creator Jocelyn Stevenson gave me five words. READ MORE
I'm in Croatia, and it's four in the morning. I have nowhere to sleep. I haven't changed my clothes in five days, which is fine because I don't actually have any other clothes to change into. This is all part of the money saving plan. Don't book places to stay—just meet people. Don't buy clothes—just smell bad.
This conundrum is a symptom of my only two modes of financial operation: Save, or spend. Blow it all, or starve. I'm either buying everything in sight: snacks, fancy magazines, toilet paper, fair trade coffee—or I am buying literally nothing for months on end, while compulsively hitting "refresh" on my bank account and willing the numbers to climb higher, damn it.
It is the rare video that is confident enough in its song to relegate it to the background, but that is what we have here and I believe that it works. Watch and share. [Via]