Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Television Tuesday: The Masked Singer is Silly, Hokey, and Ingenious

There have been two episodes of Fox's program, "The Mask Singer," that have been broadcast and I am hooked. Ever since they ran short promos for it all I could say was, "This looks dumb as Hell, yet I want to watch it." Having been watching, "The Masked Singer," I would say it is spectacularly silly, and works quite well, in spite of its annoying judges (more on them later). Between the extravagant outfits, some surprisingly strong voices (as well as some weaker ones that are at least clearly trying), and the whole zany mystique of it all, "The Masked Singer," has become a must-watch show for our household and much of the Nation too. You start out not really caring much but by the end are yelling at the top of your lungs how absurd it is that the Monster lost to the Unicorn because the audience clearly must be tone-deaf, that's how weirdly addicting this whole thing is. Between surreal videos introducing the masked singers with little hints as to their identity, the bizarre outfits, host Nick Cannon doing his usual Nick Cannon thing, and some solid singing, every element is just surreal and intriguing. Well, everything except the judges.

I hate or am indifferent to almost all the judges on this show. Seriously, why the fuck is that lies-about-vaccines-spreader Jenny McCarthy present? At least Robin Thicke is pretty good at breaking-down the vocal tricks done by the more skilled masked singers, even if he always comes off as smug and self-satisfied. Along with those two assholes there is a random lady from the, "Pussycat Dolls," group that was popular 10 years ago (Nicole Scherzinger), and Ken Jeong, the one judge I like because he is actually clever and humorous. They don't even really, "Judge," however so much as try and guess who the masked singers are whilst the audience sends the lowest-rated singer home. Terrible-judges-besides-Jeong aside, it is a great show and worth watching if for not other reason than it is so zany and just fun.
4 out of 5 stars.

Literally Selling Sex in Advertising--A Porn Company Has Fashion Products Now

I learned the other day via people discussing it on Twitter that a porn company known as Brazzers (that link is not safe for work in any way, shape, or form) is selling expensive clothing. I have to say this feels like the inevitable climax (no pun intended) of a whole bunch of concepts in communications and media melding together. Let's take a step back so I can explain all this.

I took a large number of courses in the span of my undergraduate and graduate degrees that involved health, communications, sociology, and anthropology. They all would extensively discuss the media and advertising. One thing in advertising that is obvious regardless of if you have a bunch of book-learning or didn't even finish high school would be this: Sex sells. Whether you are selling the idea that buying a product will make a person seem sexy/desirable, will attract a partner, or that not purchasing something makes you lack in the sex-appeal department, a good deal of advertising is based upon playing our desire to be sexy. Hell, even just associating the pleasurable feelings of arousal with a random concept or thing is a big point of ads. This seems to especially apply in the realm of fashion.

When you are selling clothes/shoes/etc. you are literally selling sex. You are telling someone, "Wear this and you will be attractive." Almost any clothing is designed to appeal to the male gaze (sometimes the female gaze) or to encourage the women being advertised towards to themselves appeal to the male gaze (as much of advertising is still of course very heteronormative in design). In this era of an increasing digitization of sex as well one finds how things that used to be taboo are now literally just a keystroke away, and more and more individuals feel comfortable openly discussing their kinks and/or fetishes. One element of all this is also how pornography makes more and more money these days, because people like sex, and the internet makes getting dirty videos a lot easier than in the old days when people had to drive to an adult store or theater to gain access to X-rated materials.

Our world becomes even more money-and-power focused these days as we potentially reach late-stage capitalism now, when even our raunchy stuff is sometimes tailored to appeal to people desperately wanting to look wealthy. In other words, we've got sex, money, fashion all on everyone's mind, and we are all talking about it on the internet--because even if folk hate the 1% a lot of individuals maybe secretly wouldn't mind being in that demographic. Folk may say, "Eat the rich," but also wonder what it would be like if they could spend money as if there was no tomorrow and have sex like the night were endless...or something. This brings us to the porn company Brazzers and their $250 pair of shoes.

If you aren't aware of it (or just want to pretend you have never heard of the company to seem innocent), Brazzers is one of the biggest and most popular internet porn companies around, according to sites like Wikipedia and from the minimal tax info that can be gleamed from assorted sources. They get mainstream press sometimes for doing outlandish things like creating pornographic spoofs of popular mainstream movies (basically any super-hero flick has a Brazzers parody) along with adult parodies of video-game subjects. They have won all kinds of adult content awards and have millions of subscribers. They also now sell extremely pricey clothing.

In their official store (that link is safe for work) one can find $40 t-shirts with the Brazzers logo plus  $120 sweatpants and $130 sweatshirts that have cheeky little, "X-Rated," faux-rating symbols on them are for sale as well. Oh, and the $250 shoes I mentioned. This apparel isn't shy about its namesake either, as even the shoes are emblazoned with the Brazzers name, so that anyone wearing this stuff can proudly state, "I love sex/porn and expensive shit."

Selling fashion often means selling sex, and seeing as Brazzers literally sells sex it actually all makes perfect sense in some twisted logic. The only other occasion I can think of something vaguely like this occurring was when a now-defunct French clothing company got headlines over a decade ago for shooting short porn movies featuring its actors and actresses wearing their clothes briefly before disrobing in order to have sex. The company is long since out of business, but now here we are so maybe they were just ahead of their time/the world hadn't gotten weird enough yet. I'm not sure if Brazzers' gambit of selling pricey clothing is going to pay off, but they have enough capital from their main business (selling videos of people fucking) to for sure give it a try.

I may be knowledgeable about health and human sexuality thanks to my schoolin' and be heavily enmeshed in media-topics as a part of writing a popular-culture blog for 8 years now, but I have minimal fashion sense and the only brand-name stuff I wear I got on clearance. Therefore, while we all know that sex sells all kinds of products, who knows if sex itself can sell something...if that clumsy statement makes any lick of sense--I surely don't have the fashion-knowledge to tell you what will happen. Time will tell what success or failure Brazzers will have with this endeavor, but there is no doubt it seems like the logical conclusion of the intersection of sex and commercialism that a porn company starts selling expensive apparel. Once Victoria's Secret quits pussy-footing around and just starts selling hardcore videos of models in their underwear we'll know we truly have reached an apex in regards to all this.

Monday, January 14, 2019

"Appalachian Apocalypse #1," Pre-Review

When I first heard about a new comic publisher emerging on the scene, "Cave Pictures Publishing," they sounded interesting--comic-books with a spiritual angle (not focusing on a particular religion, per-se) telling assorted yarns. I wrote them an email asking to be on a press-list or such in order to stay updated but never heard back. I didn't take it personally as plenty of publishers get random emails from people claiming to have websites and sorting through it all is probably a pain (and spam filters can be overeager and block my emails to companies as well). However, in an interesting twist one P.R. company that at times sends folk emails about various comic projects sent me a message about Cave Pictures Publishing and their debut comic (the one I was most excited to read), "Appalachian Apocalypse." Set in West Virginia (where I once lived) it involves a mixture of American and Religious history colliding to result in (what else?) zombies.

Written by creator Billy Tucci (of, "Shi," fame) and illustrated by Ethan Nicolle ("Axe Cop," illustrator), "Appalachian Apocalypse," opens in 1864 and follows a bloodthirsty Confederate general (who we later learn had a fondness for religious artifacts) summoning the undead in a last-ditch attempt to turn the tide of the Civil War. He fails and end-up buried in a cave (along with all the secrets) until a modern-times scientist uncovers it. From this point the comic gets a little slower, laying-out the present-day characters and the plot of how Moses' staff (of all things) ended up stolen and eventually smuggled to America--and it clearly is going to cause more undead-stuff. It is interesting stuff, but I honestly was hoping for more zombie-filled goodness like in the comic's opening.
Nicolle's artwork hits the right mixture of silly-and-cartoonish without being too over-the-top and Tucci does a good job setting stuff up, but this first issue is a lot of set-up. I still enjoyed it with the mixture of modern-meets-ancient, and zombies in general are pretty fun. I see potential for this series to utilize its mixture of wacky elements and interesting historical fiction to continue getting even more entertaining. For now, it's a solid 3 out of 5 stars. "Appalachian Apocalypse," #1 will be in comics stores this Wednesday, January 16th and I encourage you to tell your comic shop to grab you a copy or order one if they don't have any in stock.

Note: A digital copy was provided by a P.R. company that put me on its list for comics and sends me stuff for the purposes of review.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Weather Was Cold but the Toyman Deals were Hot!

Yesterday was extremely snowy, but thankfully thanks to the hard work of snowplow trucks and things getting a bit warmer the roads were just a bit wet (not even that slick). Therefore, I was able to shovel our drive-way and make my way to today's Toyman Show. I was eager to trade some comics of my own I brought (and I had a little bit of cash) to acquire some cool reads for a good price. Sometimes when I go to the show I'm looking for Funko Pops or other toys, but today I had comics on my mind, and I had immense success finding some cool stuff!

I found a really old comic featuring Archie and his friends as well as an old issue of, "DC Showcase #40," with an early appearance of the Metal Men. The comics are far from near-mint condition but that allowed me to get them for reasonable trades/prices!

I talked with one vendor at a table named Dan, who was at the show with some wares from his store, Comic Service, located in Springfield (Illinois). I traded some comics of my own for these cool digest-sized reads about Green Lantern and UFOs.

These rad issues of, "Master of Kung Fu," were on sale for just a buck each and I couldn't say no to some vintage adventures of Shang-Chi.

Lastly, in the upstairs section of the show I bought some assorted ashcans, underground stuff, and this really cool read featuring The Thing (of Fantastic Four-fame) fighting a Spider-Man foe I feel is underrated, the Rhino.

Today's Toyman show was (as always) a delight. This time I was after awesome comics and I succeeded at finding them. There was a wide array of toys for sale too--obviously--including everything form old action figures, to hot wheels, lego, and so much good stuff. The next show is March 10th, and I hope to be there without a doubt (regular admission starts at 9AM for $5 with 16-and-under free, early bird entry is 8AM and $12). I'll see everyone there!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Snowed-In on a Saturday

Throughout the week weather forecasts had call for a bunch of snow to hit much of the Midwest around Mid-Friday and pour the snow on until Saturday. It was said that we might get the biggest snowstorm since 2014. Schools let out early Friday and it is a good thing they did because now here is Saturday and we are indeed quite snowed-in. By the time Sunday morning rolls around it should be nicer-out, at least I hope it is because I plan to go to Sunday's Toyman show and report on it! The snow looks beautiful but it is kind of saddening it all happened on a late Friday into Saturday. I mean, who wants all this snow on a day where it won't result in school being cancelled, work telling folk to stay home, or otherwise be useful in the way that, "Snow days," sometimes are? Yes, it is pretty, and by being on a weekend it helps disrupt less plans, so perhaps I'm splitting hairs. Whatever the case, Saint Louis is snowed-in for now.

Friday, January 11, 2019

This Copyright Expiration Stuff Should Be Bigger News

I'm going to talk about copyright law, but before your eyes glaze over and you tune-out please know this is actually really interesting stuff that could impact a lot of peop...hey, I said to pay attention! Alright then, as you may know lots of stuff has a copyright to, "Protect," its intellectual property. In other words, unless you sell the rights to something you have gotten a copyright for, people can't make stuff related to it without your permission/giving you money. Copyright is why someone can't make their own Mickey Mouse comic/cartoon/put him on a cake they sell. It is why if you sing a cover of a hit song and try to sell your version there's going to be Hell/lots of cash to pay. When something doesn't have a copyright anymore that means it is public domain and anyone has the right to use it, make something from it, and sell what they made. Because mega-corporations like money various attempts have been made to extend copyright, some with success. However, we are now nearing a time when more and more copyrights are going to expire, and that is quite interesting.

Before too long the earliest appearances of Mickey Mouse and Batman will be public domain. That opens the door to all kinds of wild possibilities, but as this fascinating article on the subject details, there are a number of complications as things become public domain. Even though Batman's first appearance may lose its copywritten status, other versions of him have not. You could write a story about the old version of Batman before too long but work in other aspects of the character introduced later (sidekicks, villains, certain gadgets, etc.) and you're opening yourself up to a lawsuit. Still, as more and more copyrights expire for popular things that have stayed in the public consciousness for many decades it will be cool to see what folk do to take advantage of these cool opportunities for creation, business, etc.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Ideological Dangers of Using a State of Emergency to Push Policies...and, "Star Wars."

Call me crazy if you must, but regardless of if our President is a Democrat, Republican, or whatever Donald Trump is (failed businessman with illusions of competency, perhaps) it makes me awfully nervous when the Executive Branch thinks it can override the Legislative Branch in order to push policies. You see, the whole point of our Government is to have checks and balances within its branches--Legislative, Executive, Judicial--so that no one entity gets too many ideas about having/seizing power, thereby plunging our nation into some kind of dictatorship/military coup/general chaotic mess.

While our country's founding Fathers all were without a doubt very flawed men with their own number of problematic aspects, they were also for sure a group of genius people in their creation of this system of checks and balances as well as various documents that help it hold together--e.g. the Constitution. I mean, our country has managed to last and function for 200+ years thanks to these guys and their careful planning, so big ups to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and all the other dudes. After all, one big aspect is that if the President wants something to occur, he/she has to get approval from Congress to implement this new policy in the form of a law.
A President has some degree of individual power (Executive Actions as well as the ability to Veto policies the President disagrees with as long as 2/3 of Congress doesn't override the Veto) but that is limited and our President is supposed to make sure the day-to-day running of our Nation and its rules goes along smoothly. Should the President want a policy change and a majority of Congress says, "No," well then the President has to respect that they have had their power, "Checked," in order to uphold the, "Balance," of our  Nation. This is stuff I learned years ago in school and really got a solid grasp on thanks to a very well-constructed history class in 8th grade (thanks, Mr. Hughes!) so it astounds me our President--a man in his 70's who should know this stuff at his age--seems to want to completely disregard all this...to build a symbolic wall.

Yes, this all goes back to Donald Trump and that wall on the border with Mexico that, "They," were supposedly going to pay for, but now he's demanding a bunch of money to build. Congress has said, "No," and for that reason Trump has used his power of Veto on any budget that has come his way lacking funding for his demands. There are not enough members of Congress to override the Veto (too many Republicans either support Trump's so-called plan or are too scared to speak-out) and our Government has shut down to a certain degree. Now Donald Trump thinks he can declare a State of Emergency (one of those temporary Executive powers) in order to get his wall built (a permanent policy action), that that is bonkers. I don't know about everyone else, but it makes me nervous to think a politician can just declare there is an emergency so he can give himself more power than he's normally allowed so as to do things that essentially ignore our nation's centuries-old system of those valuable checks and balances. It is a slippery slope and of all things reminds me of the prequel, "Star Wars," movies. Yes, seriously, bear with me here.
Let me take you back in time to the late 1990's and earlier-2000's. George Lucas still owned the rights to, "Star Wars," and was making a trilogy that served as a prequel to the original movies. People didn't care for the films that much however as a lot of the running-time was spent breaking-down political stuff in this galaxy a long time ago, far, far away. The flicks essentially were laying the groundwork for the Empire of the initial trilogy by displaying how an evil politician named Palpatine destroyed the Senate that was supposed to keep him in check. He did this through manufactured emergencies and taking advantage of temporary powers to eventually make his control all-encompassing and quite permanent. A lot of people thought this plot element was silly, implausible, and scoffed at the idea that enough of a nation's/galaxy's leaders would willingly give a despot enough power for him to wipe-out the rest of the people who still questioned him. Well, perhaps we all owe George Lucas a bit of an apology because look at what Donald Trump is trying to do now and observe how many people are blindly following him because they are willing to put their agenda before doing the right/ethical/legal thing.

I'm not saying Trump is Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine was actually a shrewd political mastermind (albeit a very evil one) who carefully put all his metaphorical pieces in place to successfully take-over whereas Donald Trump is a moron who got elected through a mixture of dumb luck, appealing to people's worst instincts, and colluding with foreign powers. That said, Donald Trump is indeed trying to make-up emergencies in the hopes it will give him powers he should not have to do things he ought to be unable to do. Allowing any President of America this kind of power is a dangerous road to go down and regardless of how conservative, liberal, or apolitical we are anyone should be able to realize that once you go defying the very bedrock of the concepts our Country was founded on, you don't really have much of a country left.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I Tried, "Bones," Coffee and Have Opinions!

Friends and family who inquired what I might want for the holidays were given a short list by me. One big aspect of that list was anything relating to coffee. My Sister-in-Law is aware of my love for trying unique flavors of coffee so she purchased me a five sampler-size bags from a coffee company I had not previously heard of, Bones Coffee Company. Apparently known for their small-batch specialty flavors she bought me some she thought I would like to try--after some weeks previously asking cryptic questions about random flavors I did or did not like that in retrospect make sense--"So David, what are your feelings on Hazelnut?” Anyways, I have tried the coffee and my wife has given most of them a sip too. I thought I would share my opinions. Presented in the order I tried them...
Flavor 1: French Toast
Probably the lightest of the flavors which is why I thought it was a good one to start with. It isn't sweet of course but has a nice essence of syrup as a slight flavor. It is mild and my wife thought it was quite good too. I enjoyed it, but it isn't anything wild.
Flavor 2: Peanut Butter and Jelly
Here we go, the weirder stuff. My wife thought it tasted bizarre, but I liked it. With a mixture of a faint nutty vibe and the smallest sensation of grape it really  reminiscent of eating a PB&J sandwich. It was strange, but in the sort of way I quite like.
Favor 3: Bluesberry
I've had some blueberry-styled coffees before and this was a perfectly competent version of that. Not overpowering, but you sure can smell and taste the blueberry. My wife thought it was good but admitted she preferred the French Toast a bit more.

Flavor 4: Maple Bacon
Well, this one was disappointing. I love more esoteric flavors of coffee and was all excited for this. I tried it though, and other than a vague maple taste a little like the, "French Toast," I didn't notice anything that interesting. Perhaps there was the slightest hint of a smoky taste, but nothing that especially screamed, "Bacon," at me. It is a downer, for sure.
Flavor 5: Highland Grog
That's more like it! Even if, "Maple Bacon," let me down I'm glad I get to close on a positive note. I've had some varieties of the, "Highlander Grog," flavor from other companies, and the one done by Bones is among the best. Between the delightful smell and smooth taste this was a treat to drink.

Having tried all of these I would say that, "Peanut Butter and Jelly," was my favorite thanks to its unique nature, but I honestly enjoyed everything (except, "Maple Bacon,") quite a lot. On a closing note, I was quite impressed with how sizable the sampler bags were, you could easily make 2 or 3 relatively large pots of coffee with them even if you like to use a good deal of grounds such as myself (I like my coffee strong, generally). I want to thank my Sister-in-Law for the thoughtful gift and I'll most likely be trying other, "Bones," coffee flavors in the future too!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Television Tuesday: The Bachelor is Back and as Weird as Ever

I watched the first two hours of the season premiere of, "The Bachelor," last night before I was too tired/annoyed and had to tap-out and finish it today. I say this to get one big thing out of the way: Colton Underwood is very dull and he is a terrible choice to be the Bachelor this season. Yes, he is handsome, plays/played football, and everyone loves the countless jokes they can make about him being a virgin--but virginity is not a personality trait and acting like that makes Colton the least bit interesting just because he has made the personal choice to abstain from sex is paradoxically almost shaming him for his choice as opposed to supporting it. Also, about 1.5 hours of the premiere--e.g. half--was spent like some surreal, "New Years Eve," special show with host Chris Harrison and a bunch of, "Viewing parties," talking about how excited they were to watch the show...that we were all are watching.

This, "Viewing parties," aspect was a huge drag and resulted in us not seeing a single woman arrive in a limo until we were an hour into the damn program. People don't watch this show to observe random strangers at parties propose (we got multiple occurrences of those) or to check in with past show-participants Chris AKA, "Goose," and his lady-friend Krystal (who were sitting in a hot-tub in the middle of a parking lot soliciting strangers to join them, so a normal Monday night for those two). No, we watch, "The Bachelor," to witness a bunch of thirsty women all nearly come to blows with each other in the hopes they'll be able to state, "I got Colton's wiener in me!" The actual show itself was fine but Colton is still (as I keep saying) boring as Hell. Thank God some of the woman are interesting and/or delightfully insane.
Cassie, the only one still there I like.
I will say that Cassie seems like a genuinely nice and decent human being. She's a speech pathologist, brought Colton adorable fake butterflies because she had, "Butterflies," and is just so cute. I liked the lady who was in a sloth outfit for quite a long time and really committed to the bit (Alex is her real name, but I'm forever calling her sloth-girl and sad she went home the first night). We also got some funny gals--Onyeka wearing a snorkle and declaring how Cotlon appeared to be, "Drowning in some bitches," was a highlight. Besides that, we had the usual borderline-dangerously-unstable women. There was Bri with the fake Australian accent, Catherine who randomly handed Colton her dog and proceeded to repeatedly interrupt other women's time with Cotlon due to being mad people kept stealing him from her (which is how the damn show works), and sweet, delirious Demi, who has a mom in prison for embezzlement, describes her vagina as a confetti cake, and loudly screams she is, "Hot-dogging for Colton." Oh, and Erika handed him a bag of nuts and basically outright (and somewhat aggressively asked), "Why ain't you fucking?" if in slightly tamer words.

Toward the end of the show Chris Harrison said how, "We've never done this before," and I honestly hope they never do it again. I did not need half of the show spent at pointless viewing parties when I could have watched these horny gals already vigorously dry-humping with our Bachelor after showing up wearing sashes that read, "Miss Underwood," as a joke that would be funny if the grammar weren't horrendously wrong (she'd become Mrs. Underwood). The actual show was good, after putting aside how Colton seems to have about three expressions--confused, sad, and vaguely aroused--because at least the women seemed primed to deliver solid doses of drama. The only viewer-party related nonsense I liked at all was the, "Surprise footage," that people had to unlock via likes on Instagram (don't ask) which was actually all about Chris Harrison over the 17 years he has hosted this show. It was sweet, but a little weird to have that randomly occur and be announced by Chris' mom. Like, is he okay or this some kind of creepy pre-in memoriam for him before later this season he ends up beaten to death with Colton's violently-engorged penis once the guy snaps after the millionth pun relating to him being a virgin?
Catherine, most likely the, Villain," this season.
Anyways, it is, "The Bachelor," and if we're 23 seasons into this shit you know what to expect. I have discussed in-depth this show's flaws as being extremely heteronormative, struggling at addressing race, and otherwise not exactly being a shining beacon of representing feminist ideals. It's a messy and trashy program, but occasionally something cool happens and I love to live-tweet about it with my fellow snarky-folk. I know I'm ready for a hopefully wild and fun season, and maybe in-between the countless jokes about Colton's virginity we can have some serious discussions about the idea of sexuality in relationships and how there isn't anything wrong with choosing to abstain from sex until you find the right person, just as it is perfectly fine to also be a very sexual being. Nah, that's too progressive, we're only gonna get more women handing him peaches and asking if he wants a bite of their, "Sweet Georgia peach," aren't we?

The Third Hour of the, "Today Show," is Delightful Again

Plenty of times I talked about my distaste for Megyn Kelly and her having taken over the 3rd hour of the, "Today Show." I was quite pleased when that reign of terror ended, but was curious what the 3rd hour would then hold. It has been in a bit of a transition period for a bit, but now it will officially be the home of a bunch of hosts I enjoy such as Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer, Craig Melvin, and Sheinelle Jones. I enjoyed watching the gang lately in this time-slot (I also still of course watch, "Great Day Saint Louis," which occurs at the same time, but thanks to DVR I can tape both shows to watch when I please) and am excited to continue viewing them! Yes, the third hour of the, "Today Show," is a delight again, and it brings me immense joy.