Words I never thought I'd say: I'm starting to feel bad for Kim Kardashian.
First she got pregnant, and tabloids - violating a social contract dictating that we don't make expectant mothers feel bad about their bodies, but maybe that's just me - started depicting her as a Lovecraftian devourer of worlds, inhaling all planets that come within the grasp of her bedazzled, faux alligator-skin tentacles. (Available now at DASH!) The woman is growing a new human being inside her, yet she's treated like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman of Beverly Hills, toppling over taco trucks as she feeds the insatiable demon-child within. Seriously, world. Shut up.
Now Ray J, a rapper whose name is almost always preceded by the phrase "singer Brandy's little brother" (a qualifier that tells you a lot about his level of fame), has released a new single. Titled "I Hit it First," this elegant, autobiographical work of art references Ray J's most notable role to date: as Kim Kardashian's "co-star" in the sex tape that rocketed her to fame, and rocketed him to a slightly longer Wikipedia entry. Ray J is clearly concerned that you forgot he was in that tape. Ray J is clearly concerned you forgot about him. Ray J was right.
The grossest part? Everyone is talking about this track as though Kanye West, Kim's current boyfriend and baby-daddy, is the one who should be offended. Not Kim, I guess. Even though she's the one discussed like she's a bong that got passed around the college dorm room.
Though the single artwork appears to be a highly pixelized version of a well-known photo of Kim on the beach, Ray J is playing it kinda coy about who the song is really about. But the lyrics make it clear that this is basically three minutes of Ray J screaming "FIRST!" in the comments section of Kim Kardashian's sexual history. (Which is, uh, a pretty rosy delusion you've got going on there, tiger.)
Bitten by the “spring cleaning” bug, I found myself exploring the dustier corners of my cable’s On Demand menu this weekend. (Way more fun than a closet-cleanse.) And lo and behold, I unearthed something pretty spectacular to share.
When you have copious time to kill, check out The ‘80s: The Decade That Made Us, a six-part series from the National Geographic Channel. If you love looking at pop culture through a political lens – and you’re reading this blog, so I hope you do – then this is a gold mine stuffed with leg warmers, shoulder pads, and brick-sized cell phones. But it’s not one of those I Love the ‘80s-type specials found on VH1, where b-list comedians just narrate nostalgia-inducing music videos. (Uh, thanks for the intellectual closed captioning, guys.) The ‘80s: The Decade That Made Us not only does a great job narrowing down some of the watershed moments in politics, tech, economics and entertainment, but it offers up some interesting perspectives on how those events shaped our current cultural climate.
Yes, we are far enough removed from the ‘80s that we can now observe the lasting effects of that decade's entertainment milestones – which, funny enough, often seemed insignificant at the time. I jotted down eight observations featured in The ‘80s that jumped out at me. (Find more about the full series, including the episode schedule, here.)
#1. Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith establish racial harmony.
Okay, we're still working on this. But musically we've come a long way, and this collaboration played a part. In the early- and mid-80s, rap music was associated almost exclusively with urban black youth and struggled to find broader support. Then in 1986, Run-D.M.C. covered Aerosmith's '75 hit "Walk This Way." By layering rapid-fire rhymes over Joe Perry's unmistakable guitar lick, and with an assist from Steven Tyler's trademark wails, they created a hit that was more successful than the original - and made rap seem accessible to suburbanites. The music video shows the bands literally tearing down walls between rock and rap, "white" and "black" music: Aerosmith peers its head into Run-D.M.C.'s underground recording studio, and Run-D.M.C. storms Aerosmith's arena concert full of fist-pumping white kids. Makes you wanna buy the world a (New) Coke.
It was only Monday. But by now you have already been inundated with opinions. You have been deluged with pontification on the nature of tragedy. You have been scolded with commentary on the right and wrong way to grieve. You're still just trying to make sense of it all. Me too.
Why did it happen? What can we do? Where is this world going? I don't know that I can add any wisdom to the conversations that surround those questions.
But media, images, photographs, video. These are things that I can at least try to talk about, and try to make sense of. And as TV crews and news reporters descend on us, telling the world what has happened and sharing with it a glimpse of Boston - its streets, its people, its character - I thought it was worth taking a moment to talk about how I hope others will see us. And how I hope we will continue to see ourselves.
Many commentators have been unable to resist the temptation to see Boston only through a particular lens: one that makes us look a lot like The Departed or The Town. There has been a lot of talk about how Boston is a tough and gritty city. That we're scrappy fighters. That we're resilient. That we're unafraid of anyone who tries to compromise our identity, and unwilling to accept any affront on our home.
This is true. All of it.
But it's only part of who we are. And that's a good thing. Because right now, tough is not enough.
If you're a cable news reporter from out of state, or even a fellow New Englander with great affection for Boston but little regular exposure to its daily heartbeat, it would be easy to correlate the city with a one-note character generated by Hollywood. The type played by Ben Affleck, maybe. Or a Wahlberg.
After all, media images do create personalities out of cities. They can turn a metropolis into a stock character: Portland becomes a hipster college kid, Vegas a permanent bachelor, New York a sassy best friend who still manages to splurge on designer clothes with her entry-level salary. But these are simplifications: constructs we consume. Partly reality, but mainly media-cultivated shorthand for some collective urban identity.
So if, when waxing sentimental about Boston, your main point of reference is Gone Baby Gone, late-night sketch shows that goof on our attitudinal accent, or that cartoonish graphic of retaliatory sports mascots making the rounds on Facebook, you might have a narrow view of what makes Boston - well, Boston. You are identifying us through caricature, and overlooking ten thousand shades of our true nature.
Boston is a tough city. It is a lot of other things too: many things that don't lend as well to movies or memes, but are sources of incredible pride. Please know these things about us, to really know us at all.
We are a smart city. Our historic buildings reverberate with the lingering presence of young America's great thinkers, leaders, speakers. Our streets are lined with schools, some of the best universities in the world. We prize them. Communities are built around them. Beautiful minds are born here - if not in maternity wards, in classrooms. Students come, learn, create, leave, like tides. Their energy refreshes us, keeps us vital and bursting.
We are a committed city. All work is duty, and dedication is sacrosanct. Over the last two days we have rightly heralded the first responders who rushed toward billowing smoke and danger - not necessarily without fear, but certainly in spite of it - in order to aid victims. That they did so instinctively, unflinchingly, is certain. I know it. Because to Bostonians, the abdication of responsibility is not an option. Here loyalty to an ideal - of behavior, or of the way things "should" be - ranks second in importance only to fidelity to family.
We are a city with a tremendous sense of humor. Okay, that you know. And you're welcome.
We are a creative city. You don't see much of it in the movies, but Boston's tremendous respect for history has always been coupled with a great appreciation for art. We see beauty in the bricks of a well-preserved brownstone. Our orchestra soundtracks the Fourth of July, and our music clubs teem with talent. Yesterday, in the wake of the tragedy, two of Boston's major museums provided free admission: the Museum of Fine Arts, a palatial refuge, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, with its inspiring views of the harbor horizon. We craved their comfort and offer of escape. And annual Sox games aren't the only family tradition: just as parents buy their kids matching Sox caps during summer nights at Fenway, they dress them to the nines for "The Nutcracker" once Christmas comes.
We are a compassionate city. We show this often. Sometimes it makes us a political punching bag, a target for eye rolls about cultural liberalism. But it is also why, even at our most afraid, we opened our homes to perfect strangers by the thousands. If that makes us soft, we will never be embarrassed by it.
I could go on.
But my point is, we are more than tough - and we will need to be. This is not a movie. But it is a chance for the world to see Boston's true character. And we will need to call on every part of it.
Because healing is far, far ahead. But we will get there, one step after another. Through heartbreak. To the finish line.
I don't mean to brag, but sometimes when I travel it causes an international incident. Maybe you've heard, but there was this one time when I tried to get a too-big bottle of contact lens solution through security. It caused quite a kerfuffle. TMZ? Everywhere. I'd elaborate, but I'm trying to forget that era in my career. So if you'd like to learn more, visit my Wikipedia page. It's described under the subheading, "Artistic Legacy and Controversies."
This week, though, I was totally upstaged by two separate celebrity travel scandals. First Madonna went to Africa to build schools for the poor, was accused of being high-maintenance, and got into a war of words with the president of Malawi. Then Jay-Z and Beyonce went to Cuba on vacation, which upset people because the US government has imposed certain sanctions on travel to Cuba ever since the 2004 release of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. (Wait. That's why we're still not into them, right?)
Yesterday Jay-Z even released a new song, "Open Letter," defending the trip. But also suggesting that he got special "clearance" from President Obama, which the White House denies. (Note: naughty language ahead.)
The general media narrative can be summarized thusly: "HEADLINE: Rich and Famous People Are Self-Entitled and Think They Deserve Special Treatment. Be Reminded You are Ordinary." Fair? Not? Which star, if any, deserves criticism for refusing to stow their ego in an overhead compartment?
Dear Robin Thicke,
How are you? I hope you're having a good day. What are you up to? Are you in the recording studio, working on new music? (Is there a duet with your Duets co-judge Kelly Clarkson in our future? That would be swell.) Are you penning some slick new soul songs? Are you riding a bicycle built for two with Justin Timberlake in the French countryside? I hope so. Don't leave the baguette at the hotel this time.
Anyway, I'm sorry to meet you under these circumstances. Because, well - it's about to get a little awkward.
Here's the thing: I checked out the music video for your new single, "Blurred Lines." The Internet told me it was controversial, NSFW, and just banned by YouTube. So obviously, CLICK.
I guess you anticipated that reaction, because you simultaneously recorded this less-provocative version. (I can't post the uncensored one here, but grown-up viewers can watch the explicit, unclothed and non-work appropriate version elsewhere.)
Hmm. I see why the video was banned. The uncensored clip features you (alongside rapper/producers Pharrell and T.I.) frolicking in a bare studio with a bevy of nude female models. Not scantily clad, but nude - well, topless, and bouncing around in flesh-colored thongs. That's the whole shebang. There are some funny props (raise your hand if you're jealous of that banjo), and some jokey dance moves, and a whole lot of willya-get-a-loadda-dem-ta-tas pointing and mugging for the camera. And then at the end, a bunch of silver balloons spell out a bold declaration:
"Robin Thicke has a big [you-know.]."
Which leads me to the challenge I issue. Ready? Okay.
Let's see it.
Cue: the gulp heard round the world.