Blood, Sweat, and Tears as the American Way: Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, the American Dream, and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat
There is a jukebox in the back of the bar where much of the action takes place in Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s incendiary new play Sweat, running in Studio 54. It’s dusty and old and you can’t quite tell if it plays CDs or something else. Taking place primarily over the course of a several months in 2000, Nottage implements a mixtape of early aught, late nineties tracks, songs that played on the airwaves too late before the club iteration of Studio 54 could blast them over a crowd of dancers in the city, dressed flamboyantly, swaying without care in the world. Instead, the music plays in a bar the reeks of as much history as the jukebox itself, the TV occasionally on with the faces of politicians vying for the White House, including George W. Bush; a couple tables where the regulars from the textile factory sit or tumble over; and a tap that spits out weak, watered down beer, the same beer every day, in spite of the hopes of young Chris’s, a factory worker and with college on the horizon. The song that is the most striking in Nottage’s playlist, the one that bookends the show, is Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, off his eponymous studio album from 1999. For a story about a bunch of working class people in Pennsylvania whose relationship with their jobs, with each other, and with capitalism itself becomes a dangerous pas de deux (or better yet, tango), Anthony’s Latin infused track is recontextualized within the play’s ideas. Read the rest of this entry »
American audiences love a white douchebag who is also a genius. Their shittiness is mostly outweighed by their ingenuity. You may be a dipshit that can’t really relate to anyone and dares to put “I’m CEO, Bitch” on your business card, but at least you created Facebook. And you might have daddy issues and an inability to relate to basically anyone, while also backstabbing your closest friend (which seems like a trend), but at least you created he iPod. The Social Network and Steve Jobs, amongst several films of their ilk, are excellent and okay films, and while their desire is to deconstruct the myth of said white male asshole genius, they can’t help but be at least marginally complicit in valorizing them. (That they’re both written by Aaron Sorkin might have something to do with it.) The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock and written by The Wrestler scribe Robert D. Siegel, looks like these films from the trailer, even from the poster. Michael Keaton, as McDonald’s’ first franchiser Ray Kroc, stands in front of the “golden arches”, they themselves such a piece of iconography, as if trying to steal the spotlight from such a quintessential logo and standin for the American Dream. Above his head in all caps: “Risk Taker. Rule Breaker. Game Changer.” They cleverly forgot one word: Villain. Read the rest of this entry »
Once upon a time in West Hollywood, a friend of mine dragged me out to paint the town red and make me stop using old timey phrases like that when I was visiting Los Angeles. He took me to a gay club called Tiger Heat, which was supposed to be like the magazine in the sense that the twinks there were just as seemingly depthless. But I found one of my first true loves on the dance floor that night: the music video. As I don’t drink often and was then disinclined to engage with anyone in that kind of space socially, I spent the night swaying back and forth to the music, bathed in neon lights, and I stared up at the monstrous screen playing random music videos.
Perhaps surprisingly, yes, there were other music videos released this year not by Beyoncé. And while one may be quick to quip, “And I’m not sure why they bothered”, the little pieces of pop art pleasure here are just as worthy of attention as the tome Lemonade. Read the rest of this entry »
Who is you, man?
Yeah, nigga. You.
The question lingers in the air like the ribbon of smoke that’s unfurled from Kevin’s mouth after a puff from a cigarette. It carries a whiff of both genuine curiosity and the subtle nod that it’s almost rhetorical. Last year, Wesley Morris proposed that 2015 was the year we obsessed over identity, which is not incorrect. But what of this year, when the challenges marginalize communities face grow more visible in the public eye? Even the most loved and adored icons, as they’re so often called, were in some ways center points for discussions of identity – Prince, Bowie, Kiarostami, etc. In essence, haven’t we always been fascinated with not only who we are, but the politicizing of that question, so frequently without a clear answer? Read the rest of this entry »
As Nick Pinkerton’s review notes, the musicals that have come and gone in the last couple of decades have – through form and, to some degree, theme – noted, “They don’t make them like they used to.” But La La Land does try earnestly and effortfully to make them like the used to, “they” being the likes of Jacques Demy or Vincente Minelli or Stanley Donen. I can’t help but wonder why Damien Chazelle, an incredibly proficient director, wanted to “make them like they used to”. Is he just a caustic nostalgist? Read the rest of this entry »
The town of Dogville is filled with Trump voters. Not merely the aspect of their working class status, but their benevolent condescension to the one that doesn’t belong in the town. Their justification for abuse, for prejudice, for causing trauma, for turning a blind eye. Even the intellectual among them makes logical leaps to justify his actions, which seem all the more anti-intellectual. They are both beholden to a particular system of homemade bureaucracy as well as suspicious of it and anyone else that threatens their way of life. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the summer, I briefly plunged myself into studying camp for a couple of pieces I did. Its definitions varied, one of the great conceptual terms whose definition is as elusive as the transient nature of what it may or may not describe. For some, it’s merely the love for kitsch; for others, it’s pointed exaggeration to subvert normative values in art; and for some others, it’s the enjoyable bad, where badness does a 360 and becomes good again in spite of itself. The common connection was the role artifice plays. It’s either tool or catalyst, coding in each second of a given text a kind of language recognized and shared by a niche group of people.
And then at some point, camp was mainstreamed, and what was once kind of secret became kind of populist, even if in a tangential way. Ryan Murphy, Madonna, Hairspray as a musical, and the grande dame, Lady Gaga. Read the rest of this entry »