Tag Archives: popular culture

Nude

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  It may come as a surprise to some readers that our infatuation with the female nude photograph predates Playboy by two  decades. In fact I can think of two sexual trailblazers from the 1920’s, Louise Brooks and Josephine Baker. To pose completely nude for a photograph was considered more of an artistic endeavor in those days, and this is the spirit in which both Brooks and Baker approach it. Louise Brooks (to the left) strikes a pose which could be found in innumerable art deco sculptures. I have written before of Louise Brooks as an actress, but it is not as commonly known that she was showing her pubic hair long before Betty Page. I would say that Louise is very much the siren of the sexual revolution in her feminism before feminism existed. Of course I cannot be certain of her motives in posing for these photographs. Perhaps she needed money, but I would like to think she was striking a blow for female freedom. Her body isn’t an airbrushed sex doll, but rather a real body, like you would find in real life. I find this to be much more erotic than a nude body commercialized into a commodity.

However, Louise Brooks was not alone. Besides many lesser known models, the twenties and thirties had another sexual pioneer, Josephine Baker. Josephine projects an innocent vulnerability, and I admit to mixed feelings about her nudity. At that time African-Americans were often considered subhuman by white culture. I wonder if Josephine, particularly in her banana dance, articulates the racist jungle girl fantasies of a white audience. Even if that is so, and I suspect it is, Josephine Baker exuded a sensuality which still resonates today. She seems comfortable in her own body, projecting an unashamed innocent sexuality.

I suspect these photos provided quite a thrill for many young men, who could not believe what they were seeing. Unlike today, when the internet is inundated with nudity, in those times the sight of a pubis was undoubtedly very exciting. It is possible that Hugh Hefner may have been one of those young men, longing for a time when he could take such pictures.

For Louise Brooks and Josephine Baker, to be nude was to be honest, to be real, to be themselves stripped of all pretensions. At least, that is what I would prefer to believe.

 

 

RussellPop, my new blog

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This is just to let my followers know that I am beginning a new blog, RussellPop, which is where I will post my observations on popular culture, music, movies, books, art, etc. It is not about me, myself, and I. It is free of expletives, and controversy, except of course the shallow controversies of popular culture. It is meant to be a fun site, for fans, and to get my take on what is going on in the world of entertainment and the arts. I will avoid heaviness. This site is my relief from my primary blog, this one, which will continue to pursue brutal honesty, and hopefully cause people to think, and feel. Here is where it’s real. RussellPop.wordpress.com is where it’s fun.

Romance of the Motorcycle

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James Dean with his motorcycle

Today motorcycles are common. It has become a common mode of transportation for young people, and middle class families. It is no longer the exclusive domain of biker gangs and misfits. Of course, this has always been the case outside of the United States. But this post isn’t about the business executive who takes rides on his motorcycle on the weekends. This post is about the motorcycle as a romantic icon. A symbol of American independence. A symbol of the American male mojo. The motorcycle of the Hell’s Angels and Marlon Brando. I mainly wanted to share some great photos with you, that give you a better idea of motorcycle lore than any words I can type. My brain hurts lately, and my well of inspiration has dried up a bit, so I am allowing other media to tell the story. My first photo is a wonderful moment in American cultural history. This is Hunter Thompson long before his gonzo days. He is gazing out at the unforgiving sea at Big Sur with his motorcycle. For me, this captures some of the mystery and romance of the motorcycle. Of course, it helps to know who the kid is.

Hunter at Big Sur

The romance of the motorcycle began after WW II, when so many veterans came home and needed something exciting and somewhat dangerous to do. So they formed motorcycle clubs. It didn’t take long for these clubs to develop a seedy reputation. “The Wild Ones” established the idea of the motorcyclist as a rebel. Someone asked Marlon Brando’s character what he was rebelling against and he said “Whadda ya’ got?” The motorcycle reinforced the loner image. One man and his bike. This was the message of ‘The Wild Ones’. It was not a celebration of gangs, it was a celebration of individualism. The combination of the mysterious and virile Marlon Brando with the motorcycle was magical. I don’t think there has been a more perfect marriage. Although ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ focused more on daredevil car racing, the same spirit of individualism pervades that film. Of course, James Dean had his bike, and so did Elvis Presley after him. It is interesting how that image changed as Elvis’ image changed. In the beginning Elvis had a Harley, but when he needed to be more family friendly he rode a smaller, less controversial motorcycle. But check out the road hog he has in his final years! This is an icon of a different sort, and the subject of a different blog. I managed to find a photo of Natalie Wood on a motorcycle but it isn’t entirely clear to me what brand it is. Is it a Harley? And while I am on the subject of Natalie Wood, I found this adorable picture of  her and Sal Mineo that I wanted to share even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with motorcycles. It just captures some of what made those two so special.

Natalie Wood on a Harley?

Steve         McQueen redeemed the image of the motorcycle in The Great Escape. It became wholesome again, and associated with good old American virtues. Michael Parks revived the loner image for the motorcycle in the seventies. He was kind of a James Dean Light. Arlo Guthrie made the motorcycle seem harmless and fun with his ‘Motorcycle Song’. Thankfully, we had Steppenwolf to remind us of what motorcycles should be about. ‘Born to be Wild’ became

Elvis gives her a ride on his hog

the motorcycle anthem, although I really liked their much more obscure motorcycle related song, ‘Screaming Night Hog’. You can see in the videos I posted,  the transformation in just one year of Steppenwolf, from hippie band to a biker band. John Kay didn’t just wear those shades to be cool, he had severe vision problems. But he also looked totally cool!

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found three photos of famous icons with their bikes. Brando, Elvis, and Springsteen. Nuff said.

 

 

Hunter Thompson with his bike

 

Michael Parks as Bronson

James Hurley in Twin Peaks

Margaret Cho keeping the spirit alive

 

 

 

 

 

Hunter Thompson made motorcycles dangerous again, by  writing about his misadventures with the Hell’s Angels. Here he is with his bike.  And it comes full circle with James Hurley in Twin Peaks with his bike, echoing Marlon Brando. So today, although motorcycles are everywhere, there still remains a romance attached to the idea of the motorcycle. That spirit continues with Margaret Cho’s blog about her motorcycle adventures.

Observations about popular culture

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These are some observations about popular culture from a cranky old man (well, actually I’m only 57, but I am quite cranky at times.) I’ve been thinking a lot lately, which is always dangerous. While struggling with unemployment and …(oh, what is the use of going into it, I’ve given my sob story in earlier blogs, so enough already!), I have been spending my time checking out old movies and such on Youtube. This was inspired by my watching Metropolis (a DVD I actually purchased in an actual store, my bit to improve the American economy.), a movie that I had seen pictures from and clips from for a long time, but never saw the whole thing. Actually the whole thing was thought to be lost until recently, but anyway, it is fascinating. While I’m sure the concept of an artificial being had been explored before, dating back to the Jewish legend of the Golem (is that the right word?), and, of course, Frankenberry, excuse me, Frankenstein. Excuse my impertinence, I watched too much Steve Allen when I was a kid. But what made this version of creating a robot especially intriguing, was that it was created to distract the working class from recognizing their abject slavery. It took the form of a woman, the exact form of a woman the common people had revered, and who had protected their children. The robot would appear in a demonic ritual and whip all the men into a sexual frenzy. This idea of an artificial creation for the purpose of creating a sexual obsession in the masses is very, very modern, and resonates with all we know about the popular image of Madonna and Britney Spears. In fact, Christina Aguilera’s latest album is entitled Bionic and shows her as a robot. The appeal of these artists, and many others, consists primarily of sexual stimulation and little else, the music being quite robotic in nature. As a matter of fact, I’m sure some of my readers remember the colorized version of Metropolis which came out in the eighties (which I avoided seeing just on general principles). That version had a modern “new wave” soundtrack, which totally missed the point of the film, the popular culture of the eighties (and today, as well) glorified the sex goddess robot instead of recognizing it’s evil effect upon the audience.  If you know your history, you know that the 1920’s were a time of hedonistic devil may care attitudes, especially in Weimar Germany, where Metropolis was made. This movie was quite prophetic in it’s message, describing a technocratic society masking an underground slave culture.

I decided to explore another silent film era icon, which I hadn’t investigated before. I had had many photos of Louise Brooks but had never actually seen one of her films. Her image haunted me, although the photos were from the twenties, they felt modern somehow. She seemed to hold a dark, sad, mystery. I have since discovered that a cult has developed around Louise Brooks and I am hardly alone in my fascination. I found two of her best films, also made in Weimar Germany, Pandora’s Box, and Diary of a Lost Girl. Both are excellent, especially Diary. They are also disturbing. Louise Brooks is totally different from the acting conventions of the time. She is natural, and seems as modern as any of today’s actresses. She is even more hypnotic and mesmerizing in the films than in the photos. I can see some connection between Metropolis and these Brooks’ films. I hope I don’t stretch that connection too far, however. She is like the robot in Metropolis, especially in Pandora’s Box as Lulu, in that she  has an evil effect on the men around her, while she appears relatively unscathed, and uncaring, much like a robot. But while the character of Lulu bears resemblance to the inhuman creation in Metropolis, the character Louise plays in Diary of a Lost Girl is very different. This character bears a resemblance to the real woman in Metropolis that the robot is modeled after. Diary deals with how women can be abused to the point of being dehumanized (turned into sexual robots, isn’t that sort of what prostitutes are?), and yet, Brook’s character rebels against her dehumanization and the dehumanization of other women. In real life Brooks was quite contemptuous of popular culture and refused to continue to play Hollywood’s game, which cost her her career. She serves as an appropriate role model for modern women. My question to today’s icons, such as Lady Gaga, for instance, are whether they are a mindless product of popular culture, cashing in on the rebelliousness of today’s youth, or a genuine example of a woman who uses her sexuality to liberate rather than enslave, and is willing to be true to her ideals even at the cost of her career. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. In the meantime I still need to find a job, and keep from (oh, here I am whining again!) In any case, if you are one of the unwashed millions living in caves, who haven’t seen any of these movies, they are all on youtube, check them out. I don’t think you will regret it.