Category: Popular Culture

Sitting Bull, Teton Sioux Indian Chief (Tatanka-Iyotanka)

Sitting Bull, Teton Sioux Indian Chief (Tatanka-Iyotanka)

A Hunkpapa Lakota chief and holy man under whom the Lakota tribes united in their struggle for survival on the northern plains, Sitting Bull remained defiant toward American military power and contemptuous of American promises to the end.

Born around 1831 on the Grand River in present-day South Dakota, at a place the Lakota called “Many Caches” for the number of food storage pits they had dug there, Sitting Bull was given the name Tatanka-Iyotanka, which describes a buffalo bull sitting intractably on its haunches. It was a name he would live up to throughout his life.

As a young man, Sitting Bull became a leader of the Strong Heart warrior society and, later, a distinguished member of the Silent Eaters, a group concerned with tribal welfare. He first went to battle at age 14, in a raid on the Crow, and saw his first encounter with American soldiers in June 1863, when the army mounted a broad campaign in retaliation for the Santee Rebellion in Minnesota, in which Sitting Bull’s people played no part. The next year Sitting Bull fought U.S. troops again, at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain, and in 1865 he led a siege against the newly established Fort Rice in present-day North Dakota. Widely respected for his bravery and insight, he became head chief of the Lakota nation about 1868.

Sitting Bull’s courage was legendary. Once, in 1872, during a battle with soldiers protecting railroad workers on the Yellowstone River, Sitting Bull led four other warriors out between the lines, sat calmly sharing a pipe with them as bullets buzzed around, carefully reamed the pipe out when they were finished, and then casually walked away.

The stage was set for war between Sitting Bull and the U.S. Army in 1874, when an expedition led by General George Armstrong Custer confirmed that gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, an area sacred to many tribes and placed off-limits to white settlement by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Despite this ban, prospectors began a rush to the Black Hills, provoking the Lakota to defend their land. When government efforts to purchase the Black Hills failed, the Fort Laramie Treaty was set aside and the commissioner of Indian Affairs decreed that all Lakota not settled on reservations by January 31, 1876, would be considered hostile. Sitting Bull and his people held their ground.

In March, as three columns of federal troops under General George Crook, General Alfred Terry and Colonel John Gibbon moved into the area, Sitting Bull summoned the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho to his camp on Rosebud Creek in Montana Territory. There he led them in the sun dance ritual, offering prayers to Wakan Tanka, their Great Spirit, and slashing his arms one hundred times as a sign of sacrifice. During this ceremony, Sitting Bull had a vision in which he saw soldiers falling into the Lakota camp like grasshoppers falling from the sky.

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Radio Luxembourg and 60’s Pirate Stations

Radio Luxembourg and 60's Pirate Stations

Through this apparent decline was due in part to a moral and/or cultural backlash, it had much to do with ingrained aspects of national life and character. One of these was a readiness to live with maiden “Auntie” BBC’s paternalism. British record companies were content – if not enthusiastic – to sell rock`n’roll, but BBC resistance severely restricted airplay.

The only alternative – the commercial radio station Radio Luxembourg, broadcast from mainland Europe – was very popular with teenagers (especially at 11 pm on a Sunday night for the Top 20), but that popularity did not translate itself into wholesale dissatisfaction with the BBC’s music policy until 1964, when a rash of “ pirate stations” broke out, broadcasting unlicensed from ships moored just outside territorial waters. The pirates introduced an American style of disk jockey to an enthusiastic British audience.

Beneath the surface there was an unprecedented amount of popular musical activity. The steadily increasing popularity of the dance-hall as a venue for “sweet Saturday night” created a demand for bands at a local level. The existence of such bands was in large measure the product of a short-lived skiffle bom. This hybrid of American blues and folk music and British music hall was an offshoot of the fashion for traditional jazz (“trad”) of the mid-and late fifties. It had three important consequences: it gave a considerable push to the evolving process of musical “democratization”; it raised the guitar to preeminence; and it introduced a direct link to the roots of black American music.

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‘Barbie Girl’ tops Rolling Stone’s worst songs of the ’90s

When people look back on a decade’s music they tend to focus on the good stuff – but the people who lived through the time period know better. While the 1990s certainly had amazing music, not everything on the radio was Nirvana or Radiohead. Michael Bolton, Kenny G. and Vanilla Ice sold enough records to fill 500 landfills – which is where most of those records now reside.

Last week, Rolling Stone asked readers to vote for the worst song of the 1990s. And topping the list is Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”

“Barbie Girl” – written by the Danish dance-pop group Aqua – is an incredibly polarizing song. Many people were offended by the portrayal of a woman as a man’s plastic doll, begging him to “undress me everywhere.” Others loved the over-the-top cartoonish video and bizarre sound of the song.

Mattel (the makers of Barbie) were less than pleased that their product was being presented in such an overtly sexual way and filed a lawsuit. The courts ruled that the song was a parody and thus permissible, but Mattel took it all the way to the Supreme Court. The company had a change of heart in 2009, when they changed the lyrics and used the song in an ad campaign.

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Advertising for Men: Cigarette Advertisements

Advertising for Men: Cigarette Advertisements

While, in the interwar years, most consumer goods had been aimed at a female market (even if it didn’t earn the money to pay for them), by the 1950s men had become, increasingly, the target for the ad-men of Madison Avenue. People honestly believed that smoking cigarettes were, while maybe not good for you, at least would not have harmful effects. The cigarette industry was in what is now referred to as its “Golden Age.”

A wide range of supremely “masculine” goods – from cars to eleetric shavers to cigarettes showed that the male species was as susceptible as women to the none-too-subtle tacties of the advertisers. The ads stressed the importance of self-reliance, strength and, above all, sophistication. Many of the masculine role models of the decade, visible in the ads, originated in the cinema.

Whereas cigarette ads tended to focus on the enjoyment of leisure hours, advertising for men located its image increasingly in the world of work, with the male shown to be in control of his office or workshop environment.

In 1971, cigarette ads were completely banned from television and seventeen years later, the tobacco industry first paid damages to the widow of a cigarette smoker. The industry began to seriously consider ways in which to continue appealing to potential smokers while dealing with the now well-established fact that smoking caused cancer. Since then, we have seen a great decline in pro-smoking and cigarette advertising, mainly for health reasons.

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Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

Fashion and Hollywood Glamor

Significant historical changes in the status of movie stars have paralleled decisive technological, economic, and social changes that have affected the American film industry as a whole, such as the coming of sound, the Great Depression, and the rise and fall of movie attendance. The contractual terms and salaries for movie stars have also been affected by the same factors.

In the highly competitive and expanding market that existed between 1910 and 1920, the most popular silent-movie stars eventually obtained contractual terms that equalled and possibly exceeded their individual contributions to box-office success, and some of them also became involved in film production themselves, although the development of sound and its demand for experienced stage and radio performers ended the careers of many silent film stars.

Those working during the early 1930s, when movie attendance declined and industry power was concentrated in the hands of a few studios, were placed in a poor bargaining position, and studios began exercising near autocratic control over the star system.

The fashion image most associated with the 1930s – a decade of Depression, unemployment, fascism and the approach of war – is probably the glamorous Hollywood pale satin evening gown, a bias-cut creation slithering to the floor, lowbacked and clinging to the thighs.

This ambiguous garment did not look very different from a nightdress, and managed to appear both sultry and languid – chic and upper-class in the pages of Vogue or trampishly sexual when worn by Jean Harlow.

The revolution wrought by sound had given rise to a new galaxy of stars and introduced new types of pictures. Many of the familiar figures of the movie world continued in the talkies their success in silent films; a few staged remarkable come-backs after a period of eclipse while they adapted themselves to an unfamiliar technique. Actors and actresses of the legitimate stage, who had often scorned the pantomime of the silent film, made their hopeful way to California in droves, and a good many of them remained. Singers and dancers, for whom the talkies represented an entirely new opportunity, were suddenly in great demand. In a whirl of expanding energy, Hollywood exploited all the means at its disposal to reach the still broader market for popular entertainment now opening up.

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The Arrival of Elvis Presley

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“Man, when I was nine, I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to be Elvis Presley,” Springsteen remembers.

The first two Elvis Presley albums, both on RCA in 1956, neatly illustrate the basic dichotomy: Elvis Presley shows him onstage, eyes shut and mouth wide open, with his guitar thrust in the air, while Elvis has him seated in a staged pose, strumming his guitar. Here is the musician, they seem to say, and here are his musical instruments, his primary materials: his voice and his guitar.

In the 1960 songs in which women are part of the continuing love relationship, the male is clearly the dominant figure. Elvis Presley in “It’s Now or Never” best exemplifies this theme:

It’s now or never.
Come hold me tight.
Kiss me, my darling.
Be mine tonight.
Tomorrow will be too late.
It’s now or never.
My love won’t wait.

Alan Freed and others only played original black rhythm & blues /r ock’n’ roll, but most disk jockeys gave the cover version for more exposure, usually omitting to mention the original. Covers by leading white perforrners such as Pat Boone consistently outsold the originals over the country as a whole. To same people only the original black music had the necessary connotations of non-conforrnity, but for many middle-class teenagers clean-living Pat Boone’s perfectly enunciated version of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally offered enough assertiveness without too much risk of overstepping the social and moral mark.

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The lyrics of Sh-Boom were unaltered in the Crew Cuts’ cover version, but that was an exception; in many cases wholesale changes were made to cope with lyrics of unaccustomed frankness and innuendo. The music of the covers was also often toned down. These changes, undertaken partly to avoid incurring society’s wrath, partly to ensure good sales, could not disguise the fact that penetration of the mainstream by black and black-derived approaches was taking another, decisive step. The interplay between the offbeat and heavy, insistent rhythm were different from anything the white popular music scene had heard before. In introdueing new elements, mostly derived from the blues, cover versions unwittingly helped to prepare a wider audience for the music that foilowed.

The cover version remained the basis of the white rock’n’ roll of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and others, but a different approach can be detected between these and the version of the Pat Boone school. In place of the attempt to divert rhythm & blues into more broadly acceptable channels of sound, the country-bred musicians and their producers sought to develop a new style, based on a dynamic encounter between black and white.

Notice that Blood Sweat and Tears and the Ides of March have names that come at the end of a quotation, so that to get it you have to know the first part as well. Since almost all American kids have to read Julius Caesar in high school, that Shakespearean tag is especially indicative. Furthermore, these names as well as that of Big Brother promise something threatening. Music was so loud and so heavy that it did have an aggressive quality—so that it is no surprise that in 1969 a group formed that called itself War.

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Popular Culture: The Rise of Hollywood

Popular Culture: The Rise of Hollywood

The rise of Hollywood signaled the arrival of America’s urban-industrial age, a period when traditional values and established notions of family and community, of the social and political order, and of individual freedom and initiative were radically transformed. Hollywood movies were among the first and were certainly the most widespread and accessible manifestations of an emergent “mass culture” which brought with it new forms of cultural expression.

Businessmen began to realize the financial potential for movies. While movies were first shown as part of other forms of entertainment, they soon became the featured attraction themselves. By 1905 the first nickelodeon had opened in Pittsburgh, where customers each paid a nickel to see a full program of a half dozen short films. The opening of theaters completed the elements necessary for an industry: product, technology, producer, purchaser, and distributor. As the United States became an increasingly child-centered culture, concern grew about the moral effects of popular culture on the young.

This was not simply a matter of its content: many educationalists shared philosopher Charles Horton Coolef’s disquiet about its “expressive” function in stimulating emotions. The “rapid and multitudinous flow of personal images, sentiments, and impulses”, he feared, produced “an overexcitation which weakens or breaks down character”.

One man who learned his trade from Griffith was Mack Sennett. Sennett worked for Griffith for a few years as a director and writer, but his interests were more in comedy than in melodrama. In 1912 he broke away and began to work for an independent company, Keystone. Here he learned to merge the methods of stage slapstick comedy with the techniques of film; the results were the Keystone Cops, Ben Turpin, and Charlie Chaplin. Sennett’s films used only the barest plot outline as a frame for comic gags that were improvised and shot quickly.

From the Sennett method, Charlie Chaplin developed his own technique and character. He began making shorts under the direction of Sennett, but in 1915 he left and joined with Essenay which agreed to let him write and direct his own films at an unprecedented salary. Here he fleshed out his tramp character; one of his first films for Essenay was The Tramp (1915). He continued making films that combined his own comic sense and acrobatic movements with social commentary and along with Mary Pickford became one of the first “stars.”

Later he made features, such as The Gold Rush (1925) and Modern Times (1936). Sennett and Chaplin began a period of great film comedy. Buster Keaton combined a deadpan look with remarkable physical ability and timing. He too began making shorts, but soon was directing and starring in features, such as The General (1926). Harold Lloyd ( The Freshman, 1925) and Harry Langdon ( The Strong Man, 1926) also created comic characters that demonstrated their individuality and imagination.

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Lady Gaga discusses her “meat” VMA outfit

Lady Gaga discusses her "meat" VMA outfit

“I never thought I’d be asking Cher to hold my meat purse.”

That was Lady Gaga’s unusual opening statement when she stepped onstage at MTV’s Video Music Awards Sunday to receive her Video of the Year award from pop legend Cher.

After arriving at the ceremony in a dress from the late designer Alexander McQueen’s final collection and then changing into a weighty, architectural gown and spiky crown by Giorgio Armani, Gaga turned heads (and we’d have to imagine noses) in her final outfit, a Franc Fernandez dress (plus boots, hat, and purse) cut together from what appeared to be slabs of raw meat. The outfit echoed the controversial meat bikini she recently wore for the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan.

After the show, in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Gaga tried to explain that the dress was a political statement. Discussing how she’d been escorted to the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles by members of the U.S. military who had been discharged from the service due to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Lady Gaga said: “It is a devastation to me that I know my fans who are gay … feel like they have governmental oppression on them. That’s actually why I wore the meat tonight.”

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