Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The 10 Most Controversial 'South Park' Episodes

'South Park'/Comedy Central
Tom Cruise and Scientology are two of the many targets of "South Park"

As the animated series begins its 13th season, we look at some of its most outrageous episodes

By Dave Lake


Trying to choose the 10 most controversial "South Park" episodes is like trying to choose the worst Rob Schneider movie -- there are just so many to choose from. But as the show begins its 13th season, on March 11 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central, we thought we'd round up the episodes that have generated the most publicity over the years. And there have been a lot of them. Right from the get-go, this scathing satire, centered on four kids from South Park elementary, built a reputation on being an equal-opportunity offender, leaving no stone unturned and no topic too taboo. Many learning institutions in turn banned the show's merchandise from their grounds, and several countries have banned the show's broadcast entirely (we're looking at you, former Soviet Union), no doubt stoking the fires of its brainchildren, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. There were many amazingly offensive and amazingly hilarious episodes to go through, but we were up to the challenge of finding our 10 favorites, and we present them to you here with clips from each.

Episode: "Trapped in the Closet"
Season: 9
Controversy: The mother (or should we say motherf---er) of all controversial "South Park" episodes is no doubt this one, which skewers Scientology, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and R. Kelly in one fell swoop. Dubbed Closetgate, Comedy Central, a network owned by Viacom, pulled a rerun of this Emmy-nominated episode, supposedly under pressure from Tom Cruise, who threatened to bail out of promoting his upcoming film "Mission: Impossible III," which was being released by Paramount, a division of Viacom. Isaac Hayes, who had long performed the voice of Chef on the series, and who also happened to be a Scientologist, quit the show abruptly just days prior to this episode's broadcast. He later returned, and this episode has seen multiple reruns.

Episode: "The China Probrem"
Season: 12
Controversy: The episode implies that "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is a raping of the franchise by having the film's star, Harrison Ford, literally raped several times in the episode by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in an variety of famous movie rape scenes. Favorite "South Park" haters the Parents Television Council cited the episode for "exploiting the sensitive topic of rape for a trivial movie satire."

Episode: "It Hits the Fan"
Season: 5
Controversy: Inspired by the saucy language of ABC's "NYPD Blue," the episode opens with the gang talking about "Cop Drama," a network show planning to air a scene with an uncensored S-word in it. "South Park" then drops 162 uncensored S-bombs -- that's one every eight seconds -- for the remainder of its 22 minutes, with a counter at the bottom of the screen keeping track of each one. But aside from the gratuitous use of language, the episode ponders a larger question: Why is it considered offensive when an animated comedy pushes the envelope via edgy language, while a serious drama doing the same thing is considered art? Another episode, titled "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson," pulled a similar stunt using the N-word.

Episode: "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo"
Season: 1
Controversy: A Russian Pentecostal organization demanded that the Russian government revoke the license of the nation's oldest private entertainment channel after it aired this Christmas-themed classic from the show's first season featuring a singing, hat-wearing turd. The organization's appeal was flushed and the station's license was kept.

Episode: "Jared Has Aides"
Season: 6
Controversy: After Jared Fogle, the spokesman for Subway restaurants, visits South Park to discuss his weight loss, the boys misunderstand his methods for losing weight. Fogle explains it was a series of appointments with his personal trainer and his dietitian, his aides, which the boys misinterpret as his AIDS. The rest of the episode's plot revolves around Butters, South Park's favorite overweight kid, and his abuse at the hands of his parents after they think he's attempted a liposuction surgery on himself at home. Ironically, Comedy Central banned the episode, not due to its AIDS-related material, but due to its portrayal of Butters being abused by his parents.

Episode: "Scott Tenorman Must Die"
Season: 5
Controversy: Consistently voted one of the show's most popular and most outrageous episodes by fans, "Scott Tenorman Must Die" is notable both for the appearance of the band Radiohead as themselves (most celebrities are impersonated on the show) and the depths with which Cartman will go to seek revenge. In this case, feeding the titular character chili made from the remains of his parents. It is also, according to Stone and Parker, the first and only episode to not have two plots.

Episode: "Terrance & Phillip in Not Without My Anus"
Season: 2
Controversy: Conceived as an April Fools' Day prank, and fueled by the generous publicity received by the Season 1 cliffhanger, the second season premiere, which was intended to answer the question of who Cartman's parents were, instead focused on an unrelated episode involving the show-within-the-show characters of Terrance and Phillip. Fans were outraged, and as such Comedy Central pushed Parker and Stone to quickly create the real episode, which they did, and which aired three weeks later.

Episode: "Bloody Mary"
Season: 9
Controversy: The Catholic League protested the episode because of its depiction of a Virgin Mary statue bleeding from its rectum. It originally aired on Dec. 7, 2005, the night before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic holiday relating to the Virgin Mary. There were conflicting reports that Comedy Central had agreed to not rerun the episode, however the network denies ever having agreed to such a demand. There was also outrage in New Zealand, where the nation's Catholic Bishops' Conference attempted, unsuccessfully, to stop the episode from airing.

Episode: "Hell on Earth 2006"
Season: 10
Controversy: In the episode, a guest at a Halloween costume party shows up as wildlife expert Steve Irwin with a stingray barb sticking out of his chest. After being confronted for wearing such a tacky costume, the guest turns out to be Irwin himself, and is subsequently removed from the party for not wearing a costume. The episode aired just weeks after Irwin died from having a stingray spine puncture his lung while filming a segment for a television show. Shortly after the episode aired, a friend of the Irwin family issued a statement saying the episode "goes too far too soon."

Episode: "Cartoon Wars Part II"
Season: 10
Controversy: In 2005, after a Dutch newspaper published a series controversial editorial cartoons featuring the Islamic prophet Mohammed that sparked violence in several countries, Comedy Central censored a photo from the episode that depicted the prophet appearing on an episode of "Family Guy." In its place, the show ran a title card reading "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network." Aside from the political overtones, the episode also takes aim at "Family Guy" and its writers, as well as a network executive named Doug, presumably a dig at Doug Herzog, president of Comedy Central.

What is your favorite outrageous "South Park" episode? Write us at heymsn@microsoft.com and let us know.

Original here

6 Supervillains Who Were Actually OK Guys

By Matt Wilson

Every Saturday, Cracked lets someone from another website do the update for us. They get to show off their stuff to our fans, and we get to be lazy while someone else does our job for us.

In the latest example of our convenient selflessness, former Cracked writer Matt Wilson of the International Society of Supervillains pleads his case for some of the more sympathetic supervillains.

Doctor Octopus

Origin and M.O.

Otto Octavius uses the four mechanical arms that were accidentally fused to his body in an experiment gone wrong to commit crimes and generally make life difficult for Spider-Man. He also, oddly enough, almost married Spider-Man's Aunt May. Awkward.

Spider-Man was invited. This is just how he likes to attend weddings.

Why He's Not So Bad

In two words: brain damage. See, Otto was just a regular old misanthropic mama's boy who didn't really want to hurt anybody prior to his accident. But as fans of every comic book ever know, radiation has a tendency to angry up the blood, and he went into full-on supervillain mode afterward, unmasking Spider-Man and waddling into various banks to rob them. So, really, to blame him for his crimes is sort of like blaming a blind kid for walking into shit.

In the movie, it's not even Otto that's the problem, it's his four mechanical arms leading him around by the torso, randomly killing doctors and taking over abandoned clock towers (presumably out of envy for the width and girth of tower clock's mechanical arms).

But Then Again

Even radiation-induced mental illness cannot explain those glasses or that haircut.

Mr. Freeze

Origin and M.O.

Victor Fries was a scientist working on cryogenics research when his wife, Nora, fell ill. He found a way to preserve her body, but his boss didn't like him using company resources for personal use, so he tried to put a stop to all this "keeping my wife alive" bullshit. When Fries tried to fight back, the boss kicked him into a vat of chemicals, greatly lowering his body temperature. Rather than taking a hot shower and suing his dickhead boss, Fries decided to go with this whole cold thing, living out the rest of his days in a cumbersome refrigerator suit and freezing shit with a ray gun.

Why He's Not So Bad

Because his motive is love. Everything Mr. Freeze does, he does it for Nora. And like Bryan Adams says, it's OK to fight, lie, die or even walk the wire for someone, as long as it's for love.

"Shoot people with freeze rays" sounds at least as excusable as walking the wire.

But Then Again


Origin and M.O.

Erik Lensherr's family was shot and killed by Nazis and buried in a mass grave (who says comics aren't for kids?) before he was taken to a concentration camp. After his escape, he discovered his power to control all types of metal while trying and failing to save his daughter from dying in a fire. Now, he uses those powers to prove that mutants are superior to humans in every way except in fashion.

So much purple.

Why He's Not So Bad

You can justify a lot with the sentence, "My parents were killed by Nazis and I was in a concentration camp."

But even if you overlook that, the simple fact is Magneto thinks he's doing the right thing by promoting the mutant cause. He's often called the Malcolm X to Professor Charles Xavier's Martin Luther King, Jr. Calling Malcolm X evil would be a stretch for even his harshest critics.

But Then Again

Malcolm X never used his powers of magnetism (Ed. Note: Hey, we couldn't find a source that said he didn'thave them) to remove the iron from someone's blood, or pick up the Golden Gate Bridge and turn it toward Alcatraz. Also, he never called his group of compatriots anything like "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants." So, you know, it's not a perfect comparison.


Origin and M.O.

Upon his escape from prison, Flint Marko fled to probably the worst possible place he could go: A nuclear testing site in Georgia. While there, he stumbled into irradiated sand that... made him into sand, too. I don't know, just go with it. Anyway, he uses his sand powers to fight Spider-Man and get sand all in his hair! Try to get that out, bitch!

"Haha, you're fisting me."

Why He's Not So Bad

He changed his name from his birth name, William Baker, to the more made-up-sounding Flint Marko, because he didn't want his mom to know he was a thief. Nobody who's genuinely evil would be so worried about what his mom thinks.

And according to Spider-Man 3, Flint only stole stuff to help his terminally ill daughter get medical treatment. Unless they left out the part where he wanted to cure her in order to kill her in a more creative way, that's downright heroic.

But Then Again

Sand in your hair really is a serious fucking problem.

Bizarro Superman

Origin and M.O.

There are about a dozen different origin stories for Bizarro (partially because there have been about a dozen different Bizarros), but all you really need to know is that he's a messed up, albino-looking Superman clone who talks in opposites. He was created by one of Superman's nemeses (let's just say Lex Luthor) to vex the big blue boy scout.

Why He's Not So Bad

He may have been created by Superman's arch-villain, but Bizarro himself is basically a simpleton. He talks funny, he's clumsy and he wears a ridiculously clunky sign around his neck that says he's number one.

He just wants a hug.

Evil is a lot like Oscar-baiting performances. You can be stupid and evil, but you can't go full retard. Once you go past a certain point, you're like a big, idiotic farmhand that accidentally strangles the ranch owner's daughter. People start feeling sorry for you.

Plus, Bizarro, at heart, just wants to be like Superman. He's like a dog following his owner everywhere he goes, only way dumber, and more prone attempted murder.

But Then Again

Bizarro and the residents of the entire planet of Bizarros (that exists for some reason) can sort of be a bunch dicks. Or not, considering that they say everything in opposites. It makes it really hard to work out the sarcasm.

Yes, there is a guy named Zibarro.


Origin and M.O.

He's a big, immortal space guy who eats planets. He almost ate Earth once, but the Fantastic Four pointed a fancy gun at him, so he left.

Also, he was embarrassed when nobody liked his "gay Mayan God" look.

Why He's Not So Bad

Because he's just hungry. He's not driven by greed or desire for power or some kind of psychotic sexual attraction to mutilating innocents. He just wants to eat, and it just so happens that what he eats is planets.

If you found out that doughnuts contained entire civilizations, would you feel evil? Would you stop eating doughnuts?

But Then Again

He was in Fantastic Four 2, and just about everything in that movie was evil.

Keep in mind that Matt is only being paid for this piece in clicks to the-iss.com. That said, he'll probably just spend all those clicks at the dog track.

Original here

South Park Takes on The Economic Crisis

posted by: Matt Tobey


I don't know a lot about economics, and I don't know the solution to the current recession, so all I can do is listen to my instincts. And my instincts are telling me to horde temporary tattoos, because my instincts are convinced that when our current monetary system collapses in May, the one that rises up in its place is sure to be temporary tattoo-based. Or maybe I should just do whatever they do on this week's new episode of South Park.

Everyone in South Park is busy pointing fingers when it comes to who is responsible for the state of the economy in all-new episode of "South Park" titled, "Margaritaville," premiering on Wednesday, March 25 at 10:00 p.m. on COMEDY CENTRAL. Randy steps forward with a solution to fix the desperate financial state everyone finds themselves in. The town gets behind him and everyone starts to live a life that no longer depends on any economy at all. Meanwhile an unlikely savior makes the ultimate sacrifice to solve everyone's problems.

Original here

Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons We’ll Miss I

Tonight we said goodbye to the most significant science fiction series on television. Great sci-fi like this only seems to come around one or twice a decade. It won’t be easily replaced now that it’s gone.

The finale wasn’t perfect, but it was an amazing way to say goodbye to the characters who have, if you’ve had the good sense to be watching, so deeply impacted all of our lives. For a detailed recap of the finale, go here. I’m not here to rehash it, I’m here to eulogize it, to laud it, to celebrate one of the greatest things ever to grace your television, and remember all the wonderful ways in which we’ll miss it. BSG is gone and there’s no replacing it.

adamatigh Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… drinks with Adama and Tigh. Sure Starbuck could really knock them back but when Adama and Tigh got together to hash something out over a bottle of scotch it was an event. Their late night drink sessions were symbols of what it really means to be a man. Their friendship was unbreakable and in those rare times when it seemed about to break nothing cured it like a bottle full of sweet nectar, maybe take a few swings at each other, and then spend a night passed out on the floor. If you’re a real man, then grab a bottle of whiskey and guzzle it down in honor of Admiral William Adama and Colonel Saul Tigh.

galactica Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… the battlestar Galactica. She’s one of the great design and imagination marvels of science fiction. While almost every other starship ever created was designed with either firepower or exploration in mind, the grand old Battlestar was designed with one true purpose: Dispensing deadly Viper fighters. She’s the first properly realized aircraft carrier in space and she’s beautiful in all her creaking, aging, rusting glory. There’s never been a ship like Galactica, with her endless metal halls, her dimly lit bar, her vast cargo holds filled with techs and refugees and soldiers. She was for a time both a protector and a home. She gave her life to give the people aboard her a future.

six Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… Six’s red dress. And not just the dress but the way Tricia Helfer fit into it. We sci-fi geeks have had our share of outer space babes to lust over but seriously, none of them can hold a candle to Six in that frakking red dress. Or better still on the none too rare occasions when Six stepped completely out of it. For a show as dark and gritty as BSG was, it was at times also incredibly sexy. This was televised science fiction made, for perhaps the first time in history, entirely for adults. Adults have sex and BSG was never afraid to jump in the sack.

viper Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… riding a Viper straight into hell. BSG made space combat exciting, frenetic, and full of energy. It felt like real combat. The camera was used to suck you in, bring you in alongside the Galactica’s half-mad space jockeys and let you feel the out of control danger of what they were doing. In BSG’s hands space had an edge. While the show was focused primarily on drama and character, it never shied away from blasting the frak out of everything in the general vicinity when the moment called for it. It refused to be hemmed in by the small screen, never has anything on television felt bigger and more cinematic.

starapol Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… the chemistry between Starbuck and Apollo. I never really bought into the whole love triangle thing the show’s writers tried to force them into, but there’s no denying that whenever they got together, whether to kiss or punch each other in the head, something special happened. Their relationship, in whatever state it happened to be in at the time, always seemed to be the center of the show. Over time other dynamics grew up around them but it’s always been Starbuck and Apollo. The next time you see them together Lee will talk with a British accent and Kara will call him Jamie as they reminisce about old times together on the set. That’s just not going to cut it. I like my Apollo American and with a ridiculously chiseled chin, and I like my Starbuck pissed, drunk and ready to frak the world.

cylon Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… wondering whether we’re cylons. For the first few seasons especially, it seemed like anyone at any minute could turn out to be a murderous robot. Later in the show things got taken even further, until Ron Moore had us, the viewers wondering if even we, sitting at home in our living rooms wearing Snuggies, might actually be cylons ourselves. Worse, even after we knew who the cylons were you could never be sure which ones you could trust. Is that Boomer walking towards me with a gun or is it Athena? And if it is Athena are we sure she doesn’t share the same thoughts as Boomer? How did Helo deal with this crap? Now the mysteries is solved and the next time you encounter a cylon it’ll probably while watching reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess. Though I do have this friend named Daniel…

roslin Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… politics… in space! Somehow political intrigue gets more interesting when it’s surrounded by an airless void. While America’s political process puts most people to sleep, watching Laura Roslin battle it out on the political playing field against the likes of Gaius Baltar and devious Tom Zarek was a thrill. The fascinating thing about BSG’s political landscape is that it always came in so many shades of grey. Even now I’m still not sure whether Gaius Balter was a villain or a hero. Most of the characters in BSG’s world, even the worst ones like Cavill, were a little bit of both. That kind of moral complexity is something you’ll almost certainly never get anywhere else.

soundtrack Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… the perfect score. Before BSG began it’s run on television I had no idea who Bear McCreary was. Now he’s in regular rotation on my iPod. His music, as much as the show’s visuals, had a hand in giving this small screen product such a big screen, cinematic feel. Episode in and out, BSG soared on music worthy of Hollywood’s biggest, longest epics, but compacted down into under an hour. Every piece of music is more unique and different than the next, yet they all scream indelibly: Battlestar Galactica.

imagine Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… imaginary friends. Gaius Baltar made talking to yourself cool again. Of course it’s only cool if your imaginary partner is as ridiculously sexy as Caprica Six. His weird and often hilarious conversations with a non-existent entity were from the beginning, a hallmark of the show. Even after so much of the mystery around BSG had been solved we were still left wondering what the frak was going on inside Baltar’s head. Now the show’s over and we still don’t really know? Doe it matter? Who wouldn’t want a Caprica Six inside their head?

scifi Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… the Sci Fi Channel Now that BSG is over with the channel has little else worth watching left. They seem to know it, since in the near future they’re changing their format and their name to become something else. Unless you’re some sort of Stargate nut odds are that most of us will simply tune out, at least until the spinoff show Caprica finally shows up. Should you tune in, you’ll have to endure their intentionally misspelled new name on flashy, all-genre compassing logos. Even if the channel never really delivered on the promise of dedicated itself to Science Fiction, having a place like that out there was at least, fun while it lasted. Rest in peace SciFi, SyFy just isn’t going to cut it.

gaeta Battlestar Galactica Says Goodbye: Reasons Well Miss It
We’ll miss… Gaeta’s singing. And his desperate struggle to do the right thing, even though he gets it wrong. And Dee’s desperate struggle to find something positive to hold on to, to make something out of this life… even though she failed. And Brother Cavill’s bitter cynicism and Three’s crazed quest for knowledge and Anders courage and Tyrol’s humanity and Ellen’s crazy bitch scheming and even Cally, goddamn stupid annoying Cally and her idiotic whining. We’ll miss you Battlestar Galactica, the good, the bad, the depressing, the uplifting, the gripping, the amazing must see television you gave us from which we simply could not turn away.

Original here

The 70 Best Hip Hop Music Videos Ever: A Retrospective from 1985-2008

by Kobi Annobil

We start our story in the mid 80’s. Ronald Reagan was still in office. People weren’t yet convinced that McDonalds was all that bad for you - after all, would a clown sell you something that could be detrimental to your health? Surely not. Video had been killing the radio star for a minute before rap got in on the act. Walk with us as we take a brief stroll down memory lane….

1985: Run-DMC - “King Of Rock”

Run DMC’S symbolic storming of a Rock Museum in the King of Rock signalled rap music’s entrance into popular culture - beaming the gritty realities of life on the other side of the tracks into the homes of Middle America. They were the first rap group on MTV four years after its inception.

Honorable Mentions:
Whodini: “Friends” - 1985 ; Fat Boys: “Stick ‘Em” - 1985

1986: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - “Girls Ain’t Nuthin But Trouble”

Rap was not afraid to have fun. Sure, there were the Schooly D’s and Just Ice’s doing their thing, but they weren’t filling up stadiums at the time. This was Will Smith before the summer blockbusters and Jazzy Jeff before repeated ejection from a Bel Air Mansion. Originally discovered by Paul Oakenfold - yes, that Paul Oakenfold - the duo set their own rap landmark, by taking home the first Rap Grammy.

Honorable Mentions:
Beastie Boys: “Fight For Your Right” - 1986 ; Whistle: “Only Buggin” - 1986

1987: Eric B & Rakim - “I Ain’t No Joke”

The God Rakim just rhyming around the way. There were no exotic locations - the hood was a good enough back drop. At this point in time, videos could look like they cost a million dollars to make, but if the music wasn’t up to scratch, you would get called out for it.

Honorable Mentions:
Dana Dane: “Nightmares” - 1987 ; Kool Moe Dee: “Wild Wild West” - 1987

1988: NWA - “Straight Outta Compton

This was a bruising introduction to The World’s Most Dangerous Group in its‘ most celebrated incarnation. Up until now - the whole concept of ‘a band that everyone fears’ had only really been exploited by rock groups. This video set the tone from the word ’go.’ There were mob scenes. There were shots of people walking with their shoes on fire and Eazy E talking all kinds of madness in a voice that sounded like it could have belonged to a cartoon character. Also worth noting that this is the year that Yo! MTV Raps was first broadcast.

Honorable Mentions:
Salt N’ Pepa: ”Push It” - 1988; Slick Rick: “Children’s Story” - 1988

1989: Public Enemy - “Fight The Power”

There was a definite correlation between the militancy of Chuck D’s call to arms and Spike Lee’s concept of a march in Brooklyn for this video, which was also a single from the ‘Do The Right Thing’ soundtrack. It is possible that some of America‘s upper class saw this and instantly barricaded themselves in their houses, fearing the long spoken of Revolution had begun. They weren’t to know it would all end in Flavor Of Love. Rap would gain further mainstream exposure with BET’s Rap City first hit the airwaves.

Honorable Mentions:
De La Soul: “Say No Go” - 1989 ; Biz Markie: “Just A Friend” - 1989

1990: LL Cool J - “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Should really have been renamed ‘Hammertime’ in the history books - Stanley Burrell was sweeping all before him, and he didn‘t need the approval of rap‘s hardcore to do it. ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ was LL managing to reconcile the two sides of his career as a pop artist and a master of lyricism. Upon hearing this for the first time, Kool Moe Dee must have wished he’d picked on someone else.

Honorable Mentions:
Digital Underground: “The Humpty Dance” - 1990 ; Brand Nubian: “Slow Down” - 1990

1991: A Tribe Called Quest - “Scenario”

What with the turn of the millennium now less than a decade away, hip-hop was looking to the future. Leave it to one of rap’s most innovative groups to take it there. The video for ‘Scenario’ gave the impression of being interactive - I, like many others, have sat in front of the screen, blinking as the portraits of Spike Lee, De La Soul, Redman et al flash up. Fact: ‘Scenario’ was directed by Jim Swaffield - the man who almost two decades later would be responsible for R Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet (chapters 13-22).

Honorable Mentions:
Black Sheep: “The Choice Is Yours” - 1991 ; Gangstarr: “Just To Get A Rep” - 1991

1992: Ice Cube - “Check Yo’ Self”

As far as Black America was concerned there was one incident that pretty much defined this year. The beating of motorist Rodney King by policeman and the subsequent acquittal of the officers - despite video evidence proving their guilt. The reaction came in the form of the LA riots, and Ice Cube, already two albums into his solo career since leaving NWA was there to act as a correspondent to the outside world. The video for Today Was A Good Day, ends with Cube being arrested before taking a trip through the California State penal system on his next visual outing ‘Check Yo Self.’

Honorable Mentions:
Diamond D: “Sally Got A One Track Mind” - 1992 ; Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg: “Ain’t Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang” - 1992

1993: KRS One - “Sound Of Da Police”

KRS One could always be counted on to speak out on hot button issues. From Black on Black crime (‘Self Destruction’) to beef - the meat, not a potentially fatal deterioration of relations between two or more rappers - on ‘Beef’. The video itself wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, but when 1993 comes up in the Format office’s hip-hop conversations, it’s always one of the first songs to get name checked.

Honorable Mentions:
Beatnuts: “Reign Of The Tec” - 1993 ; Cypress Hill: “Insane In The Brain” - 1993

1994: Craig Mack - “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)”

So begins the emergence of Puff. Having launched Craig Mack’s career, he put Notorious B.I.G on the map, by arranging for his two charges to go head to head with some of the best known rappers of the day. The video’s black and white minimalist aesthetic was later referenced in the video for G-Dep’s Special Delivery (Remix).

Honorable Mentions:
Jeru Tha Damaja: “Can’t Stop The Prophet” - 1994 ; Common: “I Used To Love H.E.R”

1995: Raekwon - “Ice Cream”

During this summer, Raekwon emerged as a contender for the King Of New York title. And it wasn’t like there was a shortage of competition, in terms of classic music being produced. That year alone future classics such as ’Shook Ones Pt. 2,’ ’Livin Proof,’ ‘Broken Language,‘ ‘Bucktown,‘ and ‘Cell Therapy‘ were released. Had it not been for ‘Who Shot Ya?’ and a disappointing second album, Rae would definitely been on the shortlist.

Honorable Mentions:
Goodie MOB: “Cell Therapy” - 1995 ; The Pharcyde: Drop - 1995

1996: 2PAC - California Love

Saw the birth of the ‘To Be Continued…‘ rap video. Rappers were now beginning to get the notion they could act. Pac had set the bar as far as ‘Young, Black & Unhinged’ with his portrayal of Bishop in ‘Juice‘. Director, Hype Williams had really begun to hit his stride in 1994, and after spending 1995 directing videos such as Notorious B.I.G’s “Warning” and Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” - he made his bid for the crown in ‘96 with the hallucinogen hued clip for Busta’s “Woo-Hah!” and the Mad Max inspired California Love.

Fugees: “Ready Or Not” - 1996 ; The Roots: What They Do - 1996

1997: Notorious B.I.G - “Sky’s The Limit”

Biggie’s death on March 9th, was marked by the Spike Jonze directed – ‘Sky‘s The Limit,’ for which he recruited half-pint look-alikes of Busta Rhymes, The Lox, Faith Evans and Lil Kim to act out a day in the life of Messrs. Wallace and Combs. After the loss of a life there was something quite touching about the innocent fun the clip portrayed.

Honorable Mentions:
Camp Lo: “Luchini” - 1997 ; Busta Rhymes “Put Ur Hands Where My Eyes Could See” - 1997

1998: DMX - “Get At Me Dog”

The year DMX shocked the game. Much like the scene in ‘The Dark Knight’ when The Joker walks into the party and throws Bruce/Harvey’s girl out of the window. Everyone was happily riding around in chauffeur driven saloons, and got comfortable, when a piercing bark shattered their daydreams. That same year, Hype Williams tapped X’s intense persona for the character of Buns in the ‘hood classic’, Belly. In short, the camera <3’s>

Honorable Mentions:
Big Pun: “Not A Player” - 1998 ; Xzibit - “What You See Is What You Get” - 1998

1999: Nas - “Hate Me Now”

“Hate Me Now” caused quite a stir. Not only were there whispers of outrage at the crucifixion scenes, but Sean Combs’ reaction to not having certain scenes removed from the video was ’extreme’ to say the least. The clip itself was a celebration of excess. Nas’ giant QB chain, Diddy spitting champagne at the camera and mink hats. Rap was revelling in its’ nouveau riche status. Platinum strippers and white tigers are the order of the day. The whole video looks like one of the Pen and Pixel No Limit album covers brought to life…

Honorable Mentions:
Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg: “Next Episode” - 1999 ; Mos Def : “Umi Says” - 1999

2000: Jay-Z f/ UGK - “Big Pimpin’”

Hype Williams made this one widescreen, for the sole purpose of cramming as much Melyssa Ford, yacht and footage of Dame Dash doing his infamous ‘two bottle’ dance while wasted (a trick he picked up in the promo clip for “Hey Papi”) as possible. The excess continued. Exotic location? Check. Money thrown in crowd? Check. The late Pimp C wearing a fur coat in Florida in the middle of the summer? Check. Everythang’s working.

Honorable Mentions:
Outkast: “Bombs Over Baghdad” - 2000 ; Ghostface: “Cherchez la Ghost” - 2000

2001: Missy Elliot - “Get UR Freak On”

This song was inescapable. A cartoonish trawl through the minds of Missy and Timbaland, complete with ashy zombies - this wasn’t an isolated occurrence, either. Pretty much all of the Missy videos from this era were weird in varying degrees. Late in the year the terrorist attack on New York wounded the spirit of America, and subsequently hip-hop….

Honorable Mentions:
Foxy Brown: “Oh Yeah” - 2001 ; Ludacris: “Rollout (My Business)” - 2001

2002: Ja Rule f/ Bobby Brown - “Thug Lovin’”

It’s not that the video was groundbreaking or anything. It was pretty much a standard issue Murder Inc. video; video starts. Ja runs around with no shirt. Pretty ladies. Singing. More rapping. Fade to black. This time around, however, they added an X Factor. Bobby Brown. Whether or not they expected it to happen, B. Brown completely stole the show, starting proceedings off with a karate kick aimed at the camera and then four to five minutes of gurning and chemically enhanced adlibs. Ja was forced to play the bridesmaid in his own video. Still - things could have been worse for him….

Honorable Mentions:
EL-P: “Deep Space 9MM” - 2002 ; Clipse: “Grindin” - 2002

2003: 50 Cent - In Da Club

Queens’ tendency of breeding rap superstars would continue. I’m not even going to go through the whole ’nine shots’ thing, but 50 Cent arrived on the scene with a near obsessive mission to end Ja Rule’s career - we would only later realise that he did it, by being better at being Ja than Ja was…

Honorable Mentions:
Eminem: “Lose Yourself” - 2003 ; Jaylib: “McNasty Filth” - 2003

2004: Kanye West - “Jesus Walks (alternate version)”

Kanye West’s policy of shooting a video (or in the case of “Jesus Walks” - three) for as many songs as possible led to some great visuals accompanying College Dropout. In some ways it was a throwback to the creative freedom rap enjoyed in the mid 90’s. You know what, Format is going to give him video of the year for 2004, because we’re on his blogroll and to be quite frank, we’ve seen how he reacts when his videos don’t get the respect he believes they deserve and we don’t need that kind of drama in our lives.

Honorable Mentions:
Murs: “Bad Man” - 2004 ; Jadakiss: “Why?” - 2004

2005: Mike Jones f/ Paul Wall & Slim Thug - “Still Tippin’”

Videos from Down South, dating back to the era of Uncle Luke, have generally been an explosion of candy paint, keyboards and booty. There wasn’t any need for Hollywood production values. This is, after all, the region that pioneered moving records out of car trunks. Don’t bother involving the middle man. The formula is timeless: Diamond encrusted grills. A chopped & screwed hook and a scene in a strip club. ‘Still Tippin’ ended up being one of the year’s biggest songs and Mike Jones (Who??) unintentionally slipped into ‘One Hit Wonder’ territory.

Honorable Mentions:
Beanie Sigel: “Feel It In The Air” - 2005; Little Brother: “Lovin’ It” - 2005

2006: Rick Ro$$ - “Hustlin’”

Can it be that it was all so simple then? Rick Ro$$’ major label debut was a monster. A runaway hit. Little old ladies were singing ‘Whip it, whip it - real hard.’ The world was at The Bawss’ feet. But that was before it had been proved that he’d once had a job (gasp!). A real one. With a Social Security number. His breakout video, directed by Gil Green was a whistle stop tour of Dade County, further introducing the world to The Dirty South.

Honorable Mentions:
T.I.: “What You Know About That?” - 2006 ; J Dilla: “Won’t Do” - 2006

2007: Consequence - “Uncle Raheim”

The arrival of Rik Cordero as a player in the video game with his simple but effective clips. In response to increasingly bigger budget offerings from major labels. You get the idea that Rik doesn’t really care for waiting on cheques to get cut. Turn up at his house with a messenger bag full of cash and you’ve got yourself a mini movie.

Wu-Tang Clan f/ Erykah Badu: “Heart Gently Weeps” - 2007 ; Blu & Exile: “So(ul) Amazing” - 2007

2008: Lil Wayne - “Lollipop”

This was undoubtedly the year of Lil Wayne. Having sold a million records in a week, the wee man took home his fair share of awards in ’08. A limo truck full of models driving Weezy and Static Major to a party thrown by, one would assume, Birdman. What sort of parent is Baby? Wayne has been calling him ‘Daddy’ for years. Is he a disciplinarian or the kind of dad you could hang out and enjoy a quiet pint (of sizzurp) with?

Honorable Mentions:
Snoop Dogg: “Sexual Eruption” ; Lupe Fiasco: “Paris, Tokyo” - 2008

2009: It’s a bit early in the year to pick a video, but let’s finish by coming to an understanding of the game in its’ current position; we’ve reached the point where Youtube has made it possible for literally anyone to make a promo clip and share it with the whole world. Now rappers seem to like making videos to tell you they’ve been filming a video - Yes, Jim Jones – we’re talking about you - which may or may not ever see the light of day. Despite this, we at Format encourage you to keep on clicking. Who knows, you may find the next Spike, Hype or Chris one click away. Or it could be another ‘rapper gets exposed’ clip….

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SXSW: Even the lines are bigger in Texas

Technically, South by Southwest has been going on for a few days in Austin, so the rock bands that rolled into town today don't really have anyone to blame but themselves for finding themselves in big-as-Texas lines to get their festival badges. Because the music portion officially starts today, the top floor of the Austin Convention Center is filthy in bands from all around the globe waiting patiently for their credentials.


Downstairs, attendees wait for their "big bags" filled with fliers from labels and bands, and a few freebies from savvy marketers.


Outside, the side streets around the closed-off 6th Street are packed with cars trying to get on Interstate 35, which is also bumper to bumper. Luckily for these folks, if they roll down their windows they can hear the cacophony of dozens of bands simultaneously playing in every direction.


Even the fans are standing in line, like these folks outside the Radio Room. With 1,900 bands playing over just four days, may I suggest avoiding this type of line at all costs. The band across the street playing to no one might be just as amazing.

-- Photos, video and post by Tony Pierce

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Eminem's back...but does the world still need him?

After drug problems, divorce and half a decade out of the studio, Eminem is to release not one but two albums. The problem, says Shane Danielsen, is the world's biggest-selling rapper might just discover that five years is a very long time in hip-hop

You must have heard it by now. That adenoidal, sing-song delivery; the slow, clipped beat, the tack piano... like a signal, beamed from a not-too-distant past. Nothing remarkable about that – except that, in the hyper-accelerated world of pop, a five-year silence is equivalent to skipping an entire generation. So the leak of a new track from Eminem – amid reports that he's set to return with not one but two new albums – has understandably set the internet buzzing.

Which is fine – but can Marshall Bruce Mathers III, by far the biggest-selling rap artist in the world, possibly reclaim his position as the world's most famous MC? His long, self-imposed exile is the least of it. After a reconciliation with (and subsequent divorce from) perpetual ex-wife Kimberley, the murder of a close friend, rumours of creative burnout, signs of weight gain and a much-publicised "dependency on sleep-medication", he's starting to resemble, for sheer weight of troubles, the very Michael Jackson he once mocked.

At 36, even if Eminem's musical skills are intact, his road back may prove tough. Consider the following obstacles he'll have to overcome along the way...

1. That tricky back-catalogue

Any new Eminem album (the first, reportedly titled Relapse, is scheduled for release in May, to be followed by Relapse 2 later in the year) has to be substantially better than his last effort, which managed both to dent his critical reputation and weaken his commercial standing. With its lazy rhymes and flat production, Encore seemed the work of a man who'd audibly lost interest in what he was doing. "Just Lose It" and "Like Toy Soldiers" each topped the UK charts, yet as a whole the album lacked the brassy provocation and spiteful energy of his best work. Worryingly, the first track to appear from the new sessions – titled "Crack a Bottle", and featuring guest verses from perennial sidekicks Dr Dre and 50 Cent – hardly inspires hopes of a creative renaissance. It's weirdly lifeless, shoe-horning some awkward rhymes ("Ladies love us, and my posse's kickin' up dust") to a weary snare loop, with Dre seemingly on auto-pilot, and 50 Cent sounding even more uninspired than usual. Eminem himself, meanwhile, sounds almost tame. Admittedly, a track such as 2002's "Lose Yourself" set the bar high – it ranks with LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" as one of the greatest hip-hop singles of all time. And 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP is still one of this decade's essential releases. But no one's necessarily expecting Eminem to surpass those glories – just to remind his audience why they cared in the first place.

2. Staying one rhyme ahead of the pack

In this respect, at least, Eminem may be safe. For all the effect hip-hop has had on the cultural landscape, it has yet to produce many actual stars. Indeed, it says something that two of the biggest names in the field, Tupac and Biggie, only achieved mainstream fame after (and because of) their early, violent deaths. Things haven't changed much. With over eight million albums sold, Lil Wayne (right) is arguably the most commercially successful hip-hop star on the planet right now – yet how many Heat readers could pick him out in a crowd? And frankly, who else is there to rival Eminem's stature – at least, among working MCs? Diddy has finally taken the hint, and retired. Jay-Z seems more and more a CEO who occasionally flirts with making records. Anticipated "crossover" stars such as Mos Def are still stuck in supporting film roles and middling sales. Despite a string of movies and sitcoms, Method Man never found a mainstream audience – likewise Ice Cube. And veterans such as Flavor Flav and Snoop Dogg are consigned to the grinning indignities of reality television. Kanye West is probably the closest thing to a bona fide celebrity – yet even he's never quite achieved Eminem's prestige. Maybe he's too ubiquitous – constantly blogging and Twittering, glimpsed at every fashion show, première, party – there's no mystery. Kanye leaves no room for the close identification necessary for fan-worship – a topic, incidentally, which formed the basis of Eminem's landmark 2000 single "Stan". In this respect, Eminem might have an advantage. His acting chops in 8 Mile didn't exactly make one long to see his Petruccio, but on stage, at least, he demonstrates the focused intensity and spotlight-holding charisma of a genuine star – arguably, the biggest that hip-hop has produced.

3. Always read the sell-by date

Given that it's been four-and-a-half years since Encore, Eminem might find himself the victim of something entirely beyond his control. Pop musicians today have a shorter lifespan – in commercial terms – than at any time since the "hit factory" days of the mid-1950s. And hip-hop careers are the most ephemeral of all. It's not uncommon to see one- and two-hit wonder acts such as Coolio (right) and Sisqo issuing Greatest Hits compilations after just two studio albums. They know the deal: cash in quickly, and get out. In commercial terms, even the biggest reputation doesn't mean a thing. Rakim's long-awaited solo debut, The 18th Letter, failed to sell – despite a substantial number of critics, fans and peers all citing him as rap's all-time greatest MC. Q-Tip is hardly in the same league technically, but is far more beloved, able to cruise on the accrued goodwill from those summery Tribe Called Quest cuts. Nevertheless, his recent comeback album (optimistically titled The Renaissance) hardly set the charts alike. Nor, for the matter, did the last Wu-Tang album. Even major stars today can't "do a Kate Bush": vanishing from the scene for years at a time, releasing nothing, maintaining a reclusive silence – secure in the knowledge that, when they do finally return, loyal listeners will stump up for their latest offering. It's a very different market out there in 2009. Fans' memories are shorter, their allegiances more fickle. And there are simply more choices, both within music and outside of it, to tug at their time and purse-strings. Eminem's greatest test, therefore, might be of his listeners' brand-loyalty.

4. The bootleg B-boys

Hip-hop fans love their music – but they don't much like paying for it. Look on the peer-to-peer sites for even the most second-league act and you'll be deluged with hits: album tracks, singles, guest spots, rare cuts... Free file-sharing, not dollar-down purchasing, is the primary means of distribution for most fans, a fact that artists and labels reluctantly concede. This makes some sense. Hip-hop came up out of the underground via mixtapes, semi-legal bootlegs hawked outside gigs and on the street; its commodification into a Tower Records-friendly retail package was always uneasy. Artists such as Young Jeezy, Nas and Jay-Z are at least as active on the mixtape front as they are making albums. Consequently, there's a whole strand of these performers' careers – often, including some of their finest work – that never so much as troubles the casual listener. So even if Eminem's new album is appearing on iPod playlists from Detroit to Kenya, how will we know? What are the terms by which the commentators and pundits will deem it a success? Must he equal Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, which famously sold "a milli" in its first week? And if he doesn't – if he only shifts, say, 400,000 units in that first seven days – does this mean Game Over?

5. The Obama effect

Since Barack Obama's election in November, hundreds of articles have been written debating the possibility of a "post-racial America". Whatever the merits of this contention, it's most unlikely that it cuts much ice within the hip-hop community, where a rallying black consciousness, coupled with a dose of gangsta fetishism, have long been the defining characteristics. As a white guy, Eminem's success has consistently defied conventional wisdom. Initially, his friendship with Dr Dre, combined with his undeniable mic skills, earnt him a pass. But in 2003 he found himself embroiled in controversy after the leak – and subsequent release on CD by US hip-hop magazine The Source – of a recording in which he made derogatory remarks about the African- American community. This doesn't have to spell the end – at least as many white kids as black ones constitute Eminem's audience. But does a black president (seen here with the rapper Ludacris) signify a paradigm shift, a celebration of all things African-American, and by extension, a repudiation of Marshall Mathers? Should the real Slim Shady please shut up?

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Metallica welcomes new "Guitar Hero" fans

By Gary Graff

AUSTIN, Texas (Billboard) - Signing on for a "Guitar Hero" game was a "no brainer," according to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

"When 'Guitar Hero' came to us in April of last year, we said yes very quickly," Ulrich told Billboard.com on Friday during the quartet's drop-in appearance at the South By Southwest music conference to promote "Guitar Hero: Metallica," which comes out March 29.

"It seemed like the next step -- a whole other platform for musicians to reach an audience. If we talk about this in five years, I think it will turn into an expected way to release an album," Ulrich said.

Metallica released its latest album, "Death Magnetic," through "Guitar Hero" as well as through traditional retail and download sites, and Ulrich acknowledged that it might have helped to bring a younger audience to the band. "What blows me away is six months into the (album) experience how young the audience continues to be," he said. "We see whole armies of 10-year-olds who weren't listening to music when 'St. Anger' was released. In a world where music has so much competition, this is a great gateway for them into the music."

Guitarist Kirk Hammett -- who revealed that he beat Ulrich the one time he played "Guitar Hero: Metallica" ("He stormed off") -- added that he hopes the game inspires those young fans to learn how to play instruments for real.

"Kids get a feel of what it's like to play a song on guitar without having to learn to play guitar -- how cool is that?" he noted. "And to be exposed to classic rock and metal songs they might not otherwise listen to ... It's a wonderful thing."

In addition to Metallica songs -- as well as character images of the band from throughout its career -- "Guitar Hero: Metallica" features songs by Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead and other Metallica friends and heroes.

Metallica resumes the European leg of its "Death Magnetic" tour on March 25 in Birmingham, England. Hammett said the group plans to be on the road until late 2010 and "has talked a little bit" about possibly documenting the tour with an album or DVD release, but has reached no conclusions. The group will come home for its April 4 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where it was recently announced the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea will make the induction speech.

"It's cool that he's not in a heavy metal band but is a well-respected musician you might not expect," Hammett said. Former bassist Jason Newstead will join the band that night, and Ulrich said that the evening "will be like a family reunion ... a whole big pile of people, lots of friends."

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10 Great Singers Who Are Terrible Dancers

By Shawn Amos

There are two types of musicians: the ones who can dance, and the ones who can't.

The ones who can dance know who they are. Michael Jackson, James Brown, Usher, Prince. They're the ones who often earn the moniker "entertainer." These are people who we'd want to see on a stage or on a dance floor.

The ones who can't dance are generally rock stars with two problems: they can't dance, and they don't know they can't dance. And even if deep down they suspect their dance moves aren't so hot, because they're rock stars, they think that they can somehow get away with it.

Still, it's an embarrassing sight. Someone who loves them needs to tell them the truth. A dancing intervention, if you will. Since all relatives and friends refused my calls, I'm forced to do the dirty work.

Here are 10 rock-star dance interventions that need to happen immediately before someone gets hurt. Or laughed at (again).

1. Bruce Springsteen

The Boss is a model of musical catharsis. His songs of the American dream, hope, and redemption inspire millions. His dancing, on the other hand, is right out of a bad bar mitzvah reception. You'd think he would have stopped after his "Dancing in the Dark" video, where he pulls an unknown Courteney Cox onstage to do a frat-boy boogie. But more than 20 years later, Bruce is still doing his electric boogaloo, even sliding on his knees during this year's Super Bowl (right into a cameraman who probably won't be dancing anytime soon).

2. Bono

He's been the Fly. He's been the Mirror Ball Man. He's been Mr. MacPhisto. Throughout a 30-plus-year career, U2's lead singer has developed a number of alter-egos, a catalog of anthemic songs, and a singular quest to save the world. There's nothing Bono can't do — except dance. His moves seem meant to emulate an epileptic who's been subjected to electroshock treatment, with legs jerking up in the air like a Frankenstein monster. The women go crazy, but I bet none of them would want to be on the dance floor with him. Ben Stiller does a great parody of him. I bet Ben Stiller can dance.

3. Michael Stipe

Fans of the R.E.M. frontman will claim that his moves are "performance art." I say performance art is just another way of saying a dude can't dance.

4. Mick Jagger

Jagger's been doing his rooster strut for more than 40 years now. He's said that he was inspired by James Brown and watched his shows for hours on end. Mr. Jagger, I knew James Brown, and you, sir, are no James Brown. Although now you're starting to look like a rooster as well as move like one.

5. David Byrne

Talking Heads' classic 1984 film, "Stop Making Sense," rewrote the rules for concert movies. From the lack of audience shots to the visual minimalism, director Jonathan Demme presented the band in a revolutionary new light. Most importantly, "Stop Making Sense" introduced the world to Byrne's "big suit," inspired by Japanese Noh theatre. It was a genius visual stroke, and it brilliantly diverted attention away from the fact that Byrne can't dance.

6. Peter Gabriel

Gabriel has built a reputation for melding sounds and rhythms from the far reaches of the world. He's a one-man global village, and he's not afraid to mash it up with a South African vocal group or a bunch of Senegalese drummers. I wish he'd be a little afraid to dance with them, though. Gabriel is just a step above George Bush dancing with those African dudes during his farewell tour.

7. Chris Martin

Coldplay is often compared to U2. The anthemic songs, chiming guitars and earnestness all make them somewhat interchangeable (unless, of course, you're fan of one and not the other). However, Martin's stage-loping is right out of Bono's dance playbook. They both could have the first dance at the Goofy Rocker Ball.

8. Thom Yorke

While Radiohead is the very model of boundary-pushing rock, Mr. Yorke is the epitome of a rock dude who can't dance. He's like an unshaven, lazy-eyed belly dancer without a pole. Kinda sexy, if your girlfriend has left you and you've got a few beers in you, but otherwise...

9. Belinda Carlisle

How bad of a dancer is the Go-Go's queen bee? She was the first to be kicked off "Dancing with the Stars." She was kicked off before Apple computer cofounder Steve Wozniak. Think about that. Belinda Carlisle has less rhythm than a computer geek. Wasn't the Go-Go's big hit "We Got the Beat"?

10. Rod Stewart

Rod the Mod falls into that category of rockers who think that twirling a mic stand around constitutes some kind of ballroom dancing. Note to all of you: a mic stand is not a tango partner.

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Why Variety is Wrong (and Right) About Film Blogs


Posted by Cole Abaius

During the past week, I’ve had the privilege of sitting down with a host of talented filmmakers and actors to discuss the process of making movies. It’s a rush built on the already-strong fever created by the festival atmosphere, and it’s probably my favorite part of my job. Early in the week, two of the filmmakers that I interviewed told me I was intelligent, had great questions and was really insightful which of course had my ego at an all time high (as if it could get any bigger). Then, I spoke with Mark Boal, the writer for The Hurt Locker, and interviewing a journalist made me realize that I had a lot to learn and a long, long way to go before I could even be considered good at what I do. It was humbling, and it needed to happen.

All this to say that between the subtle alcohol references and the absurd analogies (Mary Poppins is a lot like The Exorcist when you think about it), I take parts of my job seriously, and I have a passion for learning and growing in what I do. Still, I wouldn’t consider most of what I do journalism. In fact, there’s a running joke amongst some of the FSR staff that started at Comic-Con when we saw the creator of a personal blog refer to himself as a “legitimate journalist.” Most days, I barely consider myself literate, let alone a bona fide journo. My proof is that I almost spelled that, “bonified.”

Yesterday, Variety launched three salvos into the depths of the internet that resonated like the answer to a question nobody asked. “How I Got Blogged Down,” by Michael Fleming; “Tempest of the ‘Touldja!’ Journalists,” by Cynthia Littleton; and “Hollywood’s Blog Smog,” by the always-charming Peter Bart. I highly suggest you read them - or you can just let me poorly characterize them and stick with that.

Despite the three blatantly aimed at Nikki Finke - who must have thrown sand at all three writers on the playground last week or something - the articles do make some honest-to-god points about the gray area between traditional journalism and whole-sale blogging. The thrust of all three pieces is that the failings of bloggers and film sites are dragging down the fine profession of news-delivery. Fleming celebrates the speed of the internet but laments the existence of the undisciplined who are giving journalism a new bad name. Littleton’s piece laments the bickering between bloggers while pointlessly chronicling one such scuffle - an ad hominem attack that doesn’t even deserve to be responded to. Bart’s piece basically uses ideas that Andrew Sullivan from the Atlantic espoused to frame an argument that blogging is frantic, pathetically desperate, and not financially viable.

The core argument of all three is that bloggers are so quick to post stories, they are often wrong. Despite this being true, it’s not the whole story. Just like Tylenol chose the slogan, “Nothing’s Stronger” even though nothing was weaker than it either, characterizing bloggers as the sole cause behind the construction of the rumor mill is about as outlandish as claiming Mary Poppins is a lot like The Exorcist. A quick survey in journalistic history will show a massive amount of misinformation, especially because the idea of being first had more pull than triple-checking with sources.

Still, I’ll admit that being first is a moniker most film sites and blogs want attached to their name. It’s a sign of being on the inside. Of knowing something before everyone else. Of being legitimate, in a way. And bloggers almost never run retractions when they are wrong.

However, it’s not exactly the presence of blogs that has created the instant news world. It’s the internet itself. At the root of the problem is the mechanical bias inherent in dealing with the internet. It’s also more of a double-edged sword than the article lets on. For example, FSR reminded its readers of a year-old story regarding the Coen Brothers adapting “True Grit” last week with the usual sort of fanfare. Today, Variety wrote the same story up and is blazing a trail through the internet to claim tacit credit for what’s actually a year-old story. Even when you’re slow, you’re fast. Secondly, the fatally sharp edge of that sword is that film sites garner a reputation as rumor-mongerers. Yes, there’s a problem with bloggers and sites not retracting or ever admitting they’re wrong - but audiences aren’t stupid. They know when a site has screwed up, and that site gets a big Scarlet Letter for it.

There’s also the question of whether the things posted on blogs are actually news. Specifically, should a meeting between a director and an actor make the front page of the blog when a development deal might still be years in the making? The answer is yes, because the audience deems it so. I realize the slippery slope, I do, but there are two parties at work dictating what is and isn’t news, and I traditional journalism has a major problem with allowing the audience (a completely unpredictable, uncontrollable group (except you guys who we control through subliminal messages)) to help decide what stories are important. This ties in to the previous point about posting things with speed - sometimes you’re a news-maker, and other times - when the audience proves apathetic - you’re just shouting into the void.

The only other semblance of a point that the pieces make is that there is a ton of cattiness amongst the entertainment blog world - site runners sharping at other bloggers in order to create manufactured dramatics. Unfortunately, the questions raised by Variety’s writers yesterday are completely neutered by their willingness to belly-flop right into the mud with the rest of the pigs. It’s tough to maintain even an iota of respectability when the pieces shake their fist at the endless name-calling while sniping at Nikki Finke and others childishly from the other side of the internet.

The good news is that this discussion should be an on-going one. In the same way that I hope I’m learning and growing, getting better at what I do, we all still live in a gray area that resides somewhere between classic print journalism and the Valhalla of quick, expert, professional journalism that the internet’s potential can represent. In the mean time, we need to ask ourselves and ask our audiences what we could be doing better. What do you want from us? What can we do to better serve both our readers and retain objectivity and integrity? I understand that the Variety pieces aren’t really even aimed at sites like FSR - we don’t even pretend to consider ourselves a news site. We’re an opinion site. The news we report comes with a side of opinion. Even the posters and trailers we present - which might as well be wordless posts - come with whatever snarky or celebratory language we can muster up. But we still have a stake in what should be a very worthwhile conversation.

It’s important to recognize that the line of journalistic ethics is fuzzier than ever. The new world of journalism and non-fiction reporting is inhabited by a huge swath of people that haven’t taken a journalism course. Variety is right to raise these questions, and they are right to be concerned while we’re still in this nebulous area of ethics, quality, and mean-spiritedness. But they are wrong to claim that blogs and websites are the only ones causing the problems, wrong to claim that they already see where the future is headed, and wrong to believe that they will survive in a world of new media without getting their hands a little dirty. Luckily, it seems like they don’t have a problem with doing that.

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