Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category
Duran Duran likes naughty fantasies.
Other bands get busted for drugs or tossing television sets out hotel windows. After thirty years in the music business, Duran Duran gets banned for music videos even in the anything-goes 21st century.
In the glitzy nine-minute video “Girl Panic,” Duran Duran, played by legendary supermodels, depicts tongue-in-cheek debauchery in a sleek London hotel.
Naomi Campbell, who plays lead singer Simon Le Bon in the video, wakes up surrounded by svelte women clad in various lingerie bondage get-ups. A gorgeous girl French-kisses – gasp! – another beautiful girl.In one scene, fashion divas Cindy Crawford and Yasmin Le Bon enter an elevator with drummer Roger Taylor, who plays a bellhop. A few seconds later, the women exit, and Taylor looks a tad, well, rumpled and confused. What ever did those girls do to him?
Hard-core raunchy, the video isn’t. But MTV and VH1 apparently consider it too racy for their viewers’ peepers as the two channels have banned “Girl Panic.” It’s perplexing given some of their previous programming such as “Skins,” which was eventually cancelled because advertisers’ reaction to its depiction of sex and drug use by teens.
The channels also criticized the video’s “blatant product placement.” Hmm, yes, so do major motion pictures (Ever seen a James Bond movie?) and Lady Gaga videos. (Hello, “Telephone.”)
Women, who make up the overwhelmingly majority of Duran Duran fans, dream of luxury and escapism. The Savoy Hotel, where “Girl Panic” was filmed in June, whisks a Duranie into a bedroom world of champagne and afternoon sex. So what if the video features a Rolls Royce, Louis Vitton luggage and Swarovski crystals? Duran Duran raised their fans from a young age to desire the ultimate things in life.
They also gave us on healthy dose of eroticism in our teen years.
In their first banned video “Girls on Film,” myriad steamy scenes transpire in a wrestling ring as the band plays their instruments in the background. Two girls in gauzy lingerie engage in a pillow fight while straddling a whipped-cream covered pole and surrendering to a kiss. In another scene, a woman in a white fringed cowgirl outfit rides a man-horse in a black G-string before leading him off-stage on a leash. Yes, the video contained some rude bits. It made Duran Duran famous in 1981. It made their fans tingle.
For MTV, the band generated a shorter, tamer version of “Girls on Film.” Still, the X-rated version lingered on the shelf at a video store. Duranies and adolescent boys, whether they admitted it or not, figured out ways to see the “night version” of “Girls on Film” numerous times.
“The Chauffeur,” too, became legendary among Duranies. Never released on MTV, the 1982 black-and-white video tells the story of two beautiful female lovers, clad in black garter belts and bustiers, meeting clandestinely in an empty parking garage. The band doesn’t appear in the video, but every Duranie who watched the video knew that to fall into bed with a member required an initial investment in silk stockings and fuck-me heels.
“Girl Panic” brilliantly pays homage to both videos with hat-tips that only a die-hard Duranie can spot. But fans, or Duran Duran for that matter, no longer needs MTV or VH1. As someone tweeted, “Do they even show videos anymore?” Duranies who want to study “Girl Panic” repeatedly can unlike in the days when we camped in front of the television set for hours waiting to see “Save a Prayer.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that MTV, which Duran Duran helped place into music history, dissed the new video. Any publicity, especially the provocative kind, is good publicity. Here’s predicting that the ban will undoubtedly lead to today’s teens – and their Gen X mothers – sneaking peek after peek of “Girl Panic” on their iPhones.
I’m fourteen again.
Thank you, Duran Duran. The old adage is true that we said in the 1980s – once a Duranie, always a Duranie. But who knew the obsession could reappear like a bad drug habit?
I blame the band for this renewed fascination. Brilliant work, guys. They have struck at the heart of Duranies everywhere with a new album — All You Need Is Now — that sounds like their first self-titled album mixed with the best songs of “Rio.” It’s synth-heavy, sexy and seductive. I’m smitten all over again.
Perhaps in a savvy marketing strategy, Duran Duran senses that Duranies are having a collective Generation X mid-life crisis. We need escapism from everyday life. Ta da! Enter Duran Duran to take us right back to the dreamy days of yachts with handsome men on board that we must marry.
What Duranie doesn’t still long for the days of endlessly watching “Save a Prayer,” dreaming of being held by Simon Le Bon as he sings about how it was all more than a one-night stand? Should I get out my John Taylor fedora and wear it to brunch? Maybe dye my hair Nick Rhodes orange?
Duran Duran, you sly devils.
I’ve spent hours of my life following this New Romantic British band. And here we go again. Thanks to this new album, Duran Duran is everywhere. They just completed a tour of North America that included the States plus a show in Mexico and a few in Canada. They played a show, directed by David Lynch, that was broadcast live on YouTube. I soaked in every minute of its surreal artiness. When it repeated right after the first broadcast, I watched it again for another fix of Simon – older and bearded. But who cares? It’s Simon Le Bon.
Duran Duran hit the festival circuit playing South by Southwest in Austin and Coachella in California. I missed the airing of the Coachella festival, but have caught clips on YouTube. With thousands of arms waving, it took me right back to 1984 when Duran Duran played filmed “Arena” in Oakland, Calf.
Certain advantages exist in the 21st century for Duranies. Sure, back in the 1980s, we stayed glued to MTV waiting for the next video, recording live concerts on VHS and cassettes, buying every magazine that mentioned Duran Duran and studying their love lives more than we studied algebra.
But now, Duranies have social media. And so do Duran Duran.
Simon and John tweet religiously to their fans about their lives. They even answer questions and return tweets. (Hmm, I’m still waiting for a return tweet, Simon or John. Must I beg?) Drummer Roger Taylor prefers Facebook. Nick Rhodes, the night owl keyboardist, is missing in action on social media. Can someone clue him in?
On any given day, I can follow John giving up cigarettes, buying vinyl or tweeting the playlist for the latest concert. Simon’s tweets range from political about Osama Bin Laden to his trippy dreams. He can be snarky, but those who love Simon love his sarcasm.
Simon recently tweeted that he burned a potato in his apartment’s kitchen in the Dominican Republic when the band played a show there. Confession: It was a little disheartening to learn that Simon cooked his own food on tour. I envisioned a chef catering to his every whim. Then again, it’s not the high-rolling’80s anymore. But it’s nice to know that he can cook a potato about like I can – not very well.
Twitter offers instant gratification for Duranies as well as Simon and John. To some extent, Simon and John appear to have a few cyberstalkers, but a stalker or two is good for the old ego, eh?
Simon and John tout the rock star lifestyle – private jets, posh hotels, back stage passes. Duranies absorb these tidbits like Rio soaks up the sun on a yacht. They occasionally even talk about their wives and children, some of who also tweet. Nick Rhodes’ ex-wife, Julie Anne, is on Twitter, and, surprisingly, has a loyal Duranie following. That was not the case in the 1980s when many fans cried about her marriage to Nick. Some Duranies move on eventually, I guess.
Oh, to have had social media in the band’s heyday. Then again, the band probably wouldn’t have had time to tweet for enjoying groupies and indulging in expensive champagne in the back of limos.
Whether it’s 1981 or 2011, Duran Duran knows where to stroke a Duranie’s weak spot. As Simon sang in “The Red Carpet Massacre,” “Maybe you think you’re above this, but baby we know that you love it.”
Yes, I do.
The Justice League would want me to respond.
Linda Holmes, a blogger for NPR, recently decided to attack Wonder Woman and the outfit she will be donning on a new television series. At the heart of her argument – that pesky bustier that Wonder Woman critics always choose to attack. Holmes writes, “Nevertheless, lady, these are not clothes for butt-kicking.”
In the revamped television series, Wonder Woman wears a bright red bustier and denim blue leggings. She’s got her Lasso of Truth and her super glittery bracelets that work as projectile devices. The costume is light-years better than the atrocious costume that was unveiled last year that made Wonder Woman look like a club kid instead of a superhero.
Holmes argues that there is no way Wonder Woman could fight crime in that bustier because she would be too busy tugging at it. According to Wonder Woman lore, she has been taking on the bad guys in that get-up since her debut in 1942 albeit with a skirt back in those days.
Wonder Woman’s superpowers include super-strength, super-speed, super-stamina, and super-agility. With all that under her belt, don’t you think she would have the wherewithal to hold up a bustier in some magical way? Of course, she would. Heck, she might just use common sense and deduct that double-sided super-duper duct tape might just do the trick.
If anything, the Justice League – and Wonder Woman fans – should be more worried about the transformation on the superhero’s origins. Wonder Woman just may become too – gasp! – boring.
Originally, in the comic book, Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, orchestrated a complex backstory for the superhero. Created during World War II, she was Amazonian based on Greek mythology and a “distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men.”
She fell in love with Steve Trevor, a U.S. intelligence officer whose plane had crashed on Wonder Woman’s island. She earned the right to return to the “Man’s World” and fight crime, specifically the Nazis.
By the 1970s, when Lynda Carter, emerged as TV’s prime time Wonder Woman, the superhero’s day job was an army nurse and spy. That was not the everyday gig for a woman especially back in the days of bimbo blondes and short shorts. She was sexy and smart.
Now, David E. Kelley, the creator of “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal”, plans to turn Wonder Woman into a corporate executive. Think “Office Space.” “Did you fill out your TPS reports?” she’ll ask before encircling the minion with her lasso of truth. Of course, maybe she’ll be more of a CEO like Tony Stark a/k/a Iron Man and have an assistant who performs the mind-numbing tasks. Certainly, a potentially dismal fate for a kickass superhero with mythological lineage.
That’s what Wonder Woman fans should be more concerned about Wonder Woman becoming a bore than about her bustier and how she keeps it up. And here’s a word of wisdom from someone who has donned a bustier or two in her time: Bustiers simply do not fall down if properly worn. And of course, Wonder Woman knows how to wear one after all of these years.
Wonder Woman’s bustier likely possesses properly fitted bra cups and rigid boning that keeps everything in place while she fights the bad guys. So enough with the worrying about her bustier falling down. It won’t. Let her sport the bustier — and the hot pants that she also may wear in the new series — with pride. And, if she has a wardrobe malfunction during a battle, there’s nothing wrong with gaining an edge on the bad guys via double distractions.
I met Jane Russell once.
It was in my hometown, Pine Bluff, Ark., a faded Southern place that hosted a film festival in hopes of raising enough money to restore the Saenger Theater, a once palatial movie house. Each year, the festival invited former famous starlets – Tippi Hedren, Carol Channing, Shirley Jones, Celeste Holm – to talk about Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 2002, Russell came to town.
Statuesque, with silver hair and a still-to-be-envied figure, Russell possessed no celebrity air about her. She talked like a good old Western gal who had seen a lot, and done a lot, but no longer was wowed by sweet-talking fans or bright lights. Dr. Foster Hirsch, host of the American Film institute’s “Tributes,” interviewed her and afterward, she met fans. Russell shook my hand and was unfailingly polite. She even gave my mom a hug.
Russell, 89, died Monday in Santa Maria, Calif., from respiratory failure.
The vampy sex symbol was born in Minnesota, but her family moved to California when she was 11. She blasted onto to the Hollywood scene in the 1943 Howard Hughes film, “The Outlaw,” wearing a low-cut blouse and reclining against a stack of hay bales. Hughes used sexist language and pure exploitation to promote the film – and Russell’s breasts – with posters that said, “How Would You Like to Tussle With Russell?”
Overnight, the busty brunette became a GI fantasy as the country reeled from war. During the Korean War, troops named two embattled hills in her honor.
As one commenter said on the Los Angeles Times website, “My dad was in the army during WWII and had lunch with Jane during a tour she made. He commented that she was a very nice girl. He felt she was just a normal, down to earth girl that just happened to be a movie star. That was a great compliment to her character coming from him.”
Never considered a fantastic actress, or one who accumulated awards, Russell played Calamity Jane in “The Paleface” with Bob Hope and starred with another sex goddess, Marilyn Monroe, in the musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” As she aged, she faded out of films and found new fans in nightclubs, on stage and in live appearances.
For many who grew up in the 1970s watching daytime television, Russell is known as the “bra lady.” Playtex hired Russell to be its spokeswoman for bras for “full-figured women.”
But for all her sexiness, Russell’s personal life didn’t necessarily reflect the glamorous one she played onscreen. She was conservative when conservative wasn’t cool.
In the 1950s, Russell, who considered herself evangelical or Pentecostal without belonging to a specific denomination, formed a female gospel quartet called the “Hollywood Christian Group” that came together after they met at a church social. Even as her star was rising, Russell held fast to her Christian faith, creating a weekly Bible study at her home for Christians in the film industry.
Russell was also blunt. She told the Associated Press in 1960: “I’ve no trouble getting in to see senators and congressmen.”
She was married three times, and admitted to having an abortion when she was young. Because of the botched procedure, she opted to adopt, became a mother to three children and was a strong pro-life advocate. (She asked that donations in her memory be given to Net Pregnancy & Resource Center in Santa Maria, Calif., where she lived.)
Russell founded World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), which placed children with adoptive families and pioneered adoptions from foreign countries by Americans.
“Jane Russell founded the very first international adoption organization, and because of her, our immigration laws were changed so that children from overseas, mostly with American fathers, were allowed to come here,” Gerald H. Cornez, executive director of WAIF, said in a 1999 Los Angeles profile of Russell.
The organization has since closed.
Russell, a lifelong Republican, attended Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration. She once said: “I have always been a Republican, and when I was in Hollywood long ago, most of the people there were Republican. The studio heads were all Republican, my boss Howard Hughes was a raving Republican, and we had a motion picture code in those days so they couldn’t do all this naughty stuff. We had John Wayne, we had Charlton Heston, we had man named Ronald Reagan, we had Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Clark Gable.”
As she got older, Russell also got more outspoken. She said, “These days I am a tee-total, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist.”
Of liberal actors like George Clooney and Susan Sarandon, she said, “I think they’re not well.”
Today’s liberal Hollywood may not have offered Russell a welcoming role, but here’s a toast (a virgin cocktail, of course) to this uppity woman who never ceased calling it like she saw it.
While greeting reporters last week in Washington, Mike Huckabee joked about New Hampshire and his Southern roots.
Huckabee is currently on a book tour to promote his new release, “A Simple Government.” He hits key 2012 states, like Iowa and South Carolina, but not New Hampshire. When asked why there were no New Hampshire stops on his book tour, he told reporters, including Politics Daily’s Walter Shapiro: “Have you ever been to New Hampshire in February? It’s cold up there. My Southern blood isn’t acclimated.”
Spoken like a true Southerner.
Huckabee has built a brand around his folksy, Southern roots that resonates with voters. He duck hunts, jokes about frying squirrel in his dorm room when he was in college and is building a multimillion-dollar beach house in the Redneck Riviera – as the panhandle of Florida is called by middle-class Southerners who vacation there.
As a Republican in a region that has been trending Reagan red since the 1980s, Huckabee could do very well in a 2012 presidential GOP Southern primary. In 2008, Huckabee came in second in the South Carolina Republican primary behind Sen. John McCain despite a lack of solid fundraising.
But Huckabee will certainly have some stiff competition for Southern votes if Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi chooses to run.
To many who do not live in the South, all Southerners may appear as if they are cut from the same Confederate cloth, but that is far from true. Huckabee and Barbour are representative of two different worlds.
Barbour is a product of the stiff, proper old South with a history of plantations, cotton, the Civil War and horrific race relations. He was born into a family with a legacy that can be traced to the state capitol in the early 1880s. Walter Leake, a Barbour ancestor, was the third governor of Mississippi as well as a U.S. senator. His paternal grandfather was a judge who held stock in the local bank and as a lawyer represented railroads. His father, who died when Barbour was 2, was a lawyer. The family was well known in Yazoo City, a town that both thrives on, and is haunted by, its Southern heritage.
Yazoo City didn’t integrate its schools until 1970 – long after Barbour, who attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, had graduated from high school. The town did not shy away from its connection to the Citizens Council movement, an organization that was founded on the basis of resistance to integration. Barbour, too, hasn’t shied away from the group.
In a December 2010 interview with The Weekly Standard, he said: “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up North they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
While Barbour took heat for that comment, many Southerners who grew up in the same time period as Barbour, especially in the Mississippi Delta, understood what he meant. During the Civil Rights movement, the South was a place that operated in black and white.
That South still resonates today with Southerners who attended country clubs that today are still segregated socially, if not legally, by race and private schools founded by wealthy white families.
Barbour, a former powerful lobbyist with a hefty resume filled with Washington connections, is Presbyterian – a religion that is far from fire and brimstone. When Barbour was the chair of the Republican National Committee, many reporters fell under his spell because of “a generous supply of Maker’s Mark in his handy RNC liquor cabinet.” His state of Mississippi has thrived with casino gambling and Barbour, too, has supported it.
If Barbour is a son of the Old South, where politicians prosper because of their ancestry and fraternity connections, Huckabee is the poster child for the emerging South.
Arkansas suffers from an identity crisis. The state never had the grand plantations that were prevalent in Mississippi or a legacy of Confederate millionaires. If anything, Arkansas was as a gateway to the Wild West, a place where those who fled the Civil War landed and stayed either because they ran out of money or feared Indian Territory. Because of that history, Arkansas neither connects whole-heartedly with the proper South or the scrappy West.
Huckabee, like Bill Clinton, grew up in Hope, Arkansas, in a middle-class family. His father was a mechanic and a fireman and his mother was a clerk at a gas company.
When he was governor, he often told a story that resonated with a lot of people who grew up in Arkansas. When he was 8 years old, his father told him, “Son, the governor is coming to dedicate the new lake and make a talk and I’m going to take you down to hear him because you might live your whole life and never see a governor in person,” Huckabee recalls.
“Huckabee has sneered at that Old South mentality,” says Dr. Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College “He has often resented those who are in positions because of their power. It’s very much indicative of the Arkansas experience and those who made their own wealth – the Tysons, Sam Walton.”
A strict Baptist, Huckabee worked his way through college at Ouachita Baptist University by working at a radio station and pastoring a small church. He continued his path in the ministry, preaching at various churches in the South. In the 1980s, he encouraged the all-white Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff to accept black members. He became the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Huckabee doesn’t drink nor did he serve alcohol at events in the governor’s mansion during his term. He and his wife, Janet, renewed their vows in a convenant marriage ceremony while he was governor. And Huckabee is against gambling.
Unlike Barbour who worked for the Richard Nixon campaign in 1968, Huckabee had no legacy in politics – national or local. He built his following from scratch in the early 1990s when he decided to challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers – a brave move for a Republican pastor in a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic state.
Huckabee, a conservative populist, could resonate in 2012 among tea party supporters who have never dabbled in politics. He doesn’t shy away from his religion or the belief that the separation of church and state is impossible. He understands grassroots mobilizing, thanks to his church background and will be able to energize the religious-right base.
But Barbour brings something much more powerful to the table. His years of political wheeling and dealing and moneyed contacts are legendary — a plus in a crowded primary where money will make or break a candidate.
If Huckabee and Barbour choose to run, their campaigns will be a contrast of two Souths — the emerging one of self-made success with church at its center and the fading glory of the old Confederacy with legacy and ancestry at its core.
Lady Gaga has power, and to snicker at it is a mistake.
The 25-year-old pop goddess played hardball with Minnesota-based retailer Target and won.
Target wanted a special edition of her newest hit, “Born This Way,” which has already been called a gay anthem by Elton John. (Upon its release two weeks ago, it became the fastest-selling song ever on iTunes.) Lady Gaga wasn’t so willing to agree, given that Target had previously supported political candidates with anti-gay reputations.
“That discussion was one of the most intense conversations I’ve ever had in a business meeting,” Lady Gaga told Billboard.com. “Part of my deal with Target is that they have to start affiliating themselves with LGBT charity groups.”
She didn’t stop there. “Our relationship is hinged upon their reform in the company to support the gay community and to redeem the mistakes they’ve made supporting those [anti-gay] groups,” she said.
Target took heat last year for giving $150,000 to support a political action group, Minnesota Forward, that supported Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who backed a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The company has pledged almost a half-million dollars to gay-equality groups so far in 2011, according to Billboard. One of them is Project 515, a Minnesota organization that wants gay families treated equally with straight families under state law. Target officials told Billboard that they had always supported groups in the LGBT community.
They added that Lady Gaga did not solely influence their decisions. “Certainly her perspective was very helpful in conversations,” Dustee Tucker Jenkins, Target’s vice president of public relations, said. “But we’ve considered a variety of different perspectives along the way, and that’s gotten us to where we are today.”
Target did not return calls for this story.
Lady Gaga has become a force in LGBT activism. In 2010, she supported repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, and asked her fans (whom she dubbed “Little Monsters”) to put pressure on their senators for repeal.
Just this week, Lady Gaga teamed up with M•A•C Cosmetics for a second year in a row, announcing that sales of lipstick and “lipglass” shades she helped design will go toward fighting HIV/AIDS. (Lady Gaga is a strong advocate for safe sex and AIDS testing.) The company has released a promotional video in conjunction to the lipstick line.
The video for “Born This Way” launches online Monday.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Little Rock Nine hold a special place in Bill Clinton’s heart.
He returned here on Saturday to honor the nine African-American students who in 1957 were prevented from attending the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School by the Gov. Orval Faubus and angry mobs that threatened lynching.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730, which sent units of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalized the Arkansas National Guard to escort the students into the school.
The protests continued, but the Little Rock Nine were eventually admitted to Central High. They still faced verbal and physical abuse, and the incident clouded the national perception of Arkansas for decades. And it became one of the most important events in the civil rights movement.
Clinton celebrated the unveiling of a new permanent exhibit, which features the Little Rock Nine Congressional Gold Medal, at his presidential library. In 1999, then-President Clinton bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal, the country’s highest civilian honor, to the Little Rock Nine at a White House ceremony.
After a video with crisp footage of Eisenhower’s famous 1957 address to the nation about the Central High crisis, Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine and president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, introduced Clinton, sporting a gray three-piece suit and a Navy blue tie.
At times, Clinton sounded troubled about the direction of the country, and his speech seemed more political than commemorative.
He talked about the controversial ending of a busing plan by tea party board members in a North Carolina school district that had allowed diverse students to attend school together. He mentioned the campaign to repeal health care reform and what he characterized as backward steps on energy and education. And Clinton harshly criticized the growing conservative agenda, saying the country was “infected with a virus” that believes any federal power is “quashing democracy.”
He said that Eisenhower was a genuine conservative Republican for his time, but that didn’t stop him from using federal power to gain equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of race. “Conservative means something very different today than it did in 1957,” Clinton said.
Clinton was 11 years old when the Central High crisis unfolded. He said that he watched Eisenhower on television but could not tell if he was a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. He never forgot the message or the historical moment.
In 1977, when he was the state’s attorney general, Clinton attended an event at Central High School with members of the Little Rock Nine and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Clinton recalled that Jackson, a liberal activist, gave an unlikely speech.
“He gave what would be a right-wing conservative speech today,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s point: Jackson spoke about his position on family values without politics entering the dialogue. That no longer happens, he said. But it should.
“We need voices of America to remember the mission we were given,” he said. “Listen to President Eisenhower . . . let’s try to give it [a more perfect union] to more people in the 21st century.”
The South is a place where many folks still want to believe in an antebellum region of moonlight and magnolias.
Sometimes, that nostalgia clashes head-on with the politically correct present. In Mississippi, such a battle is raging over — of all things — license plates marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans has launched a campaign to issue one of the specialty license plates honoring Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was once the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The NAACP and a Facebook group are protesting the plate, which at the earliest would be unveiled in 2014.
This little drama comes at a perilous time for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in Washington this past week attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and positioning himself for a possible 2012 run. So far, Barbour has not responded to the controversy but he seldom shies away from his Southern heritage.
And in the South, Forrest is a legend and a hero among Civil War buffs.
The town of Forrest City in eastern Arkansas near Memphis is named in his honor. The Ku Klux Klan hosted rallies in the town as recently as a few years ago. In neighboring Tennessee, Forrest’s home state, a state park is named for him. The park’s website calls him “the intrepid Confederate cavalry leader.” Forrest Gump, the character created by Winston Groom, was named after him.
Even Barbour doesn’t shy away from Forrest. As governor, he has attended the National Championship Hunt for bird dogs and hosted a reception at Galena Plantation, the original home of Forrest, who was a millionaire when the Civil War started, in Holly Springs, Miss.
Forrest was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow in 1864 after his military forces conducted a bloody massacre of hundreds of black Union Army and white southern prisoners sympathetic to the Union. That only endeared him to rebel leaders like Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who lamented that the Confederacy did not utilize Forrest’ abilities to mobilize and strategize enough.
He joined the Ku Klux Klan, but then left it because he felt the group was too violent. Most academics agree that this was Forrest’s reasoning for leaving.
“If Christian redemption means anything — and we all want redemption, I think — he redeemed himself in his own time, in his own actions, in his own words,” Greg Stewart, a member of the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Associated Press. “We should respect that.”
The group has had a specialty license plate since 2003. Until last year, it featured a small Confederate flag, but a re-design now features Beauvoir mansion in Biloxi, Miss., the final home of Confederate president Davis. Legislators would have to approve the Forrest plate, but they have okayed more than 100 of them over the years.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans group evolved from the United Confederate Veterans, which was formed in the late 1800s. The group is “a historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to insuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.” Members must have “descended from any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.” They often participate in historical re-enactments and also preserve Confederate soldiers’ graves.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, however, says that the group has been dominated by “racial extremists since 2002.” It also states that the radical faction has sought to turn “the SCV into an explicitly political group that pushes racist neo-Confederate ideas and issues.”
In the South, the push-and-pull of the past looms largely.
Martin Luther King, Jr. shares a holiday with Confederate General Robert E. Lee in many Southern states including Mississippi.
In Natchez, Miss., the city still hosts spring and fall pilgrimages that showcase the grandest of plantations from the Civil War era.
Hostesses wear elaborate hooped dresses and black women dress up like Mamie from “Gone With the Wind” and offer pralines for sale. The town sees it as an economic engine. And it works. Tourists from as far away as Europe visit during the pilgrimages, which began during the Great Depression as a way for the town to make money and restore the palatial homes.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, based in Virginia, also exists as a women’s heritage association dedicated to honoring the memory of those who served and died in service to the Confederate States of America. The group began in the late 1800s to collect money for memorials to Confederate veterans and battles.
It, too, has a controversial past. It opposed integration of public schools in the 1950s and suggested that an all-white public school rename itself after – guess who? Yes, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
In July, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning a convention in Montgomery, Ala., celebrating “The Cause for Southern Independence.” The first morning of the convention kicks off with, yes, a “Forrest Cavalry Breakfast.”
Confession: I once owned a pair of pom-poms.
Back in the 1970s, at age 4, it seemed the right thing to ask my parents for as a gift. The fluffy red and white pom-poms were official and expensive — cheap just wouldn’t do for my nascent cheerleading career. I shook them during college football games and at least one Super Bowl.
But little girls hoping for cheering inspiration at Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV game in Dallas between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers won’t get it. For the first time in the Super Bowl’s 45-year history, there will be no cheerleaders on the sidelines.
Neither the Steelers nor the Packers have cheerleading squads. Four other NFL teams — New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions — also do without. The Steelers were ahead of the pack when they decided in 1970 to abandon the Steelerettes, and in 1988, Green Bay decided their fans didn’t care too much for the Sideliners. (Maybe their name had something to do with their fate.)
Many who see cheerleading as sexist are applauding the no-cheerleader zone this weekend.
For others, cheerleading is an institution — they argue it’s a legitimate sport The long list of stars and politicians who have cheered either in high school or college includes Ann-Margaret, Halle Berry and Paula Abdul, along with presidents George W. Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
But on the professional side of sports the tradition is not as strong and male cheerleaders are practically non-existent except the Baltimore Ravens, which has the only professional co-ed team in the country. It’s the women who shimmy and shake in skimpy outfits for football and basketball teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, and are often better described as dance squad members than cheerleaders.
The modern version of the cheerleader began in 1971 when Dallas Cowboys owner Tex Schramm wanted stunning model-like women who could dance like Radio City Rockettes. Ta-da! The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders sizzled onto the football field.
As members of the National Football Association Cheerleading and the National Basketball Association Cheerleading, these women are also involved in charity work, modeling and fundraisers. They pose for calendars and posters. The try-outs are competitive and physically tough.
“In order to try out for pro cheer squads, you have to prepare yourself mentally, physically and socially. Pro cheerleading squads are looking for the best of the best,” advises the website Dancecheer.net.
Oh, and the pay? Not much. According to Dancecheer, cheerleaders may receive between $15 and $50 per game. And pro athletes? Millions.
For many cheerleaders, the reason for cheering is to launch a career in entertainment, broadcasting or modeling. Maybe if they are lucky, they can cash in like Paula Abdul.
Cheerleaders, however, have always seemed to get a raw deal at the professional sports level, even in half-time productions.
Once upon a time, Super Bowl half-time shows were almost quaint, instead of gigantic spectacles. They featured college marching bands and the innocent Up With People troupe. During the first Super Bowl between the Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in 1967, the Anaheim (Calif.) High School Drill Team performed. In 1983, the Los Angeles Super Drill Team performed. According to the event’s history, the last time any drill team performed was in 1987, when various Southern California teams were invited to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The teams’ cheerleaders always stayed on the sidelines.
Will 2011 be a watershed moment for NFL cheerleaders? Will the league decide they simply don’t need any pretty girls on the sidelines cheering on their teams anymore?
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are making sure that doesn’t happen. The pop culture icons, who made many a Generation-X boy melt in their blue-and-white halter tops and hot pants, have decided to give it their all this weekend. While they won’t be inside the arena on Sunday, they are seizing the Super Bowl moment.
On Thursday, the cheerleaders were at the Super Bowl Media Center. They signed autographs and posed for pictures. According to The Kansas City Star, fans ignored baseball legend Nolan Ryan to see the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders — a legend in a state where the pom-pom is patented.
Some fans will send kudos to the Packers and Steelers for saying good-bye to cheerleaders years ago. But for some, pom-pom waving girls on the sidelines are as American as football itself. There’s something to be said for tradition. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.