Man-free festivals – Segregation that the Gender Deserves

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There has been great progress made in improving the safety, most of all sexually, in festivals across the UK and beyond. More than that, there has been much more awareness – in terms of social media blackouts and, in Glastonbury’s case, the Sisterhood – in creating gender-specific spaces.

However, the issue in Sweden is, at least on a reported scale, spiralling out of control. Bravalla Festival may have hosted some of music’s globe-gobbling anthem makers (this year saw The Killers amongst the headliners), but beneath its commerciality lies sordid tales of sexual violence that stretch back to the beginning of the noughties. Over the past two festivals, a combined total of nine rapes and 34 sexual assaults have taken place. And they are the ones police are aware of.

The shocking numbers have resulted in an announcement from the festival’s organisers cancelling next year’s festivals, blaming the fact “certain men don’t know how to behave.” Even in context, it’s a statement that is not only odd and clunky, but clumsily understated – on the surface, men misbehaving is tantamount to accidentally spilling a beer or smoking a spliff – rape is far, far away from bad behaviour.

The only positive to come out of the situation is Sweden’s first exclusively non-male festival, which will take place instead of Bravalla in 2018. While festivals in the US have previously hosted successful ‘man ban’ festivals, this action throws into raw reality that despite technological advancements and added security at festivals, sexual abuse remains a disgustingly potent, and prolific, risk.

The news of this has, of course, sparked mixed reviews. The traditional war cry of ‘not all men’ has reared its head, as has the victim-blaming boilerplate of ‘segregation’. Yes, this is segregation. But this is a necessary move. If men are, as the statement deemed it, unable to ‘behave’, then a blanket ban is the only way forward. Alcohol or substance abuse can turn even the staunchest ‘not all men’ chanter into an altogether different beast, and by offering only a segmented segregation, surely the purpose of this festival is thwarted? This is a chance to show that men need to take action and behave in an uniform manner – it is not a case of nice guys finishing last.

It is also not about pinning the blame of one gender. Men, of course, are also victims and can be victims of sexual abuse, but this is a reaction of sexual abuse within a specific, and confined, space. The sheer volume of rape that occurred in Sweden alone warrants such a ban; I’m sure if the genders had been switched and it was men who had been subjected to such staggering statistics, we would have a man-only festival.

Whether or not England will follow suit in the future remains to be seen, and hopefully Sweden will also provide bands that have at least one female member in them, but the threat of sexual abuse continues to be all too real prospect.

Ned and Gone – How ‘Alone Again, Natura-Diddly’ Lacked the Necessary Heart

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In the past, The Simpsons‘ brushes with death, or any kind of significant loss, were emotionally devastating episodes that still kept the laughs high and credible. 

When Grandpa’s love interest Bea passed on in Old Money, the crinkly curmudgeon’s chance of a twilight tryst was cruelly tarnished. Even more prominent was ‘Round Springfield, one of the many episodes that belies the belief that the Lisa-centric episodes are the poorest; losing her idol, ‘Bleeding Gums’ Murphy, was the first human loss the Simpsons sister had encountered, and scene-for-scene we empathise with her growing grief. In Season Eleven’s Alone Again, Natura-Diddly, a tragic loss occurs, but this time, the blend of subtle comedy and bereft emotions doesn’t quite coagulate.

Ned is an incredibly likeable character, but it is easy to see why Homer finds him such an antagonistic enemy. More prominent in the earlier seasons, Ned was presented as the man Homer wanted to be – he had respect from his kids, seemed well-off financially and genuinely had good luck, a contrast to the toil and graft Homer had to endure.

However, while episodes focused on, say, Krusty the Clown and Mr. Burns were intriguing insights into secondary characters, giving them vital layers in the process, the shows that cast their net onto the Flanders flock have been surprisingly damaging. Hurricane Neddy did as much carnage as the gales that destroyed the neighboureeno’s house – instead of Ned’s resistance to rage being part of his good-natured psyche, instead it was because he was a mentally unstable time bomb, his anger suppressed because of a repressed childhood.

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Death was handled with a deft touch in previous Simpsons episodes, but here it is dealt in a clumsy fashion. Perhaps the key reason is while in the past killing characters off would have been a conscious decision, in this episode it was a mere obligation – Maggie Roswell, the voice of the departed Maude, quit over a pay dispute. The writers could have replaced her, seeing as Maude’s role was only tertiary, but instead they saw it as a chance to create a ‘gimmick’ episode. It’s that word that is, sadly, key to what ensues.

Watching the episode now, I am left feeling bereft, and not in the intended way. By this point in the show, scripts were vetoing heart in favour of cheap laughs, and this very episode arrived hot on the heels of the critically-mauled Saddlesore Galactica. But after that slice of sewage, Alone Again… presented a chance to be a jolt of overwhelming despair, as Springfield’s happy-go-lucky resident experiences an irreparable, loss. It was, in short, a chance for written redemption. Regrettably, it doesn’t deliver.

There are so many missed opportunities in the show that you almost feel like pausing and pointing out in wonderment. What could have formed the show’s emotional arc appears far too late, and far too briefly – Ned has a crisis of faith, turning his back on the Almighty and questioning why He took Maude away. Here, you feel was a moment that could have sparked a show filled with emotional investment. Instead, it’s treated as a quick joke to demonstrate Ned’s unflinching worship. However, even his anti-God outburst (a diatribe about the church chocolate) is flimsily handled.

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Then there’s Homer’s role in the show. One of the best scenes in the episode is Homer being awoken by Ned throwing stones at the window, unable to sleep as he cogitates the loss of his wife. It’s a genuine scene that feels real and heartening, but, again, it’s instantly ruined by crass comments about Homer parking in the ambulance bay. Think back to Old Money, when Homer was inadvertently responsible for Abe missing Bea’s final night, and the heavy sense of remorse he felt. On this show, he was both indirectly and directly responsible for Maude’s death, and seems to take perverse glee in announcing it. Quite why Homer is so prominent in the episode is a mystery; although his attempt at making a dating video provokes some chuckles, it steals valuable script time from the story’s main plot.

What could have been an episode that delivered loss and transience in a comedic manner instead became a blurred tonal clash of meta commentary (Maude’s funeral), lowbrow commercialism (the “Let ‘Er R.I.P.” t-shirts) and, worse, hardcore nudity (Ned’s pixellated, and ample, genitals).

The only part of the show I truly liked was the end, when Ned, reluctantly hopeful, says “my name’s Ned Flanders, and I’m here every week, rain or shine.” It garners sentiment, but then you stop and realise within the half an hour, there really wasn’t any. In an episode that was meant to be sad and funny, that’s perhaps the most devastating thing.

 

 

 

 

Lady and the Trump (Or Trump Up the Sham) – Donald Muck and the Dysfunctional (American’t) Dream

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Living in Great Britain, it is easy to become so preoccupied with politics on our own pond that we neglect the caustic campaigns and repellent rallies produced by our simpatico states. Over here, we’ve had David Cameron nervously shredding anything remotely to do with Panama (including a real waste of a summer hat), Jeremy Corbyn working through a steadfast setlist for Glastonbury (we pray his time slot doesn’t clash with Clegg’s acoustic set) and Iain Duncan Smith weeping like Kate Winslet on William Hill. Over there, though, it’s slightly different.

We’re all aware of Donald Trump’s tumultuous campaign to become the next US President, in a move so concerning some people are beginning to remember the salad days of Mitt Romney. Not since World War II has there been such an unpopular candidate as Trump, who is currently behind Hilary Clinton in double digits and his recent loss in Wisconsin revealing even his alleged target voters, white people with college degrees, have turned their backs on him. He is deflating quicker than his fringe in a fridge, and yet here’s the rub – 26 per cent would still vote for him. And to allow your gasp to permeate further, that 26 per cent is of women.

With his campaign running out of puff, the only way he can hope to keep the cubic clout he’s amassed as a “political heavyweight” is that he falls short of winning the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. With that, he can return to his other hobbies, namely The Apprentice and getting married.

At present, though, Trump is far from spent, and he’ll spend to avoid such a pitfall. Not in monetary terms, though, but in women, Muslims, Latinos and even some Americans. His current plan is to build a wall separating Mexico and the United States, but to rub further salsa into the wounds, he is also asking Mexico to pay for it. It’s almost like when a gang of youths come and wash your car, despite it being scrubbed diligently by Sainsbury’s own the evening before, and then cheekily say since they’ve done it, they deserve something to show for it. “Ring the door after, not before” should be Trump’s motto.

The whole hare-brained scenario brings to mind an episode of The Simpsons (I’m sure I am not the only one who has to align most cultural calamities to this show), when Homer proposes a similar barricade. “Like the one in Berlin?” Marge gasps. “Yeah, we can call them and get the guys they used,” Homer innocently, yet offensively, remarks. You can almost imagine Trump and his tribe feverishly fingering through the Yellow Pages to find a contractor with less than liberal beliefs. Building the “Trump Wall” will allegedly right all the wrongs that have strangled the United States over the years, but Trump himself has already built a wall, one that is surrounding and choking his vision, blocking out the multi-cultural, modern eclecticism that is the United States.

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Women have been a target for Trump, and not in terms of voting – Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly and even his own daughter Ivanka have been playthings to be pilloried (or disconcertingly worse in Ivanka’s case…methinks Trump has read between the lines of Girl, Interrupted), resulting in such vitriol he makes Todd Akin look like Tim Allen. He claims to have hired and fired thousands of women over the years – and he’s married and divorced just as many – so how can be labelled sexist? However, what Trump fails to coagulate is he should be championing the cultural clout, dignity and diligence of the women he’s namedropping, as opposed to their faces and menstrual cycles.

Despite it being 2016, the topic of abortion continues to divide America. Opposition continues to grow in certain areas of the country, where evangelists reign with an iron cross. The correlation between the Republican Party and anti-abortion began all the way back in 1976, with the Party’s policy platform proposing a ban on abortion. Forty years later and Trump is doing everything he can to fan that fragile flame, saying those who have an abortion will need to have “some kind of punishment,” though he has yet to decide which.

Since Roe v Wade in the ‘70s, hard-working and intelligent women have long lobbied for the Supreme Court and politicians in general to keep their noses out of such a sensitive issue, but Trump’s remarks have once again reared the ugly head of vapid, rich white men with all the power but no premonition.

“Let’s make America great again,” Trump has offered, but that has become more and more of a caveat as time has gone on. He won’t win, but the fact he has been entertained has been bad enough.

 

Fresher 15 – The Songs That Shaped March

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1).        Tiny Little Houses – ‘Milo Tin’

Australia has produced some fine artists over the years – Smudge, The Vines and Courtney Barnett, to name a few – and now we can add Tiny Little Houses to that list. A sweetly lo-fi thrum, ‘Milo Tin’ is a wistful lament on youth that sounds like a zestier Galaxie 500.

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2).        Parquet Courts – ‘Berlin Got Blurry’

Parquet Courts have been around for quite a while now, but their upcoming record Human Performance could see the New York punk staples make the leap into the publics conscious. The breezy guitars of ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ are counterpointed with an almost Spaghetti Western-style riff and Andrew Savage’s wry vocals.

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3).        PJ Harvey – ‘The Community of Hope’

With Field Day and Glastonbury slots booked, this year looks another good one for PJ Harvey, following the worldwide adulation of Let England Shake. ‘The Community of Hope’ continues the lo-fi melodies of ‘The Wheel’; it’s a scuzzy rant with an anti-commercialism slant not seen since Talking Heads’ ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’.

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4).        The Dandy Warhols – ‘STYGGO’

Over the years, Courtney Taylor and his gang of loveable recyclers have been ever so frustrating; for every ‘Sad Vacation’ there has been ‘A Loan Tonight’. They seem to have arrested this inconsistency with new album Distortland, though, and ‘STYGGO’ – some things you gotta get over – zips along on a minimalist groove and Taylor’s typically hushed, cynical vocals.

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5).        Sundara Karma – ‘A Young Understanding’

While some new bands are ensuring an unfussy production, Sundara Karma are the big hitters – they want their songs to sound big, brash and brilliant. ‘Young Understanding’ continues their trend for bombast, a pounding call-to-arms built around Oscar Lulu’s anthemic yelps.

Palehound's new album, Dry Food, comes out August 14

6).        Palehound – ‘Molly’

Molly has been a song matter for a number of bands (Sponge, Kings of Leon and The Vaselines, for example), and Boston grunge merchants Palehound aren’t a big fan either. “Ooh, selfish Molly,” decries frontwoman Ellen Kempner on this melodic yet scuzzy blast of Pavement-style sludge.

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7).        Dream Wife – ‘Hey Heartbreaker’

Riot grrrl has a gang of new advocates in the shape of London trio Dream Wife. Taken from their debut EP, ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ is a wonderful stomp of traditional, shouty punk rock, building from a Cribs-style verse into a monster of a chorus. It bodes well for their debut album.

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8).        Nada Surf – ‘Friend Hospital’

American rockers Nada Surf have been remarkably consistent over the years, and new record You Know Who You Are has a number of gems. The best one is ‘Friend Hospital’, a fragile ode to platonic love as Matthew Caws angelically proclaims – “so much better that we’re not together / cos I will not lose you, or be the blues to you.”

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9).        Catfish and the Bottlemen – ‘Soundcheck’

After the globe-gobbling success of The Balcony, the Llandudno troupe have wasted no time in broadening their scope and ambitions. Going for the arena jugular, ‘Soundcheck’ has a slick coat of radio polish and a moody non-sequitur of a bridge. They’re going to become a KoL-style guilty pleasure, but oh well.

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10).      VANT – ‘FLY-BY-ALIEN’

VANT know how to raise a pulse. They’ve put on some barnstorming support slots with the likes of FIDLAR, and their upcoming tour for April should really get the eardrums pleading. ‘FLY-BY-ALIEN’ is exactly what you’d expect from the band by now – a blistering chorus, Mattie Vant’s scorching vocals and florid guitars.

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11).      Skating Polly – ‘Oddie Moore’

Staggeringly, American duo Skating Polly are prepping their fourth album, despite still being fresh-faced adolescents. There’s nothing innocent about their sound, though – ‘Oddie Moore’ is an abrasive, in-your-face diary entry set to the band’s typically wonderful riffs and brooding bass. They should be a national treasure.

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12).      The Posies – ‘Squirrel vs. Snake’

It’s been six long years since The Posies’ last record, and thankfully they’ve quenched that drought with ‘Squirrel vs. Snake’. A suitably twisting, shimmering song full of Reveal-esque embellishments and a lilting acoustic motif, as Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer’s harmonies wash over the chorus, you know all is well within the world.

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13).      Flowers – ‘All At Once’

There’s nothing wrong with a blast of pure bubblegum pop, albeit with a darker underbelly – Nina Persson knew it, Molly Rankin knew it, and now Rachel Kenedy knows it. ‘All At Once’, from the London trio’s record Everybody’s Dying to Meet You, is a shimmering indie ode with gossamer vocals.

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14).      Drowners – ‘Cruel Ways’

Drowners combined Suede-esque beauty with American-style brawn on their debut (the kneejerk ‘Long Hair’ is still a classic), and they’re back with their long-awaited sophomore. ‘Cruel Ways’ is a little poppier around the edges, but it’s no less impressive.

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15).      We Are Scientists – ‘Buckle’

The lads are back. Known for their cerebral quips on and off the stage, Keith Murray and Chris Cain are letting their music talk once again with ‘Buckle’. The first taster from their upcoming fourth album Helter Seltzer, ‘Buckle’ is a breakneck indie rocker with Murray’s howls puncturing the chorus.

Bad Habits – Why Miles Kane’s Faux Paus Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

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Recently, the world doffed their fringes and showed appreciation for all things female on International Women’s Day. Trailblazers from all corners of culture were freshly anointed and adorned, and Instagram was alive with filters of Courtney Love, Emma Watson and Polly Jean Harvey. For Miles Kane, though, he was having to face up to swallowing some considerable humble pie.

International Women’s Day is an important movement, and not just a Facebook frivolity (there were, natch, a few statuses appearing on Facebook denouncing “yet another special day…when’s Oatcake Day?” or the typically anti-feminist boilerplate, “yeah well when’s National Men’s Day appearing?” It’s in November, guys, hush). But one thing the day did highlight was that we’re still considerably far away from reaching gender equality, and surprisingly, one of the biggest setbacks is the world of music.

The medium of sport is still wrestling (or should that be ‘foxy-boxing’ – gender insensitive ed) with accepting gender equality, with full-time football coach Annie Zaidi admitting to facing taunts of sexism and Islamophobia as she tried to negotiate a career in the world of sport (she originally gave up all hope aged 14). But music is all about acceptance, progression and diversity…isn’t it? Sometimes, it really doesn’t seem that way, for lately there has been a slew of sexism sound tracking the current state of music.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 18: Recording artist Kesha attends the 2014 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 18, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP)

Kesha has been put under a considerable amount of stress and discomfort after judges ruled against releasing her from her contract, despite the strong allegations of sexual assault and emotional abuse from producer Dr Luke. It seemed Sony Music had finally seen sense when, after an inordinate amount of time, they announced they were “dropping” Luke from their roster. But even then, it was because of a “public relations headache” – it’s like allowing your dog to defecate your rug, and then blaming Ikea for having such “substandard absorbency”; the two barely correlate, and it seems Sony only acted because of intense, and rightful, pressure, rather than the actual allegations.

But now Dr Luke is vehemently denying he has been dropped, remonstrating he has a strong partnership with Sony and that he and Kesha can work “without interaction.” So, in other words, it is okay for Luke to continue to prowl the perimeter, but Kesha must be on her constant guard should he decide to permeate the water cooler. It’d be like letting Jeremy Clarkson stay on at the BBC, as long as the BBC restaurant changes from modern European to a Miller & Carter.

Another blot on the equality copybook has come in the shape of Miles Kane. Despite having a decent solo career and periods in semi-successful indie bands (The Rascals being the most notable), arguably Kane is best known for The Last Shadow Puppets, whose Bacharach-meets-Morricone appreciation of ‘60s fervour gave him, as well as cohort Alex Turner, a new string to his indie bow.

The now-infamous Spin article presented journalist Rachel Brodsky the kind of discomfort that should only be displayed when trying to ask Mark E. Smith for his bar tab. Not only was Kane’s perverted presentation of Turner’s seemingly bulging crotch not especially amusing, he spent the interview engaged in some sort of tossed-off, smug honeytrap, in which he blatantly – though tried to make it nonchalant – propositioned the journalist and then ensnared her into an awkward goodbye kiss. Later, he sent a note apologising for his “Carry On” behaviour, as if that would make it all go away. But it doesn’t, because what’s the use in a note? It doesn’t erase the sour taste or the discomfort Brodsky would have felt during and after the interview. It doesn’t excuse Kane’s conceited come-ons, nor does it quell the belief that he really is sorry. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again.

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It’s like having a one-night stand with a girl who loves you, then realising it’s wrong and sending a conciliatory Kik a week later – musicians, and men in general, need to learn it’s foresight that’s key – being reactive is pointless. To be proactive is to prevent.

Throughout the Spin interview, Kane and Turner seem, simply, bored – bored with fame, bored with interviews and bored with promotion, and thus decide to make it fun, and that’s what makes Kane’s behaviour worse – it seemed he was asking her to “butter (him) up” and casting her meaningful, disconcerting glances to make it more fun for him. Even if he meant any of it, it would be inexcusable, but on the surface, it plays out that Kane wanted a bit of a laugh and decided to treat this woman with flagrant disregard, and then, when the guano penetrated the fan, urgently scribbled a ‘sorry’. It’s like at the Year 10 piss-up, when your mates egg you on to try and finger the nerd, and later on you’ll make sure your digits do not dared to be doused on a towel.

“I’m going to shag more in my thirties,” “I’ve got a hard-on for Alex Turner” – since when did Miles Kane become the real-life Jay Cartwright? At least in The Inbetweeners, it was pushed to such a pathetic degree that I could laugh about it. Miles seems to think being Turner’s pompadour polisher gives him clitoral credence.

The sad thing is it’s a sorry indictment of the music industry. We may have powerful female figures in music (off the bat, there’s the Deal sisters, Liz Phair, Warpaint, even the always overlooked Juliana Hatfield), but half of their ‘admirers’ would cease spinning their songs if they let their skin sag. Even now, if I say one of my favourite bands is, for example, Alvvays or Best Coast, it is often followed by a quick Google search and an approval of “she’s fit.” I doubt I’d get the same response if I told them to Google a pic of Mac DeMarco. There was also a time when I wanted a female guitarist in a band, but even that led to a Pandora’s Box of analytics, explanations and assurances – it seemed no one could overcome their salient belief this was only because I wanted to start a “Fleetwood Mac” and get my end away.

Freedom does come slowly at first, but in the music world it should be arriving a lot quicker, and Miles Kane’s actions have left a sour taste. But, to paraphrase TLSP’ new record, it’s everything we’ve come to expect.

 

‘When You Dish Upon A Star’ – The Death of the Celebrity Cameo?

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Welcoming celebrities into the blue-collar world of The Simpsons was always risky; if they were appearing via television or some fancy awards ceremony, fair enough, but if they happened to physically frequent Springfield, it had to be for valid reasons.

Not only that, but the celebrities had to be fair game for some gentle hazing. Over the years, some of the best celebrity cameos have been the most unusual – Peter Frampton was presented as a bitter curmudgeon, Dick Cavett was a washed-up namedropper and James Taylor was brutishly brusque. Furthermore, celebrities appearing as themselves didn’t happen very often, not until around the turn of the century, and on the infamous ‘When You Dish Upon A Star’, the trend of celebrities gracing the show became an unwanted occurrence.

This episode, along with ‘That ‘90s Show’ and ‘The Principal and the Pauper’, has an infamous position in the show’s long-running canon. Not only is it lightweight in the comedic stakes, it is also where the trend for famous people popping up in Springfield ad infinitum began, as well as them being presented in the holiest of lights. From here on in, we’d be greeted to simpering send-ups of Mel Gibson, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and (shudder) Tony Blair. None are critically mauled or presented as absurd caricatures; instead, they come in for a scene, bend over to receive a scriptural rear-kissing and then get their cheque on the way out. George Harrison must be spinning in his grave.

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Season Ten represents an awkward middle-ground for The Simpsons – the halcyon days of Seasons One to Eight were, like adolescence, a pleasantly fading memory, although you could still, heartbreakingly, see it in the distance. The tenth season still gave us a few hearty chuckles – and there a few in here – but any emotional resonance was replaced by a cheap laugh. This is represented perfectly in the first few scenes of this episode, where, after an ironically soporific dream sequence involving Homer as Yogi Bear, the family attend the Springfield Lake for a day out.

The scenes where the family go water skiing are quite funny (particularly Bart’s deadpan “she’s down” after Lisa instantly descends into the shallow end). Homer’s insistence on going higher pays off, and his surprisingly eloquent line “I’m soaring majestically like a candy wrapper caught in an updraft” would occasionally appear on Simpsons Hit & Run, for some reason. The episode begins to plummet just as soon as Homer’s body crash lands through the plush property of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. From here on in, it becomes a disjointed, affectionate documentation of gentle maternal ribbing and Oscar polish.

I can almost forgive Homer’s garbled glee over sharing a futon with the thespian couple, even though he seems more like a fangirling teenager than a working-class slob. The most egregious line, though, is when, after Basinger begins to tell the origins of why they’re in Springfield, Homer arbitrarily interrupts with “wait! Tell me over breakfast! Who’s for pancakes?” For me, the Homer I know and love would never offer to cook – go back to Season One when he sheepishly ordered pizza while Marge bowled. Sure, he made that heart-clogging moon waffle in ‘Homer the Heretic’, but Homer’s energetic eagerness to become the Hollywood handyman feels especially out-of-character (a few moments later, he offers to fix their broken skylight and do their shopping).

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After that, he falls into a curious kinship with Kim and Alec, and, even stranger, they welcome it. Not only is it out-of-sorts for Homer to become such a vigorous assistant, surely two Hollywood stars wouldn’t succumb to this stranger so swiftly? Later on, there’s a strange scene where Basinger does a workout while Homer watches with a beer, acting like her trainer. She even suggests she wants a neck rub; it’s just so random how all of a sudden they see Homer as a fervent friend, and it’s not charming or endearing in any way. He also becomes snobbish to his family, refusing Marge’s food (again, completely out-of-character) and saying “I didn’t need to fake it with them, I was actually excited to hear about their day”, which is especially cruel.

There are good parts in the show, and the saving grace is Ron Howard, who is written purely to be ridiculed (as it should be). Not only is it heavily implied he is an alcoholic, there’s an amusing scene where he and Homer, who form a much more believable, almost brotherly relationship, play badminton and after Basinger says “in your freckled face, Howard,” Homer contemptuously mutters “unbelievable” at Howard’s poor play. The best moment of the show is in the by-now obligatory action sequence, where Howard says “I guess it’s up to me,” and launches himself from the car to Homer’s mobile museum…only to instantly miss and plummet to the ground. It’s a callback to the good old days where celebrities like Ernest Borgnine would end up killed in the woods, but it’s a jarring contrast to the blinding glow that basks the Baldwins.

This episode marks the beginning of the end for Simpsons celebrity cameos. Wooden stars like Jim Jarmusch and Ronaldo would appear to spout a few unfunny lines, and in easily the worst episode I have ever, ever seen (even worse than the Gaga one), some guy called Elon Musk, who can’t act for toffee, is presented as some sort of God. It was truly terrible. One thing was for sure, after this episode, the days of mocking celebrities with scalpel-sharp satire were, like Ron Howard’s vodka, fresh out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Lisa the Skeptic’ – The Beginning of the (Flanderised) End?

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The Simpsons has coined a lot of phrases over the years, some that have been lifted from catchphrases, others purely from the genius that lies beneath. However, one term the creators might not be so enamoured with has to be ‘flanderisation’. I’m sure you know what it means, but here’s a quick recap – as the show ploughed on and the quality diminished, what was once subtle traits within characters became rampant exaggerations; Flanders became an ultra-conservative Christian, Skinner became a spineless momma’s boy, Lisa became an embittered mouthpiece and Smithers was relentlessly homosexual.

It’s hard to pinpoint where all this started, but the common theory is that Season Nine, when Mike Scully began his infamous reign as showrunner, is the beginning of the end. On Sunday, I saw an episode I haven’t seen for a long time, ‘Lisa the Skeptic’. In the past, episodes that, on the surface, seem sobering are actually thought-provoking and bittersweet (see ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’ and ‘Summer of 4 ft 2’ for prime examples). I knew this Lisa-centric episode wasn’t quite up to that standard, but upon watching it, I felt a foreboding sense of what was to come as the show’s characters began to morph into their OTT, current selves.

Firstly, throughout the episode Homer is now fully versed in his ‘Jerkass’ persona. It’s not too much of a problem when it’s funny and, more importantly, when he’s held accountable for his actions (for instance, when he’s driving home bitterly from the police motorboat sting), but often his unilateral actions go unnoticed. There’s a few things in the episode that Homer does that rub me up the wrong way – when he enters the police station, he barges boorishly past Snake, a dangerous criminal, in order to get his motorboat. Later on, when Lisa uncovers the so-called angel, he pushes through the crowd and indignantly shouts “out of my way, I got here late!” and, of course, simply steals the angel and bids the crowd adios. I don’t mind so much that he charges people to see the angel, and I did chuckle at his retort to Agnes (“hey I’m trying to eat here, beat it, peg leg!”), but this isn’t the Homer I want to see – we want to root for our protagonist, and in the past Homer has been a loveable, if lazy, underdog; it’s not so nice seeing him be an uncouth moron.

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The episode also, arguably, does damage to Lisa. For me, the Smartline scene is a dangerous prequel to the rabble-rousing Lisa that inhabits the show nowadays. There’s a lot of ire directed towards Lisa online and on forums, and I feel that’s purely because since around Season Nine-Ten, she’s never down from her soapbox, preaching and yelling, whereas the Lisa of old was a sweet, naïve outsider. The Smartline scene begins with Kent saying that Lisa is making her “thirteenth appearance on the show”, which was a trigger for me – I don’t really think we actually saw her on the show before this, but it’s as if the show wanted us to believe this fact, that Lisa is relentless in promoting her polemic views and will stop at nothing to do so. Throughout the episode, she denounces the town’s religious beliefs with vitriol and scorn; think back to ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’ when not only did she have proof Jebediah was a pirate, but she nervously cleared her throat and politely told her findings to the likes of Apu and Moe. Here, she’s unafraid to kick up a storm and it’s kind of hard to root for her.

With the episode focusing on science vs religion, it’s only natural Flanders is prominent. It’s good to see him express a bit of passion in his arguments, particularly when he utters the line “science is like a blabbermouth that ruins the ending. Well I say there’s things we don’t wanna know…important things!”. It’s one of my favourite remarks of his, but again this feels like the infamous “haha, you wish” Homer response in ‘Homer’s Enemy’; you can see the new characterisation of Flanders, the religious nut who showers with swimming trunks on, beginning to form in this episode. Despite being staunch in his faith, Ned was never one to denounce others, and here his exaggerated line “we’ve come for the angel, it’s not safe with the unbeliever” feels a little OTT for Flanders, a man who in the past enjoyed a sports game and a beer.

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Finally, Smithers is also given a brief, if telling, introduction to his ‘flanderised’ state. I must admit while I laughed at the suddenness of his smooch on Burns, it again shows Smithers’ current state. In the past, Smithers’ love of Mr. Burns wasn’t quite as latent as it is now – it was more that Smithers was, as Burns deemed it, “a young bootlick”. He worshipped Burns as the ultimate sycophant, not quite as a gay man. I remember a recent episode when, after taking an injection to make him straight, Smithers yelled “I love boobies!”. It felt so wrong. There’s an upcoming episode where apparently Smithers “comes out”, which I really can’t wait for (“in case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic”).

‘Lisa the Skeptic’ isn’t a bad episode, and there’s a lot I laughed at – Lisa’s “who wants to come back with me?” cry feels like traditional Lisa, Skinner’s PA announcement tying in the honour and the naughty students, Lionel Hutz’s line (“it’s a thorny legal issue alright, I need to refer to the case of ‘Finders vs Keepers’”) and all of Moe’s barbs in the crowd scenes. The premise itself is also intriguing, but if you look hard enough, you can see the cracks beginning to show, and the characters beginning to become caricatures of themselves. As the angel foretold, the end is nigh.

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