Pop Culture Underdogs

September 13, 2010

“Resident Evil 3D” passing up “The American” in the weekend gross was the crowning cap on a week of “the underdogs” in pop art taking a beating. In a way, I guess it’s a bit odd to call a major motion picture powered by a “leading man” like George Clooney an “underdog,” but when you’re a character piece tinged with art-house leaning noir, full of subtlety and atmosphere and often slower on dialogue and action, in competition with the wham-bam flash and pop end-of-summer cineplex films, you’re an underdog. Now, I have no idea for sure if “Resident Evil 3D” is a terrible movie; it might be a lot of fun, but if it is I’m guessing it’s of the big dumb fun variety, which has its place but always seems to be the main course for the majority of folks. Conversely, I know that audiences and critical opinions are divided over “The American,” and while I admit it’s not wholly original or ground-breakingly new, I’m in the love it category and think it’s near the top of the best films that have been released so far this year. It certainly wasn’t destined to stay atop the high-gross mountain for long, if at all, but amidst the other few rumblings I spotted this past week, I found it to be a significant cap on these other pop culture happenings.

“Paste Magazine” announced early last week that it would soon be “suspending” its print publication, and details haven’t been too clear as to how extensive the digital version will be in the future. “Paste” has been a great indie magazine for about a decade, it has self-proclaimed its “search for signs of life in pop culture,” and even with the occasional hit-and-miss, it has done that quite well. Awhile back , Paste switched to a format that allowed subscribers to build a package out of their subscription including a print copy, access to a digital format of the issue, and a download of the 20+ song sampler that had previously been included in hard copy form with each issue. Now, it seems that financial problems have forced out that print version–I’m of the old school in which I find it much more easy and palatable to be able to hold a tangible copy of what I am reading, a preference that is steadily being forced to adapt in many school and work areas for me. But the question becomes, with a print form being axed, will the folks be producing and building a full magazine to be read through the viewing apps or will the site simply become a typical grouping of links, lists, and blogs?  The site material has drifted that way lately. I know many fans decried the possible demise of “Paste,” some angry that long-running and more main-stream publications like “Rolling Stone” continue on. I’m a fan and subscriber of both, have always found a wealth of great material in both and have often found it amusing when reviews conflict glaringly between the editorial board of each respective publication over a current film or album since my own personal opinion is often aligned or against one or the other. That said, “Paste” has done a great service for some time and I have been introduced to countless acts I otherwise would never have discovered without their articles, suggestions, reviews, and samplers. Here’s hoping they find a way to compete and stay relevant in the digital age.

Also on the digital front, Amie Street announced they will be closing up their site at the end of this month and will be moving their material to Amazon’s digital download department. Amazon has been a backer for Amie Street quite awhile now, but I can’t help but wonder if some of the biggest appeals of Amie will be gone now with full control by Amazon. For those who have never heard of the site, Amie Street is a digital downloading pay-per-item site that focuses on independent music, though it has some material from semi-major labels.  What’s been great and original by Amie Street is that they found the arbitrary 99 cent per song charge of folks like i-Tunes (who, by the way, have upped that to 1.29 on many of their catalog songs). On Amie, musicians can post their material and much of the material there is free; once a particular song or album starts selling significantly and creating buzz, that material starts to go up in price until it maxes out a cap which is never as much as the people at i-Tunes anyway. Consequently, you can get a lot of great songs for 12-75 cents a piece and be introduced to a lot of artists you would have never heard of otherwise. Hopefully the bargain buys will continue at Amazon and if not, hopefully independent artists will still be able to upload and distribute their music to larger audiences.

The last “underdog” to fall this week really didn’t occur this week, I just happened to read about it on the i-fanboy comic book website. One of the best, most original and important comics I’ve read all year has been “Unknown Soldier,” from DC’s adult-geared (in the literary not pornographic sense) Vertigo line. “Soldier” followed the mishaps and missions of a doctor turned fighter in Uganda and across many troubled parts of Africa, touching on every conceivable social and hot-button geographic issue while also telling a vastly entertaining, suspenseful, exciting, and heartbreaking story complete with vividly drawn visuals. I found out about this upcoming cancellation after reading the last 2 great issues, and according to Josh Dysart, the writer, the series is slated to end at issue 25, leaving 2 more to go. Josh claims he’s been aware of the possibility for awhile and so he has geared the story to where it can end logically and solidly at that point. I’m hoping so, and I’m sure where it ends will cap off a great 25 issue run, but had “Unknown Soldier” been allowed to run for however long the author’s original story intentions projected, it would have been much better. Another Vertigo story, “Air,” about the politics of air travel in the 21st century (with hefty doses of fantasy, action, history and science-fiction thrown in) is also getting the cut…yet we have 10 or so “Avengers” or “X-Men” titles running over at Marvel being bought up each month by often the same age group. There’s nothing wrong with a well done super-hero tale, and the average non-comic fan would have no idea of the potential and depth many of those can have, but come on! I’d rather see a market with 1 or 2 “X Men” books for every 5 or 6 various “Air” or “Unknown Soldier” books. Anyway, Vertigo always runs this risk. I got very invested in an attached to “The Vinyl Underground” and “Young Liars,” to name a few from recent years, only to see them cut short long before their natural run would have lasted. Vertigo has produced a lot of epic book-shelf musts, like “The Sandman,” “Preacher,” “Y the Last Man,” “100 Bullets,” and the it’s-actually-still-making-it “Scalped,” but there have been far too many great artist and writer driven original works cut short long before their time due to the numbers game. A lot of comic fans understandably “wait for the trade,” as a result–waiting for collected story-arcs printed in book form, often waiting to start reading them when the entire series is finished; but if we all do that, if none of us support the original titles while they’re struggling for sales, many or most of them won’t get the company’s grace and will be preemptively ended. So, if you buy a few titles a month why not make at least 1 or 2 of them an independent (like RASL or Echo) or a Vertigo upstart–like “The Unwritten,” “Sweet Tooth,” or “Greek Street”– it appears that “Scalped” will make it, and even though “American Vampires” is young it’s generating significant staying-power buzz, so support a struggling work that is creatively fantastic and help it stay around until it naturally ties up.



One Response to “Pop Culture Underdogs”

  1. dmhamby2 said

    As a post-script I forgot to mention in the article, one of the best socially-conscious rappers working anywhere close to the main-stream, Lupe Fiasco, has confirmed that his long-awaited “Lasers” album is being scrapped. He has delivered the final project to his record company, Atlantic records, and he has been saying it was ready to release for months. Atlantic has for unspecified reasons refused to release it so Lupe is going on to record something else…”Lasers” has already delivered 2 great singles! Where’s the album, Atlantic?

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