Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"North Korean" Propaganda Exposes American Hypocrisy

By Eric Brothers (C) 2014
Poster for "North Korean" film, Propaganda (2012).

Controversial to its core, this hard-hitting anti-Western propaganda film, which looks at the influence of American visual and consumption culture on the rest of the world from a North Korean perspective, has also been described as ‘either a damning indictment of 21st Century culture or the best piece of propaganda in a generation.’

A propaganda film about American hypocrisy that was made in North Korea? Huh?!  Really?

The film "Propaganda" covers the gamut of American culture from consumerism to celebrity culture; it also exposes contemporary Western culture for its its decidedly un-democratic imperialist and pro-corporate policies.  Released in ten parts in 2012, "Propaganda" was uploaded piece by piece with the title "North Korean film exposes Western propaganda." It was eventually accompanied by a statement, by Sabine, the woman who translated the film.

According to Sabine, while on a trip to Seoul, South Korea, in 2012, she was approached by two people claiming to be defectors from North Korea. Handing her a DVD, they asked Sabine to translate it and then place it on the Internet.  Due to what she called "the film's extraordinary content," she willingly translated it and then posted it on You Tube. She felt that the film was never intended for a North Korean audience. Additionally, Sabine believed that the people who gave the DVD to her work for the North Korean government. She does not agree with that nation's ideology, however, but chose to post it in its entirety "because of the issues it raises and I stand by my right to post it for people to share and discuss freely with each other."

 Interview with "Propaganda" Filmmaker Slavko Martinov.

"North Korean" film made by New Zealand filmmakers

But the cat was let out of the bag when "Propaganda" had a screening at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA).  This "North Korean" cinematic attack on the West was the work of a group of New Zealanders; it was written and directed by Slavko Martinov. Therefore the film is a piece of supposed North Korean propaganda made by New Zealand filmmakers showing their take on how North Korea would attack Western values and culture, while presenting their own personal views on the subject.

According to a review in The Independent, "Early scenes show audiences on Oprah moved to hysterics and tears after receiving free consumer goods, and a man applauded by crowds and interviewed on the street after being the first person to buy a new iPhone. These pictures set up the in-depth criticism of a culture of people who are raised in fear of communism and terrorism, and who seek salvation through the empty promises of religion and capitalism. We are then warned to beware the one per cent, who through the mass propaganda machine known as ‘the public relations industry’, attempt to brainwash people into trusting brands with empty slogans like “Just Do It” and “I’m Loving It”. Meanwhile, the mainstream media utilises the films of Quentin Tarantino, and the TV Series Survivor, to portray the world as a violent place where only the most ruthless succeed."

 Watch Part 9 of "Propaganda" to see chapter on celebrities.

"Think Triumph of the Will meets The Blair Witch Project," writes the reviewer of the Huff Post's blog.  "It's a North Korean propaganda film, through and through -- alarmingly authentic and disturbingly precise, down to the comic bluntness (reality TV as "freak show programming" about "narcissistic parasites") and hyperbolic paternalism (tween marketing as "corporate pedophilia"). The film takes aim at advertising, war, TV, consumerism, taxes -- all of our American bogeymen. What's most stunning, though, is how often the film gets it right."

Filmmaker Slavko Martinov on "Propaganda"

During an interview published online at IndieWire, Slavko Martinov said, 

"First of all, it's the most unsharable film you can imagine.  Ninety-five minutes of being slapped about the face of your core beliefs as a Westerner.  You're hardly going to be popular with your friends if you share this. ...  

We were investigated by the NAS -- South Korea's CIA. I was asked, 'Are you in collusion with the North Korean regime?'  I started writing and researching at this point -- I started guiding them through the process.  'Yeah, but prior to 2003, when were you contacted and commissioned to do this[?]'  What do you say to that?  How do you even deny that logic.  To them, what really worried them was that North Korea had stepped up their game, they had hired a western filmmaker to make a PR coup." 

"Propangada": Award-winning and life-changing film

The film, which took nine years to complete, won numerous awards at film festivals, including the Grand Prize for Best Film award at the Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan, an invite-only annual festival co-founded and curated by Oscar-winning director, Michael Moore.  

It was reported in the New Zealand publication The Press that in February, engineer Eugene Chang from Christchurch, New Zealand, who narrated and acted in the film, was shunned by his South Korean community and accused of being a North Korean sympathiser and spy. Upon winning the award, Slavko Martinov told The Press that the award win was a "great help" for Chang and could lead to greater things for the Christchurch production crew, Sabineprogram. "It is a great help for Eugene, this award, because everyone here knows how he's been treated and stand by him in a big way," Martinov said.

Eugene Chang, who performed in "Propaganda" and was ostracized by the Korean community in Christchurch, NZ.
Perhaps this blog has stimulated your interest and you would like to watch "Propaganda" in its entirety.  Well, today is your lucky day.  Below please find the film that Films for Action called the "Number 1 Social Change Documentaries of 2012."
The film "Propaganda" in its entirety. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Racist Images in Asian Advertising

By Eric Brothers (C) 2014
Malaysian cookie ad from 2011.

Grey Advertising, one of the biggest ad agencies in the world, created the above print ad in their Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, office.  Believe it or not, this is an ad for cookies.  The product: Fluff & Stuff Cookies. Apparently racial stereotypes are a useful tool to market products to the Asian market.  Marketing blogger Leslie Chen writes of the ad: "Each of the different flavors are represented by a character; vanilla as a nun and strawberry as a vixen. Who would have thought flavors could look so good? Accompanied by the caption, 'Your inner desires. Right in the middle,' the Fluff and Stuff Cookies Ads are completed in the tastiest way possible." However, it is difficult to tell that a product is being advertised; the tag line and name 'Fluff & Stuff Cookies' are so small and seem to be afterthoughts.
'This Africa' cigarette ads feature monkeys and the slogan "Africa is Coming"!

According to a report in the The World Post, the KT&G tobacco company launched its new product, 'This Africa' cigarettes, in 2013, in South Korea with ads featuring a monkey with a microphone.  The ads to promote cigarettes dried and roasted in "traditional" African style showed monkeys dressed as humans, tagged with the slogan "Africa is coming!" For some reason the the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) called the ads "shameless" and "mocking," prompting KT&G to apologize and pull the ads, but not the product.
Cigarette packaging shows primates curing tobacco.
"We absolutely had no intention to offend anyone and only chose monkeys because they are delightful animals that remind people of Africa," a company spokeswoman told ATCA. "Since this product contains leaves produced by the traditional African style, we only tried to adopt images that symbolize the nature of Africa." An assistant manager at KT&G’s public relations firm told the Korea Times the response to the monkey ad was "totally unexpected," and that no one raised the issue of racism during the creative process.
Dunkin Donuts' ad from Thailand.
 According to a report in The Guardian.com, Dunkin' Donuts has apologized after it ran an advertisement in Thailand featuring a woman in "blackface" make-up. The ad, which was used to promote the company's new "charcoal donut," was called "bizarre and racist" by a leading human rights group. The Thai division of Dunkin' Donuts had planned both a poster and television campaign using the image, which it shared on Facebook. The controversial ad presents a woman wearing dark make-up and bright pink lipstick, with a 1950s beehive hairstyle. She is holding a "charcoal doughnut," out of which a bite has been taken. The slogan next to the image reads: "Break every rule of deliciousness."

The CEO for Dunkin' Donuts in Thailand, Nadim Salhani, was initially bullish about the marketing: "It's absolutely ridiculous," he said. "We're not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don't get it. What's the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?"


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Evolution (1967): The Hollies Psychedelic Pop Album Classic

By Eric Brothers (C) 2014

British release of the Hollies' Evolution (1967) on EMI records.
Critical acclaim for The Hollies' Evolution

Music critics from the Village Voice, Robert Christgau and David Fricke, wrote of The Hollies' 1967 album Evolution, "'Carrie Anne' is the only hit on this forgotten gem, which with no apparent effort or self-consciousness -- you barely notice the French horn here and violin there -- achieves the adolescent effervescence and lovelorn sentiment that indie-pop adepts of the Elephant 6 ilk spend years laboring after. Signature tracks: 'Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe,' which concerns candy and features a harpsichord, and 'Games We Play,' which concerns teen sex and features a knowing grin."  In a different review of Evolution, Cristgau wrote, "...the only mystery about this record is why it was good for only one hit single."

The Hollies in 1967.

Hollies' Evolution had first psychedelic album cover

Christgau and Fricke reviewed the American version of Evolution, which included "Carrie Anne," The Hollies smash hit, while the British version did not.  The album cover artwork for Evolution was created by The Fool, with the psychedelic cover photo by Karl Ferris, who is credited with creating the first truly psychedelic photograph for an album cover.  Ferris commented on the making of the album cover during a special signing of cover prints in 1997:

 ... they wanted to break from their 'Pop Beat' sound into something more psychedelic. So I listened to the music that they were recording at Abbey Road Studios, and got an image of them pushing through a membrane into 'the Psychedelic world', and so in summer of 1966 I took a studio shot of them pushing out their hands and the lead [guitar player Tony Hicks] pointing through clear plastic. Over this I superimposed a shot of William Morris Art Nouveau wallpaper with an illustration and 'Love' lettering drawn by my girl friend Anke. This combination created the image of the Hollies 'pushing through to a new wave of music style and consciousness'. I worked with The Fool (lead by Simon Posthuma) on this, and they did the lettering, the back cover design and the group's costumes.

The Hollies recorded Evolution at Abbey Road studios

The album was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studios in just six days spread over three months in early 1967, at the same time the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the studio down the hall.  Evolution charted at number 13 on the UK album chart, peaking at number 3 in Norway, but only reached 43 in the U.S.  Evolution was The Hollies' debut album for their new US label, Epic Records. However, like many American issues of British albums, this album was remixed using heavy echo and reverb. Additionally, three songs were left off the album (with only "Carrie Anne" added).  Therefore the British album is of a higher quality and thus more desirable to own. 

 Listen to "Water on the Brain," available only on the British Evolution.

Evolution: "pop and psychedelia" 

In a review of the U.S. version of Evolution for ALLMUSIC, Lindsay Planer writes, "For many Hollies enthusiasts, Evolution (1967) is considered the band's most accessible blend of pop and psychedelia. The quintet were headed into musical territories beyond simply 'moon-June-bloom' and boy-meets-girl lyrics coupled with the tightly constructed vocal harmonies that had become their calling card.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the tripped-out cover art...there are clear indications of new horizons on cuts such as the modish 'You Need Love,' the arguably passé distorted electric guitar on 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody,' and the wailing fretwork on the driving freakbeat rocker 'Then the Heartaches Begin.'"

Planer continues that Allan Clarke (lead vocals), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar and vocals), Tony Hicks (lead guitar and vocals), Bernie Calvert (bass) and Bobby Elliott (drums) "were also taking different approaches in their writing and arranging, as heard on the trippy 'Headed for a Fall.'" Lead guitar player Hicks told an interviewer in 2001 that Evolution "was an experiment. We had a Byrds influence. Music was evolving and we wanted to go along with it."

Enjoy listening to The Hollies "Then the Heartaches Begin."

Graham Nash's influence on The Hollies and Evolution

Graham Nash was, along with Allan Clarke, one of the two original Hollies years before The Hollies came into existence in late 1962.  The two boys met in 1947 as 6-year-olds at the Orsdall Primary School in Salford, Manchester, England.  Discovering both their mutual love of music and natural singing ability, they became best friends and devoted their lives to enjoying and creating music together.

After the Hollies, who were at one time known as the "Manchester Beatles," began writing their own material, Nash and Clarke collaborated with guitarist Tony Hicks to create smashing songs with unsurpassed harmonies.  Nash added what could be called a "hippy sensibility" to the music and culture of The Hollies. He was the only one of them to experiment with psychedelics, while his mates in The Hollies were "pub boys" who enjoyed a pint-- but not a toke.

Hollies Graham Nash (L) and Allan Clarke in the studio.

Clarke-Nash-Hicks wrote all of the songs on Evolution and the hippy influence that culminated with 1967's "Summer of Love" comes shining through on most of the songs.  The Hollies' ringing harmonies are accompanied by Hicks' amazing guitar work--Hicks is considered among the best (although quite underrated) guitarists to come out of the British Invasion--as well as beautifully arranged strings, horns, and even a harpsichord.
It could be said that Evolution is one of the best albums to emerge out of the watershed year of 1967.  This "forgotten gem" shows The Hollies evolving into a more complex and sophisticated group of songwriters and musicians.  After listening to the two above songs from Evolution, those who are interested in hearing more can see what is available at Amazon.com.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hardcore Porn in New York in the 1970s

Peep Land, a 1970s porn emporium.

Porn Superstar Linda Lovelace.

Porn peep shows in New York’s Times Square

Porn was more or less a quasi-underground economy at that time. It was a “cash” business for accounting purposes, and much of the money in porn came from organized crime. The loops supplied the peep shows in Times Square and elsewhere with product. There was Peep-O-Rama, the Pussycat Cinema, Show World Center, Peep Land, and many others. These were the porn emporiums, which featured full-color magazines from Scandinavia and the U.S.; peep shows (either scenes from loops or “live girls”) that could be viewed by dropping quarters or tokens in a slot; sex toys; 8mm films and videos; and they often had their own movie theater or strip club attached to the premises. In the emporiums, the “peeps” were usually either upstairs or downstairs from the magazine and film/video area. The smaller peep shows did not have names, just signs that said, “Peep Show,” “25c Movie Preview,” or “Books” and “Adult Movies.” These were smaller versions of the emporiums, with all of their products and services in a much smaller area on one floor.

Forty-Second Street in NYC during the 1970s.

Porn movie theaters and hookers on 8th Avenue

Back in the 1970s, 42nd Street was lined with giant porn movie theaters. They lined the strip, blinding the uninitiated visitor with neon and promises of sex of all kinds in big block letters. “Chilled by refrigeration” invited the lonely pedestrian on a hot summer’s night to cool off and get steamed up watching XXX-rated fare. The audience at these porn theaters was a mixed bag of the “raincoat crowd,” sailors, hookers, drag queens, underage teenagers, junkies, drunks, and businessmen.

The strip was a sleazy, sweaty paradise back then. Danger lurked around every corner. Walking quickly and not stopping for strangers was how one survived. Hookers lined 7th Avenue (and later 8th Avenue), grabbing at men saying, “You wanna go out?” The hooker garb was distinguishable from other women: knee-high black or brown boots, black stockings, skin-tight mini-skirts, low-cut tops showing lots of cleavage, medium or shoulder-length kinky or frizzy hair, and tan-and-white fake suede waist-length coats kept open in the coldest weather to show off her breasts.

Porn actor Jamie Gillis in the 1970s.

Early porn stars were "serious" actors

Porn star Jamie Gillis did Shakespeare with Manhattan’s Classic Stage Company; Eric Edwards was in a Close-Up toothpaste commercial; Harry Reems was in a production of Coriolanus in a coffeehouse where they passed around the hat at the end of each evening. Georgina Spelvin, who worked on the chorus line of Broadway musicals, was the star of Devil in Miss Jones. Even thought it was hardcore porn, Spelvin said, “I took the role very seriously. I was doing Hedda Gabler here!” Gillis worked as a cab driver so he could attend auditions. When seeing his face on a poster advertising a porn movie for the first time, Gillis was shocked and thought, “My God, I’m a serious actor. People are gonna see this poster and its gonna ruin my career!”

Georgina Spelvin starred in The Devil in Miss Jones (1972).
Porn scene had its “kinks”

There was a definite kinkiness to the New York porn scene in the 1970s. Child pornography--legal until 1975--was found at all the peep shows, big and small, as well as featured prominently on Times Square newsstands. Bestiality books and films/videos were also legal and quite popular. Linda Lovelace was infamous for her “dog” loops. One “famous” one is entitled Dogarama. In it she has sex with a man, porn actor Eric Edwards. Seeming unsatisfied, Linda looks around and sees a dog. She snaps her fingers, and says, “Oooh.” Edwards said, “I was floored.” He sat there watching them. “I had never seen a woman with a dog before, but it became the thing to do.”