Culture Feature

7 Times David Blaine Tried (and Failed) to Escape the Apocalypse

Most of David Blaine's "stunts" are actually elaborate attempts to escape humanity's dark fate.

This week, magician and death-defying early-2000s icon David Blaine failed to escape our planet's inexorable hold.

Many are reporting Blaine's Ascension—dangling from helium balloons that pulled him nearly 25,000 feet above the earth's surface—as just another "stunt," like the time he held his breath for 17 minutes, or the time he encased himself in ice for 63 hours. But in truth, Blaine's latest spectacle reveals the uncomfortable reality that these supposed stunts always contained: David Blaine is trying desperately to escape humanity's inevitable collective doom.

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TV Features

Drew Barrymore Is Getting Her Own Talk Show: 6 of Her Most Memorable Interviews

Drew Barrymore is making the move to the other side of the talk show desk.

Drew Barrymore has been famous since literally before she can remember.

Coming from generations of hard-living actors, it must have seemed inevitable for her to go into the family business, but her first acting role was in a puppy chow commercial when she was just 11 months old. She has said that she got the role after the dog she was performing with bit her on the nose and she laughed.

Through the incredible career that has followed, she has managed to maintain that upbeat attitude through a tremendous amount of ups and downs, which has made her a charming guest on basically every talk show since the 1980s. Now she's preparing to take a seat on the other side of the talk show desk, conducting interviews on her own daytime talk show, where she plans to "spend an hour every day celebrating life."

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CULTURE

Yes, Actually, Oprah Is An Oligarch—And What That Means

To understand what makes Mike Bloomberg an oligarch, we need to understand that term—and how it even applies to Oprah.

Last week a clash between a Bernie Sanders campaign staffer and an MSNBC contributor sparked a conversation over the definition of the word "oligarch."

While the discussion started with the figure of Mike Bloomberg—the ninth-richest man in America, who could roughly afford to buy every house in the state of Alaska (or to give every homeless person in the US $100,000)—it eventually expanded to include Oprah Winfrey and the question of whether America's favorite media personality could possibly be considered an oligarch.

www.youtube.com

Things took off during MSNBC's coverage of the Iowa Caucus when Nina Turner—co-chair of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign—referred to Mike Bloomberg as an oligarch. Jason Johnson's behind the scenes reaction to this was apparently so strong that Brian Williams brought him on to make a counterargument. Johnson, who is the politics editor at The Root, offered an impassioned defense of Bloomberg against that term, saying, "I think it's dismissive, I think it's unfair, and it's the kind of thing that blows up in your face if you become the nominee and you have to work with Mike Bloomberg three or four months from now."

Leaving aside the question of whether Mike Bloomberg has any desire to work with Bernie Sanders in the first place, the dispute over terminology quickly led to the trending hashtag #BloombergIsAnOligarch on Twitter—soon overtaken by #BloombergIsRacist. Eventually, Johnson tweeted a response to his critics, claiming that there were a number of prominent politicians and media figures who could be termed oligarchs, but that "outside of a scholarly discussion, I wouldn't bother." Included on Johnson's list were some of America's more lovable tycoons like Oprah, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and (just to prove to us that he's operating from bad faith), Bernie Sanders… The fact that Mitt Romney—the second least wealthy person on Johnson's list—has a net worth estimated to be 100 times larger than Bernie Sanders' is beside the point. The real question is: How do we define what an oligarch is, and what does it mean if the people on this list qualify?

As far as the definition goes, it's probably best to use Johnson's own words from that MSNBC appearance. "It makes you think of some rich person who got their money off of oil in Russia, who's taking advantage of a broken and dysfunctional system." While oligarchs are often thought of as a specifically Russian problem—at least within the US—that part of Johnson's definition is plainly irrelevant. Interactions of money and politics exist around the world, and we can assess the extent to which those relations are dysfunctional without reverting to a country-specific framing.

There are a number of metrics that highlight how that dysfunction operates in the US to serve the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. The kind of corporate welfare that gifted Donald Trump $800 million in subsidies and tax breaks, the disconnect between increased productivity and stagnant wages, and the control of legislation by moneyed interests are all worth getting upset about. But even more than the way economic elites control outcomes in our government, the way they control our national conversations through massive media conglomerates is truly worrying.

That's easy enough to see in the candidacy of Michael Bloomberg who—despite scandals involving his Stop and Frisk policy, the Central Park Five, and the toxic work environment within his media empire (and despite the fact that he's not even on the ballot in any current or upcoming races)—has managed to propel himself to double-digit numbers in national polls on the strength of an unparalleled advertising blitz. You may have seen his ads run during the super bowl or the Oscars, but those were just a small part of Bloomberg's 350 million dollar ad buys. He has bought so much advertising to run during both cable and local news that some have compared it to media bribery. But Bloomberg is an easy target to vilify. The challenge is to demonstrate that even the most likeable and worthy person on Johnson's list (apart from Bernie Sanders, who absolutely does not belong there) is complicit in a system that is broken and dysfunctional in a way that gives them tremendous power.

Oprah Winfrey is the rare case of a true American dream, rags-to-riches story. Most billionaires are born into wealth. Some are born middle class. Very few are born into the kind of poverty that Oprah was born into as the child of a teenaged single mother in rural Mississippi. To become such an incredible success from such humble beginnings is truly incredible. It's no wonder she has so much faith in the power of positive thinking to "manifest" good things in our lives—her own optimism has won her the world. For most people, however, that kind of success will never be within reach, no matter how much they believe in it, or indeed how hard they work.

There are limits to how many people can reach the dizzying heights at the top of the economic hierarchy. And while people like Oprah and Mike Bloomberg can look at their own lives and come to the conclusion that anything less than wild success represents some kind of personal failing, that theory ignores the reality of those economic limits and the various factors that keep tremendous wealth so exclusive. According to Forbes, the industry that produces more billionaires than any other is finance. If you're lucky enough to have a knack for that sort of thing and you want to make a fortune in finance, then you still won't stand a chance without access to a lot of money that you can invest, and you will probably also need to pay Mike Bloomberg $20,000 a year for a subscription to his company's software. So while he may claim that he's funding his own campaign because he "didn't want to be bought," the reality is that he's been bought and paid for by Wall Street. He owes his personal fortune of $60 billion almost exclusively to the financial industry.

Oprah's Favorite Things

Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, is a truly self-made woman. No doubt she owes a lot to the people who recognized and fostered her intelligence and talent at a young age, but she managed to build a media empire and her own $3.5 billion fortune on the strength of her personality, her insight, and her compassion. Back when she was the titan of daytime television, she always used her platform in an effort to spread positive messages, and she has been very generous in paying her good luck forward, funding educational causes throughout the US and South Africa to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Her boarding school in South Africa cost her $40 million to open, and offers a salon, a yoga studio, numerous large fireplaces, and both an indoor and outdoor movie theater to a few hundred impoverished girls. Last summer she demonstrated her generosity once again when a brushfire was overtaking portions of Maui, and she chose to open up her private road in order to aid with evacuation efforts. It's the kind of lovely generosity that can only exist in a world of extreme injustices.

If you fail to see the issue, consider how many more poor students Oprah could have helped if she hadn't set a priority to make her school so lavish. But because of her tremendous wealth, that was her choice to make. And think of what it might have meant if Oprah had not consented to open her private, four mile long road for the purposes of the evacuation. How many people would that have endangered? In that situation, the local government might have taken control and opened the road whether Oprah liked it or not. Surely, if it's for the public good, the government could do that. But what about the public good of opening that road to local drivers, for whom the road would remove about 20 miles of unnecessary driving between Kihei and the Kula Highway? What about the reduced congestion? What about the pollution caused by all that extra commuting? Theoretically, the government could address these issues by opening that four mile stretch to the public, but because Oprah had a bigger road-building budget than the local government, it will continue to be hers alone—because a billionaire's property rights outweigh environmental concerns and the common good of 20,000 residents of Kihei.

Oprah's Private Road The approximate route of Oprah's private road in red

That's not Oprah's fault, but she is complicit in it, just as she was complicit in the corporate media structure that elevated her to "Queen of All Media." People found her engaging to watch, so they tuned in by the millions. She always tried to use that platform for good, but the existence of a platform on that scale—operating for profit and beholden to sponsors—presents a number of problems. After all, it was only profitable for ABC to give her that platform (and to pay her so well for her work) because she was selling things. She wasn't always doing so directly (as with her "favorite things" episodes), but if she had wanted to use her show to spread messages that were critical of consumerism, of advertising, or of corporate-run, for-profit media itself, it's hard to imagine she would have held onto that position for long.

Instead, she gave out expensive gifts in promotional deals with the manufacturers and showed the ecstatic reactions of people receiving material goods (that the audience at home could buy, too!), while her book club became the diseased center of the publishing industry. One occasion when she did take a high-profile stand against a major industry—announcing that she was done eating hamburgers in 1996—it resulted in a massive lawsuit, because cattle farmers recognized the massive power that Oprah wielded to sway the hearts and minds of the American public.

Oprah, you get a car Oprah's Car Giveaway

In some ways, Oprah's power has waned since then. She no longer has that massive network TV platform—and the power of network TV has been slowly whittled away by cable and the Internet. Instead, Oprah has invested the money she made through The Oprah Winfrey Show into publishing O Magazine with millions of monthly readers and into developing OWN, a cable network that airs in more than 80 million households in the US.

Like her or love her, Oprah is undeniably one of an elite handful of people with so much power to control the national conversation. If Oprah decided tomorrow that Climate change was such an urgent cause that she should devote her entire media empire to promoting the Green New Deal, then she could guarantee that the issue would take over the news cycle and end up as a major topic of discussion in upcoming presidential debates (despite the fact that it's been consistently ignored until now). If she lost some subscribers and sponsors as a result, she could sleep easy knowing that she'd done a good thing—and also that she was still a billionaire.

For a variety of reasons, that's not going to happen, but the problem isn't that Oprah is not using her power in the way that we might want her to. The problem is that there is a small number of people who can similarly control American society through the use of media empires and/or vast wealth. And even if those people agree with our own opinions on environmental regulation, the war on drugs, and housing for the homeless, then they have a material incentive to maintain the structures that have given them so much power. Do you think that we should get money out of politics? Overturn Citizens United? If you were a billionaire, the current laws would give you the power to make your opinion on the issue louder than everyone else's… But you would also have a pretty good reason to make every other issue a priority first.

Remember the Tea Party Movement? That was a faux grass roots uprising funded by billionaires, and it put dozens of people in Congress, many of whom are still serving to this day. If you were a billionaire, those could be your congresspeople! And they could help to pass laws that would cut taxes and reduce government oversight so that you could get even richer! Does Jason Johnson genuinely think this does not describe a broken and dysfunctional system? He may not have a particular problem with the people on his list—maybe he hopes to join their ranks one day—but the reality is that even the best among them are empowered by their wealth and by the laxity of laws around political speech to wield power that the average American can hardly dream of.

Tea Party Movement

In that segment on MSNBC, Jason Johnson said that Mike Bloomberg is not an oligarch because he is "just a rich guy… and just because you're rich doesn't mean you're an oligarch who abuses his power. The power that Mike Bloomberg got access to was given to him by the voters of New York." This is patently untrue. His mayoral powers were given to him by voters, but he already had the tremendous power of a billionaire with a media empire at his disposal—and he used it to get himself elected. Since that time his wealth has grown, the laws have become laxer, and he has launched a candidacy that has nothing to do with his legacy as a moderately popular Republican mayor who flouted term limits and promoted racial profiling. It's that power to control the conversation with hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising that he's using now to buy his way into the election, onto the debate stage, and up into a competitive position in the Democratic primary polls.

Not every billionaire abuses their power in this way, but every billionaire benefits from the dysfunctions in our system that give them so much power. That includes Oprah. She is complicit in the cancer that is killing our society. If she isn't comfortable with that idea, all she has to do is be a little more generous—give up her enormous wealth.

If Mike Bloomberg somehow becomes president—or becomes the spoiler candidate who ensures Donald Trump a second term—it will point to an awful and horrifying future for American politics. But our system is already broken and dysfunctional in a way that places inordinate power in the hands of a very few. America is already an oligarchy in much more than an academic sense. And the billionaires—even nice ones like Oprah—are our rulers.

MUSIC

10 Richest Musicians of All Time

Discover which celebrity musician has the highest net worth.

Kevin Mazur--Getty Images

Musicians love money so much that they're always singing for it.

While some musicians sing in the subway for very small amounts of money, other musicians sing on big stages for whole piles of the stuff. Some of them even have a billion dollars. That's so rich! Here at Popdust, we love music and money, so we're putting them together to make a list of the richest musicians in the whole world.

10. Julio Iglesias

julio iglesias

$600 Million

Julio Iglesias is a Spanish singer and songwriter known for being the most commercially successful singer/songwriter in Continental Europe. His bank account reflects that success because it's full of sweet, sweet dough.

9. Jimmy Buffett

jimmy buffett

$600 Million

Dads love Jimmy Buffett because he sings all about cheeseburgers. But when Jimmy Buffett says "cheeseburgers," what he really means is that he has so much money.

8. Bono

bono

$700 Million

U2's Bono loves charity almost as much as he loves having loads of money. He's probably the most charitable musician in the whole world, mainly because he's always telling everyone how much money he has. It's 700 million dollars!

7. Celine Dion

celine dion

$800 Million

Celine Dion sang the big song in Titanic, which makes sense because she has a titanic amount of money! She never has to worry about sinking either, unless she's sinking into a big tub of coinage.

6. Dr. Dre

dr dre

$820 Million

In spite of his name, Dr. Dre has never received his doctorate degree. He has, however, received stacks and stacks of real fat cash.

5. Herb Alpert

herb alpert

$850 Million

We Googled Herb Alpert and, according to Wikipedia, he is "an American jazz musician most associated with the group variously known as Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass." We've never heard of them before, but he sure has a lot of moolah!

4. Madonna

madonna

$850 Million

Madonna is no virgin when it comes to having lots of money. While she may be best known for her many controversies, maybe she should be best known for being very rich.

3. P. Diddy

p diddy

$855 Million

With his own record company and a men's fashion line under his belt, it's no wonder that P. Diddy is rolling in the green.

2. Jay-Z

jay z

$1 Billion

Jay-Z is extra rich because he's not just a rapper, he's also a music mogul. Even better, he's married to Beyonce, and if the two pooled their money together, they'd even be able to buy the #1 spot on this list!

1. Paul McCartney

paul mccartney

$1.2 Billion

Paul McCartney from The Beatles has the most money of any musician. He could even buy two of the smaller musicians if he wanted, like Jimmy Buffet and maybe Bruce Springsteen. who didn't even make this list.

CULTURE

“Leaving Neverland” Pulled from HBO after Aerial Photo Reveals Discrepancy in Accuser’s Narrative

Oprah Winfrey also removed her interviews with James Safechuck and Wade Robeson from YouTube, in the latest development in the Michael Jackson allegations saga.

In the HBO documentary "Leaving Neverland," James Safechuck claims he was abused by Michael Jackson between 1988 and 1992 in a room inside a railway station on Jackson's California ranch.

However, a new aerial photo has revealed that the train station was not actually built until 1993.

The 1993 GETTY photograph. Image via The Sun.

The director of "Leaving Neverland," Dan Reed, tweeted his support for Safechuck soon after the photo's reveal.

One of Jackson's biographers, James Sullivan, also alleged that there was a train station on the estate in 1990—but his description was questioned by fellow Jackson biographer Mike Smallcombe, who asserted that Sullivan never actually visited the ranch and instead based his description on a 2003 video.

Smallcombe tweeted, "A handful of people are citing something in Randall Sullivan's book saying Neverland's train station existed in 1990. Sullivan assumed the station was there then—his description of what Neverland might have looked like to visitors then, is based on a 2003 sheriff's dept video." Sullivan also sourced the construction permits for the 1993 train station, which proved the building work was approved in September '93.

Since the image's reveal, HBO has announced that it will be pulling the documentary from its services this week, though it was originally supposed to remain through September. However, this might be because of the Estate of Michael Jackson's aggressive lawsuit against the service, which began back in early March.

In addition, Oprah Winfrey has removed her extensive interviews with James Safechuck and Wade Robeson from her YouTube channel. During the emotional, three-hour conversations, mostly broadcast to an audience of sexual abuse survivors, she said, "don't let anybody in your world make it about what Michael Jackson did or do not do. It's about this thing, this insidious pattern that's happening in our culture that we refuse to look at." She still received harsh blowback for the interviews, which largely avoided questions about factual evidence. As of this week, the interviews have been removed from her channels along with her tweets that were critical of Jackson.

Many have speculated that Winfrey's actions are part of an attempt to temper the backlash; for example, Jackson's brother, Jermaine, called her out online for "taking #LeavingNeverland at face value, shaping a narrative uninterested in facts, proof, credibility." Some have also speculated that she might be trying to safe keep her new partnership with Apple's streaming service.

Oprah Says 'Sorry' For Michael Jackson Slander Deletes All Neverland Tweets www.youtube.com


Regardless of the truth, there's a dizzying amount of money, power, and tangled storylines at play in this case, and it's unlikely we'll receive definitive answers anytime soon.


Eden Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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News

Beyoncé and Jay-Z Fans Mugged After Global Citizen Festival

Lack of security and a "total collapse" of plans sent attendees from Beyoncé to being robbed.

Global Citizen

Reports of mugging at gunpoint and lapses in security at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg underscore the very issues of scarcity and social instability that Global Citizens wants to address.

More than 75,000 people attended Sunday's concert, with millions of viewers in over 180 countries watching the broadcasted performances. The event, held at the FNB Stadium outside the township of Soweto, was headlined by major draws such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Usher, Pharrell, and Ed Sheeran, with attendees including Oprah Winfrey, Dave Chappelle, and Tyler Perry. Soweta-born Trevor Noah hosted the evening, commending the crowd's enthusiasm, the nobility of the cause, and the impressive size of donations.

Today Show

The festival, themed as "Mandela 100," raised $7.2 billion over the weekend, spotlighting South Africa in a celebration of what would have been Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday. Pledges far surpassed the goal of $1 billion, with sizable commitments from the likes of World Bank, Cisco, Vodacom, and the government of South Africa. The funds are to be dedicated to Global Citizen Projects' goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. According to the organization's website, "Global Citizens learn about the systemic causes of extreme poverty, take action on those issues, and earn rewards for their actions — as part of a global community committed to lasting change." Among the "rewards" mentioned are free tickets to attend the annual festival, which accounted for most of the thousands in attendance.

Yet reported flaws in the festival's security and notable absences of South African politicians at such a politically-charged (and highly publicized) fundraiser highlight crucial pitfalls to addressing poverty with crowd-drawing celebrities and big money companies.

On Wednesday Police Minister Bheki Cele acknowledged that 50 case reports were filed and 15 arrests were made after "unforeseen circumstances" resulted in a lack of police after the festival. A "total collapse" of traffic management scattered festival-goers across the streets of Johannesburg in search of Ubers and taxis. Dozens of people who flocked to a garage near the stadium reported being mugged at gun- and knife-point. Many shared their fear and outrage on Twitter.

One user posted in real time as their group was ostensibly waiting for a ride at the garage and fearing for their safety. The user referred to "tsotsis," roughly South African slang for "thugs," mugging and taunting the attendees.

With 58 heads of state attending the event, the police reportedly congregated close to the stadium but left the area immediately after the concert ended, which is against standard protocol. While Johannesburg is not as notorious for crime as it was during the shameful era of apartheid, law and order are still struggling to find ground in a country where 14 million South Africans live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 a day. As of September 2018, nearly one-third of South Africans are unemployed, with low economic growth having economists concerned for the country's future.

At one point in the evening, Trevor Noah commented, "Today, we demand that our world leaders do more, and we must do it now. Because if we fail to act, all the signs indicate that extreme poverty will not be solved by 2030 and, in many places, it will get worse."

CCTV footage of disturbances at Sasol garage, JohannesburgThe South African

Throughout the night, spokespeople for corporations graced the stage to announce their donations. President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the crowd, "Today, by your mere presence here, you have declared that poverty is a stain on the conscience of humanity, and we must all work together to end poverty." However, critics have noted that no other representatives of the South African government were in attendance to reaffirm commitments to reform the country's internal instability.

Nonetheless, by the end of the festival, major conglomerates and allied African governments pledged billions of dollars to reform South Africa's education system, fund land reform and women-owned businesses, and combat gender-based violence and HIV rates. But as the South African newspaper Daily Maverick points out:

"Even if all the money goes to the causes for which it is intended…it is still a stark indictment of South African governance that the fulfilling of its citizens' most basic needs should be effectively outsourced to foreign governments and transnational mega-corporations—the latter not known for condition-free benevolence—24 years after democracy."


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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