MUSIC

The Legacy of Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

The rapper's magnum opus turned 10 years old over the weekend.

It's almost eerie how accurately Kanye West predicted his own fate when he uttered the words "I miss the old Kanye" on 2016's The Life of Pablo.

In my head, and likely in the memories of many others, there are two Kanyes: a then and a now. Both are cocky, self-important, certifiable jerks, but then, he at least still felt a marginal need to continue proving himself.

Now, he's so immeasurably detached from reality that it's a little hard to take anything he does or creates seriously—at this point, I find it difficult to even care. I don't want to explicitly cite a certain presidential election and its aftermath as the dividing line between the Kanye of then and now in my conscience, but...yeah, Kanye rubbing elbows with Trump was pretty much the last straw for me.

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Culture Feature

Are Disney World And Universal Orlando Doing Enough To Keep Visitors Safe?

Is it possible to keep a theme park clean and safe during a pandemic?

California governor Gavin Newsom recently announced a plan for reopening theme parks in the state.

After months of lobbying for reopening from both Disney and Universal as the state sought to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan was not received well, with representatives from both companies balking at measures they saw as overly restrictive.

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MUSIC

Who Is Bad Bunny's Very Normal Girlfriend?

Fans were shocked to see the flashy reggaeton star courtside with a girl-next-door.

Bad Bunny is still riding the high from performing alongside Shakira and Jennifer Lopez at this year's Super Bowl, as well as releasing his fantastic sophomore album, YHLQMDLG.

The Puerto Rican reggaeton star's career has been wildly successful lately, so naturally, his personal life has become a point of interest, too. Photos recently surfaced on Twitter of Bad Bunny at a basketball game with his girlfriend, and fans had thoughts!

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MUSIC

Lady Gaga Leads the “Kindness Punks” in a Fight for Peace in “Stupid Love” Video

"Stupid Love" is a return to the Lady Gaga we fell in love with a decade ago.

In a world that valorizes independence, it can be difficult to admit that all you want is to be loved.

But that's exactly what Lady Gaga does in her latest single, "Stupid Love." Clad in pink lingerie and wearing futuristic headgear, she proclaims over and over that all she truly wants is affection.

The song itself isn't exquisite, but it serves its purpose well. The drop is electrifying, ideal for cathartic club nights and drunk Lyft singalongs. The track and video both feel like they could be straight out of 2011, perhaps a B-side on Born This Way.

Will songs like "Stupid Love" hold up in 2020, though? The jaded experimentalism of Billie Eilish and the multi-genre stylings of Lil Nas X seem to be taking precedence over traditional pop. In a world where all art is political, immediately susceptible to rigorous Twitter analysis and the whims of TikTok algorithms, Gaga's old bag tricks may not serve her as well as they once did. Plus, the wild costumes and antics she became known for are now staples in the music industry.

Fortunately, Gaga—always an intoxicating showwoman—is adept at crafting magnetic visuals, and the "Stupid Love" video certainly takes advantage of her ever-futuristic artistic sensibilities.

In the video, Gaga plays the leader of a group called the "Kindness Punks," a militant dance team fighting for peace in a violent world. "The world rots in conflict," an opening statement reads in the video's first frame. "Many tribes fight for dominance. While the Spiritual ones pray and sleep for peace, the Kindness punks fight for Chromatica." From there, Gaga and her futuristic hippie punks dance their way across a desert, twirling past luminescent crystal rock formations until they come into contact with two conflicting troupes. Gaga manages to levitate some of the brawlers, and peace is achieved.

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Chromatica is most likely the name of Gaga's forthcoming album, which is slated to drop in the next few weeks. Judging by this single, it'll be a return to her dance-bangers of old, and—after the folky turn of Joanne and A Star Is Born—it feels like coming home. "I put all my heart, all my pain, all my messages from the other realm [into this album]," said Gaga to Zane Lowe in a recent Apple Music interview. "I want people to dance and feel happy."

Gaga accompanied the video release with a tweet that read "Earth is cancelled," but maybe she's just in time. In a world run by Trumps and Putins pushed to paranoia by coronavirus and apocalyptic climate change headlines, of course love is probably the only thing that can save us. Gaga's just one of the few pop stars not afraid to shout it from the rooftops.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for monitoring broadcast media, enforcing its guidelines on "obscene, indecent, and profane content," and fielding complaints from the public.

In the case of the Super Bowl halftime show, a Freedom of Information Act request from WFAA in Dallas, Texas revealed that the FCC had received more than 1,300 complaints, many of which called for fines to be levied against Fox, NBC, the NFL, or the performers themselves. While the complainants obviously have the right to express their distaste for the sexually suggestive performance that interrupted their three-hour marathon of CTE-inducing violence, many of their concerns were touchingly naïve.

Many viewers felt that J. Lo and Shakira's dancing amounted to pornographic material, with one Wyoming viewer stating that the show "would have been considered soft porn not many years ago." A Maine viewer, describing himself as "a father of 2 teen girls," said, "That 'show' should have been reserved for late night cable TV." Another person in Tennessee complained that, "I do not subscribe to The Playboy Channel, we do not buy porn for $20 a flick, we simply wanted to sit down as a family and watch the Super Bowl… we expected to watch football and a quick concert but instead had our eyes molested."

Eyeball licking

Leaving aside what it means to have your eyes molested, that latter comment seems particularly illustrative of the disconnect between many of these complaints and the reality of our interconnected society. The idea that pornography is confined to specialty cable channels and feature length films that cost $20 is so sweetly outdated that it's almost satirical. In 2004—when the FCC was overwhelmed with the furor of more than 200,000 complaints that Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the halftime show had exposed children to the appalling sight of most of a woman's breast—young Internet users were already assaulting each other with links to disturbing so-called shock sites, like "Goatse," "Lemon Party," and others that should likewise never be Googled.

But at that time the phenomenon was still fairly new, and the lack of awareness more forgivable. Today—more than a decade after the advent of "2 Girls 1 Cup"—estimates place the proportion of Internet content that is pornographic somewhere around 10%, and there is a virtually endless availability of videos and images that are far more offensive than "Goatse." Even restricted platforms like Instagram and Youtube offer much more sexually explicit content—much of it featuring former Disney stars—than anything in the halftime show.

On top of that, the prevalence of "sexting" among adolescents means that in many cases there is no company or platform to complain to—young people are exposing each other to sexually explicit material. It may be that these parents were not so much uncomfortable with the idea that their children were being made aware of the existence of sex, but with the fact that they happened to be in the room together while it happened.

The good news is that the proliferation of internet porn has given us a lot of information on the subject, and there is little evidence to suggest that this kind of exposure is damaging to young viewers' psychological development, or that it leads to sexually risky behavior. So while it's understandable that a viewer in Arkansas would say, "I don't want my kids imitating that behavior," they can probably rest easy knowing that their children will neither take up pole dancing, nor start recreationally slamming into one another in disputes over balls.

In reality, while the idea of acknowledging sex may make them uncomfortable, many of these parents could probably learn a lot from having the sex-talk with their kids, as their confusion seemed to go much deeper than assumptions about pornography and cable TV. Many seemed to mistake J. Lo's flesh-tone bodysuit for actual nudity, and several complaints betrayed deeply confused understandings of the terms "striptease," "orgy," and "masturbation," that any modern teen could probably help to clarify. Here are some highlights:

"It was indecent and inappropriate - with crotch grabbing, cameras zooming in on aforementioned crotch grabbing, a pole dance in a barely-there outfit, and other raunchy acts performed above a group of dancers imitating an orgy. [sic]"

"JLo was not only wearing a thong but bent over and showed her whole butt to the camera. Also, FOX cameramen kept zooming in on her crotch throughout her performance AND at one point her backup dancers were simulating an orgy while she writhed around on a stripper pole. [sic]"

J. Lo Pole Dancing at the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show Pictured: Not what an orgy looks like Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

"The Superbowl halftime show was pure filth and not suitable for on air broadcast. Pole dancing, crotch grabbing, simulated sex acts, and even a brief masturbation by J-low all beamed into our family TV room! [sic]"

"JLo did a striptease pole dance while barely-dressed backup dancers simulated an orgy underneath her [sic]"

"1. exposing practically naked backside (looked like thong with leather straps in place?? and crotch area in the camera while gyrating in a sexual manner. This went on for quite some time of the performance. 2. coming down a stripper's pole doing a striptease practically naked, hardly anything on clothes-wise, same with the dancers depicting an orgy-type of activity. It was disgusting!! [sic]"

"They had stripper poles and on stage masturbation on display. [sic]"

"Allowing soft porn with stripper poles and assholes being shown when children are watching. Totally inappropriate!!! Jennifer Lopez did not need to bring her stripper movie and outfits to the Super Bowl. Thanks for supporting porn! [sic]"

"The half time shows need to have tv ratings as it is not appropriate family viewing to see pole dancing, crotch grabbing and extreme booty shaking. [sic]"

J. Lo and Shakira at the Superbowl halftime show Pictured: Extreme Booty Shaking Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

"The Super Bowl halftime show was 100% pornography w women mimicking masturbation in close up crotch shots, imitating sex acts with men while twerking with bare bottoms. [sic]"

It seems unlikely that the FCC will be compelled to take legal action—nor should they—but it's actually kind of nice to see such heartwarmingly sheltered perspectives shared with the world. It's like visiting a historical reenactment village, or imagining the kind of scandals that caused fainting spells at Victorian dinner parties. We hope you never change, FCC complainers—and that you never check your loved ones' search history.

CULTURE

From Baby Groot to Baby Yoda, Why Infantilized Characters Are Cultural Setbacks

TLDR: Baby Nut is a fascist and a threat to civil liberties.

First, we were bewitched by Marvel's Baby Groot in 2017, then Disney's Baby Yoda became our new god in 2019, and during the 2020 Super Bowl we witnessed the sprouting of an infantile, talking legume: Planters Peanuts' Baby Nut.

But do we want to adopt these infant forms of beloved cultural icons–or become them? Do they satiate our compulsion to parent or be parented, ourselves?

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As a marketing tactic, advertisers have been using mascots as brand ambassadors since the advent of visual media. Decades of research have revealed that mascots boost sales and public image by humanizing a product and banking on the public's emotional investment in the character. Samantha Hess, brand manager for Planters, said that the concept for Baby Nut was bizarrely inspired by Game of Thrones' Jon Snow: "There is this renewed appreciation for these fictional characters after their death, and then they come back with a renewed sense of purpose to what they're doing, which helps to set up something bigger and a little bit different."

But recently we've amped up a worrisome trend that's been tracked by nail-biting social scientists for decades: the infantilization of American consumers.

To start with, look at the last decade of unprecedented success for children's and comic book movies. With every release we've asked, "Who is this for?" but masses have flocked to them, making superhero movies and remakes of Disney children's classics the most profitable releases nearly every year; in 2019 alone, comic book and animated movies accounted for 9 of the 10 highest grossing films (and seven of the top 10 in both 2018 and 2017). For another, frankly more perplexing, example, remember a few years ago when adult women suddenly wanted to be mermaids? "I Am a Mermaid" merchandise was worn as if womanhood was one long, unedited Disney Channel movie. And with a spike in the popularity of tattoo chokers and emo music, the resurgence of '90s pop culture was synced with millennials hitting adulthood hard and, apparently, experiencing crushing nostalgia for childhood.

But the trend goes back further. In his 2014 article "The Death of Adulthood in American Culture," The New York Times' film critic A.O. Scott critiques film and TV of this millennium for demonstrating that "adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable." He asks, "Who or what killed adulthood? Was the death slow or sudden? Natural or violent? The work of one culprit or many? Justifiable homicide or coldblooded murder?" As a critic of the media landscape, he says he's watched "over the last 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises...that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world. Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart."

Is this just art providing escapism, so business as usual? Not quite. Social theorist Jacopo Bernardini argues that one of the four primary reasons why infantilizing cultural artifacts appeal to the masses is because of the "nostalgia effect, trying to find stability in past experiences, because [an] adult already knows how it is to be a kid or a teenager" and, judging by 21th century media, nobody knows what being an "adult" even means anymore.

"I Don't Wanna Grow Up: I'm a Toys R Us Kid"

So, what happened? Cultural rewinds are part of the natural cycle of fashion and style, but they're also birthed from frustration and stagnation, be it economic or social. Bored social scientists have found that we, as a culture, are especially prone to indulge in nostalgia during times of transition, of upset and instability. So how has pop culture's absorption of recent social, political, and economic turmoil resulted in the so-called "death of adulthood?" Or in the killing and rebirthing of classic pop characters?

Bernardini would attribute companies' babifying of their icons to "the role of marketing in the infantilization of the postmodern adult." For one thing, today's media-saturated, Very Online world run by our robot overlords has not only rerouted our brains to work like mini-optimized search engines; it's also encouraged our desires for immediate gratification, shortened attention spans, and emphasized impulsivity over practicality. In other words, we're being socialized to stave off adulthood. In Simon Gottschalk's book The Terminal Self, he argues that "our everyday interactions with these computer technologies have accelerated and normalized our culture's infantile tendencies."

In fact, the American National Academy of Sciences once suggested that modern teenage development doesn't end until age 30, while the USA Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine has suggested that practical adulthood begins around 34 years old. What this translates to, in terms of our consumer habits, is a booming market targeting kidults, a term first used in The New York Times in 1985 to describe a biological adult whose lifestyle affords them the leisure and resources to indulge in the hobbies of childhood and exist in a protracted adolescence, whether that means occupying one's time with cartoons and video games or drowning oneself in glitter and flip sequins. Bernadini describes a kidult as "an archetype of an encouraged regression, to facilitate the promotion of goods which are only apparently addressed to young people and children." To companies, that means "kidults are a perfect target for the seller. They have a large number of desires and the real ability to make purchases," adds social psychologist Maryna Dvorynk.

To put it that way sounds alternatingly condescending and banal, or even a little precious (after all, who doesn't yearn for the innocence of childhood?). But Dvornyk questions the cultural impact of this kind of marketing on our collective psyche: "Media communication, and especially advertising, nowadays seems to promote a kind of collective regression: Needs should be satisfied immediately because it is imperative to take here and now everything that life, or rather the consumer's society, promises to give us." In terms of marketing and the insidious ways brands creep their tentacles into our collective psychology, Dvornyk adds, "Youthfulness–like beauty, success and money–becomes an object that is possible to own. In other words, youth, a biological condition, seems to have become a cultural definition."

How the Kidult Became the Standard of the 21st Century

So, are we manipulated into buying goods and services that remind us of being a child in order to find reprieve from adult existential crises? Of course–look at how many crises today's adults are facing and, consequently, how difficult the transition from childhood to adulthood has become these days. Current young adult Americans came of age during two recessions and a shrinking middle class, a "forever war" in the Middle East, climate change crisis, and the starkest political polarity since the Civil War. But without haranguing about sacrificial economics and the ravages of industrial society at the cost of individual identity (okay, a little bit of haranguing), it's a mundane truth that scarcity is the god of invention. With millennials earning an average of 20% less than baby boomers (despite meeting expectations to earn a college degree and taking on their share of the nation's $1.5 trillion student loan debt crisis), labor opportunities are becoming both harder to find and less concrete. We can work online from home but often with the trappings of the gig economy, so millennials have gained a reputation for job-hopping, with three times the number of millennials switching jobs each year than non-millennials. Of course, that's largely due to today's job market, which is uniquely unstable compared to when prior generations transitioned into adulthood. And that's not to mention the entire work ethos of industrialized western society, which is dehumanizingly simple: You are what you do (for your paycheck).

Furthermore, it can seem like today's youth live in abundance, with techy shortcuts to solve every problem and more options than they know what to do with. But that's part of the problem; as Dvornyk notes, "Adulthood is being dangerously delayed by a generation who are overstimulated by a media-saturated society and overwhelmed by choice, which makes them unable to settle down, capable only of temporary alignments before they grasp onto the next bright opportunity." In a culture obsessed with constant self-optimization and upgrades (down to the way millennials were parented to prioritize "optimizing" themselves, according to the critic Malcom Harris), society's expectation to "correctly" enter adulthood is to streamline one's education into a career–to do everything, achieve in all areas, and have it all. In reality, financial analysts note that "millennials have taken longer to launch their careers than previous generations, and some have failed to launch their careers altogether, while progress toward equity in education and the labor market has stalled." So maybe millennials really are the worst for having invented Instagram and fostering in an age of selfies, FOMO, and "social media sites...shaped by infantile aesthetics and affects"—as some cultural analysts say—but it's because we inherited an unstable social reality where "stable identities have become unmoored by free markets" (and also, admittedly, Instagram really did f*ck up everyone's mental health).

So we turn to pop culture to ground ourselves, our shaky sense of selfhood and misfitted place in the world–or so say more bored social scientists who study our consumer habits in hopes to finally understand why we keep watching DCEU movies despite knowing they will always be terrible. Dvornyk critiques, "In our information-cluttered world media becomes the lifesaver and means to propagate values, trends and principles that comprise the symbolic universe of ethical choice." She adds, "Such communications legitimize immaturity or childish behavior and promote youth lifestyle." In pop culture, youth isn't just a commodity; it's a coveted identity.

Baby mascots

Enter baby mascots. As Dvornyk goes on to say, "The postmodern adult...chases the aesthetics and lifestyles of young people, lives in a state of continuous present, postpones or eludes those stages that used to mark the social recognition of maturity as well as the responsibilities and the preclusions involved." Traditional models of social maturation mark parenthood as the final transition into adulthood. But as U.S. birth rates decline due to millennials opting not to have children, not being able to afford to have children, or waiting until later in life than prior generations, today's culture suspends adulthood in a chrysalis stuck between carefree childhood and the responsibilities of child-rearing. The result is a generation of reluctant kidults who in many ways feel pressures of adulthood at younger ages while paradoxically being socialized by corporations and media to hide from adulthood behind performative youth: a cycle of palliative consumerism and nostalgia used to escape time. Putting Baby Nut aside, we love baby mascots who are designed without agency to speak for themselves (Baby Groot and Baby Yoda) and who fit into larger, cultural narratives (the superheroes or anti-hero on a quest to defend innocents). The ideal baby mascot is basically an avatar of our twin desires to nurture as well as be nurtured: We are all Baby Yoda; Baby Yoda is us. Or, as The Washington Post put it, "Baby Yoda is blank. And that means Baby Yoda, in a sense, is ours."

"Synth Culture": Is Baby Nut Fascist?

Unfortunately, the collective belief that "we are what we consume" is a lie, as most of "popular culture" is manufactured by a few corporations whose sole aim is to sell products. As psychologist Jim Taylor writes, "A more accurate phrase [than pop culture] is 'synth culture' because it is a synthetic product created by corporate conglomerates rather than being an expression of the shared experiences of real people."

Are our beloved characters just cash cows and damningly cute idols of escapism and consumption? Actor and screenwriter Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek Beyond) attributes this double appeal to the nefarious nature of capitalism, even citing French philosopher Jean Baudrillard to say: "Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in: inequality, corruption, economic injustice, etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth?"

For proof, one need only to return to the creation of Baby Nut. Mike Pierantozzi, an ad executive at Planters' agency VaynerMedia, shared that the idea for Mr. Peanut's death was inspired by the virtual bloodbath at the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame. Pierantozzi told CNBC, "When Iron Man died, we saw an incredible reaction on Twitter and on social media. It's such a strange phenomenon." He added, "We did the unthinkable: We created [...] an idea where Mr. Peanut dies and dies specifically sacrificing himself for his friends, which has always been a tenet of who he is and what he does — he always puts others first." Despite being met by the Twitterverse's collective "wtf that is a fascist legume," Planters wasn't playing around when they employed such blatant pathos to gain attention; Baby Nut merch was available just hours after its "birth" in the company's Super Bowl commercial.

Did it work? Sort of. We certainly love to hate Baby Nut (for many right reasons, spanning from the transparency of such a manipulative cash grab at Baby Yoda's popularity to the fact that "it's all so dumb" and "shamelessly shilling Baby Nut merch"). But the marketing strategy Planters based its "hair-brained" scheme on is demonstratively effective, considering the astronomical demand for Baby Yoda merchandise, Baby Groot's sizable role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2's success, and Baby Nut inspiring disturbing fan art and at least one manifesto to murder all brand mascots.

If our collective maturity as a culture—and, possibly, our civil liberties—are at stake, then what can we do? While some may be able to resist the pull of Baby Yoda's large black eyes or Baby Groot's happy little smile, the rest of us seem doomed until we either have children of our own or topple capitalism's stronghold on American media. The least we can do is withhold our consumer power and abstain from buying a company's babified products or streaming their babified content on their streaming apps (but do we have the willpower when Baby Groot dances? Oh, how he dances).

Corporate brands cultivating soulless personalities on Twitter is bad enough. Brands creating intricate backstories to superimpose narrative arcs onto their mascots is even worse (you know Mr. Clean was adopted and that he's gay, right?). But because Grimes and Elon Musk are having a baby, because we can attend concerts of our favorite dead idols' holograms, because future pop stars will be nothing but computer algorithms, and because our society's cultural tastes are careening towards post-humanism—maybe the truth is that we just want to escape time and slip into the glossy alternate reality of ad space, where Gushers candy turns children's heads into fruits and Lisa Frank's technicolor tigers run free. Yes, Mr. Peanut–the 104-year-old gay cannibal and Planters mascot–has died and been reborn: We're now living in a world with Baby Nut, Baby Groot, Baby Yoda, and soon, even Baby Sonic.