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GDB Essentials: One Year, 100 Pop Cultures

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 7, 2009

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GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 50 Losers

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 21, 2008

You call THAT a list?


Things have been slow around here lately, I know. My creative energies are being sapped by a new job and another blog, no doubt, but I’ve also just been sort of short on inspiration in general lately. However, there is one thing that never fails to inspire me, and that is the long-form list format. And this–the top 50 loser characters of all-time–is one I’ve been planning for about as long as I remembered. As a card-carrying loser myself, this is obviously a subject very near and dear to my heart, as these are the characters I’ve looked up to over the course of my TV-watching life, measured myself against loser-wise, and found solace with when my loserdom occasionally got me down. I just wanted to make sure I could come up with 50 concrete entries before I actually set out to write it, to properly give the subject the treatment it deserves. But now I think I’ve come up with a good bunch, and it seems like as good a time as any to start unveiling it.

What makes for a loser, you might ask? Well, as with a villain, there is no concrete definition. Generally speaking, though, they are a character whose station in life would be perceived in common wisdom to be lacking or unsatisfactory, either due to lack of professional success, personal success, or success in the achieving of other desired goals. Perennially single, often unemployed, disrespected by their peers, domineered by their betters, always a step behind in their main objective and outpaced by the competition–these are all fairly telltale signs of loserdom. Unsurprisingly, many of these characters are unhappy, frustrated and/or anger-filled individuals. However, the loser appelation need not always be seen as a negative, as several of these characters have found comfort in their life’s status, learned to work within their limitations, and made the wise decision to not question why or ask for more.

As for the more precise qualifications, I generally tried to stay away from show protagonists, so while Adrian Monk or Lindsay Weir may have compelling loser credentials, we see a little too much of their worlds for such a branding. Also, while characters need not either revel or despair in their loserdom, they need to at least be slightly aware of it, so completely oblivious characters like Leopold “Butters” Stotch would be disqualified as well. For the interest of diversity, I put the limit of losers per show at two, though a remarkable few could have fielded at least four or five worthy Top 50ers. And generally speaking, it has to be a show I know pretty well to make the list, so a lot of 70s and 80s sitcom characters will be MIA, and the list will probably have a fairly disproportionate amount of cartoon characters–kiddie, adult and in-betweeners.

Unfortunately, my list is also extremely heavily skewed towards the male. I attribute this to several things–first and foremost, to the fact that before Square Pegs, I’m not even sure if TV realized that girls had the capability to be losers, and then after that continued to rend them an extremely under-represented minority group. Second, I think girls are held to a different standard for loserdom than guys are, since the primary exit from loser status is usually sexual prowess, which it seems most girls are assumed to at least possess in some capacity by mere virtue of having tits. Thirdly, as a male loser myself, I can’t help but tend to identify the obvious qualities in other males, likely easier than I would in a female loser. Ladies, feel free to holler if you hear me and let me know where I’m missing out when it’s all over. I’ve at least included a couple from your ranks than can certainly hang with my guys any day.

Five a day, starting tomorrow and continuing sporadically. Prepare to get crazy with the cheese whiz.

(Next: #50 – #46)

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GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 66 Villains

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 20, 2008

Here we go again

So, some of you more observant IITS readers may have noticed that I have long since aborted my 100 Years, 100 Songs project that I started back in February of 2007, getting as far as #78 (Blondie’s “Rapture”) before giving it up. The reasons for this were several, but the most important one was that all in all, it was a boring list. I thought I could write about relatively unwritten-about songs, or at least write about old hat songs in a new way, but ultimately, everyone knows why GnR’s “Welcome to the Jungle” is awesome, and there were too many songs I would’ve had to write about that were like that for me to see the list out to the finish. You just can’t write about a topic that broad and have it remain interesting to both read and write about.

With that in mind, I’ve set about on a new list, one slightly less ambitious (66 instead of 100, and I’ll be doing them in clumps of six) and one that I hope’ll be slightly more interesting. Now, I can hear your skepticism through the computer–indeed, the Best Movie Villain list is far from a new concept, as even that definitive Boring List fixture the American Film Institute has cranked out a top 50 already. But don’t navigate away just yet, because this isn’t your Uncle Jose’s Best Villain list. This is a list mostly devoid of your typical slashers, terrorists and psychopaths–this is more of a list saluting those greatest in emotional villainy. I’ll explain further, mostly by explaining the rules that disqualified many of the Usual Villainous Suspects from this list:

  • The most important qualification: To qualify for this list of villains, you couldn’t have killed anyone. Your actions could have resulted in others dying, and you could even have ordered the deaths of others, as long as it was abundantly clear that you yourself could not have carried out the kill yourself. Even if you never killed anyone on screen, if it was made clear, or even probable, that you had before killed someone in your life, you’re out. Basically, this rule was made to disqualify all bad-asses from this list–characters like Darth Vader, The Wicked Witch of the West or HAL 9000, because even though they’re technically villainous, they’re too cool to be truly despicable. So if you saw a bad guy in a movie and thought “man, that guy/chick/robot’s a huge asshole, but I’m sort of rooting for them anyway, because he’s so much cooler than the good guy” chances are he or she is not on this list.
  • You can’t be the protagonist of your movie–or, since some people on this list are technically their movies’ main characters, I should say that you can’t have the movie be shown from your perspective. If a movie’s from your perspective, then generally you’re already too sympathetic to be considered truly villainous.
  • You can’t turn out to actually be OK at the end of the movie. You’ve got to remain villainous, or at the least, morally ambiguous, until the very end of the movie. (You can’t turn out to be mostly a good guy in a later installment, either, so forget about Apollo Creed).
  • You have to be at least slightly effective in your villainy. So even though Farva from Super Troopers might technically be a more evil person than some of the people on this list, he’ll not be pictured here, because he’s too bumbling and incompetent to be considered a legitimate villainous threat.
  • Your movie has to have at least one likeable, sympathetic person for contrast’s sake for you to qualify. So while he may have created at least a dozen characters worth of mentioning here, the films of Todd Solondz will make nary an appearance on this list.
  • You definitely, definitely can’t have appeared on AFI’s Top 50. (Dammit, I had Mr. Potter in my top ten too!)

Basically what I’m going for here is a list of villains that really make you feel their villainy. They’re bad guys that you really don’t want to see do well in the end, because these guys aren’t gangsters or assassins or meglomaniacs, they’re the kind of bad guys you may have actually encountered in real life. So this list is instead rife with manipulative girlfriends, cruel boyfriends, abusive bullies, insensitive parents, despicable bosses, coaches and co-workers, and all the other sort of people that actually end up creating the largest percentage of the world’s misery.

I’ll be posting clumps of six intermittently, starting tomorrow. So start gritting your teeth, I suppose.

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The GDB Essentials: 100 Years, 100 Songs

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 27, 2007

Sometimes ten just ain’t enough

I’ve decided to introduce a regular column to this blog, which will be the counting down of my choices for the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time. These will be counted down one song-per-post at a time, in no faster a rate than two a week, meaning I’ll probably finish sometime around March of next year. I’m aware of how presumptuous this pacing is, as it assumes that:

  1. I’ll still have the same exact opinions in a year that I do now
  2. I’ll still be updating this blog regularly in a year
  3. I’ll still be alive at all in a year

But for now, at least, I’m gonna assume that these three assumptions will not provide too much of an obstacle.

Equally, I am aware how presumptuous it is to assume that I know what the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time are, much less to be able to do them justice in countdown form. And in fairness, I am not saying that these are, on an objective scale, the 100 most worthy songs ever written by anyone. However, I’m also not saying that these are necessarily my 100 favorite songs of all-time (though at the very least, I absolutely love every one of them). Rather, these are just the songs that I think are the 100 best ever.

The difference between a critic’s favorite songs and what he thinks are the best, or whether there in fact is a difference at all, is a tricky thing to quantify. Many, many critics insist that no such difference exists, and that if a song is your favorite, you automatically think it’s the best song ever, and to say anything else is hypocritical or dishonest. Others insist that they can be objective enough to separate the two distinctions. The divide between these two groups is often as extreme as that between Red States and Blue States, and hostility between the two factions can be just as bilious.

Honestly, I think both groups are right. It’s unreasonable to assume that there are any objective criteria by which a song can be rated aside from your own personal enjoyment of it, and yet, could I ever really rate Eamon’s “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)” on an all-time best songs list over a song like Split Enz’s “I Got You” just because the former puts a bigger smile on my face? Probably not, because my experiences with the former are so personal, and have so much more to do with what the song represents than with the song itself. So I really don’t think it’s that simple.

In this list, I tended to skew slightly away from the personal favorites and more towards the important and paradigmatic. That’s not to say that I threw myself out completely–believe me, there are plenty of songs here that virtually no other writer would list as one of the 100 greatest songs ever–but this list is all about greatness, and there are some songs that despite my having much love for, I just don’t think exist on the same plane as the other songs mentioned.
Speaking of which, 100 songs really isn’t that much when you consider that I’m dealing with about 50 years of music (I think the oldest song on the list is from ’57)–meaning that on average, an entire year of tunes should only be represented by two tunes. Of course it doesn’t work out quite like that–the 80s and 90s are probably far more represented than any other decade here (sorry, I’m only human)–but nonetheless, there are plenty of amazing songs and artists from all decades that I was forced to exclude. This includes the following list of artists and songs, some of which I didn’t include because I felt my love for them was too personal, some of which I didn’t include because I forgot about them until now (I deliberately did this list without consulting my vast supply of previous Best Songs of _______ lists, and it’s too late to turning back now), and the great majority of which I didn’t include just because, well, I just didn’t have room:

The All-American Rejects’ “Move Along,” The Arcade Fire, Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr., Prince, Art of Noise, Pink Floyd, Blur, Pulp, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Folk Implosion’s “Natural One,” The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Posies’ “Burn & Shine,” Fall Out Boy, The Prodigy, The Future Sound of London, The Tornadoes’ “Telstar,” Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” The Human League, En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” James Brown, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Electric Light Orchestra, Bob Seger, Bryan Adams, The Ronnettes, Peter Gabriel, Newcleus’s “Jam On It,” The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, The Orb, Ron Grainer’s “Dr. Who Theme,” The KLF, Avril Lavigne, Extreme’s “More Than Words,” Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,” Everclear’s “Santa Monica,” Green Day, the Beastie Boys, 2Pac, the New Radicals, the cocteau Twins, Jimi Hendrix, Split Enz’s “I Got You” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Broken Social Scene, Lilys, Ash, Third Eye Blind, the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing,” Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock’s “It Takes Two,” The Delfonics, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Iggy Pop solo and with The Stooges, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, the Jackson Five, The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child,” Elliot Smith’s “Needle in the Hay,” The Yardbirds, Acen, Shy FX’s “Original Nuttah,” Roni Size, Violent Femmes, “Spirit in the Sky” by both Norman Greenbaum and Doctor + the Medics, Manic Street Preachers, dNTEL’s “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” and The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” The Field Mice, Public Image Ltd., The Ramones, The Diplomats or any Diplomats solo artists, Guided By Voices, Harry Nilsson, Massive Attack, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps’ “6 Underground,” Brian Eno, Oval’s “Do While,” The Eagles or any Eagles solo artists, KoRn, The Sundays’ “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” N.W.A., Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” Blow Monkeys’ “Diggin’ Your Scene,” Justin Timberlake with or without *NSYNC, The Rapture, !!!, LCD Soundsystem, Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.,” LEN’s “Steal My Sunshine” or Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More,” Lipps Inc.’s “Funky Town,” Freeway’s “What We Do,” Go Home Productions or any mashups whatsoever, Tortoise, Nas, The Verve, 311’s “Amber,” Edwyn Collins with or without Orange Juice, T.I., Le Knight Club’s “Soul Bells,” Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” David Banner’s “Like a Pimp,” Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” R. Kelly, Ludacris, Mobb Deep, Notorious B.I.G., Boards of Canada, Boy Meets Girl’s “Waiting for a Star to Fall,” Cornershop, Lush, Basement Jaxx, Simple Minds, The Alarm’s “Rain in the Sumemrtime,” Big Country’s “In a Big Country,” Soul Asylum, Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories’ “Stay (I Missed You),” Mariah Carey, The Replacements, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Boz Scaggs’s “Lowdown,” Neil Young, Robert Palmer, General Public’s “Tenderness,” Thompson Twins, Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl,” The Modern Lovers, The Jam, The Raspberries, Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” The Chi-Lites, The Association, The Classics IV’s “Spooky,” Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, MFSB, The O’Jays, The Ohio Express’s “Yummy, Yummy, Yumy,” Herb Alpert, Deep Purple, Derek & the Dominoes’ “Layla,” The Human Beinz’s “Nobody But Me,” Curtis Mayfield, Peter & Gordon, The Four Tops, The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” Martha & the Vandellas, Del Shannon, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, The Zombies, The Crystals, The Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Also, I have to give a special shout out to Depeche Mode, who have at least a half-dozen songs who very easily could’ve been #101 on this list, but for some reason, I just couldn’t pick one to go on the list.

Looking at the list of exclusions (which I’m sure is ridiculously incomplete, and I’ll think of a hundred more songs tomorrow that should be on here instead), can I really say that this will be a list of the one hundred best songs ever written? Fuck no, this list is woefully incomplete, completely unbalanced, biased, and just out and out wrong, and once people see some of the songs that are on here instead of these artists and songs, they’ll want my head for it, and rightfully so–if I was reading someone else’s list and they left all that shit out, I’d probably want the same thing. Still, it’s the best I can do, and in the end, all it really is one man’s opinion. If you don’t like it, well, I’ll try harder next time.

(First entry will be posted tomorrow, hopefully)

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