No, some, or lots of pulp?

One of the more interesting ideas to come out of the twin celebrity deaths of late last week, Blondie and Jacko, was that they represented the end of an era, and not that of easy access to hospice-strength pharmaceuticals, either. The passing of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson is the end of consensus.

Paul Farhi wrote about this last week in the WashPost:

To say they don’t make sex symbols like Farrah Fawcett anymore isn’t so much a comment on Fawcett as a comment on “they.” Because they — Hollywood, the media, whoever it is that makes “sex symbols” — can no longer manufacture consensus.

The explosion of choice for your leisure hours, first on cable and then the internet, democratized and splintered the market. We no longer had three TV channels, we had 300. In 300 channels, and 300 million more websites, everyone gets a pinup that pushes their very specific buttons. And now for a transition I’ve been waiting my whole life to write:

Nowhere do we see this more than in pornography.

The other day I surfed past “The House Bunny,” a slight little movie that came out last year. The scene I watched featured the animated corpse of Hugh Hefner telling Anna Faris to come back to the Playboy Mansion and get ready for her Miss November photo shoot, after which they’d send her on a multi-city publicity tour, blah blah blah, and I actually laughed. It was such a joke, the idea that a barely breathing skin magazine could even interest a basement-dwelling blogger, much less an editor, in their Miss November. No one has cared about a Playmate of the Month since Farrah Fawcett was still selling posters.

The other day Roy linked, playfully, to a magazine called Black Tail, and yes, that link is probably NSFW, although it’s not that bad. What interested me was the scroll-down material, the other exciting titles under the Jiffy Fulfillment umbrella — Big Butt, Big Black Butt (for those who find Black Tail too scrawny, perhaps), Juggs, Panty Play, Over 40, Over 50 (!!!) and we’re not even getting into the gay titles, Inches, Black Inches, Latin Inches, Torso, and so on.

Of course, Leg Show is among them. Dian Hanson edits Leg Show, or did. She’s the thinking man’s dirty-magazine editor — note the Leg Show poster in the back room at the Bada Bing on “The Sopranos,” a nice little shout-out to one’s life’s work — and once dated Robert Crumb, who called her the Albert Schweitzer to pathetic foot-suckers. I know I’ve linked to this profile of her in the past, but here it is again, fascinating stuff:

Fetishes are narrow, even brittle, phenomena. There are men who need to see women’s toes but not heels, or heels but not toes; men who need to see women in leg casts; men who need to see a specific kind of woman’s shoe pushing a specific kind of car’s accelerator. “That’s not at all an isolated fetish,” says Dian Hanson, the most cerebral pornographer in America. “There’s an entire club called Pedal Pumpers. The first man who called me about it could only be satisfied with a 1959 Corvette and white pumps. It had to be white pumps. He’d bring hookers home and take them to the garage.”

I don’t want to dwell on porno, but you see my point. We’ve all become fetishists of a sort, or at least specialists. Once, heavy metal was heavy metal. Now it’s Death, Slash, Industrial and 15 other modifiers of Metal. (Sometimes I think the sole qualification for being a pop-music writer is how confidently you can sling those modifiers around.) Country — alt, mainstream or traditional? Even pop — short for “popular,” the very definition of wide appeal — has fractured. There’s power pop, ballad pop, teen pop, soccer-mom pop. For all of Simon Cowell’s attempts to carnival-barker a national consensus on “American Idol,” he must surely know that much of his audience wouldn’t be caught dead actually buying a record by any of those sad-sack tools, and only watch to monitor their over/under bets on when Paula will cry.

It’s staggering, today, to imagine a world where a single artist could sell 120 million records, or 12 million posters. Who could tear us away from YouTube that long? (Speaking of which, how’s that Susan Boyle phenom holding up? Yeah.) Who, or what, could unite the multitudes even long enough to dig $12 out of their pocket for something everyone else has?

The thing about fragmentation is, it satisfies only part of the audience experience. Yes, it is exactly what you want, but it can be lonely. (Of course, the other great thing about the internet is, it connects you with your other fanboys and girls. I still recall the thrill of finding my fellow Warren Zevon fans on AOL.) Maybe “American Idol” works in part because it satisfies our need for at least one bit of shared experience to discuss with our co-workers.

Or maybe this is just the pendulum’s furthest distance from the center, that something else is coming that we will all freak for. And then we can have the strange collective experience of building it up and tearing it down together. Destruction of humanity! Now that’s entertainment.

Have a good holiday, all. Grill many meats and vegetables. The wondrous taste of charred things — that’s something we can all agree on, eh?

Posted at 11:02 am in Popculch |

38 responses to “No, some, or lots of pulp?”

  1. coozledad said on July 3, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I’m sorry I let my subscription to “Over 50” lapse. If only because I missed “Nora 53, crazy as a shithouse rat and horny as hell”. Talk about your je ne sais qua.

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  2. Rana said on July 3, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Interesting observation, and one with which I don’t necessarily disagree. I do think that one side-effect of this splintering is that it makes new fusions possible (I could cite Bruno Latour on this, but it’d be obnoxious). One great example is the show So You Think You Can Dance, in which you might have a ballet dancer teamed with a popper and locker to dance a piece choreographed in a Bollywood style. More often than not, the result is stunning, and it’s neat to see the way that the dancers and the judges both respect the particulars of each style and relish the opportunities to cross boundaries. If everyone danced the same, you wouldn’t get these exciting kaleidoscopes of mixing genres.

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  3. Danny said on July 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    The music sub-genre theme has been on my mind of late because I’m in the process of re-ripping my whole music collection to max bitrate mp3’s and two, full-fidelity, lossless formats. The ripping gruntwork is almost done, but the categorization and tagging of meta data is just begun. It’s so very involved and exacting that the control freak in me finds the same pleasure that Adam must have experienced when naming all the animals. Ah, the lure of taxonomic completeness. Conversely, working with spotty online databases and trying to cover all of the exceptions in one, complete, coherent style guide is a black hole for time.

    If you have some time, click through the musicbrainz style guide and you’ll see what I’m up to on this project. And this is just for the mp3’s. Next comes the FLAC (free lossless audio codec) and ALAC (Apple lossless audio codec) files. I have some software to help transfer mp3 tags to these other formats’ metadata containers, but I’m sure it is going to be a bear, still.

    One other thing you touched upon is that you just don’t find that many musical groups that are super-mega-stars. I think that this has more to do with music companies being run by MBA’s and lawyers as opposed actual music lovers like Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic and Herb Alpert of A&M. Content is king and the MBA’s et al are trying to make everything formulaic to maximize the profits while the old-guard guys like Ertegun were fans before they were executives.

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  4. moe99 said on July 3, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    This is a fabulous column, Nancy.

    ps, just found this Jon Stewart riff on l’affaire Sanford and had to share:

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  5. MichaelG said on July 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Sort of like hiring that phone company guy to run GM and the failed Home Depot guy to run Chrysler, eh, Danny? Both companies’ best times were when they were run by car guys.

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  6. Danny said on July 3, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Very good point, Michael.

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  7. coozledad said on July 3, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Sarah Palin resigning as Governor of AK. WTF?
    Dang. You don’t reckon Mark Sanford crossed lines with her, too?

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  8. Scout said on July 3, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Hmmm… she’s either reaching for the next shiny object or there’s an indictment in Princess Wasillabilly’s future. Wonder which?

    I just stumbled across this Colbert clip and thought immediately of Jeff (tmmo).

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  9. Dexter said on July 3, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    UPDATE: There was a challenge to the photo of Sanford’s mistress that I posted.
    I am now convinced this is just internet fraud and total bullshit, and I should have at lest read some of the comments on the site. Sorry.
    I wasn’t on a journalistic mission—I just stumbled across the photo I posted from a Google search’s result:

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  10. coozledad said on July 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    QOTD: From a Palin adviser, “She can be more of a help to Alaska from the outside now.”
    Why did I just piss my pants?

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  11. Dexter said on July 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Weird stuff (for me): At our local Fly-In tomorrow the featured attraction is a trainer from 1944, used at Pensacola Naval Yard only.
    My dad was a radio operator instructor there then…I am betting he flew many times in this aircraft.

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  12. Jenflex said on July 3, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Well, C’dad, I guess if she’s inflicting herself on the Lower 48, Alaska IS better off, no?

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  13. Scout said on July 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Interesting Twitter feed:
    “We’ll soon attach info on decision to not seek re-election… this is in Alaska’s best interest, my family’s happy… it is good, stay tuned”

    It seems she didn’t yet realize she’d be quitting in the middle of her term. I think there is a shitstorm coming.

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  14. coozledad said on July 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    “We are not retreating. We are just advancing in a different direction.” For a split second I thought she was going to go with one of MacArthur’s quotes from before he went batshit. This isn’t just a Checkers speech. It’s a meth addled Checkers speech at a daylight rave given by Annie Sprinkle, naked.

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  15. MichaelG said on July 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I heard she’s pregnant with Mark Sanford’s love child.

    I watched her whole statement on CNN and I honestly don’t have the faintest idea what it was she said.

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  16. Scout said on July 3, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    In other words, MichaelG, a typical Palin ramble. Also.

    I need to go do some work and I am chained to the laptop feeling extremely nosy about What. Really. Happened!

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  17. Catherine said on July 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    You all said it more amusingly, but here it is from a party insider: “We’ve seen a lot of nutty behavior from governors and Republican leaders in the last three months, but this one is at the top of that,” said John Weaver, a longtime friend and confidant of Sen. John McCain.

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  18. Jenflex said on July 3, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Maybe she cheated on the First Dude????

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  19. Dexter said on July 3, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    WTF are they thinking about in LA? This memorial service should be held in the Coliseum, not the Staples Center. The cops are blocking off several blocks around Staples to prevent a gate-crashing riot, but the Coliseum holds what? 110,000 for an event like this?
    Look at it like this: Ohio State Football gets 80,000 for a Spring practice game…even at 110,000 in the Coliseum, there would be a crush to get into the place for the memorial service. Having a deal like this in Staples is crazy.
    Whattcha think, LAM??

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  20. beb said on July 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    MJ’s memorial should be held in the Grand Cannyon, so it can be filled in and spare us all the pain of living with THEM!

    Palin quitting the governator half way through her only term can’t be a good thing. I think she’s killed any chance of her running for president. I mean, who wants someone who bailed out in mid-term? For that reason I think she’s bailing in advance of indictment.

    There’s something to what Nancy says about the media being too splintered to great one “sex symbol” like Farrah Fawcett again. But also I kind of wonder if we’ve moved beyond sex symbols. Not in the sense that men don’t look at women with lust in their hearts as Jimmy once said, but that the idea of any woman in a bathing suit can be considered sexy any more. This is an age of milf’s, and tea-bagging, and so on. We’re gross, coarse and vulgar.

    The only thing I have against Fuddruckers is paying ten dollars for a hamburger.

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  21. basset said on July 3, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Dexter, I would guess that aircraft would be a T-6? Or maybe whatever the Navy called a Beech 18 or its Cessna equivalent? Plenty of Yellow Perils around there at the time, don’t think they used them for radio training though.

    Pensacola… the only time I have ever in my life set foot in Florida was to drive from Gulf Shores, Alabama, to the naval aviation museum at Pensacola, see the museum, turn around, and go back. Very interesting museum, don’t care if I never get back to Gulf Shores though.

    Speaking of museums, or at least public attractions… anyone on here know Atlanta? My wife & son want to go to the aquarium, and to complete our USA panda tour… we’ve been to every zoo in the US that has pandas except for Zoo Atlanta. I have managed to avoid it for over twenty years, not sure if it’s any better now.

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  22. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 3, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Scout, i was watching when Mr. Colbert ran that bit, and thought myself “huh, NN.C had this covered first, Stephen!” It’s nice to be ahead of the curve.

    Yes, i still have some liking and respect for Sarah Palin as a politician, let alone as a very unique person on the national stage. But i can’t help but wonder what’s up with the way she laid out her “case.” My main guess is that you simply cannot imagine what it’s like to have so many ethics cases thrown at you, and you are legally (and fiscally) obligated to defend yourself at amazing expense, while they can be generated from almost nothing for almost no cost.

    Oddly enough, i suspect (if that’s the case, that this is about getting out from under this lengthy series of ethics filings, which are all resolved for now, but a new crop is in the works) there is no one who quite understands where the Palins are at on this better than the Clintons. They came into the White House as some of the relatively poorest people ever to occupy the place, right down there with the Trumans, and the current system of legal bloodletting (think exsanguination) is just devastating to a family of modest means. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the strongest supportive statement for Sarah Palin in the next few days comes from Hillary Clinton.

    The Palins are essentially a mid- to lower-middle class family, Heaths as well as Todd’s roots which go right down into the ground, Native American-wise. They have to spend some time paying bills, which themselves will become ethics issues. I strongly suspect that when we get some of the details sorted out later this summer, it was do this or end up declaring bankruptcy for the Palin family, as a stopgap until the book tour . . . which itself would have had her spending weeks and months outside of the state.

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  23. Bruce Fields said on July 3, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    “Sometimes I think the sole qualification for being a pop-music writer is how confidently you can sling those modifiers around.”

    Sometimes the modifier-slinging looks like a cover for writers that lack the ears they’d need to discuss the music itself.

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  24. velvet goldmine said on July 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    What has bothered me about post-election Sarah Palin in the broader, sociological sense is her increasing deterioration into that “pit bull with lipstick” figure that was supposed to be a joke. Wasn’t it?

    It’s not terribly inspiring for womankind to have a working mother reach the national stage if she then goes ballistic every time someone takes a potshot or a perceived swipe (at one of her children. Her reaction to the photoshopped baby picture was especially troubling.

    On another note, here in Connecticut, we also have a relatively new Republican governor, and while I’m not crazy about her, I can’t imagine her just taking a walk in the middle of her term. Especially now. I have to assume that, like most states, Alaska must be trying to figure out an impossible budget. I don’t think she would characterize simply showing up to do her job as somehow indulgent and reeking of lame-duck.

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  25. Jolene said on July 3, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I agree, velvet. Palin seemed to want to misunderstand all kinds of things to make herself look like a victim. As I understand it, the blogger who photoshopped another politician’s head onto Trig’s body was mocking the other politician as a Palin tool, not Trig. The same could be said for the Letterman brouhaha.

    I hope she is gone and, if so, good riddance. The idea that someone so ill-informed and unable to speak coherently could become a national leader is offensive, and her sense that she is on a mission from God is doubly so.

    Sounds harsh, I know, but the combination of ignorance and arrogance bugs me.

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  26. Jolene said on July 4, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Here is speculation from an anti-Palin blogger as to potential indictments. Scroll down for a discussion of the costs of past ethics complaints.

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  27. Rana said on July 4, 2009 at 12:33 am

    ah, man, beb – that’d be an awful thing to do to the Grand Canyon. How about the moon, instead?

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  28. LA Mary said on July 4, 2009 at 1:07 am

    I agree with Rana that the Grand Canyon is a very nice place and should not be subjected to the crazy mob scene this thing might turn out to be.
    I will be staying very far away from that part of LA on Tuesday, I know that. How this city can pay for this when they had to pass the hat to pay for the Lakers victory parade, I don’t know. I know the vibe here is weird lately. Too many people losing jobs, teachers being laid off, summer school being cancelled, all adds up to lots of pissed off people in the streets. If folks who want to be part of the MJ memorial are among those pissed off people, it could be bad, but I think it will just be a huge mess. The city will essentially shut down around the Staples Center.

    “One of the more interesting ideas to come out of the twin celebrity deaths of late last week, Blondie and Jacko…”

    I thought for a moment that Debbie Harry had died. She of Hawthorne High School, my alma mater. Class of 63.

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  29. Dexter said on July 4, 2009 at 2:13 am

    basset:short version: AT-6. The Navy designated it the SNJ and Brits called it the Harvard. 600 horses , Pratt & Whitney powerplant; radial engine.
    600 of over 15K built, still fly.
    110 gallons of fuel max, 3 hours max fly time. 160 mph cruise speed, groundspeed-calculated. 230 mph max airspeed (measured by groundspeed).2 30-cal. machine guns.

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  30. ROgirl said on July 4, 2009 at 7:11 am

    This move will only rev up the Paliniacs to urge her to take her brand to the national stage and explore a run for president. If indictments pop up in the near future, that will stir up their support for her and become a rallying point. She’s going to be on the radar in some form or another for a long time.

    When she was sniping at David Letterman over his stupid jokes, I shuddered at the thought that if she had become VP this would have been just another day in the life of Sarah Palin. And the recent revelations from people in the campaign who could no longer refrain from revealing what went on behind the scenes are priceless.

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  31. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 4, 2009 at 7:29 am

    As for Sarah Palin, this Jonathan Martin story in Politico seems fair and comprehensive. I think family finances and the pressure of travel — when each trip to the lower 48 is as long as a trip to Romania for most other American politicians — is going to turn out to be the heart of the story.

    Anyhow, may i wish a Glorious Fourth of July to one and all. Nice of North Korea to give us an extra special salute today, wasn’t it?

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  32. basset said on July 4, 2009 at 9:18 am

    where’s the fly-in, Dexter?

    (what’s the frequency, Kenneth?)

    meanwhile… trying Connie’s smashed-potato recipe from a couple days ago, went out in the yard and picked some from our little patch. they’re baking right now, looks promising.

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  33. alice said on July 4, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    “I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store
    Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score
    I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane
    And auctioned off every last naugahyde divan.”

    The recent book by his wife made me love him less as a human being, but dang, the boy could write a song. Warren Z, I still miss you.

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  34. Dexter said on July 4, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    basset…it just ended, 7-11:00 am, Bryan, Ohio airport…the pancakes, eggs and sausage were awesome. (but we all know that menu is foolproof!)
    Right now I am going back to a giant man-made hill , made from the earth the crew dug from the ground where the 2 miles-square watershed project was built, with binoculars, to see the planes leave . It’s only a half mile from the airport.

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  35. Deborah said on July 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Jeff (tmmo) what you said, “My main guess is that you simply cannot imagine what it’s like to have so many ethics cases thrown at you, and you are legally (and fiscally) obligated to defend yourself at amazing expense, while they can be generated from almost nothing for almost no cost.” could also be said for what happened to the Clintons when Bill was pres. So it cuts both ways…
    I’d certainly like to know what you respect about SP?

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  36. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 4, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    That’s what i mean; it did and does, and i won’t be surprised if Hillary is one of the first to say a charitable thing about Palin’s decision. Vince Foster’s death was largely attributable to exactly the kind of thing Palin was talking about in her resignation speech, and Hillary by all accounts has never quite gotten over a sense of guilt that he ended up absorbing so much of the venom, and cost . . . Web Hubbell, too, but in a different way that he should have been able to see coming. You’re free to say you’d only respect her if she’d kept her views and vision to Wasilla and Anchorage, but i think the record is clear that she didn’t pursue a national position, it came after her. She’s tried to step up into that role, and is still stumbling, but the fact that every trip she takes out of state gathered three more ethics complaints apiece meant she could spend the next year and a half not leaving Alaska, and struggle to pay off a half million in legal fees as it is; or, step fully into a national role and get those bills paid with no fear of new filings, set her family up in very modest security, and then move about and speak freely.

    The irony of her having been the chief advocate of these new ethics rules being used against her is that at the time neither she nor anyone else in Alaska politics saw a state politician taking a major national political role. Her resignation will probably, in the next couple years, simplify the legislature’s task in readjusting those state ethics guidelines, but i respect that she is just going to take herself out of the problem, which is of her own making . . . but not the way many of you might mean.

    And most (i’m guessing) controversially, i think Palin has been and will be an advocate for a more reasoned and reasonable social conservatism, Alaska-style. The GOP simply cannot walk away from social conservatism, as some moderate pundits (Will, Frum, Parker) have suggested, but the way a coherent and caring pro-life policy is presented is going to make a key difference in whether or not the Republican party has a national electoral future. Palin took some hesitant steps that way, and think she can best, for lack of a better term, moderate a pro-life platform in ways that can be consensus building and not so pointlessly divisive.

    Sorry for incoherence; 5 k this am, a parade to trash manage and now a fry booth to peel potatoes for — that’s the best political thinking i’m capable of today, or maybe most days.

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  37. Linda said on July 5, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Yes, wasn’t the internet going to bring us all together, and broaden our world, because we could get so many viewpoints? Most websites exist so that the 15 people of that exact point of view on some range of social/political issues can laugh at the other world full of idiots that don’t agree with them. And, of course, to block the postings of any trolls who disagree with them.

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  38. Ricardo said on July 5, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    If there is a rock and roll band in heaven, it just got a little better with Gale Storm, Ed McMann, and Karl Malden joining in. Sky Saxon too.

    My $.02 is that Sarah Palin is the bigest @$%&#* drama queen that ever lived. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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