What Is a “Blerd?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #56 Discusses Nerd Culture and Race with The Second City’s Anthony LeBlanc

The Interim Executive Producer of The Second City joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the scope of black nerd-dom: what nerdy properties provide to those who feel "othered," using sci-fi to talk about race, Black Panther and other heroes, afrofuturism, black anime fans, Star Trek, Key & Peele, Get Out vs. Us, and more.

A few articles you might enjoy:

Some relevant videos and podcasts:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Food As Pop with Prof. C. Thi Nguyen (Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #55)

Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Utah philosophy prof and former food writer C. Thi Nguyen to talk food as art, foodies, elitism, food TV, cooking vs. eating, and how analyzing food is like analyzing games.

Read Thi's work at objectionable.net, including the article on "outrage porn" we talk about that he co-wrote with Bekka Williams, and his general account of "the arts of action." Also, check out his blog posts about cookbooks and his new book. Purchase Games: Agency As Art. Follow Thi @add_hawk.

Other sources we looked at include:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Rick and Morty as Absurdist Humor, Yet Legitimate Sci-Fi with Family Drama (Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #54)

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt address the 4-season 2013 Adult Swim show, which currently has a 94% critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What kind of humor is it, and how are we supposed to take its sci-fi and family drama elements? While its concepts start as parody, with an anything-goes style of animation, they're creative and grounded enough to actually contribute to multiple genres. How smart is the show, exactly? And its fans? Is Rick a super hero, or maybe essentially Dr. Who? What might this very serialized sit-com look like in longevity?

We also touch on other adult cartoons like South Park, Solar Opposites, The Simpsons, Family Guy, plus Community, Scrubs, and more.

Hear the interview we refer to with the show's creators. Watch the video we mention about its directors. Visit the Rick and Morty wiki for episode descriptions and other things.

Some articles that we bring up or otherwise fueled our discussion include:

Also, do you want a Plumbus?

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #53 Explores the Hamilton Phenomenon

Your hosts Erica Spyres, Mark Linsenmayer, and Brian Hirt are joined by Broadway actor Sam Simahk (Carousel, The King and I, My Fair Lady) to discuss this unique convergence of musical theater, rap, and historical drama. Does Hamilton deserve its accolades? We cover the re-emergence of stage music as pop music, live vs. filmed vs. film-adapted musicals, creators starring in their shows, race-inclusive casting, and the politics surrounding the show.

Some articles we looked at included:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion including Sam that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Twilight Zone Morality Tales: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#52)

Something's strange... Is it a dream? If it's a morality tale with a twist ending, you're probably in the Twilight Zone. Your hosts Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer, plus guest Ken Gerber (Brian's brother) are in it this week, discussing the thrice revived TV series. Does the 1959-1963 show hold up? What makes for a good TZ episode, and does Jordan Peele's latest iteration capture the spirit? We talk about episodes new and old, the 1983 film, plus comparisons to Black Mirror and David Lynch.

The classic episodes we focus most on (and might spoil, so you should go watch them) are It's a Good Life, Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?, What You Need, The Howling Man, Perchance to Dream, and Nick of Time. The others Ken recommended for us are The Obsolete Man and The Masks. Mark complains about Walking Distance.

In the new series, season 1, we do spoil Blurry Man and praise (but don't spoil) Replay. We don't spoil season two at all, but recommend Try, Try and Meet in the Middle and pan Ovation and 8.

Some articles we looked at include:

A good video on the background of the show is "American Masters Rod Serling: Submitted for your Approval," and you can find detailed discussions of many episodes on The Twilight Zone Podcast. Ken recommends The Twilight Zone Companion. Oh, and Chris Hardwick really likes TZ.

If you enjoyed this episodes, you might like our previous discussion with Ken on time travel.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This week, we continue for more than half an hour, further discussing the Twilight Zone with Ken, which includes a look at the 1985-1989 series.

This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Does Every Picture Tell a Story? A Conversation with Artist Joseph Watson for Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #51

Storytelling is an essential part of Las Vegas artist Joseph Watson's painting methodology, whether he's creating city scenes or public sculpture or children's illustrations. So how does the narrative an author may have in mind affect the viewer, and is this different for different types of art?

Joseph is perhaps best known as the illustrator of the Go, Go, GRETA! book series and does online streaming of drawing sessions through Instagram and Facebook. On this episode of Pretty Much Pop, he joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to explore the picture-narrative connection and more generally how knowing about the creation of an image affects our reception of it, touching on Guernica, Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Seuss, The Chronicles of Narnia, and more.

You can browse Joseph's work at josephwatsonart.com, and you're really going to want in particular to look at a couple of the works that we consider explicitly:

Other sources we looked at in preparation for this discussion include:

Follow Joseph on Instagram @josephwatsonart; also Twitter and Facebook.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This week, it includes a particularly philosophical consideration of the notion of escapism and how different that is from so-called serious pursuits. Is this just a version of the high-low culture distinction that we largely rejected in episode one? This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Did the CIA Write the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” One of the Bestselling Songs of All Time?

By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it seemed the fate of the Soviet Union was all but sealed. It would be two more years before the USSR officially dissolved, and flew the Soviet flag over the Kremlin for the last time, but the age of Cold War belligerence officially ended with the 1980s, so it seemed. Soft power and suasion would finish the job. And what better way to announce this transition than with the soft-rock stylings of a power ballad like the Scorpions' “Wind of Change”? The sentimental song from German metal and hard rock favorites was suddenly inescapable in 1990, and it was not at all subtle about its message.

The song became a massive hit and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time. It served as "a soundtrack of sorts to a political and cultural revolution," writes Richard Bienstock at Rolling Stone. Oddly, "especially in light of the Scorpions' background... 'Wind of Change' was about neither the Berlin Wall nor their German homeland." Instead, the song was ostensibly inspired by a historic two-day festival the band played in Moscow in 1989, a so-called "hard-rock Woodstock" featuring metal royalty like Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella, and Skid Row alongside hard rock Soviet bands like Gorky Park.




Three months after the concert, the Berlin Wall fell, and Scorpions' lead singer Klaus Meine wrote the words:

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

The iconic whistled intro and lighters-in-the-air video cemented “Wind of Change” as a definitive statement on how the “children of tomorrow” will “share their dreams” in a globalized world. Tantalizingly vague, the lyrics read like Surrealist ad copy, sliding back and forth between doggerel and weird Symbolist incantation:

The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

These lines, it may not shock you to learn, may have been written by the CIA. At least, “that’s the mystery driving the new eight-part podcast series Wind of Change,” writes Nicholas Quah at Vulture. (Listen on Apple, Spotify, Google, and on the podcast website.) “Led by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe and produced by Pineapple Street’s Henry Molofsky… the journey takes us to a shape-shifting Wonderland, a world where an American agency like the CIA may very well have participated in the production of pop culture as part of concerted efforts to build sentiment against its enemies abroad. It might even be something that’s happening right now.”

Those who’ve read about how the Agency has influenced everything from Abstract Expressionism, to literary magazines, creative writing, and Hollywood films might not find these allegations particularly surprising, but as with all the best examples of the serial podcast form, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes this story worth pursuing. Keefe approaches the subject with a naiveté that might be deliberate, playing up the idea of mass entertainment as “carefully devised and calibrated messaging.”

The podcast is great fun (“it’s been described as This is Spinal Tap meets All the President’s Men,” writes Deadline); its story, Keefe says in a statement, “stretches across musical genres, and across borders and periods of history.” Do we ever find out for sure whether the agency best known for overthrowing governments it doesn’t like wrote the Scorpions’ 1990 power ballad “Wind of Change”? “Hear the music, and the accents and the voices,” says Keefe, “and judge for yourself who might be lying and who is telling the truth.”

If you ask Klaus Meine, it's all a fantasy. (But, then, he would say that, wouldn't he?) "It's weird," the Scorpions singer commented after learning about Keefe's podcast. "In my wildest dreams I can't think about how that song would connect with the CIA."  The idea, however, would make "a good idea for a movie," he says, "That would be cool." A movie, maybe, funded by the CIA.

Related Content:

How the CIA Funded & Supported Literary Magazines Worldwide While Waging Cultural War Against Communism

The CIA Assesses the Power of French Post-Modern Philosophers: Read a Newly Declassified CIA Report from 1985

Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944)

How the CIA Helped Shape the Creative Writing Scene in America

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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