Hickey, Annotated Reading

On the surface, professional wrestling may seem like a joke, filled with theatrics and larger than life personalities. However, after a closer inspection, it’s a business that has been profitable for over 100 years in this country. From the days of the traveling carnivals to the now sweeping promotional work of World Wrestling Entertainment, wrestling has always found a way to survive. In spite of that, the sport has fallen on hard times recently, with less of half of its audience from 1998 still watching today. How did this happen?

These pieces helped me come to the realization that many of the fans that watched the sport during its apex in the late ‘90s don’t watch anymore for a bevy of reasons. If the promoters directly responsible for what is shown on TV don’t change course soon, the show may continue to lose more viewers.

The book “Ring of Hell” by Matthew Randazzo V goes into depth about the suicide of professional wrestling icon Chris Benoit, but it also draws extensive parallel to the harsh working environments many of the athletes must death with on a day to day basis. It also shows how much the sport changed from the late ‘80s when Benoit first got involved, going from simulated athletic competition to more pageantry and entertainment. This facet is easily the biggest reason why fans don’t watch anymore.

However, the fans have been leaving in droves after the end of the “Attitude Era,” a time from 1996-1999, when the company ran raunchier storylines and had some of the top young stars in the business. In “WWE Ratings Need Return of Austin and McMahon,” which appeared in The Toronto Sun in 2002, we see the beginning of what the industry is now. In 2002, the company was desperately trying to shake up its stories, to no avail. As a matter of fact, they were causing ire in the wrestling community, as legend Hulk Hogan took his time returning to the company after they had a necrophilia storyline run on their flagship show. Storylines like this and less wrestling have eliminated fans that want actual wrestling powered by storylines they can believe, rather than outlandish and shock TV.

The problem of stories that were provocative was only one problem. With so many stars either retiring, dying or doing into other genres of entertainment, the WWE had to create new stars to take their place. That process has never fully taken shape however, as many wrestling fans feel the newer wrestlers lack the same magnetism of the stars of the ‘90s. In “WWE Feels the Pain; Wrestling stumbles and looks for a new star brute,” in Broadcasting & Cable, by Paige Albiniak in 2003, it’s apparent that with the loss of household names such as The Rock and Hulk Hogan, the WWE has had to develop new stars and hasn’t been able to. Ironically, this is still the case eight years later. Albiniak also states that ratings, at that point were down 41 percent from the late ‘90s. At the same time, she gets sources to admit that wrestling has always been cyclic, as with the entrance and exit of new stars, the ratings should adjust accordingly. However, nearly a decent later, the ratings still aren’t back to where they once where.

Four years after in 2007, Variety’s John Dempsey wrote “WWE in ratings decline,” which addresses the continued dip in ratings, this time coming from the suicide of legend Chris Benoit from apparently roid-rage. While the ratings were already beginning to dip before this moment, many believe this incident was the catalyst for many loyalists to leave. If anything else, the company lost its best technical wrestler and was forced to begin to change their programming methods. Another point Dempsey makes is that this is the moment where the WWE should have begun to help their workers deal with the stress of the sport, but has not begun that process.

With a lack of new stars, an inability to write storylines and a declining audience, the WWE is in trouble of losing even more of its once stronghold on pop culture.

Nevertheless, the company is attempting to solidify its presence. In addition to launching a film brand in 2006, the company also plans to start its own network by 2015. It has also addressed the concerns of its fans to recruit new and engaging talent.

In a business wire release in April, company PR announced In addition to focusing on the expansion of the company, the company announced it “will bolster its core business with the launch a new talent development department headed by Paul ‘Triple H®’ Levesque. The new department will put a greater emphasis on worldwide recruitment, training and character development to identify future WWE Superstars and Divas. The first recruit acquired under Levesque’s new department was the signing last month of future WWE Superstar, Sin Cara(TM), formerly known worldwide as Mistico.”

There’s no way of knowing if these new ventures alone will save the sport and rekindle it to its former glory. It’s obvious however by their zest and ability to try new methods to attract fans that they’re not looking to go down for a three count.

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Ethnic models

the runway is like a hopper that feeds the fashion industry’s image-making machine. what is shown on the runway and who wears it goes on to influence the faces we will see in editorials and ads all over the world. even if you’re not a fashion aficionado, you are still bombarded with the ads. and, the lack of ethnic models in the fashion world is not at all reflective of where ethnic people stand in society today.

out of thousands of looks to be modeled yearly, only 18% are worn by models of color. the lack of diversity in fashion hit an all time low after NY Fashion Week 2007, where out of 101 shows, one third did not employ a model of color. things have since been on the rise, but are no where near where they should be in comparison to other industries.

Ethnic Models from Chase Lindsay Rosen on Vimeo.

special thank you to:
ny model management, david ralph, marion smith, pierre woods, hollis, mercedes benz fashion week, rebecca minkoff, michael kors, transient and all those devoted to closing gaps of inequality in fashion.

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Reflections On The Past, Present and Future of Traditional Film Criticism

On 2006, Sean P. Means, movie critic for The Salt Lake Tribune, began compiling on his blog a list of colleagues that have lost their jobs in print outlets all over the country. By the time of his last entry, on May 2009, just a month before the official end of the recession, he had on record 55 American film critics that ceased holding their positions in between that three year period for various reasons.

Since then, more film critics have been losing their jobs. The most notable probably is Todd McCarthy, who was fired last year from Variety after 31 years working for it as chief movie critic. The magazine, which has the honor of publishing the first movie review in history in 1907, decided to cut costs and move on to freelance reviews instead. The trend continues to this day: Elvis Mitchell was laid off from Movieline last month. He was fired too from the New York Times not so long ago.

All these firings are part of a bigger debate: Are traditional movie critics relevant anymore? And also, will the job of the film critic still exist in the future? The most recurring argument is that, with the blooming of Internet and social networks, there’s been a democratization in film criticism. Nowadays basically anyone can be a critic and also there are much more alternatives to print criticism, therefore it’s losing its prominence and relevance.

To add fuel to the debate, I talked about the present and future of film criticism with three movie critics who are still writing reviews full time for three different newspapers: Amy Biancolli (Houston Chronicle, member of the Houston Film Critic Society), James Verniere (Boston Herald, member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics) and Lisa Kennedy (Denver Post). I decided to ask all of them the same question upfront: How do you see the job of the movie critic in the next five years?

Amy Biancolli on future of film criticism

Lisa Kennedy on future of film criticism

James Verniere on future of film criticism

With new technologies emerging and competition in the field increasing, most traditional movie critics that have been around for more than a decade had to evolve and adapt to change. Their job is no longer the same as it was ten years ago. Verniere, Kennedy and Biancolli can testify for that.

Amy Biancolli on adapting

James Verniere on adapting

Lisa Kennedy on adapting

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High/Low High Fashion?

Now that the U.S. economy added 244,000 jobs in April, and that consumer spending continues to increase, does this mean that the retail industry is back to normal?


As you’ll hear in this audio slideshow, even the high fashion industry still finds itself off track.

In order to find its footing, both designers and buyers have had to make some changes by embracing cheaper, more mainstream materials to sell their looks.

But does this mean that the high fashion industry is now cheap–even low brow? Click on the slideshow below to find out.

High/Low High Fashion? from Zachary Kussin on Vimeo.

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Salt & Fat. (Now with salt and fat.)

For over a year, the space was boarded up. It was vacant, save for a faded sign that advertised Korean Well-Being Cuisine.

That false promise of nutrients, on the corner of 42nd Street and Queens Boulevard, was answered by Salt & Fat, a restaurant that recently filled the space with the promise of bacon-laced “crack ‘n’ cheese.”

S&F’s chef, Daniel Yi, learned his skills alongside Patricia Yeo at Monkey Bar. He wanted to bring his cuisine away from Manhattan, to his own hood: Sunnyside, Queens.

Two weeks after the March 25th grand opening, there was a 20 minute wait for a table. Salt & Fat lacks both a liquor license and a single vegetarian menu option. But servers bring each table popcorn cooked in bacon oil, compliments of the chef, which sort of makes up for its shortcomings.

Like Pies n’ Thighs in Williamsburg, Salt & Fat takes its name seriously and literally. There are few items on the menu without some form of animal fat and a hearty dose of sodium. But unlike Pies and Thighs, which focuses its cuisine on Southern comfort food, Salt & Fat has very scattered offerings, from sashimi to oxtail to the popular, aforementioned crack ‘n’ cheese, deep-fried potato gnocchi with bacon and béchamel.

Kari Bently-Quinn, a 30-year-old playwright who came from Astoria to give the place a shot, said the crack n cheese was worth the commute. “How did they get the gnocchi so light?” she wondered. Among the other small plates she shared with her husband were mussels with churizo and yellowtail cured in kombu with speck and pickled jalapenos.

The serves advise diners to take a small bite of everything on the yellowtail plate at once – the fish itself, the grapefruit, the oranges, the slices of jalapeno – and then wrap it up in the speck.

The mixture of Italian-style sashimi and deep-fried gnocchi did not fare well for Bently-Quinn’s stomach. “I am beginning to tire of the thumb our nose at health trend in the city,” she said. “I always appreciate some healthier options and there were…well there were none, really. I also felt sick by the time I was done eating.”

She enjoyed the popcorn, but said that its time that New York leaves its bacon craze behind. “It’s very easy to make something good with bacon and it’s getting sort of overdone,” she said.

The biggest drawback, for Bentley-Quinn was the lack of the booze that would easily compliment the crack n’ cheese. “It was not even BYOB. We brought this bottle of wine and they wouldn’t let us open it.”

Despite the sobriety and stomachache though, she was happy with the quality of food. “It’s a good addition to the borough,” she said.

Salt & Fat, 41-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, Queens, 718-433-3702

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Record Store Day Draws Record Crowds

Music geeks have a lot to look forward to this weekend. Saturday, April 16, is Record Store Day, an annual event when musicians put out new releases or reissues that are sold exclusively through independent record stores.

“It gives people a very distinct reason to go into brick-and-mortar record stores on what will hopefully be a nice spring day,” said Mike Wolf, manager at Sound Fix, an independent record store in Williamsburg. “There’s a lot of really good and interesting releases that are only available at independent record stores on this specific day.”

Rare reissues are expected from much-beloved bands like The White Stripes, Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Other fan-favorites — such as Radiohead, The Decemberists and of Montreal — will release new material.

Record Store Day is an effort to remind listeners of the importance record stores once played, and can still play, in discovering favorite artists and albums.

“Record Store Day is very great,” said Mikey Jones, an employee at downtown record shop Other Music. “It’s consistently become, in terms of end-of-day profits, our biggest sales day of the year. And it’s increased every year subsequently.”

Unfortunately, with so many exclusive releases hitting shelves on the same day, there’s a risk that the focus of Record Store Day could shift from supporting local record stores to building record collections.

“Now, it’s more become ‘You’ve got to collect all the limited releases!'” Jones said. “And it’s basically more of an eBay holiday than support your local record store holiday, which is fine. It’s the nature of the collector.”

To stir up further excitement, artists make special appearances at various shops. Dream-pop duo Damon and Naomi will perform at 7 p.m. at Sound Fix. Other Music will host a live concert from Regina Spektor at 2 p.m. To gain entrance, be sure to be one of the first 100 people to buy Spektor’s Record Store Day 7″ from Other Music.

Photo from Record Store Day 2008 at Other Music courtesy of graciepoo via Flickr.

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Nine 11 Thesaurus Brings Political Edge and Youthful Exuberance to Don Hill’s

Last Saturday the Bushwick based rappers Nine 11 Thesaurus celebrated the release of their first album, “Ground Zero Generals,” with a powerful and energized performance at Don Hill’s.

It was slightly after midnight when Shasty, P.DOT, Hollywood, Riddic, God’s Sun, Bear Wolf and Young T took the stage, announcing their arrival with the album’s first single, “Rookie of the Year.” They followed with a set of boldly political, socially conscious tracks that recall acts like Public Enemy and Dead Prez.

The name “Nine 11” reflects the artists’ desire to “create an impact as major as [9/11],” but with a positive effect. “Thesaurus” signifies their hope to embody “the many definitions of hip-hop.”

The members of Nine 11 Thesaurus are between the ages of 18 and 21 years old. They are alumni of Representing NYC, a network of local musicians founded by composer Sam Hillmer to create a channel between arts-based social services programs and the local art and music scenes. Through the program, “they’ve had incredible exposure to the industry- producers, managers, booking agents…” says Hillmer, “now they’re capitalizing on those contacts to try to build a career.”

Backing Nine 11’s lyrics are beats produced by members of indie bands Gang Gang Dance and Skeletons (Skeletons also performed that evening.) The pairing drew an eclectic crowd to the legendary venue.  As the evening progressed, a steady stream of Saturday night regulars joined the fans on the floor.

For God’s Sun, 21, one of the highlights of the night, “was to see so many new faces loving the music we make.”

Hillmer, who organized the performance was equally pleased. “Whether they can crossover to a mainstream audience is yet to be seen,” he says, “but, they certainly have the drive.”

“Ground Zero Generals” by Nine 11 Thesaurus will be released on April 26 via The Social Registy.  In the meantime, download a sneak peak: “Rookie Of The Year” and my personal favorite “Stressin“.

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“Queloides” Examines Scars of Racism in Cuba through Art

Racism is something that you don’t talk about in Cuba, except in hushed tones. So when a group of artists decided to take it on in a show called Queloides (Keloids) one can imagine the reaction they would get.

Queloides opened in New York City on April 12, with a mission to display the variety of experiences Cubans had when it came to racism. “People thought the only thing that Afro-descendant people were good at is sports and music,” says Queloides curator Elio Rodriguez about the Cuban expectations for the large Afro-Cuban population on the island.

The show’s name references the scars left culturally by racism in Cuba and literally by

Smile, You Won! By Alexis Esquivel

the years of slave trading that happened on the island many years prior to the Revolution.

Cuban artists from all over the world are in the show and a variety of work is featured. From installation pieces to photography to video and oil paintings Queloides has 21 pieces on display in the airy 8th floor gallery on 17 West, 17th Street.

For example the installation “Ave Maria,” has a collection of sculptures depicting the Virgin of Charity El Cobre, the patron saint to Cuba, sitting on top of a bright blue plank. The sculpture by Meria Marrero and Jose Toirac extends the length of one end of the gallery and shows how many depictions a cultural figure can have within a diverse society.

Ave Maria, by Meira Marrero and Jose A. Toirac

The Castro Revolution claimed to have done away with racism when his party seized power in the 1960s. Though years of revolutionary discourse in Cuba claim to have banished systems of oppression common to Capitalism, power structures like racism never really went away. “You can’t just erase something with a couple of laws,” says Rodriguez “I mean this is something that came from the 18th Century.”

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Two Fleas, One Williamsburg

Want new furniture? Or a deer head for your mantle? Find it at one of the flea markets in Williamsburg.

Ask anyone, even Brian Williams, and they’ll tell you Williamsburg is home of the flea market. But the markets here aren’t your grandma’s flea markets. You won’t find that old bowling trophy or those 99-cent flip-flops. Unless there’s some sort of irony involved.

Since 2003, the Burg’s had Artists and Fleas, an artisan market that celebrates vintage clothes, homemade jewelry and gourmet-style street food. Amy Abrams & Ronen Glimer started the market as a way to promote small business in the community.

“We’ve had so many of our vendors quit their day jobs because they really can support themselves on the market,” Abrams said. There are eight stores in the neighborhood including Brooklyn Charm and The Mast Brothers Chocolate that have opened as a result of the money they earned as a vendor at the flea market.

For years Artists and Fleas had a stronghold on the area, but now it’s got a little competition in way of The Brooklyn Flea, the market the New York Times called, “One of the great urban experiences in New York.” The Flea now bides its time between Fort Greene (its original home) and Williamsburg.
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Destroyer’s Dan Bejar Delivers Bizarrely Beautiful Peformance

Vancouver based indie-rock band, Destroyer, is on tour again after the release of its 2011 album Kaputt. I went to see their New York City show at Manhattan’s Webster Hall. The performance was astonishing.

Dan Bejar, Destroyer’s singer-songwriter, seemed to decay in front of us. For most of the concert, he stood with his back to the audience or sat down at the front of the stage where no one could see him. He relied on lyric sheets in order to perform several songs and he drank from the beer bottles stationed next to him as if he were hydrating with water.  It sounds like an absolute mess, I know. But the music was amazing and for some reason, the performance really worked.

Rich (23), stood near me and spent the concert nearly weeping with joy. He described Bejar’s image as a sort of anti-performance. “It wasn’t melodramatic. It wasn’t sentimental. It was just numb,” he said.

Bejar’s presence contrasted with that of other indie groups like The Flaming Lips. Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, creates a sense of intimacy by projecting his face onto a giant screen behind him. But Bejar created intimacy by hiding, instead of by exposing himself.

“It’s odd how someone so shy can completely command the stage,” said Raymond  Chalmé (18).

I went home and mulled over the riddle. In theory, the concert should have been a complete failure, but it was gorgeous! Why did it work so well?

I think it is because he was this broken thing up on stage and we were these broken people down below. Colored lights made a halo out of his illuminated curls and he was this patron saint of imperfection. Out of the destruction he created this beautiful sound and he was at once this train wreck of a person and this incredible success.The paradox of the situation saturated each person and we were all destroyed–and resurrected–together.

This says something powerful about the way this generation experiences music (everyone there seemed to be in their twenties or early thirties). There’s a musical culture of introversion and subsequent human identification that Bejar tapped into really well and his audience responded with joy.

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