Category Archives: Popular Culture

Video of the Day: “Penny Lane”


The solo begins at 1.09

I’ve been thinking about great instrumental breaks the last couple of days, and one of the greatest and most recognizable is David Mason’s piccolo trumpet solo in the Beatles’ “Penny Lane.” Mason died on April 29th at the age of 85. Obituary here.

See also Frye’s comments on popular music as a form of “musical drama” in the post below.

Movie as Doggerel: “Plan 9 From Outer Space”


The entire glorious thing is available at the single link above

We’re following the science fiction thread begun with Solaris and followed by Fahrenheit 451 the week after that, but with a twist: Edward D. Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Frye in “Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres,” Anatomy:

The characteristics of babble are again present in doggerel, which is also a creative process left unfinished through lack of skill or patience. . . . Doggerel is not necessarily stupid poetry; it is poetry that begins in the conscious mind and has never gone through the associative process.  It has a prose initiative, but tries to make itself associative by an act of will, and it reveals the same difficulties that great poetry has overcome at a subconscious level.  We can see in doggerel how words are dragged in because they rhyme or scan, how ideas are dragged in because the are suggested by a rhyme-word, and so on. (CW 22, 259)

From this description we can see that any verbal structure might be generically considered doggerel if it lacks skill and patience, is not associative, is self-consciously rather than subconsciously processed, and generally betrays itself as the undressed word salad it invariably turns out to be.

Plan 9 from Outer Space is known as “the worst movie ever made” — so bad that you can’t look away; so bad that its unintentional hilarity provides zen instruction to anyone who thinks funniness is a specialized form of spontaneous combustion. If you haven’t seen it, please do.  It rewards in ways that are unique to it.  If you can’t bear to watch all of it, then at least take in the brief “Criswell Predicts” sequence that opens the movie — which will likely make you want to get to Criswell’s closing remarks at the end, and, just like that, you’ll have watched it right through.

The entire thing, every miscast word of it, is pure doggerel: the tautologies and non-sequiturs, the Dadaist moments of found comedy, the jack-knifing problems with continuity, and the absurd randomness of the elements of “terror” promiscuously thrown into the mix with winning confidence. (“Ah, yes, Plan 9: The resurrection of the dead.”)

Here’s a sample from Criswell’s opening remarks:

Greetings, my friends, we are all interested in the future because that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events, such as these, will affect you in the future.

That’s got to leave you hungry for more because only people who can’t make ’em can make ’em like this.

Harold Lloyd


One of the greatest bits ever committed to film during the silent era

Today is Harold Lloyd‘s birthday (1893-1971). Frye was a fan as a child. Above is the signature Lloyd routine from Safety Last!

An earlier post on Frye’s love of silent movies here. Bob Denham’s compilation, “Frye and the Movies,” here.

The movie that haunted the young Frye here.

Yoko Ono Yanks Stephen Harper’s “Imagine”


Above is the original Lennon-Ono video of the song, the Stephen Harper cover of which Yoko Ono has compelled him to take down from YouTube. Listen to the song again and ask yourself if it has anything to do with Harper — beyond, that is, his desire to distract from a radical right wing agenda. Listen to the lyrics, and then think — billions more in corporate tax cuts in a country with one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the OECD, and tens of billions worth of jet fighters we do not need. Oh, and the prisons. That’s the one area of social spending Harper intends to increase: prisons. Not health care, not education, not support for the middle class and the poor. Prisons. Where, exactly, is the spirit of John Lennon in Stephen Harper’s politics?

After the jump, those who are still allowed to post the song: Bill Clinton, Neil Young and Lady Gaga.

And, finally, an earlier post featuring Northrop Frye on John Lennon.

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Television Violence


Vintage television commercial for the Johnny Seven–a seven-in-one toy gun

The first distance public television broadcast from Washington, D.C. to New York City occurred on this date in 1927.

From “Violence and Television”:

Many people think they are being practical about social problems when they think they have located a cause. . . But every such located cause turns out eventually to be one more symptom of the problem, and not a cause at all. . . First there were dime novels and penny dreadfuls; then there were movies, then comic books, and now television. One can always find some evidence for such arguments, but the evidence is seldom conclusive. . . Some people are always looking for something to trigger them to violence, and such stimuli are not hard to come by in any society. This is not an argument for diminishing the seriousness of the social effects of violent television programs, as so many of their producers say; it is merely an argument against regarding television violence as the cause of social violence. For as soon as a cause is thought to be located, the next step is “take it away; censor it; ban it.” This would be a logical inference if the cause diagnosis is sound, but it isn’t; there are too many causes. Censorship is itself violent, or counterviolent, solution: it assumes that you’ve caught the real villain and are justified in doing what you like to him, which is precisely the fallacy of violence itself. (CW 11, 158-9)

Frye at the Movies: “Solaris”


The anniversary of Stanislaw Lem’s death just passed, so it seems like a good time to post the beautiful 1972 Russian film adaptation of Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Frye read the novel and alluded to it often.

I’m posting this in the “Frye at the Movies” category because it will always be interesting to see film adaptations of literary works he liked and could well have seen, contemporary ones especially. It’s at times like this we wish that Frye had kept his often made and always broken promise to maintain a regular diary, an effort that, unfortunately, ended altogether in 1955.

Frye cites Lem’s novel in The Secular Scripture to expand upon the archetype of Narcissus, which is primal. Two recent and very popular movies, Inception and Black Swan, are directly derived from it:

. . . Adam, after his fall, changes his identity, and the later one may be said to be the shadow or dreaming counterpart of the one he had before. The Classical parallel to the Adam story, as several Renaissance mythographers have noted, is the story of Narcissus, where we also have a real man and a shadow. The mistress of Narcissus, Echo, reminds us of the parrot or echo bird that we have already met. What Narcissus really does is exchange his original self for the reflection he falls in love with, becoming, as Blake says, “idolatrous to his own shadow.” In Ovid’s story he simply drowns, but drowning could also be seen as passing into a lower or submarine world. The reflecting pool is a mirror, and disappearing into one’s own mirror image, or entering a world of reversed or reduced dimensions, is a central symbol of descent. A study of mirror worlds in romance might range from the Chinese novel best known in the West by the title The Dream of the Red Chamber to some remarkable treatments of the theme in science fiction, such as Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. (CW 18, 71-2)

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Quote of the Day: “The Book of Mormon”


A reminder that Parker and Stone are also brilliant writers of catchy satirical songs: “It’s Easy, M’Kay,” from Bigger, Longer and Uncut

“All religions constitute an intellectual handicap; the worth of a religion depends on the intellectual honesty it permits. It’s silly to respect all religions: Anglo-Israelitism, for example, is pure shit, and cannot be accepted without destroying one’s whole sense of reality. The Mormons, the Christian Scientists, the fundamentalists, increase the handicap by crippling the brain. Some handicap, probably, one must have: to accept a crippling one. . .is neurotic.” (Denham, Northrop Frye Unbuttoned, 146-7)

An excerpt from Andrew Sullivan’s review of the premier of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s new Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon.

That is not so say that Matt and Trey are proselytizing. They are merely judging faith by its actions, and judging Mormonism by Mormons. We need a higher calling, they seem to say as an empirical observation; we need a grander narrative; and if religion can do that, and bring compassion to the world, why should we stand in the way?


It is the best thing they have ever done – musically, theatrically, comically. They are slowly becoming the Hogarths and Swifts of our time – because by trashing the world with anarchic humor and biting commentary, they are obviously also intent on saving it. And loving it regardless.