The Blessed Diversion Network is an ongoing, lifelong act of obsessive compulsion disguised as a network of critical encyclopedias covering various, personally transfixing, emanations of visual popular culture. It began, in one sense, on the day that I first felt that I’d rather watch TV, see a movie, read a comic or listen to the radio than face that entirely overrated phenomenon called real life, and in its current form kicked in when I was nudged out of my job as an entertainment columnist and critic with the Toronto Star last year. My lifelong default has always been to retreat into synthetic diversions, and it’s always been an intensely satisfying form of solitary (and not mass, not for me anyway) immersion: it helps me think, feel and understand, and it becomes a medium through which I can digest experience in manageably tasty morsels. I find that life oddly makes more sense when filtered through the projections, tropes and shared rituals of popular culture, and it certainly feels more bearable and exciting. So that’s what this is: something I need to do that I’d be doing anyway, but that I hope might offer something to somebody similarly afflicted somewhere.
This is a site devoted to all things western, but movies and TV shows especially. It exists because its author is a lifelong fanatic of all things that ride horses, shoot guns, take vengeance and act manly, but also because the western is one of the richest and most fascinating fictional genres of them all. meanjustice.com is an ongoing critical encyclopedic reference, a constantly growing and evolving compendium of all things western from all eras an in all forms. There will be much here some of you may have never heard of, and there will be much that is not here that should be. Be patient, we’ll get around it. The frontier is as vast as it is fertile, and it will take some time to get all the steers into the corral. And even then there will be strays. The point is to provide a comprehensive panoramic appreciation of the most influential, versatile and just plain fascinating genre of the twentieth century, the one that held an uncanny mirror up to history in an astonishingly miniature frame. The cowboy might now seem like a quaint, archaic or spent figure, but hold your horses: he tracked a century on his trails, and his traces still tell us much about who we are and how we got here. Enjoy.
From the very first flickerings of the movies, shadows fell hard and dark: crime haunted our popular entertainment like a guilty conscience, and it has clung to our amusements ever since. This site — an ongoing critical encyclopedic reference — is devoted to all things pop culturally crime-related: film noir, gangster movies, cop procedurals, police TV shows, gumshoe chronicles, anything in which people do bad things so that we may be entertained. But is that it? The premise — or maybe, for the author, the excuse — is the nagging suspicion that the worst we imagine of ourselves and for ourselves is best reflection of who we are, and there’s something to be said for something that is as persistently and insistently contradictory of happily-ever-after as the popular entertainment crime spree that never ends. This is the frontier — usually urban, often nocturnal, always fatal — where fears prevail, where anxiety thrives and where the cracks appear. It’s the place where the foundations of what we’ve built for ourselves crumbles, and that no amount of light can cut through the rubble. Or not for long, anyway. Like darkness the nightmares it delivers, the shadow always falls.
When it comes to pop cultural diversions, some of us are all in or not at all. This website is devoted to the former specimen, of which I am one. I would say proudly so, but that’s making a cause out of a matter I really had no choice in. I’m a cult guy whether I want to be or not, and I can’t imagine being interested in anything moderately. If it trips my wire, I need to track it down to the end, all the way and beyond all reasonable limits. If you get this, then you might also dig this, which is a website devoted to the gradual critical encyclopedic appreciation of all things pop culturally cult. (Yes, the fact that this exists, or that any single person would attempt it, is a symptom of the affliction.) Because I’m not only an avid member of a cult or two myself, I’m also avidly fascinated — intemperately so — by objects of cult fascination themselves. I’m a cult cultist. So that’s what this is: a compendium of thoughts on all things that have attracted or generated a cult audience, and an attempt to understand what it is that separates the pop cultural cult artefact from every other innocuous and ephemeral diversion the machinery spews out every second of every day. So perhaps some qualifications are called for. One can define a cult either by the object or its followers, and I’ll plead guilty right now to doing both. If a movie or TV show (and, as this builds, I hope to add music, comics, writers and just about anything that’s tripped somebody’s wire somewhere) has generated a following that extends both beyond its real-time run and any semblance of reasonable interest; if, that is, it has become as important if not more than life itself to somebody somewhere, it qualifies for the directory. Some cults are small, some are fleeting, and some are so big — Star Wars, for instance, or The Beatles, or Mad Men that they would seem to burst the boundaries of cultdom and qualify as mass phenomena. But that’s why I prefer to think of cult status less as a matter of an audience’s size than its nature, and especially the nature of its fascination. Cult for me isn’t an object but an effect, something that infiltrates one’s responses so deeply that you can’t get enough of it, that your life somehow feels incomplete, lesser even, without it. Not all of the things contained here are personal items of cult interest — how could they be? To maintain its specialty status, cultism has to be random and selective — but they are all items of interest because they are cult to somebody somewhere. I hope you enjoy, I hope you understand, and I even hope, for somebody somewhere, it becomes a habit. Me, I just can’t help myself.
Rock music arrives in pictures: it’s on TV, in the movies, newspaper and magazines. You see it as much as you hear it, and so it ever was and will always be. Only jazz comes close in terms of having a documented visual history, and it doesn’t really come close. And rock’s impact — massive, needless to say — is inextricable from its delivery as a visual form. It’s precisely because it has such a powerful look-see dimension that it has such a transformative cultural effect: it alters the way we see things, and it seems forever to mark the history of the twentieth century into two epochs: before and after Elvis. I grew up obsessed with music — and TV’s The Monkees in particular — and for me seeing was every bit as vital, pleasurable and expected as hearing. You expected to see your favourite artists on TV and in the movies, and you expected to see hipness measured by how closely somebody hued to rock as style and lifestyle. rifffreeordie.com is a website devoted to rock — which I use as an umbrella term to cover just about all forms of post rock & roll popular music — in its visual manifestations. From early TV to verité, and from after school dance shows to music video, from live DVDs to YouTube: what we’re attempting here is the impossible but irresistible. It’s an encyclopedic critical reference to pop music as a visual phenomenon, which is how pop popped in the first place.