Your Weekend Reader for Dec. 16-17

by | Dec 16, 2023 | Miscellaneous, Weekend Reader | 0 comments

There was big news earlier this year in the holiday music world: Someone knocked the Queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey, off her accustomed No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart. For the last four years during the holiday season, Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” has zoomed to No. 1 on Billboard’s top singles chart, which now includes streaming plays. This year, though, the first holiday song to top the Billboard chart was a classic from 1958: Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Lee made a new video for the song this year and opened a TikTok account, and that probably made the difference in her narrow win over the Carey holiday staple. I mean it as high praise when I note that parts of the video could have been filmed by David Lynch during his “Twin Peaks” phase.

The New York Times, never one to miss out on a 65-year-old arts story, promptly dispatched one of its ace music reporters, Lindsay Zoladz, to Nashville to interview Lee, who’s now 78. (Lee was 13 when she recorded “Rockin.'”) Zoladz produced this delightful story, and I’m pleased to report that Lee’s house looks exactly like you think it should.

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by the way, is one of the 17 songs enshrined in my completely fictitious Holiday Music Hall of Fame. Nominations for this year’s inductees are scheduled to open early next week on the blog, so be ready.

In the week’s Pac-12 Conference news, Oregon State University and Washington State University racked up a big legal win on Friday, when the Washington Supreme Court denied a request to review a preliminary injunction that established OSU and WSU as the only remaining members of the Pac-12 board. As Pac-12 reporter Jon Wilner explains, the ruling clears the way for OSU and WSU to control the assets and revenues of the conference and to determine a plan to handle its liabilities. It’s clearly a big win for the two remaining schools in the conference, but I don’t think this will be the last legal wrangling over the conference.

While much of the media coverage about the conference’s demise has focused on the Pac-12’s assets, those liabilities could prove to be a headache. This Wilner story from earlier the week, about how OSU and WSU had moved to block a customary $61 million payment from the conference to its member schools, goes into some detail about some of the potential liabilities the conference faces, including a class-action suit filed by a University of Arizona swimmer; the Pac-12 is one of the defendants.

Other news from Beavers football: The Benton County Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute star running back Damien Martinez on charges including DUII, saying it believes it does not have sufficient evidence to support convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. The team suspended Martinez from playing in the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame, but lifted that suspension after the district attorney’s office announced it wouldn’t prosecute him. Speaking of the Sun Bowl: With quarterbacks DJ UIagalelei and Aidan Chlles off to the transfer portal, Ben Gulbranson will make his first start of the season against Notre Dame. Gulbranson got shunted aside this season behind Ulagalelei and Chiles, but people tend to forget that he was 7-1 as the Beavers’ starter last year and earned most valuable player honors in the Las Vegas Bowl. Meanwhile, it’s not as if Notre Dame will be playing its No. 1 quarterback in the Sun Bowl.

Lizzy Acker at The Oregonian/OregonLive has a long piece examining the struggles facing arts organizations throughout the state. Regardless of whether you’re looking at one of the state’s “anchor arts organizations,” such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, or smaller, rural arts organizations, the picture is the same: For a number of reasons, audience numbers have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, emergency funding to keep programs afloat during the pandemic has just about run its course and expected funding from the Legislature failed to materialize as lawmakers focused on funneling money to housing.

The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull has an in-depth report on what happens when you return something you bought online. Spoiler alert: It isn’t pretty.

The Weekend Reader’s cat desk calls your attention to a New York Times story about a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications: The study found that free-ranging cats dine from a much larger buffet than previously believed: In fact, outdoor cats (including feral ones) eat more than 2,000 species, raising new concerns about their ecological fallout.

The Poynter Institute’s Kristen Hare polled five experts about the best and worst trends of the year for local news. The results won’t surprise anyone who’s been following the issue, but it still makes for an interesting read.

Finally, this weekend, let’s take a moment to consider the Oompa-Loompas, the tiny, mostly unpaid laborers who apparently do most of the work at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. In Roald Dahl’s original book, the Oompa-Loompas were depicted as starving African pygmies until Wonka smuggled the entire tribe out of Africa in packing crates. “It didn’t occur to me that my depiction of the Oompa-Loompas was racist,” Dahl said in a 1988 interview. “But it did occur to the N.A.A.C.P. and others.”

Well, yes. Different versions of the Wonka story — including Paul King’s new “Wonka” movie, out this weekend — have understood that they couldn’t hew to Dahl’s original vision; that’s why the 1971 “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” film reimagined them as orange-skinned, green-haired fellows. “Wonka” keeps the color scheme, but casts Hugh Grant as a egotistical, narcissistic Oompa-Loompa who becomes a mentor to a younger Wonka. (It’s not that much a stretch from the egotistical, narcissistic actor he played in King’s last movie, the delightful “Paddington 2.”)

Robert Ito’s new story in The New York Times tries to take stock of all of this, part of Dahl’s complicated legacy.

That’s it for this weekend; I might see you in line for “Wonka,” but otherwise, we’ll connect next weekend for the Christmas edition.

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