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Music Culture cheat sheet: BTS, "Patriot Act," and more

Aug. 24, 2020
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Binge: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj Volume Six

I’m not the most objective judge of Patriot Act because I’m a sociology major with a pop culture column, and naturally I eat this stuff up. But with audiences’ increasing interest in other bite-sized docuseries (the lesser History 101 is the third most popular Netflix show in my country right now) and the show releasing its sixth (and final) volume, my role as the unofficial Patriot Act campaign manager is more relevant than ever. 

Stand-up comedian Hasan Minhaj (I implore you to watch his Netflix special Homecoming King) co-created this political satire show with TV writer and producer Prashanth Venkataramanujam, tackling timely and timeless issues like healthcare, education, and international politics. It humanizes these issues, making them easier to understand; its critique is infused not only with comedy but with care. 

Every episode is ambitious despite clocking in at under thirty minutes. The writing is sharp, comprehensive, funny, and most importantly, bold—the show’s episode on Saudi Arabia was banned in the country for criticizing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. It also drew controversy in India and the Philippines, with the latter’s government explicitly calling out the show.  

I’ve always found Minhaj’s comedy cathartic, and this instinct translates well into the show. The studio’s floor-to-ceiling screen is the perfect platform for the show’s Emmy-winning motion graphics (and one of its main tools for comedy; the “Video Games” episode is the perfect example of this), and while it will be missed as the show settles on a green screen for its quarantine edition, Patriot Act in any iteration is more than welcome in my Netflix homepage nonetheless. Its cancellation by the streaming giant is a loss I will be mourning for a long, long time.

Patriot Act is available to stream on Netflix.

Watch: Boys State (2020, dir. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine)

Every year, a thousand teenage boys gather together—and if that wasn’t frightening enough—to partake in a mock government where they get grouped into parties, form platforms, and pretend-run for office. While this is a nationwide event, Boys State focuses on its Texas chapter, looking inside what is essentially a petri dish of conservatism; a microcosm of current U.S. politics. 

Innovation is sparked by young people disenfranchised by rigid tradition, but the young boys of Boys State merely imitate the politicking they see on television. Founded by the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, this leadership program, together with its female counterpart Girls State, was formed to help teens explore the mechanics of American governance, and hopefully encourage them to pursue politics. That said, perhaps imitation is not exactly straying away from its goal. 

Early on we are introduced to people who would hold prominent positions in the pretend-government. One of them, Ben Feinstein, calls himself a “politics junkie,” then disregards gender, race, and disability as causes of oppression in the same breath, despite being an amputee himself since age three. When elected State Chairman, Feinstein resorts to scandalous tactics, pouring more energy into slandering the opposition than strengthening his candidate. Politics, for many of these boys, is a game of strategy; they’re addicted to the spectacle of it. 

There are beacons of light in the opposing party’s State Chairman René Otero and their candidate for governorship Steven Garza, who both express eloquence way beyond their years. 

Boys State, in its observant filmmaking, puts Garza at the center of this hero’s journey. His narrative, especially a few weeks before elections, is all too familiar, and perhaps all too painful. There is much conversation to be had about this documentary and what it reveals—gamesmanship and politicking start young, among other things—but right now it seems to confirm the lingering thought that the electoral process can’t be a vehicle for change if it is broken to begin with. Of course I’m not American so I may have missed a few nuances of the film, but I do know what it’s like to live in a country run by an egoistic, power-hungry despot. So cheers. 

(While progressive teens take center stage in this doc, Boys State founder American Legion has a history of oppression and discrimination, which you can read more about here.) 

Boys State is available to watch on Apple TV+.Listen: “Dynamite” by BTS

Anyone who claims the boyband is dead obviously thinks the world revolves around the West. Not only is it very alive, but its impact is astronomical. The marketing of today’s successful boy bands, while excellent (the production value of their videos, shoots, and merch is insane), is bolstered by persistent word of mouth, and this is proven best by Korean group BTS.

“Dynamite,” the first single off the group’s unnamed next album, trended for weeks even before it was released. Its music video, which launched on the 21st, set an all-time record for the biggest music video premiere, raking in 98.3 million views in 24 hours. (The record was previously held by another K-pop group BLACKPINK for their single “How You Like That.”)

Of course this success is thanks partly to their dedicated fanbase, but with its disco vibe and radio-ready hook, “Dynamite” was made to be a summer hit. It’s also their first all-English song, which they didn’t necessarily plan. “While recording for our upcoming album, we thought this track’s energy was so fun and fitting, and considering the ongoing situation around the world, we wanted to enjoy it as quickly as possible with as many people as possible,” said RM, the group’s leader. If you haven’t forayed into K-pop despite their global success (and permeation into the American mainstream), then it’s better late than never. 

Watch the music video for “Dynamite” here.