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Neda Ulaby

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

Scouring the various and often overlapping worlds of art, music, television, film, new media and literature, Ulaby's stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions.

A twenty-year veteran of NPR, Ulaby started as a temporary production assistant on the cultural desk, opening mail, booking interviews and cutting tape with razor blades. Over the years, she's also worked as a producer and editor and won a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation for hosting a podcast of NPR's best arts stories.

Ulaby also hosted the Emmy-award winning public television series Arab American Stories in 2012 and earned a 2019 Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. She's also been chosen for fellowships at the Getty Arts Journalism Program at USC Annenberg and the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

Before coming to NPR, Ulaby worked as managing editor of Chicago's Windy City Times and co-hosted a local radio program, What's Coming Out at the Movies. A former doctoral student in English literature, Ulaby has contributed to academic journals and taught classes in the humanities at the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and at high schools serving at-risk students.

Ulaby worked as an intern for the features desk of the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. But her first appearance in print was when she was only four days old. She was pictured on the front page of the New York Times, as a refugee, when she and her parents were evacuated from Amman, Jordan, during the conflict known as Black September.

Reg Presley, the founder and lead singer of The Troggs, the rock group best known for the performing the original version of the song "Wild Thing," has died. Presley was 71. He died of lung cancer yesterday at his home in England.

Presley was not the only person to memorably sing "Wild Thing," but his version launched literally hundreds of covers. It was just the most famous of a string of hits released by the band — in one span of 18 months, it had seven hit singles.

"We were sounding pretty potent at that time," Presley said in a 1995 documentary by the BBC.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a recent episode of Saturday Night Live when the comedian Louis C.K. played host, one skit parodied his eponymous show on F/X. It riffed on the theme song and the discursive style of his comedy.

But here's the thing: Fewer than 2 million people watch Louie. About 7 million watch Saturday Night Live. That means even optimistically, at least two-thirds of the audience is missing the joke.

The creators of The Thrilling Adventure Hour proudly call it "fake radio." It's less an homage to old-time radio and more of a clever update. A live monthly performance at Largo, a 200-seat, scruffy-chic Hollywood nightclub is also available as a popular podcast through Nerdist.

The pop culture gay flavor of the minute? White gay dads.

"We're having a baby, Bri!" croons one of the leads on NBC's The New Normal. "This is our family. You, me and that kid forever."

It's a mini-boomlet, says real-life white gay dad and sociology professor Joshua Gamson. Not too long ago, he says, pop culture mainly defined gay men as promiscuous and deviant, rather than monogamous and devoted to their families.

"It does seem like a strong counter-stereotype of how gay men have been portrayed over the past, whatever, 50 years," he says.

The Ones That Got Away series: There were so many good arts and entertainment stories in 2012 that we couldn't get around to reporting on everything as it was released. So this week, our arts reporters are circling back to look at books, movies, TV shows and trends that we should have paid more attention to.

Last June, a young woman in Texas uploaded a Justin Bieber fan video. She seemed a little .... unhinged.

"Everyone calls me Geppetto," announces Lou Nasti. "I mean, look at me: The glasses, the gray hair — and I play with dolls. Come on."

Random is a fighting word for young Spencer Thompson. The comedian posted a video to a Facebook page entitled I Hate When People Misuse the Word Random.

"The word random is the most misused word of our generation — by far," he proclaims to a tittering audience of 20-somethings. "Like, girls will say, 'Oh, God, I met this random on the way home.' First of all, it's not a noun."

There's really been nothing like Trapped in the Closet ever before.

R&B star R. Kelly has been making (and remaking) a series of short music videos that tell a flamboyant narrative in less-than-five-minute installments. The first batch of several dozen appeared online in 2005. Now, there's a total of 40 "chapters" that aired last Friday on IFC, with the latest ones being released online one at a time for the next week.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Jacques Barzun, one of the most influential historians, educators and thinkers of the 20th century, died Thursday, just one month shy of his 105th birthday. Barzun seemed to have a limitless capacity to understand and translate complex ideas — about the evolution of Western culture, what it means to be free, and even the value of American baseball. He shared his observations in numerous books and magazine articles and at Columbia University, where he held forth for half a century.

Have you ever seen a rerun episode that made you want to watch more of a show — even a whole season? With so many TV channels and so many shows to keep up with, it's possible that some of them could completely pass you by.

But there are also many ways to watch a show, even if it's no longer on the air. Take the medical drama House, which ended its run on FOX in May.

In a sterile white boardroom in ABC Family's headquarters in Los Angeles, two young women are assiduously ignoring a spread of cookies in favor of two more important things: their laptops and a live broadcast of the show Pretty Little Liars playing on a large flat-screen TV.

Dalia Ganz, 28, is the show's social-media manager. She's patiently teaching one of the beautiful young actors on the show how to live-tweet this episode.

"Include #prettylittleliars in your answers," she instructs. That is a literal transcription of her words.

To speak with Ryan Murphy about his show American Horror Story is to hear this declaration repeatedly: "She classes up the joint."

Murphy is referring to his star, Jessica Lange, who recently won an Emmy for her role in the show's first season. If you've been a fan of Lange's film career, from Tootsie to Frances to Blue Sky, you might wonder why this treasure of the American theater, this two-time Oscar winner, is slumming in a lurid cable TV horror show.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I was packing up my recording equipment after interviewing TV executive Susanne Daniels — for a different story — when she said, casually, "Have you ever noticed how there's never been a really great TV show about college?"

I looked at her. Then I started unpacking my equipment again. She had just offered me a story.

When museum curator Nicholas Bell was putting together the show Craft Futures: 40 Under 40 at the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery, he realized the artists had something in common besides their under-40 status. Because of their youth, he felt that each of them could be classified as "post 9/11" artists.

"Their worldview is defined by the angst, the unease, the trepidation of the difficulties of the 21st century," he says.

For an egregious example of a silly product placement, look no further than the CW show The Vampire Diaries, where a character actually says "I Bing'd it" of a search online. But believe it or not, product placement can actually be serious and socially conscious.

Take the Fox comedy Raising Hope. Earlier this year, the show's main character, who'd been a teen mom, caught a high school girl in bed with her boyfriend. "I'm gonna show you where this can lead to!" she screeched. "I'm your ghost of teen pregnancy future!"

Today, four million people all over the world will log on to Facebook — or take out their phones — and play SongPop. This summer, it's become the fastest growing social game on Facebook, taking a run at old standards such as Farmville and Words with Friends.

If you ever decide to visit one of the largest museums of contemporary art in the world, prepare yourself: It's a little intimidating. First, you have to drive to upper Massachusetts, just south of the Vermont border, where you'll behold 26 hulking brick buildings: We're talking 600,000 square feet of raw, sunlit space, roughly equivalent to a mid-sized airport.

When people talk about Tony Scott's movies, the same words often come up: stylish, exuberant and kinetic. Three years ago, in a video interview with The Guardian, Scott explained why watching his movies could sometimes be exhausting.

"I have this natural energy that I want to inject into what I do," he said. "The worlds that I touch, I sort of embrace those worlds, and I always look for that energetic side of the worlds that I'm touching."

When writer David Rakoff died Thursday at the age 47, he was barely the age he said he was always "meant" to be. In his 2010 memoir, Half Empty, he wrote, "Everyone has an internal age, a time in life when one is, if not one's best, then at very least one's most authentic self. I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between 47 and 53 years old."

Rakoff died in New York City after a long struggle with cancer — an ordeal that he wrote about with sobering honesty and biting wit.

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