Wednesday, February 08, 2012 1:49 PM
Flying faster than a speeding bullet, becoming invisible, and shooting fireballs out of one’s palms. The nature of super heroes is that they do supernatural things. But what really makes for a good super hero and heroines is a healthy dollop of mortality. Which is why the recent re-launch of the comic book series Batgirl was so contentious.
For the past 23 years, Batgirl (the alias of Barbara Gordon), has been paraplegic. But with the recent overhaul of DC Comics—also home to the Superman, Justice League, Watchmen, and Batman franchises—Gordon was miraculously cured of her spinal disability, able to walk around, fight evil, and otherwise kick tail like a conventional comic book heroine.
“Adding insult to injury,” writes Aaron Broverman for New Mobility, a publication serving active wheelchair users, “Gordon had become a beacon of pride for readers with disabilities, thanks to her post-injury identity—Oracle—an enterprising super-hacker relied on by all DC heroes for her intelligence-gathering skills.”
The Batgirl recovery, argues Broverman, is just the latest manifestation of the “miracle cure narrative,” a plot device that ensures a happy ending, but also stigmatizes people with disabilities. Other examples include Colin Craven in The Secret Garden, Clara in Heidi, and, oh, you know, all those folks that Jesus healed. Broverman explains the problematic of this narrative device: “Like these characters, if you’d worked a little harder or gotten a little more fresh air, you’d be cured, too.”
To be fair, DC claims that the company-wide re-launch set the clock back to five years after the inception of the DC comic universe—a convenient bit of timeline rewriting and rejiggering. “[I]n a universe where dead superheroes can come back to life,” cedes Broverman, “[where] aliens are real, time travel is possible and artificial intelligence has advanced past the singularity, it’s actually more unbelievable that this woman has had something so comparatively minor as a spinal cord injury for so long.”
Source: New Mobility (subscription required)
Image courtesy of DC Comics.
Monday, February 06, 2012 3:19 PM
A few soup recipes that aren’t typically found on a seafood restaurant’s menu: tomato soup, turtle soup, bird’s nest soup, translucent soup. Maybe those restaurants should start including them, though, because photographer Mandy Barker was able to collect all the ingredients on her last trip to the beach. It’s fantastic what thrives in the sea.
Of course, I’m not talking about actual bird’s nest soup. Barker is making her “soup” from the riches of plastic that bob in ocean’s trash gyres. (“‘Gyre’ is a fancy word for a current in a bowl of soup,” seaborne garbage expert Curtis Ebbesmeyer told Harper’s Magazine’s Donovan Hohn. “You stir your soup, it goes around a few seconds.”)
“SOUP: Bird’s Nest,” the opening image of this post, contains a delicious mix of “discarded fishing line that has formed nest-like balls due to tidal and oceanic movement” and “other debris collected in its path.”
Barker’s tangles of fishing line look like a school of tropical jellyfish caught in a midnight migration. (Or an outfit worn by Björk, for that matter.) The colouring and fragility of the figures make for a beautiful image—until you imagine the world’s living jellyfish replaced by Barker’s artificial ones. As Barker explains in her mission statement:
The series aims to engage with and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction and an awareness of the disturbing statistics of dispersed plastics . . . which results, ultimately, in the death of sea creatures.
“SOUP: Ruinous Remembrance”
Ingredients; plastic flowers, leaves, stems and fishing line
Additives; bones, skulls, feathers and fish.
Ingredients; red plastic debris.
Ingredients; plastic turtles that have circled and existed in The North Pacific gyre for 16 years.
Additives; ducks, beavers and frogs.
Ingredients; translucent plastic debris.
Ingredients; plastic oceanic debris affected by the chewing and attempted ingestion by animals. Includes a toothpaste tube.
Additives; teeth from animals.
(Plastic’s proliferation is practically a department [read: permanent source of anxiety] at Utne Reader. See our previous writing on it here, here, and here. Also, Donovan Hohn’s book Moby-Dick—based on the aforementioned Harper’s Article—is a fascinating read that tackles the problem of plastic from every conceivable angle.)
Images courtesy of Mandy Barker.
Friday, January 27, 2012 3:33 PM
Forget the global warming crisis; pay no mind to unabated fundamentalism smeared across the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and American heartland; don’t worry about withering civil rights under Bush and Obama. No, America, we have a much more pressing concern: mucus.
Saliva. Phlegm. Big, slimy loogies. Spit.
The world can be an ugly place, so might as well not be forced to shuffle through it stepping on each other’s snot. That’s why John Metcalfe wrote a breezy defense of anti-spitting laws for the urban planning and design blog The Atlantic Cities.
Archaic spitting laws that restrict the public discharge of fluids from your face, many passed in the “tuberculosis-ridden 1800s,” are still on the books across the country—and even enforced. “After seeing the 18-year-old discharge a glob of saliva onto the street,” Metcalfe summarizes a recent Florida news story, “a pair of local cops took him to jail and stuck him with a $100 fine.” But that’s not quite satisfying for Metcalfe, who claims he would “personally rather run across an angry drug addict peeing on a dumpster than one more man launching a snot rocket over the subway tracks.”
The Florida adolescent didn’t even receive the maximum penalty for spitting. According to Metcalfe, “Violators can incur fines of up to $500 and a 60-day jail sentence, where presumably they can spit their hearts out into a metal toilet.”
Other places already impose and police spitting bans—for example golf courses, Singapore, and the fictional planet Arrakis—to great effect. Their reasons are unique to the place, but all send the same message: “Don’t be gross, people.”
The article might have been merely an excuse for Metcalfe to write a bunch of gross puns and cringe-worthy anecdotes. (You might also argue that that’s why I wrote a post about it, too.) He doesn’t step into the discussion of whether or not it’s the proper place for government in our personal lives, which is probably good, because that could only lead to a black hole of comment flaming. But I largely agree with his opinion that spitting doesn’t do much to encourage polite social interaction.
Source: The Atlantic Cities
Image by peretzp, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 3:02 PM
This is an excerpt of a post that originally appeared on
When Google launched Street View in 2007, it was the company’s intent to map and document every street in the United States. Cars were dispatched into every city to drive every street and back road, using nine directional cameras mounted on the roofs of special cars. These cameras give us 360° movable views at a height of about 8.2 feet. There are also GPS units for positioning and three laser-range scanners designed for measuring up to 50 meters 180° in the front of the vehicle. [Artist Doug] Rickard analyzed tens or hundreds of thousands of Street Views in his search for perfect pictures, something he describes as containing an “apocalyptic-like brokenness.” Indeed, the height of the camera at 8.2 feet, while creating an aesthetic cohesion and uniformity of vision, adds a distinct feeling of “alienation” that Rickard employs. Unlike the making of street photos in the traditional sense, with Street View there is an oblivious-ness to the camera as it goes about its job with no feeling or emotion. In spite of this anonymity of machine, his images are—perhaps surprisingly—layered with empathy.
Rickard has amassed several terabytes of Street View images—nearly 15,000 shots captured, labeled, and stored. From that massive stash, he selected only about 80 images for “A New American Picture,” of which a selection is on view at MoMA. To give you an idea of the voracity of Rickard’s Street View search, he has virtually explored almost every neighborhood in the “broken” portions of Atlanta, New Orleans, Jersey City, Durham, Houston, Watts (in Los Angeles) and Camden. He has also explored, inch by inch, the smaller towns of America with names like Lovington, Waco, Artesia, Dothan and Macon. What he looks for are images that carry what he calls a certain “poetry” of subject matter, color, and story—a story described in part by him as “the inverse of the American Dream.” And if the image isn’t “perfect” according to the elements of Rickard’s demands, it’s a no-go. Everything in the image has to be composed, via the camera motion of Street View, to his very subjective, personal, and exacting standards.
Rickard’s exhibition at MoMA opened last September and closes on January 16, 2012. The show is aptly entitled “New Photography 2011,” and includes the work of five other photographers: Moyra Davey, George Georgiou, Deana Lawson, Viviane Sassen and Zhang Dali.
Doug Rickard is a modern-day photographer not unlike those who went before him. His imagery can be compared to the banal and mysterious cityscapes of painter Edward Hopper, or the great documentary photographers like Ben Shahn, Robert Frank and Walker Evans, all of whom shone a light on the shadows and made known the “invisible”—the disenfranchised and forgotten communities of America. Just as WPA photographers like Dorothea Lange combed America to document the great American Depression, so has Doug Rickard with his new camera: Google Street View.
Images courtesy of Doug Rickard and Observatory.
Monday, January 09, 2012 5:17 PM
“In 2012,” writes Greg Beato for The Smart Set, “Ronald McDonald is essentially a clown without a country.” Beato is referring to the rapid modernization of the McDonald’s fast food restaurant chain, which has abandoned the primary-colored, dine-n-ditch, gee-whiz simplicity of its past and embraced chic aesthetics, comfortable ambiance, and more sophisticated flavors. As a symbol of McDonald’s garish past, Ronald is being left by the wayside. Quips Beato, “Amidst the sleek walnut paneling and modernist dining chairs, however, the chain’s longtime mascot looks less like a crown prince than a red-headed stepchild.”
Ronald McDonald’s “job” at the restaurant chain best show’s the company’s changing relationship with its diners. Beato explains Ronald’s career path from burger slinger to what amounts to a community outreach volunteer:
Demoted upwards to Chief Happiness Officer, Ronald has roughly the same job duties as First Lady Michelle Obama. He serves as the public face of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides housing to the families of hospitalized children. He promotes literacy. He engages in brief bouts of highly publicized physical activity. But his position with McDonald’s is equally defined by what he’s not allowed to do on behalf of the chain he helped turn into an international superpower. “He does not hawk food,” Jim Skinner insisted at the 2010 shareholder’s meeting. “He never does a hard sell,” reiterated Marlena Peleo-Lazar in [a] USA Today piece.
That only scratches the surface. Beato’s description of Ronald’s history at McDonald’s is well-sourced and extensive—all of it fascinating.
Source: The Smart Set
Image by Valerie Everett, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 04, 2012 5:01 PM
In the run-up to the holiday season, a disproportionate number of well-known public figures died. Firebrand author Christopher Hitchens, Czech playwright and politician Václav Havel, and North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, to name a few. But for all the press that the deaths of those three garnered, Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora’s silent passing seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Sad and fitting, you might say, for someone from a republic speckled off the west coast of Africa like so much wind-blown Saharan sand.
Cape Verde comprises a small, 10-island archipelago off the coast of Senegal. “Cape Verdeans are a small people,” writes Janine de Novais—a Cape Verdean living in Massachussetts—in an obituary-cum-mini-memoir for the Paris Review, “a million split evenly between the islands and the diaspora.” Part of their relative invisibility and hardship, both common topics in Évora’s music, stems from a nebulous cultural identity in a big, globalized world.
De Novais recounts her own hesitancy to explain where she’s from while growing up in Belgium, a task that often “required cutting the air in the shape of Africa and picking a spot somewhere in the middle of an imagined ocean. There—that’s where I’m from. I might as well have said, Nowhere.” When Évora became a globally-known diva, however, de Novais found she could mention her birthplace without meeting blank stares. “You’re Cape Verdean? Oh, Cesária Évora!” people would say in response.
But for de Novais, Évora was more than a touchstone, she was a symbol for the home she had so much trouble explaining. “[Évora] encompassed all I wanted to say about home” she writes, “her voice was the easy pace, the maritime air, the raspy beauty, and the full sound of the port city of Mindelo, her hometown and mine.”
Another obituary written for British magazine The Independent remembers how Évora’s somber singing-style—part blues, part African Creole folk, and part soul—enchanted the world’s heart. “The genre she specialized in, the sad, poetic morna, is distinctive and atmospheric and Évora’s voice, mellow and simple, was perhaps its loveliest vehicle.” The Independent explains the genre just as well as I could:
Sodade is the morna’s key emotional basis, Cape Verdean Creole for the Portuguese saudade, or nostalgia and longing—for home, often, because Cape Verdeans are great departers. One of Évora’s most celebrated songs, called simply “Sodade,” encapsulates this world with its hauntingly matter-of-fact lyric, “You write to me, I’ll write to you/ You forget me, I’ll forget you.”
As my own coda, I’ll leave you with the video to “Sodade”:
Sources: The Independent, Paris Review
Image by Expansão Cultural, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 03, 2012 4:11 PM
This article originally appeared at Places.
My grandmother’s highest compliment for a natural landscape was to say that it was “pretty as a picture.” Even as a kid I remember thinking that this aesthetic was somehow upside-down, that the beauty of art should be judged according to the inimitable standard of natural beauty rather than the other way around. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, well-heeled European travelers toured the countryside looking for views that would be as pretty as a picture — or, to be more precise, as pretty as a painting. And because they had a certain kind of painting in mind as embodying their standard of natural beauty, these early ecotourists often carried with them a small, convex, tinted mirror known as a “Claude glass,” after the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. When a picturesque landscape was encountered — say, the snow-capped Alps — the tourists would turn their backs to the mountains and whip out their Claude glass, holding it up to frame the mountains, which were not only reflected but also color-shifted to a tonal range that made them appear more painterly. And voila! The rugged Alps become not only pretty as a picture, but become a picture, as the pleased ecotourists admired not the mountains but rather the image they had created. But must we turn our backs on the land to see it as aesthetically pleasing? Why do we so often love our representations of the world more dearly than we love the world itself?
You might say that the Claude glass of the 19th century was photography, and that the 20th-century Claude glass was film. These technologies have profoundly conditioned our landscape aesthetics; they have, in effect, allowed us to frame the world. Certainly cinema’s stylized, controlled and color-corrected representations of nature have thoroughly mediated our relationship to the physical world, not only shaping our environmental aesthetics but also implying that a representation of nature may be an improvement upon nature itself. Film has the power to show us landscape in remarkably dramatic fashion; but to see the land in film we must first turn our back on the land itself. To climb up into the bright mountains of the screen, we must first descend into the dark cave of the theater.
From an early age I’ve held the unwavering conviction that musicals — especially movie musicals — constitute the most intolerable and misguided aesthetic form in the checkered history of human civilization. Besides being uniformly hokey and boring, musicals are also cloying and saccharine. I make it a policy never to trust a person who would spontaneously break into song, especially when they’re about to begin a knife fight (West Side Story), adopt an orphan as a publicity stunt (Annie), or confess their unwanted pregnancy (Grease). Clearly the world would be a better place if this upswelling, confessional, tuneful emoting could be soundly squelched.
If I sound testy, I have good reason. As the father of two young daughters, I have in the past several years been subjected to musicals too numerous and nauseating to be enumerated. The most frequently repeated of these abominations is the much-beloved The Sound of Music, whose perennial popularity confirms every curmudgeonly thing I’ve ever said or written about my fellow human beings. Indeed, the National Association of Misanthropes might consider screening this “timeless classic” at its annual convention, if only to reassure members that they really are on the right track. But despite my personal aversion, The Sound of Music, released in 1965, not only bailed out a sinking 20th Century Fox but, adjusted for inflation, has gone on to make over a billion dollars. That’s “billion” with a “B,” as in "Blockbuster," or "Banal" or "Bullshit."
Read the rest of this essay at
Photo by the author.
Friday, December 16, 2011 3:55 PM
What do you know about Santa Claus? He has a big, white beard; a jolly jelly-bowl of a belly; rosy cheeks; and a candy-apple red leisure suit. He keeps a stable of supernatural reindeer, probably somewhere in the vicinity of Norway. And, of course, he delivers Xboxes and ponies to well-behaved kids and coal and books to those that broke the rules too often in December. Most people have a fairly fond outlook toward ol’ St. Nicholas, but Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse of 3 Quarks Daily think he’s one of the most nefarious figures in America. Or, as they put it, Santa Claus is a “morally tone-deaf autocrat who delivers toys to the children of well-off parents rather than life-saving basic goods to the most needy.”
Let’s unpack Aikin and Talisse’s screed a little bit, and afterward you can decide for yourself whether you’re going to throw Mr. Kringle under the sleigh.
The two writers start from the premise that Santa is both morally and “somnically” omniscient—that, as the old ditty goes, he knows whether we’ve been bad or good and if we’re lying wide-awake in bed or if visions of sugarplums are dancing in our heads. Plus, he’ll break into our homes by any means possible (even if he must resort to the chimney). “In other words,” the scrooges at 3 Quarks Daily write, “Santa does not respect our privacy.”
You might say that Santa serves as a good metaphor for an ever-watching nanny-state. A scarlet-clad London bureaucrat, if you will. (Or, if you prefer, you can imagine Westerners as inmates of a Foucauldian Panoptican prison complex, with Santa Claus and his workshop hidden neatly in the observation tower.) By stacking the holiday gift-game with the moral incentive to be-good-or-forgo-presents, the goodness and the rightness of behaving well is cheapened. “Performing the action that morality requires is surely good,” they contend, “however, when the morally required act is performed for the wrong reasons, the morality of the act is diminished.” The promise of toys at the end of year spurs us to act out of self-interest rather than out of innate goodness. Aikin and Talisse go so far as to say that “the Santa myth undermines the idea that we should act on the basis of our moral reasons.” In other words, we’re greedy and we’ll do whatever it takes for free stuff—and then return to being despicable after the New Year.
Aikin and Talisse don’t pull any punches in their conclusion. “Santa,” they write, “is thus a moral torturer: He punishes those who are not good, and then imposes a system of incentives and encouragements that go a long way towards ensuring that everyone will fail at goodness.” And just in case they hadn’t upset everyone with their moral treatise, they remind the faithful that they’re failing their own religion by believing and accepting Santa Claus’ stranglehold on holiday tradition: “Christian parents that embrace the Santa myth make idolaters of their children.”
Like a child leaving milk and cookies out for Santa as a last-ditch attempt to prove their sterling character, Aikin and Talisse get in one final parting shot: “Not only does Santa Claus not exist, it’s a good thing, too.” Merry Christmas!
Source: 3 Quarks Daily
Image by DanCentury, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 15, 2011 2:05 PM
The year was 1988. Japan’s Olympic Games went off without a hitch, astronomers found an ocean beneath the crust of one of Jupiter’s moons, and a small gangsta rap collective released one of the most memorable, most inflammatory songs of all time. “Fuck tha Police”—which was featured on N.W.A.’s debut album, Straight Outta Compton—prophetically criticized police brutality and racial inequality. The album dropped four short years before the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles.
Police brutality is in the news again, but this time it’s being levied against Occupy Wall Street protestors. The social atmosphere that led to the ’92 riots is different in many ways from our current distraught times, so it only makes sense to update the anthem for the new generation of disenfranchised protestors. Rappers Sage Francis, B. Dolan, Toki Wright, and Jasiri X recently recorded “Film the Police,” a call to arms—er, well, phones—reminding young protestors that police brutality is unacceptable. Twenty-three years of telecommunications technology advances have given ordinary citizens an instrument to document egregious abuses by law enforcement officers: Smartphones. Before I go any further, watch the video below:
The new version borrows many elements from Ice Cube and Co.’s version, borrowing its original beat and rhyme scheme, as well as lyrical themes. When B. Dolan says, “You got a weapon in you pocket whether you know it or not”—referring to a handheld video camera—it echoes N.W.A.’s aggressive, dissenting, we’ve-had-it-up-to-here attitude. Jasiri X raps about how wealth inequality and violence disproportionately affect black Americans, which is the same thing Eazy-E was saying in the late ’80s.
The emcees make clever use of violent language which, in my opinion, works far more constructively than N.W.A.’s pissed-off rhetoric. “Now tell me what you gonna do, next time you see the boys in blue,” rhymes Toki Wright. “You cock your camera back and point and shoot.” Although the lyrics seem to advocate the assassination of police officers, it’s clear that “shooting” is an act of non-violent resistance when juxtaposed with video footage of riot police mowing down protestors with rubber bullets.
I’ll save the larger discussion about hip hop’s de-politicization for another time, but it seems that the genre’s musicians seem to be taking a stronger political stance lately. If I could recommend one recent (and excellent) (and free) politically-driven hip hop album to check out, it would be Immortal Technique’s mixtape The Martyr. It’s, as they say in the industry, quite dope.
Monday, December 12, 2011 4:25 PM
Kids these days get all the cool toys. Whether it’s a talking strip of bacon, a T-Pain microphone with built-in auto-tune, a giant inflatable Titanic waterslide, an animatronic kitten, or sticky bath-time goo, it seems that every absurd flight of a child’s fancy can be met. “Sure, it may seem counterintuitive,” writes Travel + Leisure, “but as anyone who grew up playing with a Slinky, a Squirmle, or Silly Putty can attest, it’s often the strangest toys, the ones that freak us out or make us squeal, that become our childhood favorites.”
But if you ask me, parents and toymakers these days don’t give kids enough credit. Given an odd-shaped rock, an empty cardboard box, an old make-up compact, or really weird bug, kids will entertain themselves longer than with a plastic action figure with multiple outfits. There’s something to be said for the classics, the timeless toys that transform in a child’s hand: the piece of string that becomes a magic rope, the soup pot that becomes a knight’s helmet, the couch cushions that become a house.
In a flashy consumer culture that finds new ways to add laser sounds and glitter (for the little ones) and wholesome educational elements (for the nail-biting parents) to otherwise innocuous toys, it was nice to read Geek Dad’s roundup of “The Five Best Toys of All Time.” Writer Jonathan Liu, who often reviews gadgety toys for technophilic parents, takes a step back and considers the essential components of a good toy. “These are time-tested and kid-approved!” he claims, introducing a list that includes cardboard boxes, mailing tubes, and dirt. “And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.”
His tongue-in-cheek description is nostalgic and refreshing. Here’s his review of one of history’s most popular toys, commonly known as “Stick”:
This versatile toy is a real classic—chances are your great-great-grandparents played with one, and your kids have probably discovered it for themselves as well. It’s a required ingredient for Stickball, of course, but it’s so much more. Stick works really well as a poker, digger and reach-extender. It can also be combined with many other toys (both from this list and otherwise) to perform even more functions.
Stick comes in an almost bewildering variety of sizes and shapes, but you can amass a whole collection without too much of an investment. You may want to avoid the smallest sizes—I’ve found that they break easily and are impossible to repair. Talk about planned obsolescence. But at least the classic wooden version is biodegradable so you don’t have to feel so bad about pitching them into your yard waste or just using them for kindling. Larger, multi-tipped Sticks are particularly useful as snowman arms. (Note: requires Snow, which is not included and may not be available in Florida.)
Sources: Geek Dad, Travel + Leisure
, licensed under
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 2:15 PM
For better or worse, geek culture is thriving all over the world. As comedian Patton Oswalt said in an issue of Wired from last year, “Our below-the-topsoil passions have been rudely dug up and displayed in the noonday sun.” Luckily for your taste buds, though, the triumph of geekery coincides deliciously with the current Golden Age of Beverages. Microbreweries, single-brew coffee joints, and artisan soda jerks are popping up in trendy neighborhoods across the country. Sipping has never been so exciting. But the one beverage that should make an enthusiast’s eyes really sparkle, argues Alex Halberstadt for Gilt Taste, is from a small region in France: “No wine has as much to offer the die-hard geek as champagne.”
“It takes years to begin making sense of the region’s multitude of villages,” Halberstadt explains, “each with its unique microclimates and soils,the intricacies of contact with yeasts—resting “on the lees”—and dosage,the relationships between the growers and the large firms that buy their grapes, the potential of each growing season, the science and craft of the blend.”
Halberstadt is aware of the bias (or stigma, perhaps) that champagne is solely the nectar of Top 40 rappers and hedge fund managers. “Of course,” he writes, “in times of obdurate recession and ballooning fiscal inequality . . . [it’s] tempting to dismiss these wines as little more than carbonated bling as they become associated with their most publicized modes of misuse: sprayed onto the custom-ostrich upholstery of Navigators and Escalades, popped among the flickering monitors of derivatives traders, splashed into the downy clefts of A-list strippers and C-list starlets at St. Tropez’s Les Caves du Roy.”
But Halberstadt challenges that prevailing notion, claiming that “when it comes to champagne, the relationship between enjoyment and price tends to be anything but linear.”(It’s worth pointing out that Gilt Taste’s main business is selling luxury food products. Did you notice the gleaming green bottles to the right of the article? Are you getting a little thirsty?) Forget about Cristal, move over Dom Pérignon.
For starters, Halberstadt provides insight on getting into the champagne game—both consumer tips and industry constraints. They’re too various and detailed to reproduce here, but there’s a hope (at least in this debt-laden college grad’s mind) that an appreciation for nice champagne doesn’t need to break the bank.
To get you in the mood for some bubbly, feast your eyes on this delectable video of a drunken Orson Welles slurring through multiple takes of a commercial.
Source: Gilt Taste
Image by mischvalente, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:18 PM
This post originally appeared at
and in a slightly different form in the October issue of
Every childhood has its own geography and every child is an explorer, as daring as any Peary or Amundsen or Scott. I was the mildest of children, such a picky eater that my parents called me a “quince” (a fruit sour enough, they insisted, to make your face pucker, as mine did when challenged by any food out of the ordinary). I was neither a daredevil nor a chance-taker, and by my teens scorned myself for being so boringly on the straight and narrow. I never raced a car, or mocked a cop, or lit out for the territories.
Still, by the luck of the draw, as a child of the 1950s, I was plunged into a landscape more exotic than most American kids could then have imagined. It was still devastated by war, populated to a startling extent by present and former enemies, and most amazingly, the Germans, Japanese, Italians, and Russians (not to speak of the French and English) I encountered there were thrillingly alive in a way everything in my life told me we Americans weren’t.
Let me explain, geographically speaking and as personally as I can. I grew up at 40 East 58th Street, just off Madison Avenue, in the heart of Manhattan, two blocks from the Plaza Hotel, where Eloise got her hair cut. Apartment 6D -- “as in David,” we always said.
My parents moved there in 1946, just after World War II. It was two doors down from the Plaza movie theater, and getting to 6D was an exotic affair. You exited a small, gated elevator into a modest-sized corridor, apartments on either side, only to find yourself on a catwalk in the open air looking down on what might have been the low roofs of Paris. A stroll along that catwalk and a right turn into another corridor got you to our rent-controlled duplex with its living-room skylight under which my mother -- “New York’s girl caricaturist,” as she was known in the gossip columns of the war years -- regularly set up her easel. My room was upstairs.
The fifties are now recalled as a golden age when Americans, white ones anyway, burst into the suburbs, while all the consumerist gratifications deferred by the Great Depression and World War II were sated. It was the age of the television set (“Bigger screen… Brighter picture… Better reception”) and pop-up toasters, of Frigidaires and freezers big enough “for the whole family” (“holds 525 pounds!”), of “extension” phones, wonder of wonders, (“I just couldn’t get along without my kitchen telephone”), and cigarettes so “soothing to the nerves” that doctors and baseball players alike were proud to endorse them.
With good jobs and rising wages in a still war-battered world, the United States stood so much taller than the rest of the planet, manufacturing the large items of the peaceable life (cars, above all) and the advanced weaponry of war, often in the same dominant corporations. It was a world in which Bell Telephone, that purveyor of extension phones, could also run upbeat ads aimed at boys extolling its weapons work. (As one began: “Chip Martin, college reporter, sees a ‘talking brain’ for guided missiles... ‘Glad to see you, Chip. Understand you want to find out how our Air Force can guide a warhead a quarter of the way around the world. Well, look here...’”)
Inexpensive gas, cheap well-marbled steaks, and reliable warheads that might end life as we knew it -- that seems like a reasonable summary of the obvious in American life in those years. And if you were a kid and wanted more, Hollywood was there to deliver: it was a time when, on screen, the Marines always advanced before the movie ended, and the sound of a bugle meant the bluecoats were coming to save the day. It was the moment when, for the first time in history, teenagers had money in their pockets and could begin to spend it on clothes, records, and other entertainment, propelling the country into a new age in which the Mad Men of that era would begin advertising directly to them.
Bad Times in an American Golden Age
I knew that world, of course, even if our little “icebox,” which iced over easily, was no Frigidaire. Living in the middle of Manhattan, I could catch the all-American-ness of life by taking a three-block walk to the RKO 58th Street movie theater at the corner of Third Avenue where, popcorn in hand, I’d settle in for a double-feature version of the world as it was supposed to be.
There, too, I could regularly see my father’s war. Like so many of those we now call “the greatest generation,” he was silent on the subject of his war experience (except for rare rants about “war profiteers” and “the Japs”), but that mattered little. After all, what did he have to say when the movies taught me everything I needed to know about what he had done in his war?
Because the then-liberal rag the New York Post assigned my mother to draw the Army-McCarthy hearings (being broadcast live on ABC), we got a TV for the first time in April 1954. Of course, the sitcoms I was allowed to watch, like Hollywood’s war films, Westerns, and comedies, had a remarkable tendency to end tidily and on an upbeat note. Unlike movies about my father’s war, however, I had something to compare those sitcoms to and, much as I loved Father Knows Best, it bore not the slightest resemblance to anything my hard-pressed mother, angry father, and I were living out. In it, I could find no hint of the messy psychic geography of my own childhood.
For my nuclear family in those first years of the nuclear age, it was bad times all the way. In the middle years of the decade, my father, a salesman, was out of work and drinking heavily; my mother brought home “the bacon” (really, that’s the way they spoke about it then), which -- I have her account book from those years -- was excessively lean. They were struggling to keep up the appearance of a middle-class life while falling ever more deeply into debt. The fights about “Tommy’s doctor bill” or “Tommy’s school bill” began as soon as they thought I was asleep.
Among my most vivid memories was creeping out into the light of the hall, propping myself up by the stairs and listening, mesmerized, as my parents went at it below with startling verbal violence. Think of that as my first perch as a future writer.
Like most kids in most places, I assumed then that my life, including such eternally angry nights, was the way it was for everyone. My problems, as I saw it, didn’t actually begin until I stepped out onto 58th Street, where, as far as I could tell, a landscape strangely empty of interest stretched as far as the eye could see.
If America then sat atop the world, triumphant and alone, the blandness that aloneness bred, a kind of unnaturally fearful uniformity of everything, is difficult today to conjure up or even describe. At the time, though, I hardly understood why the world I was being promised struck me as so dull. I thought it was me. And above all, I didn’t have a clue when or how this would end and life, whatever that was, would begin.
Feeling “Foreign” in Fifties America
Fortunately for me, geography came to my rescue. My street, was -- no hyperbole here -- unique at that moment. You could have traveled a fair distance in 1950s America, hundreds or possibly thousands of miles, without stumbling upon a movie house dedicated to “foreign films,” and yet between Sixth Avenue and Lexington Avenue, in fewer than three and a half city blocks, I had three of them -- the Paris just west of Fifth Avenue, the Plaza by my house, and between Park and Lexington, the Fine Arts.
You would no more have wondered about why they were clustered there than why your parents duked it out each night. And yet how strange that was in a still remarkably white bread and parochial American world. Immigration, remember, had largely been shut down by act of Congress in 1924 (see, for example, the Asian Exclusion Act) and America’s doors didn’t begin to open again until the early 1950s. In a time when you can get bagels in El Paso and Thai, Japanese, or Mexican food in Anytown, USA, it’s hard to remember just how rare the “foreign” in “foreign films” once was. In that earlier era of American fear and hysteria, that word and the dreaded phrase “Communist influence” were linked.
And so, to enter the darkness of one of those theaters and be suddenly transported elsewhere on Earth, to consort with the enemy and immerse yourself in lives that couldn’t have seemed more alien (or attractive), under more empathetic circumstances -- well, that was not a common experience. Think of those movie houses not simply as one confused and unhappy teenage boy’s escape hatch from the world, but as Star Trekian-style wormholes into previously unsuspected parallel universes that happened to exist on planet Earth.
By the time I was thirteen, the manager of the Plaza had taken a shine to me and was letting me into any movie I cared to see. A Taste of Honey (a coming-of-age story about a working-class English girl -- Rita Tushingham with her soulful eyes -- impregnated by a black sailor and cared for by a gay man), Alan Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (a film of unparalleled murkiness, notable for a matchstick game the unnamed characters play that caused a minor cocktail party craze in its day), Billy Liar (a chance to fall in love with the young Julie Christie as a free spirit), Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (a medieval tale of rape and revenge) -- it didn’t matter. I seldom had the slightest idea what I was walking into, and in that Internet-less world there was no obvious place to find out, nor was there anyone to guide me through those films or tell me what I should think, which couldn’t have been more disorienting or glorious.
On any afternoon I might suddenly be French or Russian or -- weirdest of all for a Jewish kid living in New York City -- German. Each film was a shock all its own, a deep dive into some previously unimagined world. If I needed confirmation that these movies were from another universe, it was enough that, in an era of glorious Technicolor, they were still obdurately and inexplicably black and white, every one of them. What more evidence did I need that foreigners inhabited another planet?
The actors in those films, unlike Hollywood’s, existed on a remarkably human scale. Sometimes, they even fought as fiercely and messily as my parents and they had genuinely bad times, worse than anything I had yet imagined. Above all -- a particularly un-American trait in the movies then -- everything did not always end for the best.
In fact, however puzzlingly, sometimes those films didn’t seem to end at all, at least not in the way I then understood endings. As in the last frozen, agonizing, ecstatic image of a boy’s face in Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (which I didn’t see until college), it was easy to imagine that almost anything might happen within moments of such “endings,” that life would go on -- which was, for me, completely unexpected at the movies.
And don’t forget that these films made you work. Except for the British movies, there were always subtitles, exotic in themselves, which made them seem like so many illustrated novels. And here was the strangest thing: that black-and-white world you had to read to decipher had an uncanny ability to suck the color out of Manhattan.
And those films offered history lessons capable of turning what I thought I knew upside down. In my American world, for instance, the atomic bomb was everywhere, just not in clearly recognizable form. If you went to the RKO to catch Them! or This Island Earth, for instance, you could see the bomb and its effects, after a fashion, via fantasies about radioactive mutant monsters and alien superweapons. Still, you could grow up in 1950s America, as I did, without ever learning much or seeing a thing about what two actual atomic bombs had done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- unless, that is, your local movie theater happened to show Alain Resnais’s 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour (scripted by the novelist Marguerite Duras).
Under the Mushroom Cloud
But before I go on, a caveat. Perhaps the reason memoirs are so often written by the young these days is that, once you reach a certain age, only fiction might allow you to truly make your way back to childhood. I have not the slightest doubt that those hours in the dark profoundly affected my life, and yet I find it difficult indeed to conjure the boy who first slipped into those movie houses on his own. Much of the time, it seems to me, he belongs to someone else’s novel, someone else’s life.
Trying to make my way back to whatever he thought when he first saw those films, I feel like an archeologist digging in the ruins of my own life. When I view the same films today, I sometimes get a chill of recognition and I’m still won over, but often I wonder just what he saw in them. What in the world could my teenage self have thought while watching Hiroshima Mon Amour, parts of which -- apologies to Duras and Resnais -- are unbearably pretentious? (“You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing... Hiroshima, that’s your name...”)
A film about a one-night stand between a French actress making a “peace” movie in the rebuilt city of Hiroshima (who had once loved a German soldier in wartime France and paid the price), and a married Japanese architect who had been in the army in World War II while his family lived (and perhaps died) in that city -- what did I make of that? What did I know? There was flesh to be seen, however obliquely, in bed, in the shower -- and back then that was something. But there were also those dismally incantatory lines from Duras.
Here’s what I don’t doubt, though: that film gave me a gut-level primer in nuclear politics and nuclear destruction available nowhere else in my world. No mutant monsters, spaceships, or alien superweapons, just grainy, graphic glimpses of the victims from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and of other “victims” being made up -- burn patterns and keloids being painted on bodies -- for the actress’s antinuclear “peace” movie, the film within the film.
It was there that I watched my first antinuclear demonstration -- again for that other movie -- as protesters marched by with signs that offered a little lesson in atomic politics and some basic information about nuclear weapons. Above all, I was, however briefly, taken under the mushroom cloud to see something then essentially taboo in this country: the real results of our “victory weapon,” of what we had done to them, of my father’s war as I would never otherwise have seen it.
If the scenes of the two lovers titillated me, those brief glimpses under that cloud haunted me. Certainly, the dreams I had in those years, in which the bomb went off over a distant city while a blast of heat seared my body, or I found myself wandering through some bleak, atomically blasted landscape, owed something to that film.
Like all of us, I wonder what made me the way I am. What left me, as a book editor, able to slip inside the skin of someone else’s words? What gave me, as a critic, the distance to see our world askew? What made me, never having been in the military, create a website that focuses a critical eye on the American way of war?
There are, of course, no answers to such questions, just guesses. But I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t believe that those hours in the dark had something to do with it. I wouldn’t be focused on a movie I can now barely watch if I wasn’t convinced that it had a hand in sending me, as a book editor, on my own Hiroshima journey. (In 1979, I would publish in translation a Japanese book, Unforgettable Fire: Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors, which, I believe, was the first time any sizable number of images of the experience under Hiroshima’s mushroom cloud made it into mainstream American culture.)
Consorting With the Enemy
Compare all this to the war I saw at my local RKO, the one John Wayne led, the one in which the highly decorated Audie Murphy played himself on-screen mowing down Germans by the score. And then, right down the block, there was the other war I sat in on, the one our enemies fought, the one that lacked my father. As a boy, I was undoubtedly typical in imagining the defeat of Hitler as essentially an American triumph in Europe -- until, that is, I walked into the Fine Arts and saw Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying.
Part of a post-Stalinist cinematic breakout moment, its heroine and hero, Veronica and Boris, are young, in love, filmed at arty angles, and in the movie’s early scenes might as well be frolicking on the banks of the Seine. But that mood only lasts until the Nazis invade. Boris volunteers for the army and, finding himself and his unit in a swamp surrounded by Germans, dies heroically but miserably in the mud. The news of his death never reaches the waiting Veronica in Moscow, who goes into shock on finding her apartment destroyed and her parents dead from a German air raid, is raped (so the film implies) in that state during another air raid by Boris’s cousin, a pianist and draft evader, and grimly marries him… and that’s hardly halfway into the film.
There is also the child Veronica saves from being run over just as she’s about to commit suicide, who also turns out to be named Boris. Yes, call it an absurd war melodrama, but it was also passionately filled to the brim with mud, fire, overcrowded living quarters, rooms full of wounded soldiers, slackers, and high-livers in a panorama of wartime Russia.
Grim, shocking, and above all youthful, it was the Russian film that not only took Europe by storm and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1958, but took me by storm as well. The Russians -- the Reds, the Commies -- were then our mortal enemies. So imagine my surprise on discovering, up close and personal, that they had fought a monumental, terrible war against the Nazis, and that they couldn’t have been more human -- or winning.
A year or two later, I would watch Ballad of a Soldier, another Russian war film, this time about a kid hardly older than I was then who gets a six-day pass from the front for wiping out a couple of German tanks (in a paroxysm of fear). In an odyssey through a devastated landscape -- city buildings blasted, trains blown up, bridges down, amputees visible -- he makes his way home just in time to greet his mother, kiss her goodbye, and head back to the front (where, you’ve learned as the film begins, he dies). You simply could not see such films and hate the Russians.
Then, on the theme of teenagers at war, there was The Bridge, a fierce 1959 antiwar film directed by Bernhard Wicki that genuinely shocked me, perhaps as much because I found myself identifying with those German boy soldiers as by the brutality of the fighting into which they were plunged. In the last days of World War II, a group of small-town, high-spirited high school classmates, no older than I was then, are ushered hurriedly into the army, given the briefest training, and (while Nazi officials flee) rushed to a bridge of absolutely no significance to stop advancing American tanks.
They are patriotic and absurdly eager to defend their town and country. All but one of them die for nothing, as does an American trying to convince them to stop fighting. (“We don’t fight kids!” he yells before one of them shoots him.) The film ends on these words, which then chilled me to the bone: “This happened on April 27, 1945. It was so unimportant that it was not mentioned in any war communiqué.”
To see that war through German eyes, even briefly, was to enter forbidden territory. Nonetheless, those boys were, to me, as unnervingly human as the French pilot in Serge Bourguignon’s 1962 film Sundays and Cybele, suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder after killing a child in the French version of the Vietnam War. Back in Paris, he strikes up an “innocent” relationship with a 12-year-old girl (which, I can now see, had surprisingly sexual overtones), is mistaken for someone out to kill her, and shot dead by the police, the sight of which passes his trauma on to her.
These films and others like them gave me a space apart where I was privileged to absorb secrets no one in my world knew (which, to a lost teen, was nothing less than life preserving). They confirmed in me a sense that the world was not as we were told, nor was ours the single most exceptional way of living on Earth.
Like that perch by the stairs above my parents’ fights, those films helped turn me into a critic -- of Hollywood certainly, of our American world more generally, and of my own world more specifically. And the space they opened for a child who despaired of himself (and the triumphalist American future everyone assured him was rightfully his) would prove useful decades later.
After all, I now write about our American wars without ever having visited a war zone -- except, of course, in the movies. There, in the 1950s and early 1960s, I advanced with the marines and the Russians, bombed Tokyo but also experienced (however briefly) Hiroshima after it was atomized. I took out Panzers, but for two hours one afternoon was a German boy waiting to die at a bridge of no significance as American tanks bore down on him.
So let me now, for the first time, offer a small bow of gratitude to Alain Resnais, Mikhail Kalatozov, Serge Bourguignon, Bernhard Wicki, François Truffaut, and all the others I met at the movies so long ago who turned my world inside out. You saved my life.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of
The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s
as well as
The End of Victory Culture
, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book,
The United States of Fear
(Haymarket Books), will be published momentarily. This piece first appeared in slightly different form in the October issue of
To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses American exceptionalism in his childhood and now click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt
Image by PRINCESS THEATER - Raising the Curtain, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 1:15 PM
If Japan is called “The Land of the Rising Sun,” then South Korea should be called “The Land of the Rising Pop Star.” The influence of Korean pop music—or K-Pop for short—can be heard in America’s Top 40 list and seen in the wardrobes of suburban American teenagers. K-Pop’s upbeat, ultra-polished, dance-beat happy vibes seem like an unstoppable force in music culture. It’s time you got acquainted.
“This music can be flat, derivative, and sometimes really, really annoying,” writes James Brooks at the independent music gold-standard blog Pitchfork. “It can also deliver the kind of senses-shattering, hands-in-the-air euphoria that’s a defining marker of great pop.”
Korean pop is most visibly a YouTube-based phenomenon, with many of the genre’s most popular names blowing their American counterparts out of the water for total views. (For example “Gee” by idolized girl group Girls’ Generation racked up 56 million views—Lady Gaga, who blatantly appropriates K-Pop aesthetics, only garnered 44 million for her recent “The Edge of Glory.”) Although these infectious songs may seem like a viral anomaly, much of the success goes to a rigorous promotional machine. As Brooks describes it: “K-Pop groups are usually assembled, managed, produced, and even housed by all-inclusive record label/talent agencies that make Simon Cowell seem hands-off.”
Gaga aside, there is some indication that Korean music is being given the nod by more independent gatekeepers as well. Rakaa—one of the rappers from iconic group Dilated Peoples and an unofficial hip hop pater familias—included “Ambassador Slang” on his latest album, Crown of Thorns. The song features guest appearances from a large stable of Korean and Korean-American rappers, including Tablo, Dumbfoundead, and Mithra Jin. The chorus speaks to a new alliance:
Ambassador slang - International range
Build bridges while we clash and bang
Ambassador slang - You don’t have to ask the name
Global with the cash and fame
If you’re interested in this new wave of music culture, also be sure to check out this recent article on Grantland, as well as KoreAm Magazine’s ongoing coverage. Here are a few videos to whet your appetite.
Girls’ Generation, “The Boys”
Hyuna, “Bubble Pop!”
2NE1, “I am the Best”
Sources: Grantland, KoreAm, Pitchfork
Image from “Knock Out” by GD&TOP.
Thursday, November 03, 2011 2:59 PM
One can rustle up local, heirloom foods for dinner without too much trouble these days. The same goes for beer, wine, and soda pop. Websites like Craigslist are making it easier to keep wealth, goods, and useful services in local economies as well—“Does anyone in my neighborhood have a weed whipper I can borrow?” and “Can you trade anything for expert tax preparation?” aren’t uncommon posts on the site. But what if you want more refined consumer products to come from a local, artisanal source? Ten yards of rope, say, or a luxury chef’s knife? Good luck.
Add high-end, handmade products to the list of future demands from savvy consumers. While the entry barriers to product design, manufacture, and distribution are crumbling, the entrepreneurial spirit in America is rallying. Made by Hand, a Brooklyn-based web video series, is documenting the growing movement.
The videos are gorgeous to look at, edited with meticulous care and full of beautiful footage of people plying their craft. Each one centers on the story of a single DIY entrepreneur—where they came from, the challenges they faced, and the rewards of their venture. The second and most recent film takes us inside the workshop of Joel Bukiewicz, a former MFA graduate and frustrated writer who set up his own knife making studio. After honing his skills, he now sells his Cut Brooklyn-brand knives to elite chefs in New York City and beyond.
In the interview, Bukiewicz speaks to the allure of independent, do-it-yourself work:
I think probably some folks getting into it think that there’s this great opportunity—it’s like the streets are paved with gold in the handmade world. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Where the currency is really rich is in community, is in the friendships you develop, the fact that you get to do what you want to do, and, for the most part, not be bossed around. In quality of life, it’s rich.
Thursday, October 27, 2011 2:38 PM
Inspired by an image of an Occupy Wall Street protester with a dollar bill covering his mouth, sketch artist Gary Bedard decided to draw his own versions of the image, calling the project “Ten Occupy Wall Street Demonstrators in Ten Days.” “The dollar bill speaks to ending silence on corporate greed, tax breaks for millionaires, and social injustice,” he said. “When I saw it, I thought—oh my god, that means everything. It says it all.”
See more images at Turnstyle and Gary Bedard's website.
Source: Turnstyle, Gary Bedard
Images courtesy of Gary Bedard.
Friday, October 21, 2011 3:36 PM
Over the past few years, many photographers have tried to frame the home foreclosure epidemic in a meaningful, visceral way. They’ve tried to capture the empty bedrooms and abandoned lots of an over-mortgaged, hollowed out, defaulted-on American Dream.
Ben Grasso, an oil painter based in Cleveland—a city no stranger to foreclosure—has a different method of baring America’s suburban emptiness: blowing up houses. Not literally, of course, but artistically. Ka-boom!
“Grasso takes a modern American painterly tradition and mixes it with contemporary cinematic spectacle,” comments Architizer’s Kelly Chan. “In his subject matter and painting style,”
he overtly borrows the visual vocabulary forged by hallmark painters of modern American life. His thick brushwork and rich, opaque colors find resonance with works by artists like Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe. However, his in-your-face spontaneous combustions recast images of the American dream as volatile fantasies. In these paintings, pristine homes are desecrated, caught in the path of an apocalyptic disaster fit for a summer blockbuster movie.
I’ll add that Grasso’s disassembled homes echo the modern architectural principle of materialistic “honesty,” or being very up front about how the building materials used relate to the structure’s design. (Yes I’m grossly oversimplifying that idea.) Every plank and pipe, every concrete pylon and whitewashed windowpane is exposed in schematic isolation. The homes in Grasso’s painting are frozen between a blueprint and a scrapheap—similar, you might say, to the lives of many middle class Americans today.
Images courtesy of Ben Grasso.
Thursday, October 20, 2011 3:40 PM
“We’ve set the bar so low that we don’t feel any pressure from the outside,” says Mika Rättö, front man of an obscure Finnish experimental rock band called Circle, at the beginning of Esko Lönnberg’s meta-meta-documentary, Man with a Video Camera. To be sure, Rättö’s words aren’t very reassuring to someone just sitting down to a 50-minute-long film with a jumpy timeline and English subtitles. But for artists, musicians, and documentary buffs with even a junior varsity-level of intellectual stamina, Man with a Video Camera is an interesting, experimental peek into what is often seen as an impenetrable subject: the creative process.
To Lönnberg’s credit, Circle is the perfect documentary subject for an exploration of the creative process. Formed in Pori, Finland, and described as “ever changing, ever Circular,” the band has released nearly fifty albums, EPs, and live sets in their 20-year existence. Prolific is a gross understatement. To try to capture the band’s creative essence, Lönnberg travels with them to their winter practice space—a couple of small, rustic cabins on the edge of the Finnish wilderness.
At night, the band convenes for drawn-out jam sessions—cataclysms of piano and banjo, jaunty harmonicas and electrified Eastern guitar melodies, meandering drones and vocal gibberish. For someone not accustomed to live experimental music, watching a group of grown men in studded-leather bracelets playing atonal rock music while their singer literally barks and gargles into a microphone is enough to arch a skeptical eyebrow.
By day, however, Lönnberg choreographs an ambiguous film starring Circle. Band-leader Rättö is very interested and encouraging in the side project, the other band members drag their feet, roll their eyes, and call Lönnberg runkke, the Scandinavian equivalent of wanker. “A documentary should have a strong sense of purpose,” says Rättö at one point. “It requires tension. But here, no one’s having a sense of purpose, except to watch the Olympics. How do you create tension out of that?”
The plot of Lönnberg’s fictional film is thoroughly diaphanous, more of a vignette than anything. At the beginning, Rättö is skiing around a frozen, swampy thicket half-lost. Next scene, the band performs a folk song on the cabin’s porch (singing “Leppanen is a sticky-sticky man”) until someone shoots an arrow at a banjo leaning against a tree. At one point, they all march through the woods at night wearing ski masks and toting candelabras. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
What soon becomes clear is that the project is even more complex than I’ve laid out so far. While Lönnberg is recording his short film and Circle documentary, someone else is filming him film them. Later, we see, he presents a different version of the documentary at a film festival. What you are watching, then, is a documentary about a documentary about a documentary. Even Lönnberg gets lost in the different narrative layers. “Is this real or fiction?” he wonders. “Difficult to say.”
Lönnberg doesn’t necessary reveal something groundbreaking about human creativity or push the boundaries of cinematography in Man with a Video Camera, but he does make an artful attempt to chronicle the innate, therapeutic, incomprehensible drive to make art.
At the film’s conclusion, Lönnberg asks a hanging, final assortment of questions. His last is as cryptic as you’ve come to expect by this point: “Tell me, stars: ‘What am I?’”
Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
Man with a Video Camera was first released in 2009, but is being re-released by Fonal Records in conjunction with Supersonic Festival, an experimental music showcase in Birmingham, United Kingdom, from October 21-23. If you’re in that neck of the woods and have an interest in experimental music, the documentary is worth an hour of your time.
Monday, October 17, 2011 12:12 PM
This post originally appeared at
It’s hard not to be inspired when you meet Shannon Galpin. At first look she’s your average smart, athletic woman, living in Colorado. Dig a little deeper and you’ll learn she’s a single mom. Spend a few more minutes talking and she’ll tell you the story of how she left her career, sold her house and launched a nonprofit, committing her life to advancing education and opportunity for women and girls.
Galpin focuses her efforts on the war-torn country of Afghanistan, and with her organization, Mountain2Mountain, has already touched the lives of hundreds of men, women and children.
As the founder of Mountain2Mountain, I’ve been lucky to travel often throughout Afghanistan, working with Afghans as they strive to rebuild their country. My passion is working with Afghan women and girls as they fight to prove their value and worth in this male dominated culture. Afghanistan is consistently ranked as the worst place to be a woman and yet women and girls are key to the future of the country.
As a woman, and specifically, as a foreign woman, I’ve had unique insights into this country thanks to the concept of the Third Gender. A concept that treats foreign women as honorary males, and allows them to interact as equals with men, while still being a woman and therefore have full access to the women. In essence, acting as their proxy when they do not have a voice.
As a mountain biker I’ve felt the weight of women’s oppression knowing that in Afghanistan, women can’t ride bikes, but have embraced the Third Gender concept to the hilt by experiencing this country on two wheels. Via my motorcycle and my mountain bike I have ridden in several areas of Afghanistan, in the hopes that I could change stereotypes back home about the beauty and future tourism of Afghanistan, while challenging the stereotypes in Afghanistan of women on bikes.
Galpin recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, and documented her time in an exclusive photo essay for EcoSalon
Learning to fish in Panjshir River by net.
Chaihanna in Kabul—fresh kebabs street-side.
Flying with the Afghan National Army to Khost Province. A quick stopover includes time for prayer.
All images by Shannon Galpin of Mountain2Mountain. Image at top is of a Buzkashi match in Panjshir Valley—horses and riders race through adjoining fields and roadways.
Thursday, October 13, 2011 11:55 AM
The highly publicized, highly contentious, state-sanctioned execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011, reinvigorated America’s longstanding conversation about the death penalty. A Gallup poll released this morning found that only 61 percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for convicted murderers, a 39-year low. Our country seems to be the cusp of cultural change when it comes to capital punishment. Do you know where you stand?
It’s okay if you don’t. The death penalty is a morally complex issue, tangled up by competing threads of history, media, the political process, religion, class, and—last, but not least—emotions.
Sensing a need for national conversation about the death penalty, ThinkProgress blogger Alyssa Rosenberg launched “The Pop Culture and Death Penalty Project”—a six-month-long exploration of the intersections between art and crime, morality and mortality. Beginning next Wednesday, October 19, she’ll be hosting discussions about books, television shows, and films that deal with the topic in one way or another. Subjects include Richard Wright’s Native Son, 1938 film Angels with Dirty Faces, and a few episodes of HBO drama Deadwood.
Unfortunately, Rosenberg didn’t include any readings from the alternative press. I hope to fill in that gap for you, highlighting a few articles that tell the human stories of criminals, victims, and everyone caught in the fray.
Could you forgive the man who shot you in the face? The title says it all in this tale of forgiveness, bureaucracy, and racism by Michael J. Mooney for D Magazine. Rais Bhuiyan confronts his assailant ten years later and tries to stop his execution.
- “The executioner is the one that suffers,” says Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the state of Virginia, in this profile from The Daily Beast.
- A writer for The Good Men Project describes the awkward feeling one gets when reporting on an execution.
- One by one, countries are ditching the death penalty, according to an article in The Economist. The West African country of Benin is the latest to abolish capital punishment permanently.
- “Humanism cannot support the death penalty,” begins a recent moral case against capital punishment put out by the Center for Inquiry. “Humanism stands for a social ethics of equality, individual human rights, justice for everyone, and government that defend their citizens. Death penalty supporters appeal to these principles, too. But they narrowly interpret them to justify government killings, and they coldly apply them to the weakest among us.”
Utne Reader has reprinted a number of fantastic articles about the death penalty in the past few years, including “Give Me Death,” in which a lawyer explains why his client volunteered to be executed; “Thou Shalt Not Kill. Unless . . .,” in which a counts down to an execution in Texas, one day at a time; and “At Death’s Door,” an interview with long-time death-penalty activist and Catholic nun Sister Helen Prejean.
- We wouldn’t want to forget the classics. George Orwell’s 1931 essay “A Hanging,” in which he describes the execution of a criminal by the British Imperial Police.
Sources: Center for Inquiry, D Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Economist, The Good Men Project, ThinkProgress
Image from Marion Doss was taken at the “instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France on November 21, 1944.” Licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 2:48 PM
Utne Reader’s mission is to bring our readers the best of the alternative press: independent, excellent magazines and journals and websites. You might not think that would include a site called The Frisky and billed as “Celebrity gossip, relationship advice, sex tips and more for real women everywhere!” But under the candy-pink veneer hides a true feminist heartbeat and genuine reporting about women’s issues.
You’ll certainly want to bookmark The Frisky’s feminism page, otherwise known as Today’s Lady News. It’s an assemblage of newsworthy items curated by Jessica Wakeman, who has a long list of outstanding credentials to her name (check out this interview with her at The Daily Femme). Written in an accessible and sassy voice, Today’s Lady News has become my go-to page for the most up-to-date news on abortion law, rape crimes, gay rights, and international women’s politics. Honestly. And if that starts to feel a little heavy, you can always toggle back and forth between The Frisky’s sexy Halloween costume tips or its list of bizarre sex injuries, if that’s your bag. Just don’t forget that amid all the sex quizzes and celebrity nods, some first-rate articles will pop up, like this great rant about birth control rights.
Love. Life. Stars. Style. Feminism!
Source: The Frisky, The Daily Femme
Image by TaniaSaiz,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 06, 2011 11:27 AM
Community-supported agriculture has been gaining steam in recent years as the local and organic food movements gain traction. The idea is people sign up to receive vegetables and fruit from local farmers in order to support them, share in the risk of food production, and receive delicious local food. Now, two art organizations in Minnesota have taken that idea to artists and art lovers. As Christy DeSmith writes at American Craft:
Springboard [for the Arts] partnered with advocacy group mnartists.org, and just months later, in May 2010, offered shares to Twin Cities collectors in the world's first-ever arts CSA. Since then, the model has been reproduced in Chicago and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s headed for arts organizations in Detroit, Miami, and Philadelphia this year; next year it's slated for Akron, Ohio; San Jose, California; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mnartsist.org describes how Community Supported Art works:
Artists are selected from a pool of applicants by a jury composed of luminaries from local food and art communities. Selected artists will receive a stipend of $1,000 to create 50 "shares" for the program by a set deadline. Shareholders purchase shares for $300 and will receive 1 box containing 3 works of art at 3 different pick up dates throughout the Spring/Summer season. The pick-up evenings will be a local art sites and will be events in themselves.
To find out more about this very cool program, read this interview with Betsy McDermott Altheimer, associate director of Springboard for the Arts, at American Craft and see images at Springboard for the Arts here.
Source: American Craft, mnartists.org, Springboard for the Arts
Monday, October 03, 2011 1:45 PM
You can find some form of music in everything: a babbling brook, beeping computer components, an old oil drum, and traffic noises all have some element of rhythm or melody waiting to be unleashed. If you listen very closely, you can occasionally even find music on a Tom Waits record. A number of music from unexpected places and musicians working with non-traditional instruments have been profiled in the alternative press of late, so I thought I’d share them with you.
“Music From a Dry Cleaner” by Diego Stocco was featured on the Fox is Black design blog. As the name implies, Stocco takes a cue from found-sound rockers The Books and mashes up an entire song from recordings made in a small dry cleaner’s shop in Burbank, CA. “With dry cleaning equipment as his instruments,” writes FiB’s Bobby Solomon, “he created this unbelievably rhythmic music that’s pretty fantastic. It’s great that you get to see his process, that he really did walk around this dry cleaner for a few hours recording the various sounds, ultimately creating something beautiful.” Watch it all come together in the video below.
Unlike Stocco’s man-made sounds, the “symphonic march for 1,000 aeolian instruments” in Pierre Sauvageot’s Champ harmonique installation is created by the incessant gusting of Atlantic winds. Champ harmonique, which was set up in Cumbria, England, and may come to New York soon, is comprised of dozens of sculptures that react to wind by making various types of music. (This also reminds me of the kinetic artworks exploring the sound of obsolescence by Steven White.) Depending on the piece, low drones, childish wood block percussion, or sparkly wind-chimes might spontaneously start with the next breeze. According to this article on BLDGBLOG, Sauvageot is a diligent student and enthusiastic connoisseur of different wind-systems, often speculating how one might sound different from the next. BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh, though, takes Sauvageot’s ideas one step further and wonders what might sonically happen if Champ harmonique moved from the coast to the inner city.” “After all,” Manaugh writes, “there are also weather systems artificially generated inside the earth by construction projects and large-scale pieces of urban infrastructure, whole subterranean climatologies of moving air [meaning subways, etc.] that would not otherwise exist without the implanting hand of architecture, as if surgically grafted there.” Take a virtual walk through the installation in the video below.
Finally, the most recent issue of Wired profiled UVB-76, an enigmatic shortwave radio signal originating in Russia. This wasn’t however, some pirate radio channel broadcasting the latest underground Russian pop music. It’s something that’s much harder to listen to, but vaguely reminiscent of experimental electronica.
For at least the decade leading up to 1992, it broadcast almost nothing but beeps; after that, it switched to buzzes, generally between 21 and 34 per minute, each lasting roughly a second—a nasally foghorn blaring through a crackly ether. The signal was said to emanate from the grounds of a voyenni gorodok (mini military city) near the village of Povarovo, and very rarely, perhaps once every few weeks, the monotony was broken by a male voice reciting brief sequences of numbers and words, often strings of Russian names: “Anna, Nikolai, Ivan, Tatyana, Roman.” But the balance of the airtime was filled by a steady, almost maddening, series of inexplicable tones.
From there the plot thickens, as short-wave hobbyists tried to make sense of the mysterious signal. Without warning, it would change its call sign. Formal information requests are ignored by the Russian government. After the author pinpoints where the broadcast is coming from, he talks to the people in the neighboring hamlet, who refuse to say anything about the radio tower. Yet, as they say, the beep goes on. More information and a live stream of UVB-76 here.
Sources: BLDGBLOG, Fox is Black, Wired
Image a screenshot from “Music From a Dry Cleaner.” A version of this article was originally posted at
Friday, September 30, 2011 12:29 PM
Back in the good ol’ days, when a nuclear family could leave its bomb shelter unlocked at night, America had soft power to burn. The country’s cultural ambassadors and renegade auteurs outgunned the taciturn commies, whose idea of a party still involved military bands and Lenin t-shirts. When the Cold War finally ended, MTV’s Kurt Loder was a global menace and punk rock was still armed and dangerous.
As Shikha Dalmia writes in Reason, the magazine of free minds and free markets, today’s young Muslims are not nearly as susceptible to the calculated chaos of Western pop culture as yesterday’s youth of the East Bloc. “While hip hop and heavy metal have helped inspire some of the street protesters demanding more freedoms across the Middle East and northern Africa,” Dalmia observes, “outside of the hardcore early adopters these cultural subgenres remain more voyeuristic than aspirational.”
This is no small thing, especially since the West’s use of hard power over the past decade—troops in Iraq, drone attacks in Afghanistan—has, in most cases, served to both weaken its reputation and further strengthen religious fanatics, who need a devil to blame for their hateful rhetoric and murderous behavior.
There is hope on the cultural horizon, however. And, no, Lady Gaga will not have to suit up for battle. India’s film industry is the free world’s new shining star—all kitsched-up, scantily clad, and subversively cool. “Islamic fundamentalists have long worried about the threat that Bollywood poses to their puritanical demands,” writes Dalmia, who is a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation. “They have ample reason to be worried: About 3 billion people, or half the planet, watches Bollywood, and many of them live in the Islamic world. By depicting assimilated, modernized Muslims, Bollywood—without even trying—deromanticizes and thereby disarms fanatical Islam.”
Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the powers that be in Pakistan, “India’s cultural twin in every respect but religion,” have tried to censor Bollywood and demonize its romantic heroes and heroines, who often fall in love outside of marriages already arranged, battle to mediate modernity and tradition, and navigate a Technicolor world free from conservative dress and outdated moral codes.
“Even as Pakistan’s resistance to America’s drones and raids has grown, its resistance to Bollywood’s soft power has crumbled,” Dalmia concludes. “The extremists who find sympathetic audiences when directing fire and brimstone toward the Great Satan are powerless to prevent Pakistanis form consuming Bollywood blasphemies.”
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 5:16 PM
In the Western world, calligraphy—and handwriting in general—is nearly as dead as the paper it’s written on. But for scribers of many Asian languages, calligraphy is not only a part of everyday communication, it’s considered a pleasurable hobby. In Chinese public parks, for example, many people have taken to brushing beautiful characters onto sidewalks with water instead of ink—creating ephemeral splashes of public art that disappear within minutes.
Beijing-based artist Nicholas Hanna has taken the art of temporary calligraphy to a whole new, digitized level. Hanna strapped big water jugs to the back of a sān lún chē, or tricycle rickshaw, and connected them to about 15 computer-controlled nozzles that are affixed to the back of the vehicle. As he pedals down the street, the contraption dribbles water, leaving temporary characters that look like a hybrid of hanzi and the classic video game Space Invaders.
“It doesn’t have the same kind of grace and beauty, because it’s mechanized and it’s automated,” Hanna concedes in the Danwei-produced video below. “I view it as a sort of Western approach to things, but it a way for me to do it, too. To be in China and to play with them also.”
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 3:29 PM
Impressionist artwork was once seen by some to be rough and incomplete. “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape,” scoffed one critic of Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, which was being exhibited in a salon alongside works by Renoir, Degas, and Cézanne. Close up, the pieces were thick smudges on a canvas. Only when stepping back could viewers perceive the beauty of the scene itself created from the rich layers of paint.
Modern artist Tom Deininger takes impressionist perception to a whole new level with his re-creation of Monet’s 1899 masterpiece Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, which is composed entirely of found objects like plastic forks, phone cords, bottle caps, markers, lighters, combs, and children’s toys. “When you can take something out of context and put it together with a variety of other things,” Deininger says, “you can coax a new definition out of it and maybe a new purpose”—in this case, natural landscapes recreated in junk, writes 1-800-Recycling.com. Deininger creates his assemblages on a grand scale, as large as 12 by 20 feet, making them a lovely scene from far away and a hodgepodge of junk up close. “I think that all art, even reality, is about perception,” says Deininger, calling to mind the Impressionists to whom his art pays strange and beautiful homage. “And so you’ve got one thing up close and it coalesces into something else all together from a distance.”
Images by Tom Deininger, collection of Billi and Bobby Gosh, used with permission
Monday, September 19, 2011 3:29 PM
Meet Meng Hai Lin. She’s a 29-year-old mobile phone engineer from Beijing, China. She has learned some English and is skeptical of marriage. Meng’s voice is but a small murmur from an unprecedented global generation—one witnessing a dramatic restructuring of traditional relationships between countries, cultures, and people. Advances in communications technologies have made it easier for her voice to be heard—and drowned out. Photographer Adrian Fisk wants to show the world what Meng and the rest of her generation want to get off of their collective chest. Thus, iSpeak was born.
So far, Fisk has taken iSpeak to India and China, traveling widely around each country. He describes his impetus and methodology (specifically for iSpeak China) on his website:
For the last few centuries the West has dominated economics, politics, and culture. But now there is a shift toward the East, in particular China, a country of 1.4 billion people of which we know little about.
It is the young Chinese who will inherit this new found global influence, but who are they and what do they think about life?
I traveled on a 12,500 km journey through China to find an answer to this question. I looked for young Chinese from 16-30 years, gave them a piece of paper, and simply told them they could write whatever they wanted to on the piece of paper. I then photographed them holding the paper.
Fisk’s portraits are occasionally funny and occasionally heartbreaking, but genuinely candid. The messages communicate the hopes, dreams, quibbles, and fears of the crowd that shares our planet’s close quarters. “Understanding is the basis for tolerance towards each other,” said Fisk in an e-mail to Utne Reader, “and this can only come from communication.”
Fisk is currently trying to acquire financial support for iSpeak Global, which would broaden the project’s horizons to 25 more countries.
Abhishek Pandey, 17 years old, Hindu, Calcutta, college student. “Young people are bringing down the ethical culture of India.”
Chow Liang, 17 years old, Gansu province, cosmetology student on his way to see his father who works in another province. “In adult eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.”
Priyanka Jhanjhariya, 16 years old, Hindu, Haryana, schoolgirl. “I want to be an airforce pilot. Everyone should have high dreams and work hard to fulfill them.”
Saksham Bhatia, 16 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, senior school. “Wake up! Indians are coming!!”
Heng She Dong, 16 years old, Qinghai province, junior high school student. “I want to save people’s lives.”
Hari Chandra Behera, 21 years old, Hindu, Orissa, farmer. “I want our village to have electricity.”
Yang Long Long, 30 years old, Gansu province, farmer, illiterate. “When I go to the big city I feel like I don’t know anything.”
Bharati, 23 years old, Muslim, Bombay, prostitute, has one child and pregnant with another, illiterate. “Like you, we need the same things in life.”
Sarah Yip, 22 years old, Hong Kong, receptionist at an investment bank. “Do whatever you want in life because you might DIE tomorrow.”
Karsang Yarphel, 29 years old, Buddhist, Himachel Pradesh, waiter, Tibetan refugee. “I want to go home but . . .
Vibhuti Singh, 22 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, studying converging journalism with honors. “I want to date somebody and not be frowned upon.”
Wong Jing Yi, 30 years old, Hong Kong, works in a sex shop. “I don’t want children.”
Chan Jie Fang, 28 years old, supervisor in bag making company in Guangdong province, but learning English in Guangxi province. “I’d like to see any supernatural thing, such as alien, UFO, mysterious thing.”
K Mallappa, 27 years old, Hindu, Karnataka, migrant manual laborer. “Without an education, I am doing the work of a manual laborer, but I am happy. Though I would be more happy if I was a bird or an animal.”
Akhilesh Kumar, 20 years old, Hindu, Bihar, unemployed. “Because I am unemployed I roam around with other boys, so people call me a vagrant. This makes me sad.”
Avril Liu, 22 years old, Guangxi province, post-grad student. “We are the lost generation. I’m confused about the world.”
Images courtesy of Adrian Fisk.
Thursday, September 15, 2011 11:09 AM
Dan Tague is a New Orleans-based artist with a different sort of green thumb. Tague folds American banknotes in a sort of slapdash origami-style. Often his mini-money-sculptures look like inconspicuous, crumpled wads of cash. But if you look closer, you’ll see that Tague has creased the money in such a way to spell out messages—many of which have an anti-capitalist tone. You probably didn’t think that “We Need a Revolution” was written on the six dollars in your pocket. Well, look again.
Images courtesy of Dan Tague.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 11:13 AM
Try to brainstorm some of America’s most celebrated athletes. Pete Sampras and Johnny Unitas come to mind. Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken Jr. in baseball; Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant in basketball. America typically cleans up fairly well at the Olympic games, too. But chances are John L. Sullivan or Jack Dempsey weren’t your first ideas—maybe Muhammad Ali was somewhere in the mix. Boxing is a sport that has fallen precipitously out of fashion with the American public, an unprecedented trend for a sport historically linked to our national identity.
“[F]ew Americans could name more than one or two current boxers, if that,” writes Paul Beston for City Journal, a quarterly publication known more for wonky economic propaganda than for creative writing. He continues:
Boxing has become a ghost sport, long since discredited but still hovering in the nation’s consciousness, refusing to go away and be silent entirely. There was a time when things were very different. For boxing once stood at the center of American life, and its history winds a thread through the broader history of the nation.
Beston’s intriguing article shows how the history of boxing intersects with larger social trends in American history, especially technological progress, international relations, and racial politics. My favorite anecdote came from the anxious years before America entered World War II:
At Yankee Stadium in June 1938, [boxer Joe] Louis met Germany’s Max Schmeling in what remains the most politically charged sports event ever held. Schmeling had become a favorite of the Nazis—not as eagerly as his critics insisted, not as reluctantly as his apologists would later claim—and they often cited his earlier victory over Louis as proof of Aryan supremacy. Here was one of history’s surprises: most of pre–civil rights white America rooting for a black man against a white boxer. Louis, though black, now became America’s representative, as confirmed by a White House visit with Franklin Roosevelt, who told him that the nation was relying on him. Almost half of America’s population—60 million people—tuned in to the radio broadcast. What they heard NBC announcer Clem McCarthy describe was probably the supreme example of an athlete executing under pressure. And “execute” is the right word: Louis finished Schmeling off in barely two minutes.
Source: City Journal
Images by snow0810 and j3net, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:57 AM
American higher education is on the cusp of change. Figures for average tuition and cumulative debt are skyrocketing, while the value of degrees is deflating. Newcomers to the job market are defaulting on their loans more than ever. At the same time, disruptive new technologies and educational strategies are usurping the dusty, sprawling, bureaucratic, green-fisted university system. Solving the large, complex institution’s problems has proven thorny (at best). How to best serve the students? The faculty? The university? The country? Humanity?
“Education has one salient enemy in present-day America,” writes Mark Edmundson in an essay for Oxford American’s education issue, “and that enemy is education—university education in particular.” As a teacher, Edmundson understands and takes issue with the profit motive of higher education. He doesn’t say that American education is categorically “bad.” For example, of professors he writes that “[t]he people who do this work have highly developed intellectual powers, and they push themselves hard to reach a certain standard.” Fair enough. One problem: “That the results have almost no practical relevance to the students, the public, or even, frequently, to other scholars is a central element in the tragicomedy that is often academia.”
Edmundson’s catch-all solution goes beyond the usual Hail Mary defense of liberal arts, a panacea partly pragmatic and partly delusional: memento mori. Remember that you only live once and that most people only have one chance to attend college.
He recalls a formative episode sitting at the dinner table and telling his father—a hardscrabble, near-dropout, middle-class, by-the-bootstraps man—that he was thinking about pursuing a “pre-law” education. As Edmundson tells it, that’s when his father “detonated”:
He told me that I was going to go to college only once, and that while I was there I had better study what I wanted. He said that when rich kids went to school, they majored in the subjects that interested them, and that my younger brother Philip and I were as good as any rich kids. (We were rich kids minus the money.) Wasn’t I interested in literature? I confessed that I was. Then I had better study literature, unless I had inside information to the effect that reincarnation wasn’t just hype, and I’d be able to attend college thirty or forty times. If I had such info, pre-law would be fine, and maybe even a tour through invertebrate biology could also be tossed in. But until I had the reincarnation stuff from a solid source, I better get to work and pick out some English classes from the course catalog.
As is often the case with this type of essay, Edmundson only obliquely confronts the issue of rampant unemployment among recent graduates. Rather than littering his conclusion with reassuring statistics about the job prospects of a liberal education, he defers to Robert Frost:
If you advance in the direction of someone else’s dreams—if you want to live someone else’s life rather than yours—then get a TV for every room, buy yourself a lifetime supply of your favorite quaff, crank up the porn channel, and groove away. But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whole and vigorous and we don’t weary. “Strongly spent,” the poet says, “is synonymous with kept.”
Source: Oxford American
Image by Carnoodles, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 02, 2011 5:04 PM
“The main thing would be films: riveting, fascinating, beautiful, controversial. For one afternoon a week, we would watch great movies, then talk about them. I’m hypnotized by movies, utterly rapt, even when they are bad. I would allow myself to project this far, to imagine that at least some of the students are like me, happy to escape for a few hours from their current situation.”
So goes Ann Snitow’s terrific essay in Dissent (Summer 2011), about her opportunity to teach 14 films to medium-security prisoners—men who have committed armed robbery or murder, but who were carefully selected by the college selection board from the penitentiary’s 900-some inmates as the most cooperative and promising:
The room is much too bright to show films. (“Can I darken the room?” “Of course not!” “Can I cluster the chairs close together around the monitor?” “Of course not!”)[…]
The twelve men filter in. As far as I can tell, the class is eleven African Americans and one Hispanic, ranging in age from thirty to fifty. They are friendly, a few elaborately polite and happy to help sort out the mess, set up chairs. They are used to this level of chaos, both patient and gracious.
Snitow, a longtime feminist activist, tailors the course around the themes of childhood, manhood, and womanhood. Crooklyn, The Hurt Locker, and Thelma & Louise make it into the final cut, along with other provocative films addressing everything from immigration and abortion to nostalgia and joy. The students ask and explore compelling questions: Is it OK to break the law to do the right thing? Is part of the dream of heroism making your own rules? Is violence human nature? Does heroism look different when women do it?
Snitow reveals the major missteps she makes—like when she calls out a student publicly for having plagiarized and then realizes she may be jeopardizing his upcoming parole—as well as her true victories. A Harvey Milk documentary leads to a heated discussion of the word faggot, after which one of the students—“the dignified and usually silent David”—stops by privately to comment on Snitow showing the film: “I’m gay and you can see what hell it is in here. Thank you.”
Ultimately, Snitow hopes that the films will chip away at the hard-edged visions her students have formed of what it is to be a man:
I know that all this [class discussion] is unlikely to make a dent in the essentialist views of manhood and womanhood that often seem to prevail in the room. But these are belief systems with big cracks in them. Elijah, Harry, David, and Phillip have been working on themselves for a long time, self-consciously cultivating inner calm and wisdom. A different idea about manhood might be a lifeline. Who knows? Since they are near the end of their terms, the question of how to be a free adult outside (and how to avoid returning here) is in the air every minute. In a long teaching life, I have rarely encountered students with such intense motivation.
Image by daniellekellogg,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 1:49 PM
Often unrealized by those of us with the ability to hear, Deaf people have forged a unique cultural identity of their own. Most obviously, sign language is the primary form of Deaf communication. But there is also Deaf literature and Deaf journalism, Deaf worship and Deaf humor. In fact some argue that Deafness is an ethnicity, not a medical condition. (See Stefany Anne Goldberg’s “Can You See Me Now?” in the September-October 2011 issue of Utne Reader.)
You wouldn’t think, however, that club dance nights are on the cultural calendars of many Deaf people. Most people need to hear a solid beat (or at least down a few vodka-cranberries) before they muster the courage to publicly shake what their mother gave them. But the promoters behind Sencity, a European dance night series, think that hearing the music is only a small part of a wildly fun evening on the dance floor—and have organized a Deaf-friendly disco party.
“It is all about using all your senses—hearing, touch, sight, smell and taste,” Sencity organizer Nienke van der Peet told the London Evening Standard. “It’s all one big sense-stimulating experience.”
You can get footloose on the “sensefloor,” a vibrating dance floor. And speaking of good vibrations, partygoers can also don a “feel the music suit” that, according to the manufacturer’s website, “identifies and analyzes music in advance, the software reads it and chooses its own pre-programmed vibration patterns to match the music.” The sensory offerings don’t stop at touch. Live video mixing and laser light shows play behind dancers who hand sign the words to the songs. On-site hairdressers and make-up artists make sure everyone is looking sexy. The most unusual component are the “aromajockeys” (see right), who match emotions conveyed by the music to their complementary scent and then waft the smell over the crowd. What does euphoria smell like anyways? (Probably a little like perspiration . . .)
Source: London Evening Standard
Images courtesy of Skyway Programs.
Thursday, August 25, 2011 3:03 PM
Growing up, every boy had a set of green toy army men—their feet mired in a puddle of smooth plastic, their guns perpetually cocked. More sadistic boys might burn off the soldiers’ legs, arms, and faces with a powerful magnifying glass. Other soldiers would lose appendages to the family Labrador. The little green men molded by U.K.-based artist collective Dorothy, however, come prepackaged with their limbs blown off. One of them holds his rifle to his own throat.
Another subversive “toy” looks like a snow globe enclosing the four cooling towers of a nuclear power plant. Instead of enchanting white fluffs of snow floating through the globe when shaken, clumps of black ash rain down upon the industrial landscape. Ominously, Dorothy has dubbed these “No Globes.”
Last holiday season, Dorothy packaged up neat boxes of tree ornaments. But their glinting chrome bulbs weren’t smooth orbs of holiday joy—they were shaped like silver hand grenades. Merry Christmas, kids!
“When work like this incites controversy,” writes art magazine Hi-Fructose of Dorothy, “it’s usually for the way it compresses complex political or societal issues into overly cynical or simplistic satire. Dorothy clearly isn’t afraid to offend, but the group never loses its sense of mischievous wit either.”
“Dorothy wants to make us laugh,” Hi-Fructose concludes, “but when the message gets heavier, the group knows only too well that the joke won’t last.”
“Casualties of War”
Images courtesy of Dorothy Collective.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:21 PM
“Be Prepared.” That’s the motto of one of America’s longest running youth organizations, The Boy Scouts of America. The outdoor adventure and leadership club for boys turned 100 years old last year, and its longevity has piqued the interest of academics and statisticians. Miller-McCune compiled a collection of studies of the boy scouts’ first century, and some of the results may “offer guidance to program leaders for the organization’s next 100 years.”
The first obstacle the scouts face is declining membership. According to Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs, “[p]articipation peaked in 1973 with 4.8 million scouts and has since plunged 42 percent, to 2.8 million.” In the same timeframe, the population of America has risen by about 100 million. A number of causes have been attributed to declining membership, including scout masters’ struggle to properly teach outdoors skills to children with less and less exposure to nature and exclusionary, spirituality-based recruitment criteria (the organization bars atheists, agnostics, gays, and girls). Although the Boy Scouts are behind the times culturally, the organization is ahead of the game in regard to America’s number one preoccupation: makin’ moola.
A long established maxim is that boy scouts go on to be more successful than their Honor Badge-less peers. Jacobs points to a 2010 Gallup poll that confirms that:
Twenty-two percent of men who have been Boy Scouts graduate from college compared to 16 percent of non-Scouts; 19 percent of men who have been Boy Scouts achieve a postgraduate education, compared with 13 percent of non-Scouts. Men who have been Boy Scouts also report higher annual incomes.
You’d think that with demographics like these—coupled with our sluggish economy—the ranks of boy scouts would be swelling.
Although many of these studies show interesting trends, the results don’t offer many non-statistical takeaways. “The rap on all this research about Scouts is that little of it has been published in peer-reviewed journals and thus lacks empirical answers to the most important questions,” writes Jacobs. “Does Scouting matter? Do Eagle Scouts achieve greater success than other Scouts? Does the impact of Scouting vary from different eras?”
Image by KOMUnews, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 19, 2011 3:01 PM
What happened to the days when only punks, criminals, gangsters, and sailors had tattoos? Now you can’t walk into a Culver’s without tripping over 17-year-olds with butterflies inked onto their ankles. Counterculture fought back and pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable body art: Extreme piercings and dermal modifications became more common—as did the once-outré neck, face, and hand tattoos.
Well, the tattoo may have gone mainstream years ago, but only recently has it become a signifier of privilege. “As ink spreads beyond the button-up,” observes Good’s Amanda Hess, “the visible tattoo has emerged as a new middle-class status symbol—a stamp for those rebellious (and privileged) enough to pull it off.”
Hess is referring, of course, to the perceived unemployability of someone with a tattoo anywhere not concealed by their business casual garb—for example, a skull-and-crossbones stamped on the side of their neck. But Hess explains that those who have ample job experience, who aren’t seeking entry-level experience, or who are among the creative class are less likely to miss out on job opportunities because of visible body art than young workers, service-sector employees, or minorities. “Ironically,” a software-industry sales consultant told Hess, “I reckon I’d have more problems getting a job in McDonald’s than doing what I do.”
In other words: Body modification is now a class issue.
Image by kvangijsel, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 18, 2011 5:00 PM
For the last couple of years there’s been something of a backlash movement against technology. Whether it’s a renewed back-to-the-land spirit, a rise in popularity of local farmers’ markets, people leaving (or vowing to leave) Facebook and Twitter in protest, or manifestos to “unplug” for at least a day, people are looking for ways to get away from their computer screens, both large and small, and get back into the real world. Books like Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford or Made by Hand by Make magazine editor Mark Frauenfelder have served as mouthpieces for a public searching for, as Frauenfelder’s subtitle says, meaning in a throwaway world.
In this vein comes a series of photographs by Todd McLellan entitled Disassembly. Featured in the summer issue of Geist (as well as on the cover), McLellan’s photos are of “discarded technology of the type often found on street curbs and at garage sales.” McLellan told Geist that each photo should “look like if you magically swiped your hands across the image [the pieces] would all fit into place.”
It’s an interesting series in this day and age when we’re told to replace our tech tools every few years, if not sooner.
Images courtesy of Todd McLellan.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 1:49 PM
“Sleep is a reward for some, a punishment for others. For all, it is a sanction.”—French modernist poet Isidore Ducasse Comte De Lautréamont.
What shapes a child’s mind, personality, and future? Genetics? Environment? Education? A new clue may lie where the child lays their head to rest.
“When Fabrica [Benetton’s creative laboratory] asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom,” writes photographer James Mollison, “how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was.”
Mollison is a Kenyan-born English photographer whose portraiture often focuses on people from the global South. His latest project, a children’s book called Where Children Sleep (published by Chris Boot), takes portraits of youngsters from all over the world and from different walks of life and juxtaposes them with a picture of their bedroom—or, in some cases, what approximates as one.
When presented in combo, Mollison’s diptychs show more than a child’s health and sleeping arrangements. The juxtapositions expose systemic differences among cultures, economies, classes, and lifestyles. At the same time, the photographs remind us of the universality of humanity. Writes Mollison:
My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances—the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other—while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals—just as children.
Kaya, 4, Tokyo, Japan
Joey, 11, Kentucky, USA
Alex, 9, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Jaime, 9, New York, USA
Lamine, 12, Bounkiling village, Senegal
Images courtesy of James Mollison.
Friday, August 12, 2011 5:40 PM
Superman was born from the creative minds of two Jewish teens whose boyhoods were steeped in comic books and science fiction. At age 18, co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first drew the caped superhero that would capture the imagination of future generations. Academics have attributed the boys’ inspiration for Superman to the lofty pages of literature (Shaw), philosophy (Nietzsche), and religion (the Golem). But a far more likely muse, according to Reform Judaism magazine, was something much more accessible to a couple of sci-fi geeks:
[O]f all the speculative theories surrounding the creation of Superman, one exceedingly likely influence has been virtually ignored—a real-life Jewish strongman from Poland who 1. was billed as the “Superman of the Ages”; 2. advertised, on circus posters, as a man able to stop speeding locomotives; 3. wore a cape; 4. looked—with his chiseled movie-star face, wavy hair, and massive upper torso—like the future comic book idol; and 5. performed his death-defying feats in 1923 and 1924 in Cleveland and Toronto, Siegel and Shuster’s respective hometowns, when they were impressionable nine year olds.
Thus Superman’s creation story expands into the utterly accessible realm of a 1920s-era traveling circus strongman named Zisha Breitbart. If you’ve got a little comic book worship in you, check out Breitbart’s life story and his superman stunts of bending iron, wrestling bears, and withstanding beds of nails. And imagine the seeds of America’s favorite superhero being planted in two young minds.
Source: Reform Judaism
Image by greyloch
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 12, 2011 12:15 PM
Cats embody different qualities to different people—gods to ancient Egyptians, witches’ familiars to Puritanical Americans, disease carriers and rodent exterminators, howling scourges to writers, cuddly medication to depressives. In the digital age, cats have become cheezburger-craving running punchlines and adorable lunch break distractions.
In short, we’ve become a society obsessed by cats. That doesn’t mean, however, that we had any say in the relationship. “[A]mong all domestic animals cats boast a unique distinction,” writes Tom Chatfield for Prospect, trying to understand Western civilization’s feline affinity, “to the best of our knowledge, it was them who chose us. Or rather, cats chose what humans represented: the plentiful supply of tasty vermin that lived among the stock and refuse of early civilization.”
From a sociological perspective, cat people (this writer included) are fairly irrational. “Vermin-catching skills aside, cats are not useful to humans in any instrumental sense, nor much inclined to put themselves at our service,” says Chatfield, stating the obvious,
In contrast to the empathetic, emphatically useful dog, a cat’s mind is an alien and often unsympathetic mix of impulses. And it’s perhaps this combination of indifference and intimacy that has made it a beast of such ambivalent fascination throughout our history. Felines have been gods, demons, spirits and poppets to humankind over the centuries—and that’s before you reach the maelstrom of the internet and its obsessions. They are, in effect, a blank page onto which we doodle our dreams, fears and obsessions.
It sounds more like Stockholm Syndrome. But Chatfield lucidly acknowledges how the power dynamic might play out in a slightly different world: “I know that [my cat] appreciates the stroking as well as the feeding; but I’m equally certain that, if our sizes were reversed, the only thing that would stop him from eating me instantly would be the pleasure of hunting me first.”
Image by stephenhanafin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 5:41 PM
A bibliophile’s personal library might start out neatly contained on bookshelves—perhaps even organized alphabetically within genre—but soon enough more volumes are wedged willy-nilly above the orderly rows, stacked on the floor, jammed into nooks and crannies around the house, and perched atop the refrigerator.
If this describes your home, you’ll appreciate the seven-story tower of books built by visual pop artist Marta Minujín on a pedestrian plaza in Buenos Aires. Composed of 30,000 donated books encased in protective plastic, the art installation spirals 80 feet above passersby, writes 1-800-Recycling.com. Called the Tower of Babel, the artwork stood in the plaza for three weeks, after which it was dismantled and some of its building blocks given away to visitors.
Minujín, who specializes in large-scale “livable” art events that engage the community, conceived the tower to celebrate the Argentinean city’s designation as the 2011 book capital of the world. Many of the volumes were donated by foreign embassies, creating a multilingual piece of art. As Minujín says, “Art needs no translation.”
Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 29, 2011 5:36 PM
“Land! An island! We devoured it greedily with our eyes and woke the others, who tumbled out drowsily and stared in all directions as if they thought our bow was about to run on to a beach. Screaming sea birds formed a bridge across the sky in the direction of the distant island, which stood out sharper against the horizon as the red background widened and turned gold with the approach of the sun and full daylight.”—Kon-Tiki
It was July 30, 1947, when the Kon-Tiki expedition first sighted Polynesia’s Tuamotu Islands. The handmade raft had been drifting across the Pacific Ocean for nearly 100 days and 4,300 miles, captained by Norwegian experimental archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl.
Sixty-four years later, a different kind of adventurer—backpacking travel blogger Ben Groundwater—visited Heyerdahl’s Tuamotu Islands and found a small organic-worshipping New Testament Church cult that harvests its own sea salt and ferments its own fish sauce along with raising vegetables, chickens, and pigs in a tropical paradise. “As places in which to save yourself go, you could do worse,” points out Groundwater, author of the travel memoir Five Ways to Carry a Goat: A Blogger’s World Tour. “You putter up in a little boat, moor in the clear, green waters of the lagoon, walk up the wooden pier and enter the Garden of Eden, which, whether by chance or design, seems to have a distinct lack of apple trees.”
Headed by Taiwanese prophet Elijah Hong, the cult comprises just four women and five men, along with their children. Groundwater had a chance to tour the island encampment:
[W]e come across the island’s kitchen facilities, with a few wok burners fired by dried coconut husks. I figure in a God-given utopia such as this, it would be a one-in, all-in sort of situation when it comes to chores.
“So, who does the cooking?” I ask Jacob. “Do you share it around?” Jacob smiles and shakes his head.
“No, the women do the cooking.” Oh. Well, hardly utopia for them then, is it?
Ah, well. In any case, it’s a great excuse to excavate your bookshelf for your schoolchild copy of Kon-Tiki and head outside to reread one of the world’s greatest real-life adventures.
As an update of the 1950 Academy Award–winning documentary Kon-Tiki, a dramatized film version is currently being filmed by a Norwegian production company.
Sydney Morning Herald
Image by Poverarte,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 10:07 AM
If the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, as Edgar Allen Poe famously argued in 1846, then is the death of a beautiful woman’s child the second most poetical topic? So it would seem to filmmaker Terrence Malick, whose artful Tree of Life tries to gain emotional weight from actress Jessica Chastain’s soulful eyes and shapely ankles in the role of Mrs. O’Brien, a 1950s housewife whose son tragically dies.
It’s an image-driven film. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki finds transcendent beauty in everything upon which he turns the camera, from fluttering dresses to bursting sunspots. But even as Malick’s sparse script teases out complexities in Mrs. O’Brien’s husband (played by Brad Pitt)—by turns domineering and vulnerable and loving, a man tormented by lost dreams of becoming a classical pianist—it grants no such depth to Mrs. O’Brien. Despite being a central character, she has no back story before motherhood, no vices, no lost dreams, and almost no dialogue. Instead, the camera roves insistently over her lips, her clavicles, the nape of her neck, her calves, and her slim waist with a single message: Feminine beauty equals virtue.
The New York Times calls the storyline archetypal, familiar, recognizable. In his exploration of the family’s tragic loss, Malick certainly seems to be striving for the universal, even bringing the viewer back to the creation of the cosmos in a mid-film nature documentary tracing the origin of God’s inscrutability. Filmspotting critics Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson, who loved the film, wisely point out that “the connective tissue that runs throughout this film will impact so many people in so many disparate ways.” For me, the familiar impact was that of a woman being voiceless.
Source: New York Times, Filmspotting
Image by LollyKnit,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 22, 2011 2:56 PM
As homes go into foreclosure and offices acquire a ghost town emptiness, it’s hard not to feel skeptical when San Francisco architect Kurt Lavenson praises the effect of the recession. “For my part,” he claims in ARCADE (Spring 2011), “I am learning to embrace the slowdown for its cathartic qualities. The stillness has within it another kind of wealth—one of reflection, grounding and opportunity. I have come to appreciate the fallow period.”
It’s a provocative statement issued to a world of underwater homeowners and laid-off workers. But Lavenson doesn’t write from a position of economic immunity. His own architecture firm has experienced the profound slowdown that has plagued so many businesses. A once-constant list of ready clients, built over decades, has been lost to gaping periods of time without work.
Still, zenlike, Lavenson values this fiscally sparse time the same way a farmer values a crop field lying idle for a season, regenerating its soil for the next round of planting. It was a midlife economic low, he tells us, that propelled 49-year-old Frank Gehry from a conventional architect to a worldwide icon. “Taking time to pause, to lay fallow, allows us to connect with that wisdom and reach a fundamentally new kind of productivity,” Lavenson contends.
If you feel doomed by the economy that has put your job, your home, and (seemingly) your lifelong success in jeopardy, you need to read Lavenson’s inspired article celebrating the downturn. Despite initially raising my eyebrows, Lavenson ultimately convinces me—reminds me, really—that in loss there is beautiful opportunity, in crisis there is beautiful reward.
Image by TimWilson,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 21, 2011 1:26 PM
You’ve heard the old phrase “You are what you eat.” A new photography venture called The Last Meals Project amends the adage into “You were what you ate.” Photographer Jonathon Kambouris juxtaposes death row mug shots with a description of the inmate’s last meal, and then superimposes photos of the food on top. The effect is quieting and humbling, bringing the viewer closer to the humanity behind the menace.
Kambouris first became fascinated with death row inmates and last meals after reading a newspaper clipping about the final day of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “The story spoke of the build up to the execution and described his final moments and last meal,” he told Twenty-Four HoursZine. “When I read that Timothy McVeigh chose two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream as his last meal, it immediately sent a shiver down my spine and left a lasting effect on me.”
“The last meal is the last choice one can make before being put to death, Kambouris explains. “Because of the extreme importance of this ritual, this choice of a last meal is unarguably honest and true.”
(Utne recently covered the moral politics of the death penalty. In one article, Sister Helen Prejean talks about America’s bloody obsession with retribution. In another, a Texas-based writer chronicles a death row inmate’s final twelve days.)
Source: Twenty-Four Hours Zine
Images courtesy of The Last Meals Project and Jonathon Kambouris.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 12:52 PM
How did you choose your child’s name? Or, if you’re still awaiting the first visit from the stork, what are some factors that will affect your naming decision? Will you name the tyke after a great-grandparent or favorite author? Would you still name your son “Colin” or your daughter “Veronica” if a Colin or a Veronica lived down the street? The metrics for every couple and every child are different. But, statistically speaking, the chances are that you won’t name your child to honor another person.
“We don’t name babies to honor people any more,” writes Laura Wattenberg at the unsurprisingly overlooked pre-parenting website The Baby Name Wizard. “Yes, that’s too sweeping a statement. You’re probably dredging up examples right now to prove me wrong. But on a broad, societal level it’s dramatically true—a sweeping statement to represent a sweeping change.”
Wattenberg cites some telling internal statistics from The Baby Name Wizard. After the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008, only about 60 more babies were named “Barack” or “Obama” than in the previous year. Now, you might say, Barack Obama is a pretty unconventional name for a bunch of conventional Americans. But compare 2008 to 1896. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan saw his country name 1-in-2,400 children either the unconventional “Jennings” or the unconventionally spelled “Bryan” after his campaign. According to Wattenberg, Jennings’ presidential run had an effect “30 times bigger than Obama’s. It was enough to rank both names in the top 300 for the year. And in case your American history is a little shaky: Bryan lost the election.”
That’s not to say that parents aren’t naming children after leaders. Interestingly, parents are hedging. “We do name babies after presidents today, but we wait until their history is fully written, just in case,” writes Wattenberg. “Ronald Reagan’s death inspired far more little Reagans than his election did.”
Like a pair of designer sunglasses, more and more baby names are chosen for being fashionable. “As sound and style play ever larger roles in naming decisions, homages have to yield,” she writes. “Note, for instance, the decline of ‘Juniors,’ and the way grandparents are increasingly honored with middle names or initials rather than direct namesakes. We still love our parents (and ourselves), but style comes first.”
Wattenberg concludes on a final anecdote that suggests that honor naming isn’t entirely out of style—it has just gotten more obscure:
The homage names that do still pop up take different forms, like naming after crime victims. Compare two different figures who were big in the news in 2009: Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Caylee Anthony. Captain Sullenberger had the word “hero” permanently attached to his name for saving the lives of hundreds of passengers on a doomed airplane. Ms. Anthony, a toddler, was tragically murdered. The naming effect was a thousand more Caylees, and scarcely a Sully to be seen.
Source: The Baby Name Wizard
, licensed under
Monday, July 11, 2011 11:28 AM
During the final showdown, the arch nemesis usually makes some kind of grandiloquent speech to the hero. This is how comic books and superhero movies work. The villain taunts the do-gooder, narrates his twisted personal history, or brashly reveals details of his master plan.* So many words are spilled, but the inner meditations of both hero and crook remain unknown, except for a few expository thought bubbles. But that’s about to change; the thought bubble just got a radical makeover.
SVK, an experimental one-shot comic written by Warren Ellis (of Transmetropolitan notoriety) and Matt Brooker, has an extra layer of subtext hidden among its pages. Illuminating the comic’s pages with ultraviolet light reveals additional dialogue that belies characters’ most secret thoughts. (Comparison below.) SVK is a cyberpunky crime story “about cities, technology and surveillance, mixed with human themes of the power, corruption and lies that lurk in the data-smog of our near-future.” The comic comes with a small UV-emitting reader, so you don’t need to bring the comic to a rave to read the invisible ink.
“Comics break the rules of storytelling, invent new ones, and break them again—more often than almost any other medium,” explains SVK’s design company BERG. “This graphic novella is about looking—an investigation into perception, storytelling and optical experimentation.”
Co. Design is excited for what the comic says about the increasingly hard-to-pinpoint border between the digital world and the physical one: “Given Ellis’s proclivity for dystopian futurism and BERG’s penchant for weird techno-wizardry, we’re betting the story involves some interesting variations on themes of augmented reality.” A commenter on BERG’s blog has an exciting idea about where the future of comics might lead: “I’ve been wondering myself if there was a way to animate comics by using a Smartphone as a viewer. You could embed tracer objects with the comic frames and the phone would track movement, perhaps even play sound effects and dictate the dialogue.”
*Supervillains can, of course, be women, too.
Source: BERG, Co. Design
Images courtesy of BERG.
Thursday, June 30, 2011 4:06 PM
You’re at the Salvation Army looking for a lamp, a canoe paddle, or a new old shirt when you hear something rustling in the clothes rack next to you. If you’re in Miami, it might be artist Agustina Woodgate, who is on a mission to spread poetry to the masses with a renegade needle and thread.
Woodgate is poetry bombing thrift stores, says Booooooom, a creativity-celebrating Vancouver website. She prints lines from Sylvia Plath and Li Po onto clothing labels, pre-threads a number of needles, nonchalantly enters the targeted second-hand store, and stealthily sews the labels into hanging garments. One tag features these lines from Po’s poem “Waking Up Drunk on a Spring Day”: “Life is a huge dream / why work so hard?” Woodgate hurriedly attaches it to a shirt collar, periodically looking over her shoulder for security guards.
Part of the poetry festival O, Miami, Woodgate’s guerilla-style project aims to surprise and inspire with verse out of context. She says:
Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be.
Watch the inarguably fetching video of Woodgate in action at Miami’s Community Family Thrift Store here:
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