Category Archives: Culture

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

Sam Kriss, in a post he calls his “magnum opus” at The Outline, explores the age-old warning “Don’t stare directly at the sun.” Sure, there are medical reasons not to—but might there also be political ones? Do we have a moral duty to stare directly at the sun, and everything it represents?

Plato famously wanted a totalitarian society run by philosophers, in which ordinary people would live under the firm, rational, condescending guidance of those who had learned to see by the light of the Good. There’s always a kind of authoritarian undercurrent to rationalistic philosophy—take, for instance, Immanuel Kant. In What Is Enlightenment?, he argued that enlightened autocrats such as Frederick the Great of Prussia ought not to restrict the freedom of thought of his subjects, and that “freedom need not cause the least worry concerning public order or the unity of the community.” But this isn’t out of any respect for differences of opinion; instead, Kant takes it as axiomatic that Frederick’s rule is rational and that anyone sensibly using their freedom of thought will inevitably end up supporting it. Reason comes from the sun, and so does the king, and if there’s only one sun, neither can disagree with the other. Kant’s reason allows for only one right answer, and it happens to agree with political power. As he puts it: “Argue as much as you like, and about what you like—but obey!”

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Searching for the Lost on Public Land

After the September 11 ­attacks, Interior tried to build its own data­base to track law-enforcement actions across lands managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. (The Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture.) The result, the ­Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System, is a $50 million Database to Nowhere—last year, only 14 percent of the several hundred reportable incidents were entered into it. The system is so flawed that Fish and Wildlife has said no thanks and refuses to use it.

That leaves the only estimates to civilians and conspiracy theorists. Aficionados of the vanished believe that at least 1,600 people, and perhaps many times that number, ­remain missing on public lands under circumstances that defy easy explanation.

People regularly disappear on America’s 640 million acres of national forests, national parks, and Bureau of Land Management property. The disappearance of an 18-year old runner in Colorado sent Outside journalist Jon Billman to investigate the sheriffs, trackers, amateur detectives, and mourning families who search for the people who go missing in the wild.

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Don’t Fear the Painter, or the Tyranny of Whiteness

the inside of an empty factory building, all painted in shades of white

White Noise publishes an excerpt of David Batchelor’s book, Chromophobia, an exploration of color theory and, as he argues, the West’s historical fear of color. In the introduction, he recalls a visit to the home of an art collector whose décor was an aggressive rejection of color—although that’s not how the home’s architect would describe it.

There is a kind of white that is more than white, and this was that kind of white. There is a kind of white that repels everything that is inferior to it, and that is almost everything. This was that kind of white. There is a kind of white that is not created by bleach but that itself is bleach. This was that kind of white. This white was aggressively white. It did its work on everything around it, and nothing escaped. Some would hold the architect responsible. He was a man, it is said, who put it about that his work was ‘minimalist’, that his mission was to strip bare and to make pure, architecturally speaking, that his spaces were ‘very direct’ and ‘very clear’, that in them there was ‘no possibility of lying’ because ‘they are just what they are.’ He was lying, of course, telling big white lies, but we will let that pass for the moment. Some would hold this man responsible for the accusatory whiteness that was this great hollow interior, but I suspect that it was the other way around. I suspect that the whiteness was responsible for this architect and for his hollow words.

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Not Giving Up on the Dream

Geronilla is mercurial. Mussed hair, holes in his sweatshirt, shattered iPhone. He listens to the xx on vinyl and shares his bedroom with two brothers, one of whom has enlisted in the Army. The room is lined with cameras, including a Red Epic digital, and videotapes of “Dr. Zhivago” and “Some Like it Hot.” He sleeps on a roll-up futon, edits and shoots commercials and music videos. Aside from the two other scripts he’s working on, he’s writing a thriller set in an auto shop that he estimates will cost $500,000 to make, or “maybe $100,000 can still make it look good.”

Hoston is slender and her hair falls deep south of her shoulders. Glasses perched on her nose, she likes precision; a quiet presence who on-screen can glow bright as a filament. She has a quick laugh and on most days is bigger than her doubts. On her way to a recent acting class, she worked on “not smooshing words together” when reading lines. She has a new agent and manager and head shot photos for pilot season. She’s been told to edit her demo reel down to 40 seconds. “How can I show them who I am in that time?” she agonizes.

In the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Fleishman turns the camera on two young Angelenos trying to establish careers in show biz, showing that, despite the seductive shimmer of La La Land, the industry is just as likely to break you as ever. Better have a Plan B, C and D.

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The Roots of Cowboy Music: ‘This Is the Music We Made. This Is the Land We Made.’

At MTV News, Oakland writer Carvell Wallace travels to Elko, Nevada, for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and reflects on what it means to be black and American.

I think about the American government sending armies to wipe out the nations that had thrived here for millennia, warring with them for generations, committing atrocities that most Americans have never heard about in order to clear out the West so that rough-hewn men, gallant cowboys and lion-hearted ranchers, could homestead their land and claim their stake. Grow their cattle and bequeath land to their families. So they could watch life raising itself from the earth and contemplate the miracle of it all as they gazed into the heavens. And compose terse and delicate verses about how marvelous it all is.

I thought I had come to Elko to wallow in the melancholy of the cowboy poet, but really, it was just another chance to see if I could belong in my own country. And the results were inconclusive. When I walked through that lobby, nodding awkward hellos to people whose glances lingered just a little longer on me than maybe they would have otherwise, I felt foreign.

But when I sat with Flemons and Farrow and we traced the roots of cowboy music all the way back to our great-grandparents and the songs they sang, songs that they had probably learned from their parents, who would have been born into slavery, I didn’t just feel like I had a right to be here. I felt like I belonged here. Like this was my home as much as it was anyone else’s. I was reminded that people like me don’t pick up guitars and scratch out anguished rambling songs because we want to be white. We do it because we’re answering a call buried somewhere in our blood and bones. This is the music we made. This is the land we made.

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Godwin’s Law, Trump’s Era

Game Over, Bilbao 2014 by Denis Bocquet

There’s an internet adage — Godwin’s Law — stating that once you’ve made a Nazi analogy you’ve lost the argument. This short post on The Nib gathers the work of five Jewish cartoonists who address the validity of Nazi analogies in our current political climate.

Godwin's Law by cartoonist Matt Lubchansky

Godwin’s Law by cartoonist Matt Lubchansky

I’d argue that when we invoke Godwin’s Law, we all lose.

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Living In These Curated Times

Those who work with food are especially prone to thinking of themselves as curators. Chefs, for example, are said to be curating things wherever you look. There are countless internet personalities who refer to themselves as “food curators.” With a little searching, you will also encounter wine curators, beer curators, coffee curators, tea curators, spice curators, and cupcake curators.

The fantasy of curation can be extended to virtually any product category. Shops are often thought to be curated. So are rugs. And furniture. Cosmetics. Landscaping. Wardrobes. Music is eminently suited for the oversight of curators. So are TED talks. In fact, “curator” appears to be the actual job title of the chief officer of the TED organization, as it is of those who oversee TEDx events. It’s also a title of a radio producer at NPR.

At The Baffler, one of its founding editors Thomas Frank takes a close, comical look at the way taste makers select, vet, and collect various things for presentation, and parses the pros and cons, the necessity, the fantasy, and the modernity of what we call “curation.”

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The Mike and Carol Brady Art Collection

Mike and Carol Brady in front of a gem from their art collection.

Taking obsession with The Brady Bunch to a whole new level, blogger Kirk Demarais dissects the art collection used on set in Mike and Carol Brady’s glorious modern home on We Are the Mutants.

To point out the generic nature of the Brady’s artistic taste isn’t to say they weren’t on trend. After World War II, art was industrialized like never before in order to meet the demand for something to cover the walls of tens of thousands of new American homes. Companies like Turner Wall Accessory produced and reproduced hundreds of prints with the home decor market in mind. During this era, original art was often replicated by an assembly line of contract artists working under shared pseudonyms. The subjects were intentionally innocuous in contrast to the art world at large, where bold personalities emerged to break every conceivable convention. Like most Americans, the Brady’s humble art collection largely consists of commercially produced prints. This makes the family seem real and relatable to the viewer—until you remember that they have a live-in housemaid.

The production designers didn’t construct the Brady aesthetic from scratch. According to the The Brady Bunch Blog, the sets are full of props and artwork that previously appeared in other Paramount-produced television shows. There’s little chance of finding intentional parallels between the characters and their surroundings, but that needn’t stop us from applying our own meaning. It’s also worth noting that much of the art is repeatedly repositioned throughout the course of the show. It is unclear whether this is the result of less-than-vigilant set dressers or a class five haunting.

Mom always says don’t play ball in the house, Bobby. She wanted to protect this precious collection.

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R.E.M.’s Political Songs Still Resonate Today

Never before has a rock and roll band been as lyrically political as R.E.M. From Murmur to Fables of the Reconstruction, Green’s “World Leader Pretend” and “Orange Crush” to Automatic for the People’s “IgnoreLand,” R.E.M. is the only band of the 20th century that legitimately crossed over from rock to pop and could appeal to hardcore college radio denizens as well as teens who first heard of the Athens-based quartet while surfing the mainstream radio dial.

What other band could draw tens of thousands and sell out arenas with lyrics like, “These bastards stole their power from the victims of the Us v. Them years/Wrecking all things virtuous and true/The undermining social democratic downhill slide into abysmal/Lost lamb off the precipice into the trickle down runoff pool.”?

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Where Cult Fame and Real-Life Tragedy Intersect: ‘Zelda: Majora’s Mask’

The video game Zelda: Majora’s Mask — the “black sheep” of the Zelda franchise, notable for an apocalyptic storyline that’s a stark departure for the beloved princess-saving series — became a cult object that spawned a fan-made, horror-based, “creepypasta” storyline called Ben Drowned. At The Ringer, Victor Luckerson reports on the terrifying connections between Ben Drowned and the story of Katelyn Davis, the 12-year-old girl who committed suicide live online in December, 2016.

The blog attributed to Katelyn largely focuses on her inner struggles and challenges with her family, except for one post that focuses on a person she calls “Ben Drowned.” She wrote that he is the “real” Ben Drowned but that she hasn’t talked to him in months. From the blog post alone, it’s unclear whether Katelyn is talking about the fictionalized character that has spread across the web or an actual person who assumed the alias “Ben Drowned.” The videos that appear to feature Katelyn before her death seem to suggest that “Ben” is a person who catfished her in a false online relationship.

“I can’t live without him,” the post reads. It’s accompanied by a piece of fan art of the “Ben Drowned” character from the Majora’s Mask creepypasta, featuring a Link with blood-red eyes beckoning a violet fairy. The page header features a photo of a girl who appears to be Katelyn next to another dark drawing of Link. The post also references “Slender Man.”

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