Archive for the ‘culture’ tag
Kevin Baker — almost by accident — attended a book club reading his book and neglected to disclose that he’d written it. It makes for a charming little story:
The night the club was to meet, I showed up early, thinking I’d introduce myself at the start and ask if they wanted me there or not. But it was an informal setting, and it just felt too pompous to pop up and exclaim, “Hello, I’m the author!” I decided to wait until we were all supposed to introduce ourselves.
In a completely charming audio story, On the Media’s TLDR profiles Matt Farley — a musician who decided the easiest way to make money with music is to make more songs than anyone else. He’s created over 14,000 songs, which you can find on iTunes and Spotify. Go listen to this, NOW!
This made the rounds in the technology-focused sphere almost a month ago, but I just finally read it. While Frank Chimero’s beautiful visual essay is aimed at people making technology, it’s rich enough to be relevant even if you aren’t. Plus it’s so damn pretty! Plus so phrasing are just beautiful:
One of the reasons that I’m so fascinated by screens is because their story is our story. First there was darkness, and then there was light. And then we figured out how to make that light dance. Both stories are about transformations, about change. Screens have flux, and so do we.
Peter Pomerantsev’s profile of Russia’s current politics and public culture is great. The details of the biggest Russian biker gang are fascinating. A subculture triply foreign to me: I’ve never had first-hand experience of syncretic mystical religions, Russia, or bike gangs. And the gang’s on Putin’s payroll:
There are five thousand of them in Russia, five thousand Beowulf-like bearded men in leathers riding Harleys. It’s Weitz who has done most to turn them from outlaws into religious patriots. For the past few years, Vladimir Putin has posed for photo-ops with them, dressed in leathers and riding a tri-bike (he can’t quite handle a two-wheeler). They defended the ‘honour of the church’ after the Pussy Riot affair, roaring in a cavalcade through Moscow bearing golden icons of Mary the Mother of Christ on the front of their Harleys. The Kremlin gives them several hundred million rubles a year and they work to inspire loyalty across the country with concerts and bike shows that fuse flying Yamahas, Cirque du Soleil-style trapeze acts, Spielberg-scale battle re-enactments, religious icons, holy ecstasies, speeches from Stalin and dancing girls (there are booths for go-go girls next to the great crosses).
The easiest way I found to get reasonable pictures of the gang was this tag archive on a blog.
I was digging through my backlog of stuff to read when I found this nice little essay about how annoying it is to always have guys want to date you instead of be their friend. A well-executed inversion of a common topic to keep at hand.
You know how it is, right, ladies? You know a guy for a while. You hang out with him. You do fun things with him—play video games, watch movies, go hiking, go to concerts. You invite him to your parties. You listen to his problems. You do all this because you think he wants to be your friend.
The always-worth-reading Atul Gawande has a new piece in the New Yorker about his role in working to improve practices around childbirth world wide and what it (and some more historical anecdotes) have to tell us about how you really change the world. The whole piece is good, but this part felt most notable to me:
Besides, neither penalties nor incentives achieve what we’re really after: a system and a culture where X is what people do, day in and day out, even when no one is watching. “You must” rewards mere compliance. Getting to “X is what we do” means establishing X as the norm. And that’s what we want: for skin-to-skin warming, hand washing, and all the other lifesaving practices of childbirth to be, quite simply, the norm.
(via The Browser)
I’ve been more than a little taken with this basic idea ever since I saw The Game, but I think Aaron Swartz is onto something with this thought:
Billions of dollars are spent making and watching people explore mysterious tunnels, chase down alleys, and fly as if by magic, but there’s hardly a single opportunity to actually do any of these things.
I didn’t post this — which is frequently headlined as PBS running “commercials” — when I first saw it because it’s news (and not firm) and I don’t really think it’s worth my time to put news here. But this isn’t getting covered widely and it has the potential to be the worst thing to ever happen to American TV. I am concerned.
If you’re curious, the logic is thus: because PBS is the best thing on American TV — and there’s not room to debate that — even a modest debasement in the name of commerce is far worse than, say, the History Channel becoming an abomination before history and intelligence.
That said, this does explain the new structure of some Frontline episodes and NOVA scienceNOW. And if you’re an American and don’t know what I’m talking about, shame on you.
A valid and undervalued point:
Force a writer to be brief and you force him to think clearly—if he can. No, I don’t think that “War and Peace” would have profited from being written in 140-character tweets. But I do think that our impatient age might just be getting the best out of a great many artists and thinkers who, left to their own devices, would never have learned how to cut to the chase.
There’s no single solid takeaway from this essay about the culture we feel obligated to consume, but I think it’s a good and valuable thing to think about and pay attention to.
Every year, I can tell Mad Men is back on the air by a small spike in traffic to this post. Daniel Mendelsohn’s take on the show is more thorough, and more mixed, but this paragraph nails why I stopped watching:
Worst of all—in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues”—the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.
Short synopses of films someone saw a while ago and doesn’t remember well. It’s a cute idea, executed well, and has essentially no value beyond diversion. But still, 5 minutes of fun.
I must restore my balance, view the world in a fair way, hope to inspire more appreciation than ridicule.
A sound goal for us all.
I swear this article appears at least semiannually in some paper somewhere. This one chose the “epicenter of artistic talent” angle.
John Parkers offers a welcome counterweight to the unavoidable, and often inane, argument that people are dumber than ever before. A snippet:
Millions more people are going to museums, literary festivals and operas; millions more watch demanding television programmes or download serious-minded podcasts. Not all these activities count as mind-stretching, of course. Some are downright fluffy. But, says Donna Renney, the chief executive of the Cheltenham Festivals, audiences increasingly want “the buzz you get from working that little bit harder”. This is a dramatic yet often unrecognised development. “When people talk and write about culture,” says Ira Glass, the creator of the riveting public-radio show “This American Life”, “it’s apocalyptic. We tell ourselves that everything is in bad shape. But the opposite is true. There’s an abundance of really interesting things going on all around us.”
This is certainly the coolest graph I’ve seen in a while. It might be the coolest ever.
An under-understood truth:
Paul Krugman was observing that even though the political coverage is the part of the media that people like to talk about, it’s actually fairly marginal to the business. The New York Times is known for its hard news coverage, but he observes that from a business perspective it’s primarily a fashion and food publication that runs a small political news operation on the side. One issue of T Magazine, he says, pays for an entire NYT European bureau.
Noticing the undeniable fandom of the critical class, Vulture has added AMC’s Mad Men to their list of television shows you should watch:
…by now you’re feeling that oppressive sense, delivered by critics and laysnobs alike, that if you aren’t watching Mad Men you’re out of touch with all that is good in our culture. That means Mad Men is officially a Show You Should Watch™ (or SYSW for short), following in the proud footsteps of The Wire, The Sopranos, and Arrested Development.