Tag Archives: culture

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Every story in the world has one of these six basic plots, now proven by data science!

Well, you can determine for yourself whether every story in the world falls into one of these six basic plots:

1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune
2. Riches to rags – a fall from good to bad, a tragedy
3. Icarus – a rise then a fall in fortune
4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise then a fall again
5. Cinderella – rise, fall, rise
6. Man in a hole – fall, rise

…by reading this piece on how data scientists ran analysis on stories to see if they do: Every story in the world has one of these six basic plots – BBC Culture

It even comes with graphs! 🙂 Here’s Madame Bovary, following plot #2:

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Generation Jones: the cusp gen, between boomers and Gen X

If you are a member of those people born between 1954 and 1965, you may never felt comfortable being associated with Boomers or Gen X. You may have felt a bit of both and a bit of neither. Congratulations, there is a gen for you now: Generation Jones.

Let me let Wikipedia explain:

Generation Jones is the social cohort of the latter half of the baby boomers to the first years of Generation X.

The term was first coined by the cultural commentator Jonathan Pontell, who identified the cohort as those born from 1954 to 1965 in the U.S.who came of age during the oil crisis, stagflation, and the Carter presidency, rather than during the 1960s, but slightly before Gen X. Other sources place the starting point at 1956 or 1957.

Unlike boomers, most of Generation Jones did not grow up with World War II veterans as fathers, and for them there was no compulsory military service and no defining political cause, as opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War had been for the older boomers.

Also, by 1955, a majority of U.S. households had at least one television set, and so unlike boomers born in the 1940s, many members of Generation Jones have never lived in a world without television – similar to how many members of Generation Z (1997–2012) have never lived in a world without personal computers or the internet, which a majority of U.S. households had by 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Unlike Generation X (1965–1980), Generation Jones was born before most of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.

So, lots of reasons why you may feel unique. And you are. And also this generational explanations for how you are is slightly more accurate than horoscopes, but not much more, in my opinion.

For more on this, see Generation Jones – Wikipedia

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What is OK Soda?

OK Soda is a product I never heard of before today, and reading about it in Wikipedia, I can see why.  It had a short unsuccessful life, lasting from 1993 to 1995. It was targeted at the marketplace of Gen Xers and echoes so much of that era. The first sentence in the Ok Manifesto — it was a product with a manifesto! – sums up the viewpoint of many people at the time:

  •  What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?

It was fun reading about this failed product and the time it failed in. I can see why it may have developed a cult following.

For more on OK, see this good post  or this piece in Buzzfeed.

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A tale of two Condé Nasts

One, the new hip Condé Nast:  How Bon Appétit Accidentally Made YouTube’s Most Beloved Stars

Two, the Condé Nast of the pre-digital age: Chaos at Condé Nast

It’s fascinating to read them together. Clearly a lot has changed since the turn of the century. While Bon Appétit is clearly on to something, it’s like a fluke that doesn’t translate across the rest of the organization. And regardless of how well they do — and I hope they do well — the golden pre-digital age is gone and not coming back.

Good weekend reading. That you likely are reading on a phone or tablet.

 

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Some basic thoughts on “Friends”: it’s roots and its relationship to screwball comedy


It’s the 25th anniversary of “Friends”, and a number of reviews I read talk about it looking backwards.This piece, though, does something better: it looks at where the series came up from.  Key quote to me was this:

Chandler, who is so indifferent about what he does that he is unable to pay his job even the small courtesy of hating it—Chandler, besuited and bedraggled, whose work in computer-something-or-other summons the amorphous anxieties of the coming digital age. … It is through Chandler, in the end, that Reality Bites finds its way into Friends’ otherwise chipper cosmology. His work is simply there, looming, draining, tautological. His laconic resentments of it invoke the precise strain of Gen Xed ennui the novelist Douglas Coupland had described earlier in the decade: the mistrust of institutions, the mistrust of professions, the mistrust of meaning itself.

You can see in the quote the tie to Douglas Coupland’s  book Generation X and the film Reality Bites. These are the roots of “Friends”. ‘Friends’ at 25: The Prescience of Chandler Bing’s Job – The Atlantic. That generation after the boomers needed a show, and many of them found it in “Friends”. Now people look back at it and many mock a show about six well dressed people living in an amazing apartment in NYC. But “Friends” then tried to make sense of becoming an adult, or “adulting”, to use a word that came along later. The fact that people have such fondness for it makes me think it resonated with them and it represents part of their lives.

I always liked “Friends”, but for a different reason. I am a fan of screwball comedy, and that series often went there. Seinfeld did absurdist comedy well, but I loved that this series did a comedic style I loved so much. Watch some episodes of “Friends” and then watch a classic screwball comedy like “Bringing Up Baby” or “His Girl Friday” and you will see the similarities.

All comedy series go pear shaped after a time, and the things that made it originally great fades. For a time “Friends” was one of the best comedies on TV, and it was great then because of the form of comedy it aspired to and because of the way it represented the time it was rooted in.

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Bon Appétit pays homage to red sauce restaurants

Bon Appétit has a rich list of articles and photos paying homage to red sauce restaurants in America. You likely know this type of joint. It has:

The oversize portions. The red-and-white-checked tablecloths. A carafe of the house red. Old-school Italian-American restaurants, a.k.a. red sauce joints, are the kind of institutions you’ll find, with very few deviations, in just about any city in America. But as we discovered upon reaching out to dozens of writers, chefs, and celebrities, these restaurants are about a lot more than a plate of penne alla vodka. Whether or not you’re Italian, red sauce likely means something to you—about family, or home, or history, or politics, or class, or citizenship, or selfhood, or otherness, or all the above, or a million other things. And that’s what this package is all about. Welcome to Red Sauce America.

For a feast of this type of dining, see here: Welcome to Red Sauce America – Bon Appétit. 

 

Four fascinating music links

  1. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Iggy Pop & Bernard Sumner of New Order at Carnegie Hall: for fans of either or both, doing one of the best songs ever. (see above)
  2. A Big Choir Sings Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” | Open Culture: so good. I love this.
  3. Thinking About: Strange Fruit (& Friday Links) – Hither & Thither: a thoughtful analysis of a titanic  song.
  4. Hear the Famously Controversial Concert Where Leonard Bernstein Introduces Glenn Gould & His Idiosyncratic Performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto (1962) | Open Culture: this is a fascinating bit of musical history. Read the post to see why.
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Cinephilia & Beyond on the Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine


A visit to this page is a must for Blade Runner fans: Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine: A Fascinating Blast from the Past from the Heart of Ridley Scott’s Masterpiece • Cinephilia & Beyond.

Pull quote:

The Official Collector’s Edition Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine is a wonderful source of information, abounding in great photos and articles; a genuine treat both for hardcore fans of the film and all the newbies who just got introduced to the world of Rick Deckard. There are a lot of fascinating stuff here, but we’re especially excited about the interviews with Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford and Douglas Trumbull. We’re incredibly thankful to webmaster Netrunner from brmovie.com, who put a lot of effort into digitalizing the magazine and even contacted Mr. Friedman to get his blessing for the endeavor. While Netrunner shaped the material by separating photos from the accompanying text, we chose to offer you a .cbr file of greater resolution and quality, so you can browse the content more easily. If we may, we’d like to suggest using a little program called ComicRack for checking out this priceless blast from the past. Enjoy the read!

 

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How art can make us more confident


According to this, art can make us more confident by providing us with stories and representations of people with characteristics we share that overcome similar obstacles that we run up against. After all….

Confidence isn’t the belief that we won’t meet obstacles. It is the recognition that difficulties are an inescapable part of all worthwhile contributions. We need to ensure we have to hand plenty of narratives that normalise the role of pain, anxiety and disappointment in even the best and most successful lives.

I agree.

The image is an extended version of the work highlighted in the article. Like the Stations of the Cross and other works, they illustrate the difficulties of a way of life, and by making us aware of them, allow us to best prepare to meet them and overcome them.

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How economic hardship traumatizes people individually and as a culture

This piece, Opinion | Still Haunted by Grocery Shopping in the 1980s – The New York Times, by a Brazilian economist highlights the emotional scars that economic hardship has on a person. Key quote for me was this:

Research has found that children living in poverty are at increased risk of difficulties with self-regulation and executive function, such as inattention, impulsivity, defiance and poor peer relationships. It takes generations until society fully heals from periods of deep instability. A study in the early 2010s showed that Germans were more worried about inflation than about developing a life-threatening disease such as cancer; hyperinflation in the country ended almost 100 years ago.

Not only does it touch people individually, but you could make the case that it gets embedded into the culture. Germans are still worrying about inflation! Indeed, I remember my mom telling me how the Great Depression affected her mother to the point that she adopted behaviors she could never shake, not matter how much she had in the future.

Economics can seem dry, especially when people focus on numbers. But those numbers paper over how people are really affected. What is the emotional impact of high (or low) unemployment? What do we see happening in the culture when housing becomes unaffordable or work impossible to get. The numbers are an essential part of the story but they are also just the start of the story.

 

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A reluctant promotion of a Kickstarter project: Color Problems – A Book by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones


Despite being burned too many times by Kickstarter projects, this one seems so worthwhile I feel I must promote it: Color Problems – A Book by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones — Kickstarter. It’s a great project to recreate a classic book, and it will be a boon to many people if it gets off the ground. Anyone interested in the visual arts should check it out and contribute some way if you can.

I hope it’s successful, that the project initiators have 1) their act together 2) actually release something tangible and 3) in a timely manner that is high quality.  (Many of my recent Kickstarter projects have failed at 1, 2 and 3.)

Good luck to them.

This is nerdtastic: Columbia’s limited edition “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” Collection


Yep. Columbia Sportswear has teamed up with the folks at Star Wars to produce this limited edition collection of clothing, and the details on it can be found here in this Design Milk article. Since it is a very limited collection, I expect that (A) it will sell out very quickly (B) the pieces will show up again for exorbitant prices on sites like eBay. Still…fun.  Cosplay people can get this and wear it all winter long! Good luck if you try and get it.

The dark beauty of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Inferno is made greater by the illustrations of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of the work. You can find a number of his work over at this page of Brain Pickings, including this one:

Dore's Inferno

Own the beauty of Vermeer

Vermeer painting
Or at least a high resolution image of Vermeer by going here:

Download All 36 of Jan Vermeer’s Beautifully Rare Paintings (Most in Brilliant High Resolution) | Open Culture

Open Culture has lots of great links, including at the bottom of the Vermeer one, mentioned above. Open Source is good; so is Open Culture.

(Image linked to on the Open Culture page)

 George Saunders on writing

Yesterday I mentioned Robert Caro and his writing routine. Today, here’s a good piece by George Saunders and what writers really do when they write in The Guardian. Well worth a read.

A cautionary tale of what low taxes and libertarianism brings

Amish women on the beach
There can be many lessons that can be drawn from the story here: The Rise and Fall of the ‘Freest Little City in Texas’

The ones I drew were

  • You get the society you pay for. In this case, the people of this part of Texas were unwilling to pay for anything, and they got nothing in return. It’s hard to believe this even needs to be said in this age, but apparently it does.
  • Even basic services cost money. That money comes from taxes or service fees.
  • Those services are expensive to pay for individually: it makes much more sense for people to pool their money (in the form of taxes),  to make it cheaper overall for everyone.
  • Taxes are only part of what makes a society, but a society that is based on money and that does not have taxes is no society at all.
  • Only a society that does not depend on money can get away without taxes. Typically those a tightly knit,  cohesive, pre-money communities that depend heavily on sharing and barter. These communities are more socialist or communist in nature as opposed to libertarian. More like an Amish community or hippie commune or a religious community of some form.
  • The best way to have a libertarian society is to have one of great abundance. Scarcity requires people to share and work together if they want to survive.

It’s a good story. Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

(Photo above is Amish women on the beach)

On the rise and roots of our current minimalism

Minimalism is a foreign concept to some Westerners, especially as it is practiced in parts of Japan. Indeed, this line:

Fumio Sasaki’s one-room Tokyo apartment is so stark friends liken it to an interrogation room. He owns three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and a meagre scattering of various other items.

You see “interrogation room” and “meagre”, which gives you some insight into how this writer sees it. The article which this comes from (and which is linked to below) does get more insightful and you gain a better insight into Japanese minimalism, from its cultural roots to its practicality (such as the real problem of how earthquakes make home objects dangerous).

Minimalism seems to be growing as a cultural concept throughout the world, and it’s good to know more about it, how the Japanese see it, and to think about how it should differ in Western cultures. To do that, see:

Three shirts, four pairs of trousers: meet Japan’s ‘hardcore’ minimalists in The Guardian

Want to know why it is so expensive to get tickets to special events?

Then you want to read these two really good pieces on why it is brutally tough to get tickets to an event without paying a fortune:

What it comes down to is a very limited supply and a very high demand. But that’s obvious. Read the pieces to see just how it really plays out.

A good article: Why I Am Not a Maker. With one comment by me.

If you hang around with or are involved in some way with IT people, you will come across individuals extolling the virtues of being a “Maker”. Making things (typically software or IT systems) is seen as a virtue, in some case one of the highest virtues, and the implication is that makers are virtuous people.

A well written critique of that is here: Why I Am Not a Maker – The Atlantic. If you consider yourself  a maker or aspire to be considered one, you should read it. A key point is this:

When tech culture only celebrates creation, it risks ignoring those who teach, criticize, and take care of others.

This is true: tech culture sometimes places little or no value on other activities, such as the ones that the article mentions.

My main criticism of the article is that it has a blind spot for the middle ground. I know plenty of creative people whom I consider makers that also take care of others, teach, manage, administer…you name it. Often time the things they make are superior to those of people who devote themselves to being makers.

Being a maker is a virtuous thing, for the most part. But so is teaching, providing care, managing, cleaning, coaching and many other positive activities. Find the thing you are good at and contribute positively in your own way.  If you can make some things along the way, all the better.

On declining ebook sales (two thoughts and some good material to consider)

If you are interested in books and ebooks in particular, you should read this: On the declining ebook reading experience. Two beliefs I have on this topic:

  1. Book sellers have become more competitive. In Canada, Indigo’s prices seem to be much lower and they sell books using low prices stamped prominently on the cover.
  2. He doesn’t say it, but the author hints that Apple should step in and make their own Kindle. I certainly would like to see Apple step up and make their own Kindle. The device and the user experience would be great, I am certain. It would blow the Kindle out of the water and likely make me switch over to becoming a bigger ebook reader.

 

What do Renaissance artists and animators have in common?

Cartoons! Well, there’s more to it than that, as this fascinating post shows: The secret to great Renaissance art: tracing (Vox).

I knew Renaissance artists did sketches: I didn’t know that they used them as stencils. In hindsight, it makes sense: to make such great paintings, it is best to work them out in detail first and then focus on paint.

The Greatness of Günter Grass

Grass died today. To read most of the pieces on him, you’d have a hard time imagining he was a great writer. So read this instead: The Greatness of Günter Grass in The New Yorker. It’s by another great writer, Salman Rushdie. It makes you appreciate the greatness of Grass.

Some thoughts on Miley Cyrus, Show Business and performers of her age

Having a daughter a bit younger than Miley Cyrus, I have followed her career and that of many of her peers whether I wanted to or not. I even chaperoned my daughter to a Jonas Brothers/Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert! So I have always been interested in what happened to them, if only because they have been part of her life and part of my life indirectly. Most of them shone on as stars for awhile and then faded (e.g,. Hillary Duff, some of High School musical gang). Some of them have crashed and burned (e.g., Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes). And some of them seem to be in the process of transitioning from kid stars to adult actors and performers (e.g. Miranda Cosgrove, Vanessa Hudgens). And some have been all over the map (e.g., Brittany Spears, who crashed and burned but now seems to be on the uptake, career wise).

Ideally all of them, because of talent, would mature and become successful adult performers (e.g., Jodie Foster, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Justin Timberlake). But that transition is difficult. First, because alot of them are in the Disney/Nickelodeon machine, and while they are in it, they are well managed and groomed, but once they are out of it, they are on their own. Unlike some of the other performers, Cyrus has an independent support network, and that seems to have kicked into high gear with the timing of the VHS performance, her video release, and the Rolling Stone cover coming one after another.

For those upset at how over the top it all seems to be, recall that she had a previous attempt at transitioning to performing as an adult and it was mocked and dismissed. She and the people she works with likely thought they would have to do something stronger to succeed. Hence the recent performances and appearances.

She does seem to be succeeding too, if you measure success by gaining and holding attention. That has always been the measure of success for American entertainers, and by those standards, she is succeeding. It would be best if she could gain that attention by the quality of her work, not by subverting her previously manufactured image of the stereotyped good little girl with the new stereotype bad girl, but I have seen her work, and it was never that good. For example, her show, much like the Jonas Brothers that came before her and many others like that, consisted of lots of costumes, dancing with other dancers, and generally doing a lip synced/over dubbed musical show while a bunch of middle aged dudes all dressed in black pants and T shirts played all the music in the background. (I imagine the star did play and sing, but the session type musicians in the background did all the heavy lifting, musically speaking, while Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers entertained the crowd.) That doesn’t mean she can’t sing and dance: she can dance, and at the end of the show, she performed a solo number, as if to show the audience that yes, I am real.

Did you know that Miranda Cosgrove recently did a series of rock n roll type concerts? No, you wouldn’t, because Cosgrove’s were pretty standard and very tame in comparison to Cyrus. She is comparable with Cyrus musically, and she has a ton of fans, who filled her shows. But unless there is a hidden talent she is holding back until a later time, she is never going to get on the cover of Rolling Stone or have people talking because of her music, fan base or not. To get that attention, you need to be either really good or really outrageous, or both.

Justin Bieber seems to get this. Or at least his handlers do. He should be fading now, but he manages to stay in the news with his behavoir these days. It too is a bad boy behavoir, though because of our patriarchial society, his bad boy behavoir comes across in a different way. It’s not bad boy behavoir compared to Keith Moon or Ozzie Osborne, but Bieber doesn’t have to be that bad to get attention. The same with Cyrus: she’s not Courtney Love nor Janis Joplin, but she doesn’t have to be.

A Show Business career, like alot of lucrative careers in the U.S., is a brutal business. Cyrus seems to know this and seems determined to succeed in it by whatever it takes to succeed. Mick Jagger once said that Madonna was a thimbleful of talent in an ocean of ambition. Like many quips, this is unfair and insightful. What is true is that Madonna would do what it took to stay on top, and has managed to do it for a crazy long time. That is her true talent. It looks like Cyrus has the same ambition, and she may decide to follow the same path to achieve a similar level of success.

The latest Rolling Stone has her interview here: Miley Cyrus on the Cover of Rolling Stone | Music News | Rolling Stone. I breezed over it, but she came across as pretty savvy here, which is not surprising, after I thought about it. She’s been in the business for along time, and she’s been a star for along time. Right now she is outraging people with her calculated behavoir, and the interview shows her dealing with some of the fallout for that. She is a professional, and that comes across in it. In a year from now, if a different set of actions will keep her in the news, I imagine she will tack in that direction.

It is possible she will crash and burn at some point. (The same could be said for Bieber.) I suspect she will not, and she will transform herself many more times over the course of the next few decades. Like Madonna, I suspect we will be listening to Cyrus for years to come, whether you like it or not. And like Madonna, that will be her true talent.