Tag Archives: culture

The fine photography of Jared Bramblett, London and elsewhere


My friend Jared Bramblett was recently in London, and as he does, he took some fantastic photographs of his visit, which you can see here:  5 Days in London – Jared Bramblett.

Once you check that out — and you should — take some time to look at the rest of his site. It’s wonderful.

(Image: link to image on his site.It looks so much better on his site.)

Big hair, don’t care: more good links on the best decade, the 1980s


The 80s come back in vogue from time to time, such as when current works like Stranger Things delve into it.  Mostly the decade is seen historically. That’s fine. It was a good decade, at least for me, and I love to think and write on it. One of the great things about having your own blog is you can write what you want about whatever you want. 🙂 So here’s more things on that era that I found worth reading lately…

Much of the music of the early 80s started at the end of the 70s.  Take the music of bands like Talking Heads. Or the Ramones. Speaking of them, here’s some great bootleg footage of the Ramones in concert before the person filming it got caught!

As for other artists of that time, here’s a good piece on Blondie.  Like  punk and new wave, another trend of the time was Blitz.  This piece covers the Blitz era and all the music that was associated with it. Moving from the English music scene to Canada, here’s something on Rebecca Jenkins, an artist and musician who was involved with so many other performers I loved at the time, from Jane Siberry, to Holly Cole, to the incomparable Mary Margaret O’Hara.

Another incomparable artist from the time is Richard Grant. I will never forget him for his great turn in the film “Withnail and I” back in the 80s. Nowadays he has suffered a great loss but still keeps going and is inspirational on twitter and elsewhere. This is a good piece to catch up on him: Richard E Grant on grief fame and life without a filter.

Finally, gone but not forgotten, here’s a fine piece on Ruth Polsky Who Shaped New York’s Music Scene in that era. Recommended.

(Image from the piece on Blitz)

Wordle is fun again. Here’s why that is for me….

Like many of you, I started playing Wordle during the pandemic. It was fun for a long time, then it wasn’t.

I’m not sure what got me playing again, but I think the Wordlebot had something to do with it. Every time I play now, I consult the little bot to see how it did and what it recommends in terms of words. As a result, I have become better at the game. Some of the go to words I use frequently now because of what I’ve learned from Wordlebot are:

  • Crane
  • Slate
  • Sloth
  • Unhip
  • Guilt
  • Croup
  • Alter
  • Chirp
  • Crony
  • Corny

the other day I played CRANE and first and then went with SLOTH and got it in two. If only I had made SLOTH my starting word! Oh well. It’s fun for me again, and that’s what counts.

Also I play it quickly these days. Before I could spent easily 30 minutes on it: now I try and be done in 5.

For more on it, see this good piece: Wordle and the starting word. Adieu!

Should we give up streaming and go back to CDs and DVDs?

Did you know you can still get DVDs from Netflix? Well according to this, you still can! And maybe you should.

I’ve been thinking about it recently for a number of reasons. One is the number of streaming services I pay for that I barely use. Sure I like the idea of being able to watch any movie at the drop of a hat. But do I….really? No, I do not. It’s a waste of money for the idea of instant gratification.

Second, streaming services may be making us less likely to hear and experience new things. I thought of that reading this piece in the Guardian. I find that happens to me with Spotify: it is trying so hard to match me with music that aligns with my taste that I get stuck in a rut. In some ways streaming is a gilded cage.

That’s why we should heed what Clive Thompson says and rewild our imagination. It’s more work, but more rewarding.

So get out your DVD player and order some movies or DVDs and watch something you’ve always wanted to but never seem to because it is not available online. You can even order a DVD player for cheap, here.

 

On the 50th Anniversary of M*A*S*H and rewatching some of it


The famed TV show recently had a milestone: it first broadcast 50 years ago, September 1972. If you had watched M*A*S*H, and even if you haven’t, I recommend this piece by James Poniewozik, in which he presents a chronology of the show and how it evolved over the years. It brought back good memories.

Among other things, he recalls one of my favorite episodes, Point of View, particularly for this one scene. He writes:

“Point of View” is shot from the vantage of a wounded soldier whose throat injury renders him mute. In a repeated format, a reporter visits the 4077th for the new medium of television. The unit’s chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher), described seeing surgeons cut into patients in the winter cold. “Steam rises from the body,” he says. “And the doctor will warm himself over the open wound. Could anyone look on that and not feel changed?”

The episode was filmed in black and white, and there is a scene showing steam rising from the patient. It was stunning.

Recently I watched another one of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H on one of the streaming services. The writing was still good, but the format of the show displayed its age.  This could just be me though: I think you really have to dive into old TV shows to adjust to the format to enjoy it. Certainly the quality is there.

One thing I would add: it is a show made in 1970s. There may be things about that era that makes you uncomfortable, like the sexism, or whole idea of Klinger dressing up as a woman to get out of the Army. These are products of that time. In its defense, the show became less sexist over time, and Klinger shelves the whole “I am a crossdresser therefore I am unfit” bit. But it was still a show reflecting that era.

The other thing to dwell on is that it existed in a golden age of TV. Just like movies and print, it was able to achieve numbers that no TV show can achieve now in the era of the Internet and streaming. We didn’t know that then: it was simply one of the best shows of its time and we all naturally watched it. (It’s funny to think of how back then we made the time to watch a show because if you didn’t, that was it, you missed it. You might, if you were lucky, see it in the summer when network TV would show the “repeats”.)

While M*A*S*H had so much going for it, what made the series one of the greats was its actors. It achieved a rare thing in that it lost three of the leads over time but never suffered as a result of this. The people that left were great, and the people that replaced them were also great. One person that was there from start to finish was Alan Alda. Here’s a 50th anniversary interview of him in the Times.

P.S. 1972 was a good year for film too. The 70s was filled with excess and schmaltz, but it was at its best on period pieces, like The Godfather, Cabaret, and M*A*S*H.

On the good and bad aspects of Dark Brandon

There have been lots of pieces explaining Dark Brandon. (Too many!) If you want to read what I thought was the best one, I think it was this: Dark Brandon, explained – by Matthew Yglesias.

As for my two cents….part of me likes the Dark Brandon meme. It a political jiu-jitsu move, taking the use of memes and shitposting that comes from trolls, the alt-right, and basic straight up Nazis, and using it effectively against them. That part I am good with.

But I think the warning that comes from this piece is worth considering:

… experts warn there are risks to embracing this type of political iconography. “You don’t want to take a trend that is precipitated by fascists and Nazis and then sort that into your arsenal. That’s just not great,” says extremist researcher Daniel Grober, who co-authored with Hampton Stall a definitive report on the Dark MAGA trend in far-right online networks. “What it does is it normalises the aesthetic, and it gives kind of a platform for it to be solidified into the general media.”

I agree with that. Essentially the use of memes like Dark Brandon risks getting into the mud with the worst of the Internet and wrestling with them. As G.B. Shaw(?) once warned:

“Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

As an example of this, one of the Democrats grabbed a Dark Brandon meme that contained some Dark Knight/Batman imagery and tweeted it, only to have to pull it when someone pointed out the Nazi Eagle in the background.  See? The mud gets on you even as you fling it.

The Marvel Juggernaut

It’s hard to believe that Marvel Studios were once far from a sure thing. (I wrote recently about that, here.) Now that they are a part of Disney, they are a Juggernaut, with rollout plans going on well into the future, as you can see, here: Marvel outlines Phase 6 with Fantastic Four and two new Avengers movies – The Verge.

In some ways the journey is not unlike Apple’s. Apple is such a dominating player now, but back in the 90s it was hanging on by a thread.

It’s possible that both companies could falter, but I suspect we will be getting our fill of Apple Devices and Marvel Entertainment for the rest of this decade. I’ll be curious to visit this post in 5 or 6 years and see if this prediction held.

On Obi-Wan Kenobi

I have been a fan of Obi-Wan Kenobi since the first Star Wars, and I’ve been a fan of Ewan McGregor’s acting since his first film. So I was generally pleased with the  Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+. If you’re the same way, I highly recommend you watch it.

Like The Mandalorian, I enjoyed having the chance to see more of the Star Wars universe with characters I’ve come to know and love over time. I thought the acting and directing and visuals all good. My main complaint is that both series played it safe. There is no compelling arch and the tension is low. I compare that to two TV series I’ve recently loved: Slow Horses and The Bear. They had me hanging on the edge of my seat. Not so with these Star Wars series. They are good, but they could be so much better.

The folks who made the video in this post sums up my thoughts better than I can! Also this is a good review.

Would I watch another season of Obi-Wan? For sure! And more from the characters that make up the original trilogy. Let’s hope Disney can put them in the hands of great — as opposed to good — writers.

 

Was the Long Tail a Lie? Ted Gioia’s thoughts and mine

I can’t say if it was a lie. Maybe it was a fairytale. Something too good to be true but something many of us including me wanted to believe in. Whatever your thoughts,  I recommend you read this strong critique on it: Where Did the Long Tail Go? by Ted Gioia. If you are a true believer, Gioia will get you rethinking it.

As for me, I think part of the problem is that online services nudge or even push us to the short tail. There are advantages to them when it comes to selling us more of the short part of the curve in red. We need services and aggregators to get our attention to spiral outwards and look at things we never considered before. Spotify still does that to an extent when it builds me playlists.

Another part of the problem is the willingness of people to get out of their comfort zone and explore the long tail. Again, Spotify will recommend music lists to me, but I often find myself sticking with the tried and true. Services need to better encourage people to try new things or make it easier to try new things.  Give people options, but in a smart way. I know it can be done. I hope it will be done.

 

The elusive spotlight (being a pop star as a career)


Pop stars have unique careers. For some of them, it can be like being an athlete: you do it while you are young and then you are done. That what came across to me in this piece: ‘That’s it? It’s over? I was 30. What a brutal business’: pop stars on life after the spotlight moves on | Music | The Guardian.

Then there are some artists — not as many — who go on and on and whose careers shift and they become more akin to academics (e.g, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen).

What happens after the spotlight shifts depends on the artist. Read the article and see.

It’s an interesting career, to say the least. All the power in the world to those that can make a go of it.

Changes on SNL, new and old

I’ve been wondering when this would happen, but finally some of the bigger names from SNL are departing next year, including Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant and Kyle Pete Davidson, according to Deadline. I’ve been surprised both by how stable SNL has been over the last decade and how big the cast has grown. It started off with less than 10, now it’s over 20.

Having a big cast makes sense in some ways. It means there is a deep bench of talent ready and eager to step up. It also helps SNL deal with the lack of diversity problem they had all too recently.

I’ve been watching more SNL recently, ironically because of Twitter. I say ironically because social media used to freak Lorne and company out. Now they feed the whole show via twitter on the weekend. I get to skip the ads, and I get to watch the best bits. It’s ideal for me. My rule of thumb is if Kenan Thompson is in a sketch, it’s probably funny. That’s likely why he is sticking around.

That piece above got me to this piece: ‘Saturday Night Live’: Actors Who’ve Hosted The Show The Most – Photos – Deadline. Several things to note there. In the early years, it was often people associated with the show, like Chevy Chase (although that is also true with Tina Fey in the later years). Later it was big actors who were just really good at being funny. For awhile Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were tied in appearances (there was even a bit where to win, Martin knocks out Baldwin, wraps him in a rug and throws him out the window!) Baldwin eventually ran away with it, not just for hosting, but by being a regular with his Trump appearances. (It probably helps too he lives in Manhattan.)

I have a sentimental weakness for SNL. It’s been on 47 seasons and I’ve been watching off and on since S1. I’m looking forward to it reaching S50 and beyond. Who knows will show up for that season. Tune in.

On TV, the 90s and me


I stopped watching TV in the 90s.  The last three TV series I watched were Northern Exposure (1990-1995), Seinfeld (1989-1998) and Friends (1994-2004).

I thought of that when I recently started rewatching Friends clips weirdly via Instagram. It is full of them. This Vanity Fair piece hits on something that Seinfeld and Friends and to some degree Northern Exposure had in common:

It was the ’90s; oh, was it ever the ’90s. The show’s anxieties are inextricably tied to the that decade—answering machines, VCRs, the discomfort its straight characters feel upon encountering queer people.

Yep, all that. The discomfort (or whatever you want to call it) in Friends is particularly painful to watch.

You notice other things too. No smart phones (obviously). No internet. Also suits and ties. Chandler and Ross in the early episodes are often in business attire of the time and it seems as dated as tuxedos and top hats now.

In the end, I gave up on each of those shows for different reasons. Northern Exposure lost its bearing and became some sort of Alaskan fantasy land. Friends seemed to become a landing place for cameos of famous actors. As for Seinfeld, I have to agree with the Vanity Fair piece, who said:

… for more than a few episodes at a time, these people and their concerns—so self-absorbed, so entitled, so stupid—are a little deadening to watch.

Seinfeld’s leads are a tiresome quartet; in the show, everyone who meets them ends up deeply regretting it.

I skipped the golden age of TV with the Wire and the Sopranos and all that. None of it appealed to me. I’m trying to get back into watching things via streaming, but even that is a struggle. I don’t think I am superior for not watching it. I just find it is something I can’t watch on my own.

For now I’ll watch clips via Instagram and maybe that is enough TV for me. 🙂

Forget NFTs: sneakers are a better example of when culture and IT conflict

And the New York Times is on it: Can Shopify Stop Sneaker Bots? – The New York Times.

I find that story fascinating on many levels. It starts with the culture of sneakerheads. Then it shows what happens when you mix IT in. Suddenly there is a massive distortion effect that occurs. Combine that with voracious capitalism and a fun hobby morphs into something….well less than pretty.

So much of our current society is captured in that piece. Well worth taking a moment to read and digest.

P.S. I got caught up in that for a moment a few years ago when my son suddenly wanted this particular brand of Jordans. I remember him showing them to me by a guy who was selling them online, and I had to study sneakers to see if they were legitimate or knock offs before handing over hundreds of dollars to some guy who had some weird handle of a name.

Thankfully my son lost interest in becoming a sneakerhead. I couldn’t afford it anyway!

(Photo by Paul Volkmer on Unsplash )

 

It’s an autumn weekend: a good time to watch a long movie

 

While short movies are fun, sometimes one wants to settle in and watch a good long movie. The problem with that, though, is many of them draggggggggg. No one wants that. We want to settle, not fidget. We need help.

Help is here in the form of this: 20 of the Best Long Movies That Are Actually Worth Their Runtime. “Lawrence of Arabia” is an obvious choice, but there are many others on the list that are great too, such as “Hamlet” and “Malcolm X”. Check out the list, then block of some time this weekend or next and get some quality screen time in. Snacks are optional, but recommended. 🙂

 

Consolations from the classics: Seneca and Suetonius

First up, Seneca. Here’s a good piece that summarizes some of the consolation letters he wrote to people close to him. Though they were written centuries ago, they are timeless and worth reading.

Second, Suetonius. Here’s a good piece on why you want to read him:  The Consolations of History. Essentially,  good histories like those of Suetonius give you  perspective that help you deal with your own time. Sometimes they do that by showing you things are fundamentally the same. Other times they do that by showing how much things have changed since that time. Either way you come away with a deeper understanding of your own time even as you learn about another time.

During the pandemic I have been noticing this frequently. People are looking back at the pandemic of 1918-19 and trying to draw lessons from it. That’s a good thing, I think. We can all gain perspective by looking to the past, which is never really past.

 

Three quick thoughts on the new minimalism vs maximalism debate

It looks like minimalism has had it’s time and now it’s time for maximalism to take over. At least that’s the sense I get, reading this:More Is More: The End of Minimalism | The Walrus

My thoughts are this:

  1. Home decor is fashion, as much as clothing is fashion. The fashion for a time has been minimalism. Minimalism not just in having less items in your homes. It’s has also been about the colour of people’s walls. Or the use of mid-century modern furniture with its clean lines. The fashion of minimalism has always been about paring back in all areas of home decor.
  2. Now that form of minimalism is slowly going out of fashion. Home decor may be fashion, and no it doesn’t change as frequently as fashion in clothing, but yes it still changes. And the direction it is going to change towards is maximalism.
  3. I suspect we will see more and more maximalism in the next few years. Especially so as we eventually exit the pandemic. Things will get more colourful. Bolder lines and styles. Bigger pieces. More of everything. (Just like what you see in the photo above.) That will continue to increase until it too goes out of fashion. It’s all a pendulum.

For more on maximalism, here’s some other pieces I wrote. I also wrote more on minimalism too. 🙂

(Image via vinterior.co …I love it)

How powerful is twitter?


I agree with this assessment by Noah Smith: it is not powerful at all. It can seem powerful at times, like a very high wind. But like a very high wind, it either subsides or moves on. Sometimes there is damage, but mainly not.

If you disagree, I recommend you read his piece. It’s a pretty strong argument for why twitter as a social force is limited.

P.S. I have felt that for some time. I mainly post things that are either positive or amusing. If I want to take social action, there are concrete ways to do that.

P.S.S. Tweets are like straw, blowing this way and that way, yet not moving and not affecting things, besides making a nice noise.

(Photo by seth schwiet on Unsplash )

When was SNL at it’s best?

The joke is that SNL was at its best the years you watched it as a teen. I have literally been watching it since it started — Yes, I am old — and I kinda agree with that. SNL is really such an uneven thing that even back then there were good and bad parts of the show. (Usually anything after the second musical performance is throwaway). As well, SNL is best as much for individual performers as it is for the entire show. From Catherine McKinnon all the way back to Gilda Radner, there have been individual performers who made a good show great. (My favorite of all time is Bill Murray, but there are too many to mention here).

For another take on it, here is a someone more objective study on when SNL was at its peak. According to this piece in OpenCulture, this YouTuber took a systematic approach to deciding the best of SNL. He…

… decided to withhold judgment on the overall quality curve of Saturday Night Live, his favorite show, before putting in the time and effort to watch at least one episode from every year in its run

The article has a link to his YouTube results. As OpenCulture concludes,

He may not change anyone’s mind about the best, and worst, seasons, episodes, cast members, and hosts. But he does demonstrate an admirable willingness to dig into SNL’s history and give years of comedy positively antiquated by 21st century standards a fair shake.

Iowa shows why the move from big cities may be only temporary

Brooklyn
One thing that happened during the pandemic is that big cities like New York vacated to some degree. When they did, there was talk about how in the future more people would continue to work from home, and if they did, they might go to smaller and more affordable cities, like Des Moines, Iowa. Indeed, places like Des Moines has been recruiting people.

The problem these cities have, though, is that they are missing part of the puzzle. People in big cities like NYC and San Francisco live there for a lot of reasons. One of those is the freedom and rights that come with living there.  The respect those places have for progressive values are a big draw. Unfortunately, as this really good piece shows, Iowa (and likely other conservative cities and states) can’t and won’t provide that any time soon.

After reading that piece, I thought: yeah, even if the majority of people can still work from home, the mass exodus from Brooklyn to Des Moines is not going to be happening. Some will, for sure. But when the pandemic is over, people are going to head back to the major cities. They have more to offer than  affordability.

(Photo by Julian Myles on Unsplash)

 

More goodness from the 80s

David Salle painting

Here at this blog I will always share my love of the 1980s.

First up, here is a great piece in the New Yorker on a recent Whitney art show which highlighted the Joy of Eighties Art. It’s begins great:

Starting in the late nineteen-seventies, young American artists plunged, pell-mell, into making figurative paintings. That seemed ridiculously backward by the lights of the time’s reigning vanguards of flinty post-minimalism, cagey conceptualism, and chaste abstraction. The affront was part of the appeal. As with contemporaneous punk music, sheer nerve rocketed impudent twentysomethings to stardom on New York’s downtown scene. The powerful excitement of that moment has been languishing in a blind spot of recent art history, but “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s,” at the Whitney, a show of works by thirty-seven artists from the museum’s collection, comes to the rescue. Some of the names are famous: Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Eric Fischl, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring.

I loved reading every word of that. A great review.

Other 80s things I found recently is this here ode to a great album of the the early 1980s: Rattlesnakes from Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.

Saxophones don’t feature on that recording, but they did on many other great recordings of the 1980s. Gradually they died off. Here’s a good piece exploring that.

If you still have music from that era, chances are some of it is on a cassette tape, which was big then. If you suddenly have the urge to listen to that, you can, with this player (shown below at Uncrate.com). It’s not the original Walkman, but in some ways it’s better.

cassette player

Rock on.

(Top image is David Salle’s “Sextant in Dogtown” (1987).Courtesy David Salle / VAGA, NY. Linked to in the article. Bottom image is from the uncrate.com article)

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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.