“The physiological links between the smell and language centers of the brain,” naturalist Diane Ackerman once noted, “are pitifully weak.” A brief sniff around Fragrantica, the fragrance fansite, should make you doubt that. After a squirt of Sven Pritzkoleit’s cult parfum, Hyrax, user KingRydesBy96 reports that he “had been reminded vividly of a childhood memory of carrying out a dare that involved defecating on the hood of someone’s black Trans Am during a searing summer heatwave.” (There is a reason for this: user RosaMilena points out that “castoreum,” the scent’s top note – made from an unctuous beaver secretion – “in large amounts smells like a dog’s infected anal gland leakage.”) Like Nabokov, Napoleon, or bloodhounds, this crowd leads life nose-wise. Any random vial review should put to shame most of those actually paid to rhapsodize about books or music for a living. A bottle of Shalimar gives “a little melodious scream;” a squeeze of Etro’s Shaal Nur suggests “a lullaby of airy amber;” Muscs Koublai Khan proposes “panties, but not in a good way.” No man is an island, though. In the forums, Covid’s rot reeks. “This morning I peeled a fresh cucumber and opened a can of tuna — very distinctive and intense smelling items,” writes a user named Nomen. “But I could smell nothing at all!”
Jake Angeli, the shirtless, horned QAnon influencer now in custody, was booked and busy in the months leading up to the Capitol siege. From Arizona, he spoke at multiple live Zoom events to discuss “ascension” — the process of leveling-up one’s consciousness involving self-love, shrooms, and decoding the Satanic messaging in Ellen DeGeneres’s Wayfair collection. He likes assuming power stances a few feet from his webcam, tenting his fingers and annunciating on quantum fields with the energy of a New Age frat bro. In one 4-hour event, Angeli joined other callers. One was Kosol Ouch, a man from Cambodia, who appeared to be participating while at work as a Wells Fargo security guard. At one point, Ouch began swaying, claiming to channel an A.I. from the future. This was too weird, even for Angeli. “I’m good,” he said, laughing and turning off his camera. Behind each insurrectionist, I suppose, is someone pilled even harder.
Maybe where I want to be, instead of my apartment, is Bagdad, CA, in the middle of the Mojave desert, where there is nothing but a highway and a cafe with an adjoining gas station, motel, and tattoo parlor. The last realized American Dream is that of the Bavarian tourist who has just left her husband and befriends Brenda, the café’s owner, who is fresh from kicking out her own husband. “Jesus I hate things that don’t make sense,” says Brenda. I disagree. This West German film makes no sense, and it’s perfect: the solution to Brenda’s economic and familial problems is to run a magic show and peddle nudes of her new bachelorette friend to an old Hollywood actor.
Kafka’s titular hunger artist conflates “the honor of his profession” with a less-noble truth: if only food had been more appetizing, he narrates, “I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.” YouTuber Matt Stonie has no such excuses. The competitive eater, who made his debut as the youngest member of Major League Eating in 2011 with six pounds of deep-fried asparagus, has amassed fourteen world records and more than two billion views in eight years of self-imposed challenges. 10,000 calories of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in ten minutes, 14,000 of Pop Rocks in thirty — Stonie defies the bounds of the body. But unlike the Hunger Artist, whose unyielding palette reduced him to straw and ribs, Stonie emerges from the glut unscathed, a marvel of physical resilience in a black bandana. He clocks in at 13.2 million subscribers, which is roughly the population of Benin.
Alan Hollinghurst’s book of perfect prose taught me the word “ogee,” and now I will feel emboldened to call myself an aesthete at dinner parties, once those start to happen again. A Wildean affair, the story of Nick Guest can be read as a cautionary tale of class divides or a billet-doux to cocaine and cruising. Either way, a scrumptious read.
“The best part of grocery shopping,” comedian Alex Blagg once tweeted, “is seeing what kind of fucked up new shit the psychos at Oreos have come up with.” Their latest effort, Oreos Most Stuf, confirms that the best snack minds of our generation, creators of a universally adored vegan treat, have been destroyed by madness. Coerced by the speed of the 21st-century snack-product cycle, Oreo’s product development team is throwing darts at the wall, making alterations to proportion, color, and flavor that seem less driven by consumer taste (in the literal sense) than by a hunger for something new. The amount of frosting in these cookies is, in a word, unpalatable. In fact, the one good thing that can be attributed to these bad boys is the superlative usage in the title — a guarantee that, while the stuf might be flavored, perverted, or otherwise messed with, there will never be more stuf than this.
Instead of scrolling through thousands of titles on Netflix, visit Lionsgate’s Facebook page and choose among The Age of Adaline, Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, and two animated Hellboy movies (unfortunately, Scream 4 was recently removed). Each movie is roughly as good as the next, and Facebook Watch is designed in such a way that it’s impossible to find out if there are any other options.
Everyone deserves a friend who will honestly tell them when their writing sucks. Then again, if Theodore Kaczynski had one, we would be deprived of this podcast’s close reading of his 35,000-word ‘Unabomber manifesto,’ in treatment alongside canonical essays in American shut-in literature by Henry David Thoreau. Before the latest season, titled Cabin, each Picnic episode stood on its own, a decoupage of odd sources pasted together with conversation that can be intimate and contemplative one minute and side-splitting the next. Highlights included Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech coupled with Amazon product reviews (E31), a romp through the world of Kai Ryssdal and crypto-coin YouTubers (E26), and meditations on a solar eclipse and what it means to be human or, alternatively, to be Elon Musk (E21). Cabin retains that eccentric, cut-up brilliance. It’s a journey that begins with recorded cold calls to find someone within the Montana Historical Society’s remarkably complex hierarchy willing to answer questions about Kaczynski’s cabin. “I am curious why you are interested in this?” a voice on the other end of the phone finally asks. Apparently they don’t get as many visitors as Walden Pond.
Anthony Perkins plays the troubled anti-hero, a Salinger-esque boy-man, who tells Tuesday Weld’s anti-heroine — the epitome, at least on the surface, of the blonde All-American girl next door — he is a secret agent in town on assignment. They drive around in her convertible, adorably playing at espionage until it all goes wrong. (There’s a peculiar scene where they take drugs before having sex, and he asks if she’s “ripe and ready to burst.” Then later she kills a guy.) They are Bonnie and Clyde if Bonnie and Clyde had absolutely no idea what they were doing and were in desperate need of therapy.
Most people know AI-powered astrology app Co-Star for its one-sentence daily horoscopes. “Fuck and run.” “Entering a bathroom isn’t like leaving it.” Now the app has a newish feature: Chaos Mode, which lets you send messages to friends and fellow users, or to yourself, that will be delivered “when the stars align.” This begs a few questions: What kind of time frame are we working with here? Are the messages anonymous? (Not in my experience, but Reddit users have disputed the issue.) Even with these head-scratchers, “Chaos Mode” is a misnomer. Faced with a steady stream of days that look the same and a future that feels algorithmically generated, writing your own horoscopes suddenly feels like a totally reasonable thing to do.
Jean Racine’s 1667 tragedy in five acts. The set-up: Ancient Greece, a royal court, a quartet of fools for love. Orestes loves Hermione; Hermione loves Pyrrhus; Pyrrhus loves Andromaque. They slide on and off the candle-lit stage, sharing their secrets in alexandrine rhyme. No one becomes any happier, though some manage to die. It’s gossip as pathology. You whisper about someone till you’re all enamored and start to echo them. A timely reminder: never get lost in a lover’s voice.
Once Don Hertzfeldt has a couple of stick figures and fifteen minutes, you can pretty much let go and say, “Fuck me up, Hertzfeldt.” The DIY animator’s third episode in World of Tomorrow, an endearing, darkly comedic sci-fi short series where speculative concepts flow like water, and neurotic musings populate the dialogue, is a torturously funny spin on the Back to the Future 2-time-travel-paradox genre. While the first two episodes followed the real-life rantings and speculative whims of Hertzfeld’s young niece, the third episode considers a new lonely, male character named David Prime. David is so stricken by a romantic video message he receives from a woman that he keeps deleting basic brain functions and life skills in his memory banks to make room for more and more messages.While it’s an understandable gambit in a bleak and lonely future, some of us just join Hinge.
Bret Easton Ellis’s new autobiographical novel, which he’s still serializing on his podcast, was probably my favorite book of 2020. Except it’s not really a book: Ellis expressly wrote it to be heard, not read. And in his voice, variably tender and prickly, composed and digressive, the thread he unspools — revolving around the arrival of a mysterious student during the author’s senior year of high school, in the fall of 1981 — becomes a kind of ghost story, a waking nightmare, all nostalgia tinged with dread. Naturally, everyone’s also hot and rich, and having sex and doing coke, and not feeling bad about any of it.
Everyone I know is dying to travel. Everyone I follow on social media swears when this is over they’ll head straight for the airport, to board a plane for some faraway place, to feel something new. André Gregory (played by André Gregory), the titular character of Louis Malle’s 1981 film, has spent the past several years on trips of this kind, in pursuit of extreme emotion and experience — to devise experimental theater in a forest in Poland, to stargaze and ride camels in the Sahara with a Japanese Buddhist priest, to be buried alive at the tip of Long Island. Back in New York, he meets Wallace Shawn (Wallace Shawn) for the titular dinner, and, over the soothing sounds of clinking silverware and glugging wine, describes how his travels jolted him from the numbness and deadness of modern life. Eventually Wally loses it. “Isn’t it a little upsetting to come to the conclusion that there is no way to wake people up anymore except to involve them in some kind of a strange christening in Poland or some kind of a strange experience on top of Mount Everest?” he sputters. “The awful thing is, if you’re really saying that it’s necessary to take everybody to Everest, it’s really tough because everybody can’t be taken to Everest!” (Though we certainly have tried.) Wally just wants an ordinary life with his girlfriend Debbie: to drink his cold coffee in the morning, read Charlton Heston’s autobiography in the evening, and take out the garbage somewhere in between. The pair push each other back and forth — Everest or Charlton Heston? Ecstasy or contentment? Is the world out there or in here? Of course, there is no winner to this debate, but it’s in this encounter that they find the awakening, the point of transformation. And so did I, without leaving my couch.
Whether dropping recipes for chickpea-flour pancakes (“Bitches haaaaaaate that I’m gettin’ to the money,” she sings as they sizzle) or pineapple and sea moss jam, Azealia Banks is holding culinary court on Instagram. Many a home cook has been forged during the pandemic, but Banks sets herself apart by positioning her new enthusiasm for plant-based eating as a revolutionary act against corporate forces that undernourish vulnerable populations (fast food, food deserts, et al.). Sure, Banks is a rapper by trade (and her newest single, the cerebral and densely rhymed “Black Madonna” proves she is still at the top of her game), but the appetite for an Azealia cookbook grows in the comments section. Will a hunger for cashew spirulina alfredo replace widespread cravings for McDonalds? Does everyone have the means to season their avocado toast with boutique, unfiltered apple cider vinegar? No and no! But Banks is doing important work linking food availability and economic and racial justice — and at the very least, she’s more entertaining than Alison Roman.
Georges Bataille meets Ed, Edd n’ Eddy. In his terrific twelfth book, Derek McCormack teleports his readers straight to Faggotland, a make-believe theme park where gay men feed each other poop and hang themselves from chandeliers. It’s sex writing at its finest, both pointless lowbrow smut and radical queer theory. The scat matter makes Ottessa Moshfegh look like Nora Roberts.
This confusingly has less Szechuan peppercorn in it than any other spice. It’ll suffice in a pinch, but I’m underwhelmed; there’s a bit of that physical Szechuan tingle, but none of the sinus-evacuating heat I’d hoped for. At the end of the day, I have only myself to blame for expecting more from something stocked in my local grocery store, which caters mostly to Polish seniors.
A typical episode begins with Kaiser holding one of his hundreds of guitars in front of a psychedelic greenscreen. You might find him improvising over footage he filmed on research dives in Antarctica, performing fractured blues atop a video taken on a rollercoaster, playing in a remote quartet or in homage to Gene Wolfe. But Kaiser’s music is divisive. One commenter asks of Weekly Solo #17, which features a live score to the 1921 Italian silent film L’uomo Meccanico: “Why, why, why?”
Two writers begin an affair. They feel bad, acknowledge how bad they feel, and continue on. It’s all very self-aware; when Andrew Martin’s novel debuted in 2018, this meta-feature seemed the point: a humorous knock at any reader who held that the artful expression of problems resolved them. But Martin’s fiction is never just its joke, even if you get it. To revisit this novel is to marvel at introspective people who miss what they think they see.
Watching a young Sofia Coppola drive monster trucks and throw guerrilla fashion shows on the streets of SoHo might at first induce cognitive dissonance. Before she became known for her ruminative, slow-burning, existential film work, the director cut her teeth doing what looks like art-house renditions of Jackass for Comedy Central. But behind the frenetic visual grammar and the series’s sometimes punkish nature are traces of her best-known obsession: the ennui of the rich, and deconstruction of celebrity. In Hi-Octane, Coppola pulls back the curtain on fame, capturing stars in their spare moments with the casual intimacy one might find in a friend’s home video — if your friends also happened to include Karl Lagerfeld, Thurston Moore, and Martin Scorsese. What Hi-Octane lacks in the biting but subtle satire of Coppola’s film work it makes up for in balls-to-the-wall ridiculousness, and its total access to anyone considered cool in the nineties makes it the best place to receive mechanics tips from Prada model Jenny Shimizu or witness carside flirtations with Keanu Reeves.
Francis Spufford straddles history and fiction in this work retelling the U.S.S.R.’s attempt to overtake the U.S. in economic growth, proving both socialism’s superiority and its inevitability. Lenin is long gone; audacity instead finds its form in Leonid Kantorovich — a young mathematical genius widely understood today as the founder of linear programming — fighting for his ideas about the optimization of production to be recognized and adopted by the state. (They eventually were — and by the capitalists too.) Expository political and theoretical discussions interrupt and bind together the lives of a panoply of characters — students, peasants, writers, apparatchiks — some fictionalized stand-ins, and others impossible to invent. Toe-to-toe in the kitchen debate in Moscow in 1959, Nixon shows off a shiny steel lemon squeezer to Khrushchev. The metalworker-turned-premier, perhaps inspired by Charlie Chaplin, looks back unflinchingly and asks, “Do you have a gadget that puts the food in your mouth and presses it down?
This place was supposed to have 350 rooms, a rooftop bar with French Quarter views, and something called a Body Rock® gym. Instead, it collapsed while under construction last October, killing three workers and briefly drawing the attention of national journalists, who rarely come down here except to gawk at hurricanes and Confederate statues. The building gets a starring role in an episode of John Wilson’s whimsical new HBO show, too. For over a year since the collapse, a heap of steel and concrete and a couple of mangled cranes have sat mostly untouched, with Hard Rock International denying responsibility and demanding the dead-broke city of New Orleans pay for most of the cleanup. After the mayor reopened bars in October and daiquiri-clutching tourists rushed back into the Quarter, the hotel’s remains became a must-see destination just steps off Bourbon Street. On a recent Saturday, sightseers on Segways gazed up at the ruins while a guide told them that it took the fire department ten months to pull the last dead body from the rubble. The crowd was quiet for a second, then someone asked: “Is there a bathroom around here?”
Early in Hilary Mantel’s lengthy tome, a young Maximilien Robespierre is snubbed by the new King and Queen of France, who drive away while he recites a speech, leaving the future Jacobin standing in the rain before his assembled schoolmates. It’s the sort of perfectly pat scene that, in lesser hands, has given historical fiction a bad name. But in Mantel’s telling, the encounter is personal and raw. The much-anticipated visit is discombobulated; no one seems to know quite what to do. The teachers, Fathers Poignard and Herivaux, doubt and question themselves and try to reassure the young Robespierre, who soldiers on with a smile. The short episode is awkward and never revels in the rabbit-from-a-hat reveal of the man that rain-sodden boy would become. This book is a feast of such claustrophobic, interior moments: nervous, determined revolutionaries move through cramped bedrooms, alleys, and crowds. The history can feel confusing and undetermined when the reader is so close to the sweat, candle smoke, ink, and booze. It doesn’t matter that we know who is headed for the guillotine.
Movies from before 1990 contain an alternate universe, one in which today’s congealed character actors are hot young ingenues, and people can not only sit inside a restaurant, but smoke a cigarette there. An exemplar of the genre is Raising Arizona, the Coen Brothers’ 1987 candy-colored fever dream of a kidnapping caper. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter play an odd couple (He’s a felon! She’s a cop!) struggling with infertility, who decide to kidnap one of the locally famous “Arizona Quints” based on the logic that five babies is more than their parents can handle. What follows is a zany Southwestern not-quite-Gothic that is far kinder than it needs to be. The instigating dramatic event is the pointless cruelty of the prison system: Cage’s Hi spends the first few minutes of the film in a revolving door of recidivism. When he marries Hunter’s Ed, his criminal record is what prevents the childless couple from adopting and prompts them to try kidnapping instead — a funhouse mirror version of a system that expects the formerly incarcerated to “go straight” while putting up continuous roadblocks should they attempt to do so. “We felt the institution no longer had anything to offer us,” explains one character after breaking out of prison. Of course, he ends up tunneling back into jail to finish up his sentence — the film is reformist at most — but it’s a crime comedy that questions the logic of punishment, and a great watch (or rewatch) for anyone who, after the hijinks of the 2020 election, isn’t already sick of thinking about Arizona.
“I here [sic] Silverlake is a really cool place in L.A.,” noted poster venturadude805 in 2009. But there was a catch: was the neighborhood only affordable because it was “unsafe?” Good thing he’s on City-Data.com, home to hoards of know-it-all NIMBY types, unaware of the new outlet of Erewhon, the “Goop”-ified grocery chain, lying in wait, a mere decade into their future. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” responded Jay100, “I would give it a 5 in terms of safety.” Bruin5 added: “Area definitely has grit.” I hope they’re still around to experience the most terrifying aspect of the neighborhood today, which is unequivocally the oversized “Salad Valet” zone at the unbearably fluorescent MIXT outpost on Sunset Boulevard.
Sources claimed “Mr. Scruffles” is indestructible. One hour in and my dog, holding a newly laminectomized Scruffles, has uncovered the lie.
It takes quite a bit of intellectual onanism to call a skincare company Philosophy, and even more to christen a moisturizer “Renewed Hope In a Jar,” but trust me when I say the proof is in the pudding. Or I guess in this case, the confirmation is in the cream. (Substantiation in the salve?) Either way, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and now my only religion is Philosophy.