Mentions | Issue 7 ​


Titanic Conspiracies |


The Titanic’s demise might seem like a closed case: boat hits iceberg, boat sinks. But since the royal mail steamer submerged, some have mythologized its failure to both laughable and persuasive ends. Take, for example, the fact that several prominent survivors, including three Vanderbilts and J.P. Morgan, pulled a Seth MacFarlane and narrowly missed the trip. Could Morgan have orchestrated the tragedy to kill his rivals? A 1912 Washington Post article puts forth a somewhat less plausible theory: that on-board artifacts, tainted by “the avenging spirit of an Egyptian priestess who died in the holy city of Thebes,” doomed the voyage from the start. Others believe the owners, White Star Line, swapped the original vessel for a shittier and highly-insured alternative; Redditors now trade pictures of the portholes as proof. The title of one of Robin Gardiner’s four books about the conspiracies sort of sums it all up: Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?


Everything Everywhere All at Once |


The latest A24 hit arrived to ecstatic reviews and a shocking, meaningless rise to the position of Letterboxd’s official favorite movie. The film is full of ambition and clever visual gags — hot dog fingers! a raccoon chef! — so it seems almost quibbling to note that the story of an overburdened, underappreciated, and unremarkable person who discovers they are responsible for saving the world, and have the power to do it, is also the plot of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. If Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn is shocked at her newfound abilities, she hasn’t read enough Y.A.


“Mohabbat” |


If Obama’s music recommendations are to be believed, he has been listening to Arooj Aftab’s Grammy-winning recording of Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s Urdu ghazal — which is radically, and refreshingly, different from previous renditions. The song is a heartbreaking anthem of disillusionment in which a former beloved is told, “Your followers will not lessen, but I will not continue to be one of them.” It’s a post-Trump inversion of “Yes We Can,” and sadly befitting of a man whose recent contributions to public life begin and end with Netflix. 


The Chopped & Screwed Revival |


Since Moonlight’s soundtrack brought us the brilliantly lackadaisical chopped and screwed remix of Jidenna’s “Classic Man,” there’s been a noticeable uptick in avant-garde pop stars deepening their vocals and tempo in salute to this codeine- and Sprite-laced genre. Originally emanating from the Houston hip-hop scene of the ’90s, chopped and screwed is known for its slowed-down remixes that leave listeners in a semi-drunken haze. Hints of its auto-testosterone-tuned reverb can be heard across new, subversive projects from FKA twigs (“ride the dragon”), Tinashe (“Bouncin’, Pt. 2”), and Rosalía (“CUUUUuuuuuute”), serving as a pleasant counterbalance to the pixie-pitched, high-speed style of current hyper-pop. Downers and uppers, coexisting at last. 


Out of the Blue |


Even though this Dennis Hopper bildungsroman was a contender for the Palme d’Or when it debuted in 1980, it never had a wide American release. The film — Hopper’s first after The Last Movie in 1971 — follows Linda Manz as Cebe Barnes, a latchkey renegade teen who runs away from home, shrugs off her shrink, and brutalizes the adults who have preyed on her. In a film doomed from the opening scene, Cebe’s closing murder-suicide lands like an act of vigilante justice. “There’s nothing behind it,” she maintains. “It’s a punk gesture.” Maybe. But it offers good reason why, per Metrograph’s promotional materials for its Blue-branded screening series, “Punks Don’t Go Home for Thanksgiving.”


“Synthesis and Characterization of Binary, Highly Endothermic, and Extremely Sensitive 2,2’-Azobis(5-azidotetrazole)” |


This Journal of the American Chemical Society article, which describes how to make one of the most explosive compounds yet discovered, lets cracks of humanity peek through the leaden prose of peer-reviewed science. One can almost imagine the University of Munichbased researchers, after the fifteenth time this new-to-the-universe compound exploded in their faces, hanging up their singed white coats and writing: it “decomposes detonatively under any kind of stress, whether thermal or mechanical, as well as spontaneously in the absence of light.” Unfortunately, this is no innocent coincidence. The group’s work is partially funded by the U.S. military because, it turns out, its explosive expertise encompasses the development of munitions potentially useful in “tunnels and caves” as the “war against terrorism tracks groups such as Al Qaeda to the remote areas of the Mid-East.” Not even the petty frustrations of European chemists can quite escape the global reach of the twenty-first century American war machine.


The Northman |


The aim of Robert Eggers’s take on the Norse legend that inspired Hamlet is neither to celebrate the pagan medieval world nor to critique it, whatever that could mean, but to illuminate its total difference from our own. The charm of the art of the “old peoples,” Karl Marx wrote in the Grundrisse, is “inextricably bound up … with the fact that the unripe social conditions under which it arose, and could alone arise, can never return.” On these terms The Northman is a partial success. Chiseled Nordic bodies engaged in ultraviolent blood sport, psychedelic fugues on Viking mythology, a hackneyed romance, all conducted by a parade of disorientingly familiar Hollywood faces: all weird, but could be weirder. At the end of the day, as far as riffs on Hamlet go, this one is way less reactionary than The Lion King


@the.brisk.god |


This wildlife documentarian for the “content” era — known as “brisk” — cuts together short clips of animals, mostly non-human but always performing some vaguely human action. He accents his subjects’ incongruous behavior with soundtracks of house, trap, or something between funk and groove, and quick close-ups, giving bemused animal expressions the air of YouTubers mugging for the camera. In a recent piece, the unseen filmer offers a grasshopper to a pair of frogs, whereupon another amphibian soars in from off-camera, seizes the hapless bug, and stuffs it down his gullet. The camera cuts back to one of the original pair; he looks wounded, but with a glint of anger. The background music? Young Nudy’s “Revenge.” 


Watergate Salad |


A spectacular mixture of Jell-O pistachio pudding, Dole canned pineapple, Cool Whip, and nuts, the Watergate salad bears famously little resemblance to the garden salad, except in color. “Salad,” a term descended from Old French and Latin, comes from “herba salata,” or “salted vegetables.” An American intervention in the early nineteenth century limited it to lettuce. From there, according to food historian Lynne Olver, the domestic science movement became obsessed with taming the “messy” tossed dish, in favor of more “orderly presentations.” The logical endpoint was the molded gelatin salad, which “offered maximum control.” Jean Baudrillard once accused Nixon’s cover-up of creating a “scandal effect” that concealed the basic sameness of “the facts and their denunciation,” ultimately reinforcing the existing moral and political order. The same can be said of the Watergate salad. What is a salad, after all? Whatever society says it is.


Bridgerton (Season Two) |


There were, to be fair, some Indians living in Regency England (1811-1820), the setting of Netflix’s hit pseudo-period drama with “color-conscious” casting and two Indian half-sisters as protagonists. Some, like the instructors at the Haileybury College for Indian languages in Hertfordshire, even married English women, as Arup K. Chatterjee describes in Indians in London. But they were not exactly bold-faced names. One after another, those men became destitute, paralyzed, and sick; were assaulted by white Britons; insulted by peers; ostracized by students; and, if they didn’t die in a few years, were shipped back to India with meager pensions. After repeated pleas that students show some “humanity and kindness” towards these actual Indians in Regency England, the school admitted defeat and stopped employing Indian instructors in 1823.


Women Running |


If you are a conventionally hot female protagonist in a recent movie release — regardless of how free your time, or how walkable your city — you are bound to be running. Not in the Nikes and spandex of a standard spin around the track, but the halter top and ungenerous denim you’ve been wearing all day. Love simply cannot wait. What Licorice Pizza and The Worst Person in the World teach us, first and foremost, is that it’s no longer acceptable to run only through the airport. If you want to get the guy, you must run everywhere. 


“Chaise Longue” |


Wet Leg’s breakout single, driven by a spare drumbeat and thrumming bass, has earned comparisons to aughts indie-rock favorites, while the band’s bawdy lyrics and singer Rhian Teasdale’s flat delivery complicate The Strokes’s formula with layers of irony and apathy. I am told these qualities are cool, and the music video, which sees the deadpan duo dressed in a faux-peasant style, is mesmerizing, if oddly detached. Soon enough, the guitar riff mercifully kicks into gear, the words become a percussive force, the band drops the pretense, and we can finally dance.


Better Call Saul |


The moral universe of Breaking Bad was a simple one: beneath the sometimes frustrating and undignified veneer of the lawful, mostly white sunbelt suburban middle class lies a murderous, mostly black and brown criminal underworld. As soon as Walter White decides to dip his toe in, the show’s title spoils the inevitable result. Better Call Saul, the spin-off whose final season is airing now after a two-year hiatus, complicates its predecessor’s Manichean worldview. Here, the criminal underworld is more nuanced and human, but where the show really excels is in its portrait of lawful society — and the smug, decadent establishment the law exists to serve. It challenges us to distinguish between actual justice and our base desire to see a satisfying comeuppance for the legal elite.


A Dance to the Music of Time |


Nick Jenkins — the narrator of Anthony Powell’s gargantuan novel about the dissipations and failed dreams of the British mid-century — faces a particular problem: he only learns about major events in his friends’, reviled acquaintances’, and even family’s lives through gossip from some of the dumbest people alive. It’s in the bitter monologues of a psychotic careerist that Nick discovers one of his great childhood friends has disintegrated from years of drink and sexual abuse. A lover, married to a boring brute, abandons Nick and her husband for an even more boring man — a baffling twist revealed to Nick by the brute himself. If some of the novel’s anxieties now seem dated, the tragedy of revelation by way of bumbling morons remains relatable enough. 


Black Wings Has My Angel |


Convict Tim Sunblade, in this sleek 1953 heist story by Elliott Chaze, spends his time in pursuit, and in fear, of the abyss. After escaping from Parchman prison, he links up with a cold, sparkling prostitute named Virginia, and the two plan a robbery while creeping westward from Mississippi through highway towns, getting sunburnt and sloshed. The plan goes down in Denver; it leaves one man dead, and the evidence is heaved down a dilapidated mineshaft in the Rockies. Once flush with cash, though, Sunblade is haunted by what lurks inside the hole: the dead man, his other crimes, and deeper evils, all of which catch up to him with the nightmarish logic of the law. The final, hellish scene takes place on the mine’s rim. While reading, I couldn’t believe that the story hadn’t been adapted by Hollywood yet, but it should stay that way. This book is its own bottomless pit, and bad, boring things will happen if the wrong producers find it.


“Before Yesterday We Could Fly” |


Much like Bridgerton, this Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit provides delicious evidence that revisionist history can be more chic (and nicer to look at) than the truth. Operating more as a “future room” than a “period room,” it invites the viewer to imagine black generational wealth in a modern-day Seneca Village, had it not been destroyed. It’s a show caught between diasporas, placing artifacts from ancient Cameroon near photographs by contemporary artist Tourmaline. In this world, a young black Manhattanite sets the table for a dinner party with inherited Senegalese plates; Moses Sumney croons from the record player while a dog-eared Parable of the Sower lies open on the ottoman — a beautiful, though unreliable, vision of undisturbed blackness.


Bear Paws |


To everything there is a season. National Catfish Day and World Milk Day belong to June, and, in Alaska anyway, the month also marks the start of a four-month period when people call dispatch services, unsure whether their dog is chewing on a rotting bear paw or human hand. “A lot of people can’t make the determination,” Anchorage-based wildlife trooper James Eyester explained over the phone. Eyester is called in to investigate roughly a paw a week during the summer season. “I can tell in under sixty seconds,” he said. One local hunter wondered why people were leaving severed paws to rot: he often trades his to a local restaurant in exchange for free meals. The paw, he explained, is the tastiest part of the bear.


Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino |


In both the first and last stories of his 2017 collection, Julián Herbert offers reasons for writing: (1) “To give myself the pleasure of depositing a little vomit on those readers who adore straightforward literature,” and (2) “Without fiction, human beings are like Olympic swimming pools with no water.” While Herbert’s appetite for bodily fluids is certainly on display throughout the book — someone vomits on Mother Teresa — his gags aren’t what leave you feeling satisfied. It’s his prose that could fill a swimming pool.


Chiropractor Videos |


Click on one video — “Girl Chiropractor Making Grown Men Cry” (4.4 million views), or “*FIRST TIME* Chiropractic CRACKING on Female Athlete” (17 million), or “ALEXANDRA gets EXTREMELY SATISFYING FULL BODY ASMR CRACKS” (5.6 million), or “MEGA EXPLOSIVE RELEASE OF SPINAL TENSION” (4.1 million) — and the genre will soon become a constant presence in your algorithmic life. These YouTube (and Instagram, and TikTok, and Facebook Watch) chiropractors know that sex sells: the thumbnails almost invariably feature close-ups of spandexed, contorted bodies and faces frozen in orgasmic gasps. But what these chiropractors are trafficking in is really another type of desire, one betrayed in the videos’ comments section. “With my insurance this is the closest I’ll be getting to treatment for my back for a long time,” one commenter posted. Another replied: “Mood.”


A Children’s Bible |


Lydia Millet’s latest novel begins with twelve privileged children and their parents summering in a mansion, and ends with an apocalypse. It’s strangely cheering, in the genre of climate change dystopia, to have a much smaller horror to relate to: who hasn’t peered at their receding hairline and worried about becoming their father? These artsy, educated parents give plenty of cause for concern: they start drinking at breakfast, for instance, and speak with the composed, self-congratulatory air that comes from correcting small but not large problems. When a storm destroys the château, one father explains that the children cannot leave; this would breach the lease agreement. Rather than repair the building, the parents have an ecstasy-fueled orgy. Readers worried how the next generation will judge them may find this book reassuring: look how low the bar has been set.


The Nurse Antigone |


A staged reading of Sophocles’s masterpiece, featuring Margaret Atwood as the blind prophet Tiresias, asks: how many celebrities can we cram onto one Zoom play before it gets too weird? This attempt pushes the far limit, with performances from Taylor Schilling of Orange Is the New Black, Bill Camp of The Queen’s Gambit, Tracie Thoms of Rent, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. The reading, produced by New York-based company Theater of War, explores what a society owes to its dead — and what a society’s dead art forms can offer to its living audiences. The answer: yet another opportunity for millionaires to pay tribute to “front-line workers,” represented here by a trio of real-life nurses playing the chorus. 


Anecdotes |


​​When the daily Berliner Abendblätter debuted in October of 1810, the paper’s editor, playwright and essayist Heinrich von Kleist, hid pieces of anonymous short fiction and miscellany among the important news items of the day. Last year, Sublunary Editions published this collection of von Kleist’s terse little tales translated by Matthew Spencer from an incident of trial by combat in Heligoland to Ivan the Terrible’s favored ambassador to the Bishop of Dijon’s prophesied ascent to a horse shitting onstage in Russia. Kleist’s notable end a murder-suicide alongside his cancer-stricken soulmate at Kleiner Wannsee lake in 1811 may seem at odds with the frequently scatological humor featured here. But the text captures how neatly despair pairs with filthy absurdity, like a condemned soldier begging to be shot “in the asshole, so as not to tear him a new one.” Even lethally depressed Germans love a dirty joke.


“Very Bad Wizards” |


A psychologist and a philosopher ponder human morality in a bar. That sounds like a bad joke; rest assured, it is a podcast. In this series, Cornell University psychology professor David Pizarro and University of Houston philosophy professor Tamler Sommers analyze everything from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious to “pretty privilege” to low likability in the workplace. The resulting bull sessions make for unpretentious listening, blurring the lines between grad school seminar and stoned confab. The real wizardry lies in how quickly they can oscillate from dissecting Hume’s standard of taste to laughing about Jeffrey Toobin’s lack thereof. 


The Special Relationship |


Heartwarming 2010 entry into the august category of films about “the friendship between two guys,” by Peter Morgan (The Crown, The Queen). The two guys are Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid) and Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The rising action is that one of the guys has an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The resolution is that the U.S. and U.K. decide to bomb Kosovo.


@SebaldUte |


Speak, Silence, Carole Angier’s recent 640-page biography of W.G. Sebald, is doggedly, almost perversely thorough. But entirely missing — emblematically, perhaps — is the best authority on Sebald’s personal life: Ute Sebald, the writer’s wife from 1967 until his death in 2001. To be fair, Ute does not speak to any press, though she does maintain a dormant but public Twitter feed. She has tweeted just five times — all marooned family snaps, one featuring the late writer himself — and shared a sixth photo in her avatar: a picture of herself erging at what appears to be a CrossFit gym, in a TEAM USA jersey, grinning with an un-Sebaldian sweetness. The account follows 119 others, including Barack Obama, LeBron James, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Bieber, and something called “Heritage Chauffeurs” — a car service in Wisbech, England, which offers, per one 2015 tweet, “Anti terrorist chauffeurs for hire.”

M.N. |


Amethyst rings, purple hair spray, and a mug with “never question my purpleness” are all on offer, but so is the opportunity to become a purple lobbyist — according to its website’s About page, The Purple Store gives customers “the buying power and clout to get manufacturers to make items in purple, make things just in purple, and package them so you don’t need to buy seven pens you don’t want to get the purple one.” Those who wish to throw an all-purple wedding now know where to invest their extra political energy.


Zoo |


A mysterious pandemic has triggered a rash of animal attacks, sending zoologist Jackson Oz and a ragtag team of archetypes on a 39-episode quest to defeat electric ants, seismic sloths, invisible anacondas, mass human infertility, and the idea that sensible storylines and realistic CGI are a sine qua non for good television. “What were the secrets of the animal’s likeness with, and unlikeness from man?” John Berger once wondered. Who cares, the show answers back. 


“The Football Ramble” |


The war in Ukraine has had many victims, the least important of which may be the vitality of this British soccer show. Conceived on the precipice of the financial crisis as a group of lads chatting about the weekend’s games, its comedy content evolved to include pleas for listeners to send in “mystery meat” and admiration for the apparently limitless sexual appetite of a geriatric Swede who once managed England’s national team. Now hosts discuss “the terrible, terrible situation in Ukraine,” in the tone of 1960s newsreaders. “It’s very difficult to know how all this is going to pan out,” comedian Jim Campbell mused recently. English soccer clubs, it turns out, are owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs and human-rights-violating Gulf states, not to mention U.S. hedge funds. The experience of watching the show is now one of “cognitive fucking dissonance,” according to Pete Donaldson, the primary mystery meat consumer. This was also largely what the show was, momentarily, helping us avoid. 


“Fundie Fridays” |


This YouTube channel is obsessed with Christian fundamentalism, but proselytizing is not its M.O. Its host, a woman identified only as “Jen,” notes on her About page: “I’m Jen and on my channel I talk about different aspects of Christian fundamentalism while (usually) doing my makeup. Please do not email me!!!!!!!” She and her partner dedicate weekly episodes to unpacking the influence of Big Religion on nearly every sector of American life — from the prolific scandals of the Duggar family (the former TLC darlings with twenty kids); to the social media musings of Ben Shapiro’s sister, Classically Abby; to the ideological underpinnings and shocking profits of VeggieTales — all while applying eyeshadow. Jen may be a left-leaning atheist, but she has inspired a certain zealotry; her acolytes call themselves Jennonites.