Mentions | Spring 2021 ​


Marmite |


With the right branding, this yeast extract paste — texturally similar to the tar-like stuff in which Scarlett Johansson traps Scottish lads in Under the Skin — could become the favorite spread of American zoomers. Like much of the sinister cuisine known as “British food,” it was popularized as a wartime ration and hasn’t changed much since. Gen Z, born in the fog of Forever War, could use a fetish with which to remind themselves that they live under a constant state of emergency. And it’s vegan!




Dave Portnoy started live-streaming his day-trading sessions back in June, when every major sports league had cancelled its games, and his wildly popular site, Barstool Sports, couldn’t subsist solely on traffic from “smokeshows of the day.” He showed that picking stocks at random in a volatile market can be just as much of a dumb thrill as sports betting, inspiring his fans to open accounts on gamified trading apps like Robinhood and forums like r/WallStreetBets, which in January helped drive up “meme stocks” for GameStop and AMC. In March, Dave fully graduated from the sports book to the Bloomberg Terminal, attaching his name to an exchange-traded fund called BUZZ. The new fund uses AI to purchase whatever shares are most popular on social media, but it only contains shares of companies like Walmart and Apple that boast large market capitalizations, while excluding the smaller firms that made Reddit traders famous. During BUZZ’s first week on the New York Stock Exchange, when GameStop shares once again doubled in price for seemingly no reason, the people who’d taken investment advice from Portnoy missed out. At least sports are back.


Capitani |


Who could have anticipated Netflix’s role in safeguarding the world’s minority languages? The site hosts and produces films and shows in Yiddish (Unorthodox), Basque (Errementari), Quechua (Retablo), and Wolof (Atlantics), to name a few. And as of February, you can stream the crime series Capitani in Luxembourgish, a West Germanic dialect spoken by some 400,000 people globally. Yes, Film Fund Luxembourg paid for most of Capitani’s initial €2.6 million budget — not even a secret tax agreement with Netflix. And yes, the cultural restoration of Luxembourgish is a hall of mirrors deployed by a populist right-wing front on the rise. But what matters is that this little language is represented in the Golden Age of streaming television: young woman gets murdered in rural locale, gruff detective investigates, intrigue ensues. According to a survey, 29% of Luxembourg’s population watched Season One, corresponding (I’m guessing) to the show’s Rotten Tomatoes score.


The Dig (2021) |


This melodrama set on the eve of World War II is a simple tale about simple people doing the right thing, which is more or less how we’ve come to think of the war itself, thanks in no small part to films like this one. While tensions brew with Germany, an ailing British widow hires an amateur archaeologist to look for artifacts on her country estate. Other experts and visitors soon descend, ostensibly to help excavate, but really to brood and bicker over love interests, legacies, and academic qualifications. The frequent juxtapositions of impending destruction and the now-destroyed past — e.g., immaculate shots of RAF planes roaring over Anglo-Saxon burial mounds — can be heavy-handed. Mostly the film feels like propaganda, not only for centuries of civilized Britishness, but also for the kind of filmmaking in which history is reduced to the shiny bits and war is a matter of art direction, a cheap way of raising the stakes.


"Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do" |


The funny song exists in the popular imagination as the provenance of the comedian-turned-singer, the performer whose first priority is comedy. Less attention is paid to artists who move in the other direction. People know and love Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn for her obliterating, epic, feeling-soaked dance hits, but “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do,” from Body Talk Pt. 1, is funny without clobbering the listener with capital-J jokes. As the beat builds, Robyn expands the list of things killing her — her heels, her landlord, her label, her PMS, these hours, her gut, this flight, her boyfriend. Finally the drop: “Don’t fucking tell me what to do.” Same, babe!


Shiva Baby |


Fleabag goes to Hebrew School, but without the gravitas of the dead best friend or the perverse piety of the hot priest. Instead, Emma Seligman’s debut feature finds NYU senior and sugar baby Danielle sitting shiva with her sugar daddy and his actual baby, careening between encounters with him, her high school girlfriend, and endless inquiring aunts noshing on macaroni salad and over-schmeared bagels. If it’s a slight letdown that the star of this highly Semitic comedy is not herself Jewish, that disappointment is assuaged by the fact that the actress who portrays the “shiksa princess” (described as both “Malibu Barbie” and “the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen”) is.


"We Support Cuomo" aerial banners |


What better way to change hearts and minds than to hire a tiny plane to fly a banner of support for embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo? In March, an ostensibly random group of citizens united by an abiding love for Sandra Lee’s ex-boyfriend began congregating on, a hub for the apparently booming aeronautical advertising industry. The organizers launched donation campaigns to bankroll the flights of four “We Support Cuomo” banners over a handful of cities from New York to Buffalo. All told, and assuming the reliability of, they raised close to $15,000, thanks in part to a “campaign hero” who donated “$1650 to add 2 hours to the Albany flight!!!” A single banner has the “potential to be seen by thousands,” wrote one follower, moved by the show of support. The March 27 flight in Purchase, NY seemed to be of special importance. “This third flight will go off…at prime time 11AM and the beaches will be crow[d]ed.” In parentheses: “Some of his relatives live there and have requested it.”


Gas Station TV |


There’s nothing like rolling up to a Shell station in the middle of a pandemic and pumping gasoline to the soothing audiovisuals of Gas Station TV. On this omnipresent channel — playing at 25,000 locations across the USA — you’ll find such fare as: Better Together with Maria Menounos, a program about how drinking lemon water can improve your life; soccer highlights; brief weather reports; and a show called What’s Trending, which primarily hosts viral videos and was unceremoniously dropped by CBS in 2011 after a staffer falsely tweeted that Steve Jobs had died. The vacuity of GSTV’s programming is underscored by its brevity: all shows appear to consist of one-minute-or-less segments, interspersed with advertisements. In this universe, there is no Covid, no Trump, no Biden, no climate collapse — the quintessential American form of entertainment.


Le camion (1977) |


Has anyone ever used the conditional tense as poignantly as the novelist and ex-communist Marguerite Duras? “It would have been a road by the sea,” begins her film about, yes, a truck, but also about the perilous possibilities of filmmaking, representation, and class consciousness. The screenplay, available in English for the first time as part of a collection called The Darkroom, is unexpectedly grammatical. The epigram quotes Maurice Grevisse’s exhaustive literary grammar tome Le Bon Usage on the conditional, comparing the “hypothetical future” this tense posits to children’s imagination games. In Le camion, Duras’s hypothetical seems to dare us to believe in anything at all. Apart from brief cuts to the truck and landscape, the would-be film about a driver and his hitchhiker unspools in her home, as she narrates “what the film would have been if it had been shot,” while in the company of the one luxury she allows herself: costar Gérard Depardieu. From these ruins of cinematic convention a new narrative emerges — a paradox of motion (and motion pictures) in which transportation can exist sans transport. “Is it a film?” asks Depardieu early on. “It would have been a film,” Duras replies.


"Anna Delvey Diaries" |


The serial liar, faux-cialite, former Rikers resident, and Shonda Rhimes muse has added “blogger” — or maybe “former blogger” — to her list of appellations. Based on the three posts on the “Anna Delvey Diaries,” which appeared in February after her early release from prison, Delvey seems to have mastered the form. She mixes rambling personal narratives (“Life is Hard (Pt. 1)”) with savvy SEO plays (“Rikers Island 101 for Donald Trump”), apparently confident that the former president will wind up in jail, too. She advises him to treat the experience in the infamous facility, which is set to close in 2027 and which she speculates may open to the public, like “an early VIP preview, like at Art Basel.” The blog appears to have mysteriously shut down in March; navigating to now yields a “website expired” landing page. Just like Delvey’s fifteen minutes of fame, her blog was a true flash in the pan. Or maybe she got a Substack Pro offer she couldn’t refuse. 


The Expanse |


Set in a future in which humanity has colonized the solar system, this show at first glance looks like another space opera. (A major plot point is the discovery of a “protomolecule” engineered by ancient aliens, which dramatically transforms any life form with which it comes into contact.) But the series is bolstered by materialist politics particularly evident in the plight of the Belters, an exploited underclass whose members mine the asteroid belt for Earth and Mars while their own bodies are deformed by life in low gravity. What begins as a resistance movement turns terrorist when, in the fifth season, a Belter faction mounts an insurrection against Earth for control of newfound wormholes that lead to habitable planets. They want to be the imperialists for once. “You think that just because somebody’s the underdog,” one Earther chides another, “that means they’re the good guy.”


Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2 |


THPS’s success in the early 2000s got a generation of skaters skating and gave even board-inept players an education in SoCal punk and skate lingo. Any fan could sing its theme song — “Superman” by ska-punk band Goldfinger — or describe an “indy grab” to their grandma (grabbing the board between your toes with your back hand). Twenty-one years after the game’s initial release, the THPS 1+2 remaster has redeemed a franchise more recently known, unfortunately, for Tony Hawk: Ride (2009) and THPS5 (2015), both of which earned the mocking disdain of game reviewers (“an insult to its history, to its licensed skaters and sponsors, to modern hardware, and to anyone who plays it,” one critic wrote of the latter.) Following a lockdown-driven boom in actual skateboarding, the remaster’s shot of nostalgia and continued ability to make impossible trick combinations seem physically possible (now stunning in 4K resolution) may well get a lot of eleven-year-olds pushing skating’s limits again. For some original players, Canadian punk band Pkew Pkew Pkew’s new contribution to the soundtrack may hit too close to home: “Mid-twenties skateboarder, I hope I don’t get hurt.”


CraigS1996's Commercial Vault |


This no-frills archive of TV spots from the late eighties to the early-mid aughts is a document of nostalgia for a recent past just as full of bullshit and fakery as our own time. Relative to our screen-mediated world, retro commercials seem like churned-out relics from a lost era of authenticity. Within the confines of the vault, an online afterlife for half-remembered jingles and slogans, the brands themselves are secondary to the texture of slap-bass riffs and the contours of fonts that can only be described as jazzy. My favorite of Craig’s compilations (there are currently 564) is a series that aired on December 10, 2000 on ABC 7 New York, set against the backdrop of a screening of Annie (1999) and an episode of The Practice “so shocking you may forget to breathe.” In one 72-minute “mega-block,” Steve Irwin feigns death by snakebite when his production team fails to send the antidote via FedEx; a mélange of breathy voice-over, VHS gauze, and understated piano comping evokes a quiet eroticism not typically associated with the Kodak Picture Maker; the Coca-Cola polar bears, rendered in primitive CGI, will warm your heart as they drag a Christmas tree to their den in a three-act drama of perseverance. You’ll be annoyed when YouTube interrupts with an unskippable 15-second ad. 


Little Joy |


A prominent figure in the contemporary Argentine avant-garde who first beguiled Anglophone readers with her 2015 poetry volume A Hotel With My Name, Cecilia Pavón returns with this collection of short fiction, written over the course of two decades. Tough and playful, yet radically sensitive, the typical Pavón narrator can’t quite wrap her head around the aftermath of Argentina’s Great Depression. Sure, the country is out of debt, but the urban renewal of Buenos Aires perplexes her, and the art scene seems nothing more than a flimsy tax evasion scheme. The stories are part critique, part confession: “I had become the perfect voyeur, the passive spectator who lovingly accepted all I was told to look at, even if it was foolish, ugly, or boring.” Praise be to Jacob Steinberg, whose translations capture the balancing act with grace.


For The First Time |


This discordant debut album from British band Black Country, New Road is a punk Frankenstein with the seams showing. “References, references, references,” lead singer Isaac Wood shrieks on “Science Fair,” a song that elevates basic daily concerns to heights of the highest bombast. These references range from the Bible to Phoebe Bridgers, while the genre jumps from klezmer to rock to spoken word. On “Sunglasses,” Wood ventriloquizes a range of upper-class characters, from the pissed-off patrician (“I wish all of my kids would stop dressing up like Richard Hell”) to his petulant daughter (“I’m more than adequate. Leave my daddy’s job out of it!”). This ever-evolving song, which stretches from four-and-a-half minutes to nearly ten depending on the version (there are three!), points to the crux of the band’s artistic ethos. “Either [the songs] change or we stop playing them,” Wood told The Guardian.


Klara and the Sun |


Underneath this stirring tale of an A.I. with a heart of gold is another story — or, really, a dense fog of possible stories. At its core, the novel is not about a dystopian future; it’s about a broken robot (or maybe just a human) trying to write a novel, and the terror and joys of meaning-making itself. Too bad many reviewers used Ishiguro’s latest as an opportunity to wax poetic about imperiled liberalism instead.


HoaxEye |


The internet is full of misinformation. Much of it is consequential — conspiracy theories, harassment campaigns, fraud, scams. Some is less so: doctored pictures passed off as originals, GIFs misattributed, contexts removed. The Twitter account HoaxEye tackles that last group, and does so doggedly, delivering daily smackdowns on accounts with names like “AmazingNature” and “MostWowFacts” which build their audiences by passing off uncredited digital artwork as natural phenomena. The stakes here are gorgeously low; each hoax (like say, a spam account’s attempt to pass off a digital animation as real footage of a waterspout) unfolds like a tiny, benign heist caper.  Still, it’s humbling to remember that a life’s work — in this case, that of Janne Ahlberg, the product security professional and pentester who runs the @HoaxEye account — can be devoted to righting even the smallest of wrongs.


Divorce Italian Style (1961) |


Ferdinando (Marcello Mastroianni, with special guest his mustache) wants to escape his marriage, but he hits a roadblock: divorce is still illegal in Italy. After fantasizing about how to murder his spouse, he discovers that honor killing carries a comparatively short sentence. If only he could be cuckolded, Ferdinando thinks, to justify the crime. What ensues is an absurd plan, hatched so he can marry his teenage cousin (then legal!). Like other commedia all’italiana of the 1960s and 70s, this Academy Award-winning Pietro Germi movie is a brilliant comedy of manners, satirizing everyday Sicilian life through digs at the church, law, Mafia, and Italian machismo. Or maybe “cuckold” just sounds more charming in Italian (cornuto!).


Pa Brown's Mantra |


In the criminally under-watched neo-noir caper Perpetual Grace, LTD, Byron “Pa” Brown pretends to be a small-town pastor and rehab specialist to con locals out of money. An incorrigible youth grown into an even less corrigible old man, Brown is a supporting character, but one with a captivating schtick: a seductive and cartoonish mantra — get the rhythm, get the rhythm, there we go, there we fucking go, get it — that seems, mysteriously, to get stuff done. He chants, and a guilt-wracked ex-firefighter jogs a little farther, craves methadone a little less; a philandering Mexican cop and wannabe novelist powers through exhaustion to saw down a tree. Pa whispers it to himself as he slowly, purposefully slices off his own thumb. It’s bullshit, but like any good con, there’s a kernel of truth there, something you want to believe — and that, against all odds, actually works.


The Memory Police |


Yoko Ogawa’s unnamed narrator is a novelist living on an island whose residents wake to find that things — harmonicas, roses, birds, the ferry that is the only way out — have vanished. The losses are inexplicable, and most islanders mutely accept the surveillance and incursions of the titular security force. The narrator mounts a quiet resistance to the sudden absence of novels by writing and hiding her editor, whose memory has not been erased, in a compartment in her home. In the end, Ogawa suggests, stories will be the last things in our possession.


Me, You, Madness |


Me, You, Madness is a movie that would be a clever comedy if it didn’t think the key to American Psycho was that Patrick Bateman rocks. Directed, co-written, and funded by Louise Linton (who also stars), it tells the story of a high-achieving serial killer cannibal girlboss who entraps a himbo conman (Chuck Bass) who is, alas, just a tad too charming to kill and eat. Can these two crazy kids work it out? Linton, whose recent credits include wearing elbow-length leather gloves and holding sheaves of dollar bills next to her husband, ex-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — a role some have compared to “Cruella de Vil” — does her best with the material she gave herself, but it never quite gels. Too bad: with just a bit more intelligence this could have been a fine guilty pleasure. Word to the wise, or at least to Linton: if you identify with Patrick Bateman, don’t write the movie.


Woody Guthrie: An Intimate Life |


Political principle, especially on the left, often begins broad — at the level of society or the economy — then narrows to the particular and personal. For Woody Guthrie, the sequence went the other way: his relationship to his own body was the deep source of the folksinger’s radical politics and the intimacy of his best songs. Or so goes the argument of a new book by Haverford English professor Gustavus Sadler. This is not a standard personal history; the author calls it a “biography of Woody Guthrie’s body.” Using letters, notebooks and other archival material, Sadler traces Guthrie’s music and politics back to his long struggle with Huntington’s disease, the neurological illness that ultimately killed him. Guthrie’s understanding of life’s physical complexity — the aches and pains, but also the pleasures — spawned songs that gave voice to the Dust Bowl migrants, workers, people physically degraded by the capitalist labor market. “I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn,” Guthrie sang,“I been working, mister, since the day I was born.” The Guthrie that emerges from the book is flawed, admirable, and, like so many of the characters populating his songs, a laborer whose body would ultimately give in.


Olav Audunssøn: I. Vows |


We’re at a high point for re-living Norse life in the Middle Ages, whether in this or another of Sigrid Undset’s epics, beautifully salvaged by Tiina Nunnally, as well as the addictingly pointless video game, Crusader Kings III. Netflix has an upcoming series called Vikings: Valhalla, an incidental cousin to video game Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Does all this fictional pillaging mean that millennials yearn for a life in which close-kin relations formed by chivalric duties and Christianity’s slow march against paganism structured existence and obviated the sense of an all-pervasive chaos? I hadn’t considered it.


Vanity License Plate Applications Database |


This CSV/Excel spreadsheet, available on GitHub, collects old California vanity plate applications, their official review from DMV administrators, and a dash of insight into the minds of American drivers. In one attempt, a mortician applied for “CADAVRZ.” In another, a driver tried for “MEVALE8” (Mexican slang for “I don’t give a fuck.”) Some submissions are more grim: the numbers 14 and 88 are all but banned for suggesting Nazi affiliation. But the real joy of the spreadsheet comes from the interactions between applicants and DMV staff. In response to a driver who claimed “STEEZER” meant “strolling with ease,” the DMV observed: “urban thesaurus said it was marijuana.” An application for “TALONG8,” a Filipino phrase meaning “eggplant forever,” got nixed for its proximity to the common emoji shorthand. To decline the motorist attempting to pass off “IWANTSX” as a reference to his car’s make and model, some bureaucrat explained bluntly: “I want sex.”


So Wylie's Bird Beats |


Bird lovers lost it when music producer So Wylie uploaded a half-minute video blending owl calls into her own homemade beats back in December. The post clocked hundreds of thousands of views across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, spurring Wylie to launch a whole series spotlighting different species. Sure, there’s something slick about how the clips seamlessly weave wild, eerie hoots and screeches into electronic music. But the real draw of Bird Beats is everything that’s uncool about them. Each video starts with a solitary Wylie searching the internet for bird sounds, stunned by the inhuman acoustics she uncovers. We watch as a call’s sheer weirdness wins her over, inspiring the beats that make us bob alongside her in a dance of nerdy, bird-like appreciation for our fellow creatures.


Last Second in Dallas |


A Haverford philosophy professor-turned-private eye (he wrote a 1988 memoir titled Gumshoe), Josiah Thompson is the universally acknowledged dean of JFK assassination investigation forensics. His first book on the subject, Six Seconds in Dallas (1967) concluded that it was not possible that Lee Harvey Oswald shot at JFK by his lonesome, per the Warren Commission’s “single-bullet theory.” Fifty-three years later, Thompson’s follow-up on the subject, Last Second in Dallas, which was published by the University Press of Kansas last month, focuses on the final moment of JFK’s life, using new scientific findings and scrupulous investigatory tactics. I have been personally convinced of Thompson’s thesis for some time now, though I do not necessarily think this book will trigger any new JFK mania. What will, however, bring real and imagined conspiracy investigation to the fore in 2021 is the same, largely justified, distrust of settled powers that has already remade the American political landscape. This sentiment may express itself in small ways. From the acknowledgements of Thompson’s new book: “Connie Oehring carried out a masterful job of copyediting much better than I ever received at Doubleday, Knopf, or Little Brown.”


Rick Owens FW21 |


Like so many of us rolling out of bed and onto a Zoom work meeting, Rick Owens purportedly woke up from a nap an hour and a half before his latest ready-to-wear show started across the street from his house in Venice. The gloomy weather and smoke effects lent the Lido a menacing atmosphere, with models strutting the concrete runway like guards patrolling the Elsinore battlement against a rocky North Sea. His clothes, too, are highly pandemic-friendly — Owens is here to dress us in masked, monochrome outfits that take a sculptural step up from matching sweats and swaddle us in so much buttery down we won’t notice we’ve left our pajamas. The puffer jackets veer a little close to deconstructed Aritzia, but at least the Owens SuperPuff™ comes in more varied iterations. In a collection that manages to be part space army and part sea creature, the black down cape offers a dark priestess look; one taupe, cocoon-like number will make your torso resemble the underside of a turtle; on another, eggplant-colored sleeves dangle to the mid-calf like octopus tentacles. 


Oil! |


If There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaption of this 1920s novel, reveals how the rapaciousness of capitalism ruins the capitalist, the Upton Sinclair original concerns the guilt of a wealthy oil baron’s son — like a 1918 version of the Qualcomm heir who told the New York Times he wanted to give away his $30 million trust fund. The novel tracks Bunny, the Junior to his father James Arnold Ross, as he grows to become a Pink who sympathizes with communism despite his familial entanglements in rural California oil. How, Bunny asks, can he “tear down the fence between capital and labor” and replace it with roses? A movie star lover, a meditation on the glory of asphalt, and deathbed advice from a medium make Oil! unfold more like a fun beach read than what you’d expect from a fictionalization of Warren Harding’s Teapot Dome scandal. Be sure to avoid the so-called “fig leaf edition,” in which a motel sex scene was censored to appease the sensitive souls of Boston.


The Kings of Leon NFT Album |


Blockchain-enabled NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are the art world’s newest, hottest financial scheme, marking another step in fine art’s march toward total commoditization in the vein of corn or cattle. To summarize briefly (and poorly): the NFT is a cryptographic token that represents a digital work — be it a track, exclusive album art, or Jack Dorsey’s first tweet — and serves as a sort of unique certificate of authenticity, effectively making the associated asset scarce and  therefore subject to appreciation in value. It’s fascinating, really, how some of the world’s brightest technological minds have committed themselves to ensuring that some lucky owner has the “real” Nyan Cat, or one of Grimes’s weapon-brandishing demon babies (sale proceeds around $600K and a whopping $6M respectively). Which brings us to the new Kings of Leon album, their eighth (!!!) — and one that, to be clear, will be available via all regular streaming and purchase channels. Reader, I had the same thought you did: “They’re still together?” This is no “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” situation: the NFT will only grant the buyer an additional collectible digital token, along with a few standard limited-edition goodies — a deal perhaps most astounding in its presumption that anyone would pay good money to publicly prove “ownership” of a record meant to be listened to discreetly in a state of abject shame. This era’s art heist movies are going to be a trip. Instead of a suave cat burglar tip-toeing around laser fields to nab an Old Master, some blue-Gatorade-guzzling teen sits in silence, cracking crypto key codes for his holy grail: a vintage Impact font Dos Equis Man, circa 2010. I’m sure the Allbirds and Sperrys sets alike are giddy at the prospect of saddling society with something both unnecessary and distressing — you know, like a new Kings of Leon record.


Buddy Garrity |


No one on Friday Night Lights throws a football convincingly, so it’s easy to believe that Buddy Garrity, president of the booster club, lion of self-regard, was once the star quarterback of the Dylan Panthers. Now Buddy lives on red meat and local pageantry. Grinning and sweating in the West Texas heat, he watches practice from the sidelines. Though the years since its 2006 premiere have made us more suspicious of optimism, shaky cams, prestige TV, and American football, FNL still feels like a cache of untapped decency. When Buddy adopts a kid named Santiago to try to turn him into a football player, Santiago rebels. “You’re just some fat white guy who wants to make himself feel good,” Santiago says. The truth is, Buddy wants to be that fat white guy, but the show won’t leave him alone; narrative generosity keeps redeeming him, giving him chances to approximate a good man. In the world of FNL, goodness, like crude oil, can always be coaxed to the surface.  


CPAC's Golden Trump |


Republicans descended upon the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Florida on Friday to finger hors d’oeuvres and spit in each other’s mouths at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. The absence of household GOP names like Mitch McConnell was counterbalanced by the presence of a six-foot fiberglass statue of Donald Trump painted in gold. The sculpture, titled “Trump and His Magic Wand,” depicted the president with the Harry Potter-style prop in homage to Obama’s line about Trump’s promise to revive the manufacturing industry (“What magic wand do you have?”). Of his outfit — blue jacket, red tie, American flag shorts, and flip-flops, like a post-presidential Jimmy Buffett — the artist told the New York Times: “Technically, he should be retired. But he chose to be a servant.” In an impossibly on-the-nose twist, it has now been 40 days and 40 nights since the artwork’s subject left office, but any golden calf comparison is purely coincidental. For the Bible-heads at CPAC, the creator had some words of consolation: “It’s definitely not an idol.”


Bon Appétit's Classic Caesar Salad Dressing |


I have spent years trying to perfect my Caesar dressing. Egg yolk versus mayonnaise. Olive oil versus vegetable. For a while, I became paralyzed by choices. BA’s recipe cut through the noise like the edge of an anchovy tin.


Adults in the Room (2019) |


The only subtitles I could find for this adaptation of left-wing Greek economist and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s memoir, directed by the legendary Costa-Gavras, seem to have been Google-translated from French. The first subtitle explains, in a bit of unprompted editorializing, that you’re about to see “the lies of Mr Garoufakis adapted as reality.” It makes for a pretty good movie, and not just because it ends with an interpretive dance featuring Europe’s leaders. The plot follows the then-finance minister’s fight against crushing austerity at successive Eurogroup meetings. Varoufakis moves through the film like a lucid dreamer, always saying the right thing, wearing the right motorcycle jacket, and whipping out the right slideshow. If, unlike the irritable subtitler, you mostly like Varoufakis, this movie proves that having good politics and being cool is sometimes enough.


Field Recordings |


BBC radio producer Eleanor McDowall’s podcast, which solicits recordings from audio-makers who “stand silently in fields (or things that could be broadly interpreted as fields).” Participants record stealthily in whatever space they want, from UK beaches to rooftops in Port-au-Prince. It’s an exemplar of “slow audio,” a genre that seeks to offer a respite from the relentless pace of the digital era. Episode titles situate each recording with extreme precision: going on a “Walk through the snow to the water at 3:30pm in Conway, MA on 22nd December 2020,” or eavesdropping on the “Sinharaja tropical rainforest, South West of Sri Lanka, at daybreak.” Listeners might linger for thirty seconds or an entire ten minutes. Sometimes, the episode descriptions double as flash stories. After recording, one chronicler in Japan watched a woman persuade her screaming toddler to touch something on a leaf. “After they’d gone, I went over to see,” she wrote, “it was the empty exoskeleton of a cricket stuck to the leaf.” One goal of slow media is to minimize sound from its producers, to throw focus on the taped environment. But sometimes, you can hear people rustling—a child whispering or a zipper closing. The effect, McDowall told The Guardian, is less like solitude and more like “standing with someone.”


"Beautiful Day" |


Bono didn’t play Biden’s inauguration, but he’s the sort of celebrity who might have. The singer — and by extension U2 — blithely evokes the sort of ambient unity championed by the new administration. He’s the guy who visited Steve “David Duke without the baggage” Scalise after he was shot (2017), downloaded Songs of Innocence to all of our iTunes accounts and then said “oops” (2014), and established a “climate-focused” hedge fund with Bush treasury secretary Hank Paulson (2021). This bipartisan spirit is perhaps best distilled in U2’s 2000 pop epic, “Beautiful Day” — notably featured on Obama’s A Promised Land playlist — and maybe more so in the accompanying video, which takes place, fittingly, in an airport. The terminal, gracelessly intended to signify interconnection in a globalized 21st century, suggests nothing so much as the shallow, transactional, and banal nature of the dominant economic system and aesthetic, a cosmopolitanism of dullards — and worse, oops, the carbon emissions. 


Disco (1979) |


For many years this long out-of-print coffee table book — harder to find than quaaludes — offered the only serious study of disco. The writer, the late Columbia professor Albert Goldman, was better known as an anti-rock critic; his takedown biographies Elvis (1981) and The Lives of John Lennon (1988) are still reviled by the boomer cognoscenti. Draped in polyester rhetoric and New Journalistic self-indulgence, Disco accurately charts the evolution of dance music from ’60s discotheques to the groundbreaking NYC club Sanctuary on through to the imperial phase of Studio 54 and Saturday Night Fever. Arresting, paparazzi-style photos of Grace Jones and the sneaker-wearing 70-something Disco Sally share page space with caught-in-the-act shots of anonymous club-goers. It’s impossible to decide who looks most outrageous. They almost make it worth the collector’s item price-tag — though Goldman’s gonzo close-reading of a Donna Summer album might warrant it alone. “The particular show Donna Summer’s record suggested was that horny old classic, the Sacrifice of the Nubile Virgin,” he writes, “Anyone who visited Acapulco in the good old days can supply the rest: the high flaming altar; the implacable-looking priests in their S/M drag; the fabulously lithe and animal-like girl, writhing voluptuously in the grasp of cruel attendant; the drummer enthroned at the peak of the dais, pounding on his skins…” If you ever see a reasonably-priced copy — snap it up.


Ash trees |


If you live anywhere east of the Mississippi River, there’s likely an ash tree nearby. One of the most abundant tree species in the U.S., ash trees have proud, bushy crowns and leaves that taper to graceful points. If left alone, they grow old and tall, up to a hundred feet. Wordsworth name-checks one in his long autobiographical poem, “The Prelude.” Ash trees are also useful. The wood grain is straight and hard, good for axe handles and baseball bats. Also: they are all dying. Aided by climate change, a ferocious bug called the Emerald Ash Borer has killed millions of ash trees in the U.S., threatening to extinguish them in the near future. Go admire an ash, before it’s too late.


Blown Away, Season 2 |


It’s boom time for niche hobbyists — especially those in search of $60,000 and some minor celebrity. Still, assembling a new cast of ten camera-ready glassblowers mid-pandemic is a production feat. Though this Canadian reality series adopts a standard tournament format, with contestants eliminated each episode, the painstaking craftsmanship has a hypnotic quality that makes the competition itself feel almost perfunctory. The real drama comes later, in the sleep that follows an evening’s binge of more than a few episodes, punctuated inevitably by stress dreams of shattered glass.


The Stand |


Hacking away at Stephen King’s 1,100-page epic, CBS All Access turns the story into a nonlinear jumble in the style of Lost. This mini-series revels in the grotesquerie of an accidentally-released biological weapon, nicknamed Captain Trips, that leaves nearly all of humankind drowning in its own snot. In the plague’s wake, two factions arise: the opportunistic scavengers in Vegas and the lion-hearted good guys in Boulder, led by Alexander Skarsgård and Whoopi Goldberg, respectively — who interact more like a pair of weary old colleagues than mortal enemies. The best thing about this sliced-and-diced adaptation ends up being Owen Teague’s depiction of Harold Lauder, an incel who still doesn’t get the girl he’s fixated on despite an actual “last man on Earth” scenario. 


Self Care |


A deft satire of woke startup culture, Leigh Stein’s account of corporate feminism will thoroughly trash any lingering idealism you might have about women’s moral superiority. The fictional firm Richual is a community platform “for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves.” The products they promote embody the cynical marketing of radical politics as luxury good: “cheek tint with a built-in mace spritzer” and sheet masks with “‘Charcoal Power’ below a drawing of a black fist.” Movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter now just meat to the grinder.