Mentions | Issue 4 ​

CHARLIE BARDEY, SAMIR CHADHA, CLAIRE COMSTOCK-GAY, KENNETH DILLON, JAMES FOLTA, SIMONE HAYSOM, GILLIAN LEE, BEN LLEWELYN TAYLOR, RORY MASTERSON, REBECCA MCCARTHY, RENNIE MCDOUGALL, RODERICK MOODY-CORBETT, TREE PALMEDO, ELIZABETH PANKOVA, VIOLET PASK, ALANA POCKROS, SOPHIE POOLE, GUS PRUM, JAMESON RICH, EVE SNEIDER, ALEXANDRA VALAHU, THEO WAYT

CHARLIE BARDEY, SAMIR CHADHA, CLAIRE COMSTOCK-GAY, KENNETH DILLON, JAMES FOLTA, SIMONE HAYSOM, GILLIAN LEE, BEN LLEWELYN TAYLOR, RORY MASTERSON, REBECCA MCCARTHY, RENNIE MCDOUGALL, RODERICK MOODY-CORBETT, TREE PALMEDO, ELIZABETH PANKOVA, VIOLET PASK, ALANA POCKROS, SOPHIE POOLE, GUS PRUM, JAMESON RICH, EVE SNEIDER, ALEXANDRA VALAHU, THEO WAYT

Can’t Get You Out of My Head |

CONSPIRACY

At one point in Adam Curtis’s new series, he tells us that Jews made up the majority of New York City bankers and landlords in the 1960s. Later on, he says that American workers spent the Clinton years systemically faking injuries to get disability benefits and Oxycontin scripts. Amid eight hours of dazzling BBC B-roll and moody songs by This Mortal Coil and Aphex Twin, these dubious claims can slip by unnoticed. I didn’t register them until my second time through. Maybe Curtis has learned something from Slavoj Zizek: if enough graduate students already like you, you can get away with saying whatever you want. 

T.W.

Janet Yellen’s stamp collection |

DISCLOSURES

Janet Yellen holds the key to a vast and mysterious treasure: a stamp collection, handed down from her mother, which the Treasury Secretary has valued between $15,001 and $50,000 over the last quarter century to mounting national intrigue. Precious few specifics are known, though philatelists hoping for anything of obvious lasting significance in the secretary’s holdings should holster their stamp tongs. In January, the Biden transition team revealed that a portion of Yellen’s heirloom draws from various U.S. commemorative issues — including one to promote the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, a celebration of Christopher Columbus’s inexpert celestial navigation four centuries on and a transparent exercise in national myth-making. This thin slice of Janet Yellen’s wealth would conservatively fetch thousands above the federal poverty benchmark if auctioned off tomorrow. But Yellen, who has apparently not added to the collection in decades, seems uninterested in curating it. A worthless fistful of movie monsters and lake fish would likely serve her just as well.

K.D.

The Healy-Raes’ campaign songs |

JINGLE

The Healy-Raes, a political family that control County Kerry in Southwestern Ireland, are primarily a national curiosity, although they occasionally make international news for things like trying to legalize drunk driving, being stepped on by cows, and suggesting that issues with a main road are due to fairy forts around the town of Curraglass. The patriarch, Jackie Healy-Rae, was unexpectedly elected to Irish parliament in 1997; his sons, Michael and Danny, followed him; and three more relatives won seats on the Kerry County Council in 2019. Opponents characterize them as “gombeen men” (scam artists, open to bribes) and they are, but in their campaign ads the family shines. The ads — which sometimes promote a single Healy-Rae, other times the Healy-Rae family at large — are composed primarily of PowerPoint slideshows, featuring Michael, Danny, or Danny’s son, Johnny, doing Irish stuff — posing in a bar, mucking a stall, shooting a rifle, standing next to a priest. The family is famous for showing up to constituents’ funerals, and it’s something of a miracle no one is pictured at a wake. Campaign songs are generally performed by one Kerry wedding band — composed of five white guys, three of whose surnames are O’Connor — that goes by the name “Truly Diverse.” To be fair, the songs are quite catchy.

R.M.

ThingsICantFindOtherwise |

YOUTUBE

Despite the breadth its name implies, this channel exists for the exclusive purpose of posting clips from The Simpsons. A real watch-through of the show may seem daunting –– it has, at this point, seemingly thousands of seasons, at least twelve of which are watchable. “ThingsICantFindOtherwise” offers a way out; from its selection of hundreds of twenty-second to four-minute long Simpsons clips, one can consume several seasons’ worth of jokes, slotted into the interstitial moments of daily life. What a coup! I shudder to think of the nights upon nights I might have wasted in obedience to antiquated, misguided ideas of linearity and plot, just to arrive at this amazing jokewhich I instead got to enjoy all on its own, midday, when I should have been answering emails.

C.B.

Fuck the System |

PAMPHLET

About two years before he became one of the Chicago Seven, and four years before he wrote the longer, more famous Steal this Book, Abbie Hoffman published this guide to getting anything and everything for free in New York. For a loanless university education: “Send away for the schedule of courses at the college of your choice. Pick your courses and walk into the designated classrooms.” For a complimentary bus ride: “Get on with a large denomination bill just as the bus is leaving.” Much of the information listed is outdated by now — you can no longer use German coinage to sneak onto the subway, and Con Edison’s number has changed — but Hoffman’s writing is still optimistic, vengeful, and hilarious. From draft-dodging to birth control to live buffalo, Hoffman can tell you where to go, whom to talk to, and how to charm or offend the involved personnel. The physical pamphlet is gorgeous — staple-bound, white gothic script, a full-bleed photo of an NYPD vehicle — but rare. These days, copies go for anywhere from $800-$2,000, though the work itself is in the public domain, and, as Hoffman writes, “If you paid money for this manual you got screwed. It’s absolutely free because it’s yours. Think about it.”

G.L.

Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Series |

LIVESTREAM

The Berlin Philharmonic’s deep archive of concert videos contains its fair share of marquee-name guest soloists — pianist Yuja Wang performs Prokofiev in a one-shoulder gown, experimental percussionist Martin Grubinger gambols and shrieks across the stage — but repeated viewings offer the surprising pleasure of familiarity with the unglamorous ensemble musicians. The camera’s roving close-ups invite observation of facial expressions, body language, whispered asides in between pieces. Over time, it’s hard not to develop strongly held but totally baseless opinions about their personalities. Favorite characters emerge: the incongruously brawny clarinetist or the violinist who always seems mad at her seatmates. The effect lands somewhere between world-class live performance and the world’s most understated reality TV. 

C.C.G.

The Casual Observer: An Armchair Guide to the Darkroom Log |

PERIODICAL

The contents of this short-lived magazine, published by the staff photographers at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, are almost aggressively quotidian. They come from a world in which interstellar observation is as much a part of daily life as lunch and sewage are. An unapologetically literal publication of the meticulously kept darkroom log — plus more typical magazine features, such as astronomically accurate horoscopes and “gAstronomical” restaurant reviews. It’s triple analog porn: a handmade magazine sourced from a handwritten journal kept about film photography. The nine issues were published from 1996-1997, an era during which the GO itself “barely had its own website.” It preserves in amber a society on the cusp of Web 2.0, capturing the random boring shit of daily life decades before social media would demand that humanity do so compulsively. In reading The Casual Observer, you might be surprised at how frequently the impulse to document the everyday is rewarded — here, mundane detail is not something to resent, but celebrate. “I am stunned by the beauty of the new plumbing fixtures in the darkroom,” a writer noted on August 13, 1996. “There is absolutely no leakage.”

G.L.

Exuma |

ALBUM

Known as “Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey,” “Tony McKay,” or, as he called himself, “Exuma, the Obeah Man,” the artist has been described as a “Bahamian visionary, humanistic philosopher and people’s poet” — a musician whose eponymous LP came to him in a dream. The penultimate track warns the listener, “You Don’t Know What’s Going On,” but by the time you get there, you’re anything but confused. The album is a dense and fervent celebration of Bahamian folklore, a dirge-filled invocation of Junkanoo — the Boxing Day parade held across the post-colonial Caribbean to celebrate emancipation. Where else, right now, can you encounter cowbells, zombie breath, and Satan, coupled with McKay’s entreaties to “come go with me / come take my hand / I’m going home?” 

A.V.

Last Days of the Dog-Men |

BOOK

Many dogs die in this book (“dead dogs in the basement freezer, little shit dogs whole and bigger ones cut up into parts”), along with some cats, birds, rabbits, and bream. On the surface, Brad Watson’s first collection of short stories seems to traffic in the boozy, lowdown rusticities of your Kmart realists: hunting, fishing, cheating on your wife — atop a pole vault mattress, and in the presence of your soon-to-be euthanized greyhound, no less — yet the stories exhibit a maximalist  eclecticism. Watson, who died of a heart attack last July, is an unmistakably Southern stylist, his prose bawdy and wry. Most impressive, perhaps, is how he manages to kill off so many animals without reducing them to saccharine props. With a body count second only to Donald Barthelme’s “The School,” it’s a measure of Watson’s talent (and humor) that these stories elude the factory-farmed epiphanies of a certain strand of North American minimalism, in which the life expectancy of a Spitz (like the life expectancy of a marriage) is not long. 

R.M.C.

Greenland |

MOVIE

Director Ric Roman Waugh personally consulted NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on how to exactly render a civilization-destroying comet impact — a preposterous goal, besides the fact that any concessions to hypothetical accuracy would have sucked all the fun from this pseudo-scientific thriller. Instead, the focus is on Gerard Butler as he shepherds his family to a bunker on the titular island, battling increasingly large comet fragments on the run from this “extinction level event.” The film, discarding a realism that wouldn’t feel real anyway, shows us people breaking down in ways that do. What’s left once you suspend disbelief is an enjoyable pastiche of the Cloverfield movies — perpetual flight, flimsy science, and novel human let-downs.

S.C.

Pull ‘n’ Peel Twizzlers |

MORSEL

Generally speaking, the more a product tries to do, the less it does well (see: two-in-one shampoo, “one size fits most” clothing, Jessica Simpson’s 2004 line of edible cosmetics). These treats are a rare exception. Launched in 1994, they consist of nine individual strands of licorice for you to tug apart and eat separately — a snack designed to entertain first and nourish second. Tie them in knots, twirl them around your finger. Much like string cheese, they’re about the game: if you chomp the whole thing, you’ve missed the point. “Kids love these!” one reviewer writes online. So will anyone emerging from late-stage quarantine with a sugar addiction and a short attention span. You may not be able to do more than one thing at once, but here’s a candy that can.

E.S.

ThisPersonDoesNotExist |

MILLINERY

This AI, created by engineer Stephen Wang to illustrate the deceptive powers of technology, uses an algorithm trained on pictures of faces to generate unique photo portraits of made-up people –– complete with wrinkles, pores, and adult acne scars. Some of the things the AI gets wrong (missing fingers, errant ears, tesselated backgrounds) can be forgiven; ThisPerson’s crimes against headgear cannot. In Wang’s alternate world, outlandish hats proliferate. They sit as tall as top hats or are strapped across foreheads like tiaras. They are lumo, shining, melting, dripping, and, sadly, not for sale. Perhaps the algorithm’s training images favored Lids fans and Panama collectors — or maybe Generative Adversarial Networks dream about gargantuan, melted chapeaus. 

S.H.

“Trust The Process” |

JARGON

When Sam Hinkie, then the Philadelphia 76ers’ general manager, coined the phrase in his inaugural 2013 press conference, it served as a kind of deflection. Hinkie’s “process” was gaming the system by failing: the more the team lost, the better its odds of securing a high draft pick in the NBA lottery. By now, the phrase’s meaning has warped such that it appears on lifestyle websites and in email subject lines regarding third-quarter earnings projections at least as often as on ESPN.com. It’s also the nickname for Sixers center Joel “The Process” Embiid as well as the title of multiple self-help books on subjects like creativity and religion. In 2017, then-White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci deployed the phrase on CNN to defend the U.S.  healthcare system: “Trust the process of the free market.” (He may have trusted too much; the Mooch lost his job just days later).

R.M.

Kurt Vonnegut’s seasons |

TIME

In Kurt Vonnegut’s 1978 commencement speech at Fredonia College, titled “How to Make Money and Find Love!”, he posited that the common notion of four seasons is not only wrong, but “may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time.” For Vonnegut, seasons ought to span just two months — spring is May and June, summer July and August, autumn just September and October. By Vonnegut’s calendar, November and December aren’t winter (that’s January and February), but “Locking,” when “nature shuts everything down.” Its inverse comes with the March and April thaw, “Unlocking.” What else, Vonnegut asks, “could April be?” There’s something liberating in this reimagination: granting those months of sudden chills and last-minute sweaters the specificity they’re due. But as climate change erodes any seasonal distinctions, Vonnegut’s salve for depression may prove short-lived.

B.L.T.

Ithaca Buffalo Ranch Hummus |

DIP

The Google reviews currently average 3.5 stars, presumably due to customer confusion: contrary to its name, this certified vegan product contains neither buffalo sauce nor ranch dressing. It is, in fact, just hummus with hot sauce and celery seeds. Yet the taste is more than the sum of its parts. Maybe it was the packaging’s photorealistic celery, dripping with white and orange sauces, but this jazzed-up tub of mashed chickpeas had me fooled. I guess society at large is only seventy percent ready for true transcendence.

T.P.

Another Round |

FILM

A group of four middle-aged Danish schoolteachers including Mads Mikkelsen (the titular bitch who better have Rihanna’s money) decide to test a Norwegian psychiatrist’s theory that the human body is born alcohol-deficient and thus always in need of a drink. When they start microdosing out of flasks during homeroom, their lives improve as if by magic — Mads’s marriage rebounds and he’s a star teacher again. The school’s Pee-Wee soccer coach suddenly pulls wins like a Manchester United manager. Their success can’t hold; they are soon passing out in the neighbor’s hedges, pissing the marital bed, and stumbling around the teachers’ lounge. But the message is not so neat. Their descent into excess brings serious consequences, but also unexpected benefits. The film’s closing musical number — the most joyous dance sequence in an Oscar contender since “Jai Ho!” — is a final refusal of an abiding American morality: that all aspects of life, even leisure, must be subordinate to work. The film only falters in having anglicized its perfect original title: Druk — literally, “Binge Drinking.”

J.R.

Mikey and Nicky (1976) |

FILM

Nicky (John Cassavetes), a man whose unpaid betting debts have him on the run from the mob, calls on his old friend Mikey (Peter Falk) to help hide him from his blundering assailant in this Elaine May flick that’s part gritty gangster movie, part dark comedy, and part drama about the trials of friendship. Nicky grows increasingly delusional throughout the night: he cackles at his own mother’s grave, accuses Mikey of attempted murder, and tries to swing with his goomar. (Everyone gets upset.) May’s film is a reminder that you can only be so much of a dick before your friends get over it and conspire with the mob to murder you.

G.P.

Museum of Lost Memories |

TIKTOK

Family memorabilia — photo albums, undeveloped film rolls, SD cards, VHS tapes, high school yearbooks — often ends up in thrift stores, cleaved from its original owners. This TikTok attempts to reunite such objects with the people whose lives they depict. Followers sift for clues: the handwriting on a mixtape or the name of a school embroidered on a weathered tank top. The  tank’s owner is found — now middle-aged, balding, and a father of two — in Bethesda, Maryland. When he replied, “That’s in Kenya — 1989 (I was 23),” reactions ranged from touching to deranged. “Idk why I cried when you said it was in 1989 and you were 23,” one user wrote, “I’m 24 now and it made me realise how fast life goes by.” Other memories remain lost. Newlyweds Joan and Adolfo or a young woman named Margie en route to Seville may never know that half a million people nursed a momentary interest in their past selves. 

S.P.

@ChefsandDogs |

INSTAGRAM

The parade of lamb hearts, pig penises, rabbit ears, and duck feet featured on this account, which evangelizes raw meat diets for pets, might be initially shocking, but that only enhances its moral righteousness. ChefsandDogs offers a pleasant balm for the nagging questions of animal agency and subjugation that come with pet ownership. By all means, cage, leash, overbreed, castrate, and euthanize your companions — just as long as you’re feeding them the way nature intended! Because what would dogs eat, if they had a choice? A bunch of animal organs artfully arranged to look like a Sweetgreen bowl, probably. 

E.P.

Survivor: Season 1 (2000) |

TV

Sixteen chiseled contestants, two deliriously appropriative team names, a $1 million grand prize. Who will win it all? Definitely not Ramona or Gervase, the only two people of color on the show, whose treatment by the cameraman leaves much to be desired, but “corporate trainer” Richard Hatch –– a guy who would later do 51 months in prison for failing to report the prize on his taxes. A triumphant pageant of fuchsia tankinis and oblong transition lenses, this early aughts iteration of the castaway favorite aged as well as a sliced avocado. 

A.P.

The Searcher |

NOVEL

Covering only three percent of the Earth’s surface, peatlands store up to twice as much carbon as all of the planet’s standing forests. The peat bogs of western Ireland are known for their “bog bodies,” corpses uncannily preserved by the ecosystem’s carbon content  — as well as the danger they pose to anyone unfamiliar with the territory. To not know one’s way around them is to risk getting lost, drowned, and pseudo-mummified. Set in a fictional town on Ireland’s west coast, Tana French’s detective story about a retired cop looking for a lost boy presents an alternative vision of accountability that stems from the landscape itself: here the dead rest with or without the “justice” served among the living.

V.P.

Nuggs Fake Chicken Nuggets |

BYPRODUCTS

How Instagram’s algorithm decides who sees ads for soy-based, chicken-like nuggets is knowledge possessed by only a select few. But by rearranging a few bytes, an unassuming user can find himself chased across his feed not only by Nuggs the food product, but by Nuggs the brand — Nuggs the lifestyle. The true test of the will arrives when that primary-colored, start-up imagery isn’t simply on a screen, but behind the frosty glass of a bodega freezer. Be wary, dear reader: advertising can work. You will find the nuggets themselves are just fine.

J.F.

“Deja Vu” |

SINGLE

“drivers license” harnessed the zeitgeist with its Bridgers-meets-Lorde brand of heart-on-sleeve pop, and the second single by 18-year old Disney star Olivia Rodrigo ramps up the ambition: rubbery synths, crunchy drum fills, and another totally earnest tale of teen jealousy. Some may find it facile. But it’s time to recognize that Rodrigo achieved what Maggie Rogers and folklore-era T-Swift could not: a merger of indie sensibilities with truly massive pop hooks and stark-naked emotion. She might save the Top 40 in the process.

T.P.

Spider-Man’s Manhattan |

SET DESIGN

The omission of the Chrysler Building from the second Spider-Man game makes for  a   fitting depiction of Manhattan. In 2019, two holding companies — one American, one Austrian — bought the midtown skyscraper and refused to grant the game developers a license to show the building. That’s Manhattan. Elsewhere in this simulacrum of New York, the High Line is never overcrowded, and rainbow crosswalks decorate the West Village, but there are no gay bars. Uptown, minor game characters are ostensibly fending off development, but Christopher Street is just coffee shops and boutiques, and Stonewall has been replaced by a cozy-looking bakery called Just Like Mama’s. Roosevelt Island, meanwhile, has been transformed into a maximum-security floating metal jail. An off-brand One World Trade Center glitters over FiDi, sans 9/11 memorial. It’s New York without history, a gentrifier’s dream — clean, homogenous, gleaming glass and steel without the eyesore of constant construction. On the upside, there’s even less reason to set foot in Times Square: all theaters have been scrapped.

R.M.

Mentions | Spring 2021 ​

NITIN AHUJA, ISAAC ALPERT, STEPHEN ALTOBELLI, PETER C. BAKER, CHARLIE BARDEY, KIARA BARROW, BRAD BOLMAN, NICK BOWLIN, PETER BOWMAN, MARK COLEMAN, ELENA FERNÁNDEZ COLLINS, DAN ELKIND, ANDREW FEDOROV, KATE HARLOE, TARPLEY HITT, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, DAVE MARQUES, B. D. MCCLAY, CALDER MCHUGH, BEN MESIROW, JOHN MACNEILL MILLER, QUINN ROBERTS, WALKER RUTTER-BOWMAN, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, MARTIN SCHAUSS, ALANNA SCHUBACH, JULIA SIZEK, WILL SOLOMON, EMMA SULLIVAN, THEO WAYT, CARLY YINGST

NITIN AHUJA, ISAAC ALPERT, STEPHEN ALTOBELLI, PETER C. BAKER, CHARLIE BARDEY, KIARA BARROW, BRAD BOLMAN, NICK BOWLIN, PETER BOWMAN, MARK COLEMAN, ELENA FERNÁNDEZ COLLINS, DAN ELKIND, ANDREW FEDOROV, KATE HARLOE, TARPLEY HITT, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, DAVE MARQUES, B. D. MCCLAY, CALDER MCHUGH, BEN MESIROW, JOHN MACNEILL MILLER, QUINN ROBERTS, WALKER RUTTER-BOWMAN, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, MARTIN SCHAUSS, ALANNA SCHUBACH, JULIA SIZEK, WILL SOLOMON, EMMA SULLIVAN, THEO WAYT, CARLY YINGST

Marmite |

CONDIMENT

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!

E.S.B.

BUZZ ETF |

SMOKESCREEN

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.

T.W.

Capitani |

TV

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.

M.S.

The Dig (2021) |

FILM

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.

P.B.

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

SONG

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!

C.B.

Shiva Baby |

FILM

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.

K.B.

"We Support Cuomo" aerial banners |

AVIATION

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 aerialmessages.com, 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 aerialmessages.com, 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.”

K.H.

Gas Station TV |

FUEL

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.

W.S.

Le camion (1977) |

FILM

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.

D.E.

"Anna Delvey Diaries" |

BLOG

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 annadelveydiaries.com 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. 

C.M.

The Expanse |

TV

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.”

A.S.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2 |

THRASHER

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.”

C.Y.

CraigS1996's Commercial Vault |

YOUTUBE

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. 

D.M.

Little Joy |

FICTION

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.

Q.R.

For The First Time |

ALBUM

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.

S.A.

Klara and the Sun |

NOVEL

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.

P.C.B.

HoaxEye |

SLEUTHING

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.

C.B.

Divorce Italian Style (1961) |

FILM

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!).

J.S.

Pa Brown's Mantra |

TV

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.

B.M.

The Memory Police |

NOVEL

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.

A.S.

Me, You, Madness |

VANITY PROJECT

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.

B.D.M.

Woody Guthrie: An Intimate Life |

BIOGRAPHY

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.

N.B.

Olav Audunssøn: I. Vows |

NOVEL

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.

B.B.

Vanity License Plate Applications Database |

BUREAUCRACY

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.”

J.S.

So Wylie's Bird Beats |

ORNITHOLOGY

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.

J.M.M.

Last Second in Dallas |

TIN FOIL HATS

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.”

N.K.

Rick Owens FW21 |

FASHION WEEK

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. 

K.B.

Oil! |

NOVEL

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.

J.S.

The Kings of Leon NFT Album |

CRYPTO-ROCK

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.

B.L.

Buddy Garrity |

CHARACTER

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.  

W.R.B.

CPAC's Golden Trump |

EXODUS

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.”

T.H.

Bon Appétit's Classic Caesar Salad Dressing |

RECIPE

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.

I.A.

Adults in the Room (2019) |

FILM

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.

A.F.

Field Recordings |

SOUND

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.”

E.F.C.

"Beautiful Day" |

SONG

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. 

W.S.

Disco (1979) |

ANTHOLOGY

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.

M.C.

Ash trees |

FLORA

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.

N.B.

Blown Away, Season 2 |

REALITY TV

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.

N.A.

The Stand |

TV

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. 

A.S.

Self Care |

NOVEL

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.

E.S.

Mentions | Issue 3 ​

DANIEL AJOOTIAN, ISAAC ALPERT, DAVID ASTROFSKY, BRAD BOLMAN, SAM EICHNER, JAMES FOLTA, ALLISON HRABAR, MARIAH KREUTTER, BETTY LEMA, LEV MAMUYA, MICHELE MOSES, JONATHAN PELTZ, CAL REVELY-CALDER, QUINN ROBERTS, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, NIKKI SHANER-BRADFORD, EVE SNEIDER, MINA TAVAKOLI , MINH TRAN, CHAS B. WALKER, THEO WAYT, ELI WINTER, EGE YUMUSAK

DANIEL AJOOTIAN, ISAAC ALPERT, DAVID ASTROFSKY, BRAD BOLMAN, SAM EICHNER, JAMES FOLTA, ALLISON HRABAR, MARIAH KREUTTER, BETTY LEMA, LEV MAMUYA, MICHELE MOSES, JONATHAN PELTZ, CAL REVELY-CALDER, QUINN ROBERTS, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, NIKKI SHANER-BRADFORD, EVE SNEIDER, MINA TAVAKOLI , MINH TRAN, CHAS B. WALKER, THEO WAYT, ELI WINTER, EGE YUMUSAK

Fragrantica.com |

AROMATICS

“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!”

M.T.

The Q Shaman's Zoom Classes |

ADULT EDUCATION

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.

E.S.B.

Bagdad Café (1987) |

FILM

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.

E.Y.

Matt Stonie’s Youtube Channel |

MODERNISM

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.

N.S.B.

The Line of Beauty |

NOVEL

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.

I.A.

Most Stuf [sic] |

DELECTABLE

“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.

L.M.

Full Length Movies on Facebook Watch |

STREAMING

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. 

A.H.

The Relentless Picnic |

PODCAST

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.

C.B.W.

Pretty Poison (1968) |

FILM

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.

D.A.

CoStar’s Chaos Mode |

ASTROLOGY

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.

E.S.

Andromaque (1667) |

THEATER

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.

C.R.C.

World of Tomorrow |

SHORT

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. 

J.P.

The Shards |

POD-LIT

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.

S.E.

My Dinner With Andre |

FILM

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. 

M.M.

@azealiabanks, quarantine cook |

CUISINE

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.

L.M.

Castle Faggot |

BOOK

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.

Q.R.

McCormick Gourmet Global Selects Szechuan Pepper Salt & Spice Blend |

CONDIMENT

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. 

J.F.

Henry Kaiser’s Weekly Solo Concerts |

MUSIC

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?”

E.W.

Early Work |

NOVEL

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. 

D.Aj.

Hi-Octane |

TV

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.

M.T.

Red Plenty |

BOOK

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?

C.B.W.

The Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans |

DESTINATION

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?” 

T.W.

A Place Of Greater Safety (v.2) |

NOVEL

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.

J.F.

Raising Arizona |

FILM

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. 

M.K.

City-Data.com |

TIME MACHINE

“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.

B.L.

Charming Pet Scruffles Plush Squeaky Toy |

TOY STORY

Sources claimed “Mr. Scruffles” is indestructible. One hour in and my dog, holding a newly laminectomized Scruffles, has uncovered the lie. 

B.B.

Philosophy’s “Renewed Hope In A Jar” |

AESTHETICS

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.

I.A.

Mentions | Fall 2020 ​

EMMA ADLER, STEPHEN ALTOBELLI, DAVID ASTROFSKY, ERIK BAKER, KIARA BARROW, MARTIN BERGMAN, BRAD BOLMAN, GRAYSON CLARY, KENNETH DILLON, JAMES FOLTA, SASHA FRERE-JONES, ALEXIA GODDARD, TARPLEY HITT, CLAIRE JARVIS, EVAN KINDLEY, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, BEN LIBMAN, DANIEL LOPATIN, LEV MAMUYA, CALDER MCHUGH, CHARLOTTE MURTISHAW, JAKE NEVINS, REBECCA PANOVKA, JOHNNY PAYNE, STEPHANIE POPE, CORINNE RUSSELL, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, BRANDON SANCHEZ, BAILEY SINCOX, JENNY G. ZHANG

EMMA ADLER, STEPHEN ALTOBELLI, DAVID ASTROFSKY, ERIK BAKER, KIARA BARROW, MARTIN BERGMAN, BRAD BOLMAN, GRAYSON CLARY, KENNETH DILLON, JAMES FOLTA, SASHA FRERE-JONES, ALEXIA GODDARD, TARPLEY HITT, CLAIRE JARVIS, EVAN KINDLEY, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, BEN LIBMAN, DANIEL LOPATIN, LEV MAMUYA, CALDER MCHUGH, CHARLOTTE MURTISHAW, JAKE NEVINS, REBECCA PANOVKA, JOHNNY PAYNE, STEPHANIE POPE, CORINNE RUSSELL, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, BRANDON SANCHEZ, BAILEY SINCOX, JENNY G. ZHANG

Ed Niles's Glass House |

ARCHITECTURE

I want to know what inspired Justin Bieber to rent Ed Niles’s dead tech supervilla for a little under 60k a month, before he changed his mind. It’s clear why he didn’t stay — its see-through walls only served to amplify the trauma of celebrity overexposure. It turns out the prospect of living in a cylinder freaks people out. Cans of beans, pasta sauce bottles, commercial real estate, yes; homes, no. The Niles house features two such cylindrical glass shafts that earned it various mocking nicknames: salad spinner, lettuce drainer, etc. I see them more as spindles of blank CD-Rs, maybe filled to the brim with the unrealized songs of pop stars who’ve graced its hallowed halls. But there’s a grotesque brilliance to its curvaceous sheets of icy blue glass and steel, which in the aggregate remind me of a child’s toy block village if Skynet were in charge. It’s like Niles took a Bush-era executive’s office and exploded it to the level of a community center, but at the last minute called it a mansion. Maybe it’s my Russian immigrant (read: small, dark quarters) upbringing talking, but there’s a uniquely American kind of optimism in modernist architecture that’s nowhere to be found in the house: it’s not even trying to imagine a future outside of capitalism. That’s the bleak honesty of it. 

D.L.

Hope Gangloff's Portraits |

FINE ART

The bright mix of colors counterbalances the stillness of the scenes. The paintings themselves are experiments in color chemistry disguised as mini-stories. Gangloff’s people sport earbuds; dogs sleep at their feet; they are poised atop picnic blankets with a bottle of beer, or perched on the edge of the bath while painting their toenails. Lovingly rendered, they seem to have been transported from the real world into the artist’s — a world where everybody looks cool.

D.A.

Blind.com |

WEBSITE

An online community of software engineers endlessly polling each other on whether they should take a plum position at a startup or a marginally less-plum position at Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, or Google, a.k.a. “FAANG” (free massages!). This website was really helpful in clarifying why I can no longer afford to live alone in coastal California. I am now spending my life savings on bootcamp at General Assembly, entrypoint to the learn-to-code pipeline.

B.L.

@dylaniwakuni |

INSTAGRAM

One of my favorite of this mesmerizing woodworker’s videos is a demonstration of the Kanawa Tsugi joint, which is used to extend the length of a beam or post, or replace a rotten section. Through slow, careful, and precise chiseling, two identically-shaped pieces of wood are joined into one, longer piece of wood: the same shape, elongated. It’s satisfying to see meticulous effort pay off, and that it’s possible to improve something, even if only slightly.

J.F.

House |

FILM

Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 movie sees seven schoolgirls — all named, fable-like, for their most notable characteristic (Gorgeous, Sweet, etc) — make a trip to the Japanese countryside to visit one of the girls’ estranged aunt, only to be devoured, one by one, by the titular edifice. Some might find the decline from recognizable teenage angst (Gorgeous, our heroine, plans the doomed rural sojourn to avoid spending time with her father’s new wife) into campy yet surprisingly bloody horror precipitous. In one scene, it is, appropriately, Melody whose hands, then entire body, are torn apart by a sentient piano. The film’s climax — which sees a now-demonic Gorgeous lure her stepmother into the house to enact revenge — suggests, in the way of all good fantasy, that Obayashi’s tale is less escapist than it appears. The bitter and familiar clarity of jealousy proves to be just as haunting as anything else in this screwball concoction.

S.P.

Universal Mother |

ALBUM

Sinéad O’Connor is, at this point in cultural history, far better known for her anticlerical politics and erratic public behavior than for her music. (The photograph of Pope John Paul II she ripped up on Saturday Night Live in 1992 will appear in the first or second paragraph of her obituary, for sure.) And though her recording career has been uneven, one bright spot is Universal Mother (1994) — almost a great record, and certainly a singular one. It opens with “Fire on Babylon,” anticipating the doom-laden low-end vibe of Björk’s “Army of Me” by a year. Michel Gondry’s extremely creepy music video, in which O’Connor and a child alter ego are menaced by Louise Bourgeois-ish mechanical mother-monsters inside a forced-perspective dollhouse, could support a psychoanalytic dissertation. The album also contains an introductory sound-bite of Germaine Greer enjoining women to “spontaneous cooperative action,” a Nirvana cover, a lullaby for O’Connor’s young son, a gorgeous close harmony number, and a very informative rap song about the Irish potato famine.

E.K.

New Grub Street (1891) |

NOVEL

George Gissing’s 1891 tale about the business of literature in Victorian London, featuring romantics crushed by a brutal economic regime (“personalities wholly unfitted for the rough and tumble of the world’s labour-market”), miserable and impoverished automatons (“she was not a woman, but a mere machine for reading and writing”), little in the way of real happiness/love/genius/art, and the great success of Chit-Chat, a publication of stories and descriptions in paragraphs of no more than two inches for those “quarter-educated” readers incapable of sustained attention.

C.R.

Bayou Paradis |

MUSIC

My 2020 album of the year came out in 2001 — it’s Bayou Paradis by Gez Varley. He and Mark Bell were LFO, the act that gave Warp Records its first big seller in 1990. Bayou Paradis has dance music in the family but not on its drivers license. This music propels itself, unshy of sending you, and creates its own deep shimmer while never stumbling. It is made from steady pulses and uneasy timbres, and it stacks itself in proportionate bundles. Varley made Bayou Paradis in two weeks, using only six pieces of electronic gear, none of them obscure. “I wanted to do an album that you could listen to at home or in the car on a long journey,” he told me. “We partied and listened to the album in Frankfurt on a Friday afternoon, all of us at the Force Inc. office whilst the bankers were at work across the street. Good times.”

S.F.J.

Akon City |

R&D

Akon told Business Insider that one of his greatest fears is being remembered only for hits like “Smack That.” So he did what any reasonable person might do and hunkered down to work on his next project: a futuristic city powered by his own personal cryptocurrency in his home country of Senegal (with land provided by the Senegalese government and financial backing too byzantine and shady to explore here). Let’s make sure, then, that we memorialize Akon as a man who, in 2021, believes that luxury tourism is a sensible life-raft for overexploited national economies. 

L.M.

Midsomer Murders |

TV

This long-running British crime procedural — available in full, for whatever reason, through YouTube — is the ultimate wind-down show: nearly two hours of lilting accents, intergenerational village drama, competitive gardening, plant identification, vestigial aristocrat-peasant relations, and terse, loveless marriages, with the wry Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) infallibly saving the day. The murders have piled up since the series’s 1997 debut, but you’re looking at — maximum — four incredibly culturally-specific deaths per episode. Maybe the victim foraged a poisonous mushroom, or took an arrow to the heart while engaging in extramarital intimacy in the woods, or was hanged in the church tower the morning of a competitive all-county-team-bellringing-competition, or is an insufferable writer whom every villager has already threatened to bludgeon to death. What a relief, to dwell in a TV world where death is exceptional and cause for investigation. 

C.M.

Mank |

FILM

Citizen Kane was the most enduring artistic accomplishment of the Popular Front, the short-lived alliance between Communists, New Deal liberals, and cultural workers that produced Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and its anti-fascist political vision. Mank reimagines it as an epic clapback delivered by a messy but lovable writer to his media-elite ex-friends. It certainly feels like a movie that took decades to make. But in its reduction of politics to the interpersonal drama of the rich and powerful, it also feels disturbingly contemporary. I’ve seen a lot of people speculate that they’d have liked it more if they’d seen more old movies. Based on how many of them also seem to think that this movie was a good example of black-and-white cinematography, I’m skeptical. It’s The West Wing for people with Letterboxd premium subscriptions.

E.B.

Vida Americana at the Whitney |

ART

I understand that they can’t slice Diego Rivera’s Man, Controller of the World off the wall of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and ship it to the Meatpacking District, but in this age of curatorial and technical ingenuity, I expected something better than the limp, washed-out version on view in this exhibit. More interesting was the copy of the demure note Nelson D. Rockefeller wrote to the artist concerning the inclusion of Lenin in the original mural (slated for Rockefeller Center), which “might very easily offend a great many people.” Rockefeller politely requested that Rivera “substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin’s face now appears,” before destroying the entire painting when Rivera refused. Displaying a characteristic post-2016 historical myopia, the Times wrote that the show’s exposition of the influence of Mexican muralists on mid-century art in the U.S. “offers yet another argument for why the build-the-wall mania that has obsessed this country for the past three-plus years just has to go.” The politics on view are a lot more radical than that, but few will likely see the show anyway.

K.B.

Because of Poetry I Have a Really Big House |

POEMS

For four years, Kent Johnson co-edited a highly successful and polemical journal, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, in which, under the tweaking nom de plume Emily Post-Avant, he lambasted the couch-sitting, tenured poetry scene, where everybody and his barber is an “award-winning poet.” Though Johnson denies it, he’s believed to have staged a hoax in the 1990s that fooled the literary world, publishing fake notebooks by the non-existent Japanese writer Araki Yasusada. A consummate and unimpeachable outsider, in this new book he writes “verses etched on a nuclear warhead,” as he boasts of shouting out Baudelaire while drinking Drano. Here, the poetry slam is the sound of a brawl beginning. 

J.P.

Possessor |

FILM

In Brandon (son of David) Cronenberg’s second feature, Colin Tate is remotely controlled by a murderous corporation in order to take down the executive of a data company. An assassin named Tasya inhabits his body to complete the kill. But the possessing doesn’t come easily — the characters duel for control of the body, and when Tasya tries to carry out tasks, Colin resists. At one point, the real Colin and the Tasya-controlled Colin speak at the same time, their voices coming together in an off-kilter harmony. Later, Tasya endures the experience of Colin vaping to an Orville Peck song. Exhausted by alt-country, she eventually completes the mission, before moving on to inhabit the next victim.

A.G.

Where The Crawdads Sing |

NOVEL

The best-selling book I avoided reading for two years. Delia Owens has created a fetishized vision of white southern poverty wrapped in a murder mystery submerged in pop feminism tied up with an ecological moral. Like a penny dreadful To Kill a Mockingbird, it aims for reportage but settles for stereotypes: “Ma” and “Pa,” shacks, screen doors, grits. We’re not so much in this world as watching it, in the mind of a narrator who already knows just how pitiful everything is. The characterizations are not just thin but inaccurate. References to Mardi Gras and black-eyed peas recall the Gulf Coast more than North Carolina’s Outer Banks; the accents are recognizable only as what Paul Beatty calls “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Plantationese.” Kya’s journey from illiterate musselmonger to acclaimed zoologist (spoiler) ironically parallels how stories travel from a world deemed to have interesting ones to a world that pays to consume them.

Ba.S.

What Are You Going Through |

NOVEL

About three-fourths of the way into What Are You Going Through, Sigrid Nunez’s eighth novel — and her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning The Friend — the unnamed narrator wonders if, in a not-so-distant future ravaged by environmental collapse, kids will sue their parents for having given birth to them. The narrator has just met up with her ex, a climate crisis Cassandra on a book tour. Soon, she’ll tend to a terminally ill friend who’s elected to end her own life with a fatal cocktail of pills. In Nunez’s hands, questions of old-age, mortality, and rising sea levels are entertained with a hearty frankness. Global catastrophe, as similarly preoccupied fiction tends to suggest, is not a metaphor for personal turmoil. Dispensing with the idea that suffering ennobles, Nunez has written a warm and amusing novel, characterized not by disillusionment but by a kind of morbid and fleet-footed curiosity. It felt right for right now, as very little seems certain except the likelihood that someone, someday, will litigate the ethics of their own nativity.

J.N.

The Undoing |

TV

I understand that this is a whodunit, but the real mystery is why Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant keep crossing Central Park to get from the Upper East Side to the Upper East Side.

R.P.

Tesla |

FILM

Ethan Hawke plays canonized inventor Nikola Tesla as an inward intellectual driven insane by his contemporaries’ inability to acknowledge the deleterious future he portends — basically reprising his role from First Reformed (2018). Kyle MacLachlan charms as Thomas Edison, Tesla’s boss and later rival, and Eve Hewson, real-life daughter of Bono, provides ironic narration as Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. The glaring anachronisms and clever set-design quickly grow tired, though deserve credit as creative responses to what was surely a small budget. Near the film’s end, Hawke sings Tears For Fears’s “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” vamping before a light show in black leather gloves, transforming his fictional Tesla into a performer, somewhat like the South African entrepreneur whose car company has appropriated the name. Maybe we’d be better off if our current tech scions were more like Hawke in the best moments of this film — broke, isolated, and wracked with doubt, unable to realize the world-historical visions in his head.

M.B.

The Presidential Turkey Pardon |

FOWL PLAY

The origins of the November tradition, wherein the President poses for pictures in the Rose Garden with some larded-up bird, sparing it the fate 45 million others meet each year, are disputed. It was George H. W. Bush who first officially announced in 1989 that one “understandably nervous” turkey would not “end up on anyone’s dinner table.” But lore has it that Abe Lincoln absolved a fowl after his son started to cart it around by leash. Later, JFK — greeted with a 55-pounder sporting a sign that read “Good Eating, Mr. President!” — mused he’d “let this one grow;” Kennedy died three days later. The joke of the gesture is its basic arbitrariness. It’s hilarious when world leaders use executive powers to grant mindless gobbling birdbrains privileges few others could expect — like interstate travel during the holidays. An alternative genesis could start in 1987, when Ronald Reagan dodged reporters’ questions about whether he’d exonerate aides accused of wrongdoing in the Iran-Contra scandal (Bush would do it for him). Instead, Reagan pointed to the fat white bird before them and said: “I’ll pardon him.”

T.H.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond |

CHILDREN'S BOOK

Elizabeth George Speare’s 1958 story of Kit, a young girl brought up on a Barbados sugar plantation, and her Connecticut Puritan family was my favorite book when I read it in sixth grade. The descriptions — of hard Connecticut winter and rustling silk dresses — are as captivating as I remember. But a contemporary reader will notice limits to Speare’s representation: Kit is oblivious to the evils of slavery while her cousins are horrified; she is an ardent Royalist at a moment when revolution is being first imagined. I’m not sure if I am recommending this book so much as the process of revisiting an earlier self.

C.J.

David Lynch's Weather Reports |

STREAMING

Los Angeles, 7 a.m. — David Lynch gazes straight into the camera he has set up in his office, which resembles my landlord’s. “Today I feel like Pink Floyd,” he says. “Comfortably numb. One of the saddest songs. Childhood dreams, gone away.” These days, squinting out the window on YouTube keeps Lynch busy, when he’s not building some tiny lamp he saw in a dream. A stack of shoe outsoles was visible in the background of the first video, which got ~320k views but has since disappeared, along with 94 percent of viewers. Their loss. I’ve caught myself cheering on the fog which seems to dye the room blue.

K.D.

Quora |

WEBSITE

So annoying that I have to sign in with my Google account to find out the meaning of life on Quora.com.

B.L.

2020 |

ALBUM

I’d never heard a folk song about an Amazon warehouse employee until this record. 2020, the latest release from the eclectic British folk musician Richard Dawson, captures our current reality in all of its infuriating, depressing banality. Dawson’s mournful voice seesaws between registers as he sings about “voluntary redundancy” and the scarcity of healthcare in post-Blair Britain. He populates his songs with pitiful losers, from the titular narrator of the track “Civil Servant” to a UFO conspiracy vlogger cuckolded by his wife’s pilates classmate. Reviews of Dawson’s work often note that it is tear-inducing. I’ve found this to be true.

S.A.

Borgen |

TV

This show started on Danish TV in 2010 and ran for three seasons. Netflix released all of it into our pandemic bloodstream this September. The fantasy here is just rude — a politician named Birgitte Nyborg works her way into and out of power in a parliamentary democracy, simply by talking and being a fairly competent person! Borgen feels like water for anyone trapped in the desert of American enfeeblement. A smart woman negotiates with people she disagrees with, and aside from some tabloid smears, everyone works more or less in good faith. There are many hot adults and adorable children. Arguments are made and listened to. (Not listening is maybe the gravest sin on this show.) People leave bicycles willy-nilly in the street. The blend of public policy and soap opera makes you believe momentarily that people can do stuff and learn from their mistakes. Not that that happens in real life!

S.F.J.

Fanfiction |

WISHFUL THINKING

It occurs to me, when encountering full-grown adults’ half-formed political “your name here” fantasies (Bernie is my mean stepdad! RBG is my grandmother! Hillary is all women who are undervalued white-collar professionals who are also me!), that not enough people spent their formative years dabbling in the pastime known as fanfiction. Fanfic confers many gifts — a community of similarly besotted internet friends, a burgeoning sense of one’s sexuality, an appreciation for new ways to describe male genitalia in prose — but one of the most valuable is the opportunity to probe the delineations between reality and fiction. Frankly, society would be much healthier if everyone were to work out these fantasies as teens, before juvenile fancy becomes mature delusion. Adults, it’s not too late: there’s still Tumblr and Archive of Our Own and, for the truly young at heart, TikTok point-of-view videos. 

J.G.Z.

The Lying Life of Adults |

ANONYMOUS

“I wanted to expel myself from myself as if I were about to vomit myself” is an actual sentence from this novel. But the prose is, for the most part, great (whether we want to credit Ferrante or her perennial translator Ann Goldstein for this), and Ferrante’s latest take on the loss-of-innocence tale is astute and chilling. As the protagonist Giovanna grows from a girl into a young woman, we get a bleak sense that becoming an adult does not mean getting a clearer view of things so much as exchanging one set of delusions for another. Childish naivete gives way to adult myopias, and Giovanna’s narration — blinkered from the start — becomes unreliable for different reasons. Will we ever know how selfish her father really is, or whether her eccentric aunt Vittoria deserves the label “crazy”? Is the uneven plot — which eventually takes a sharp turn away from Giovanna’s family drama and toward her love life — a fair and formally daring reflection of Giovanna’s shifting priorities?  (Characters and subplots fall off the map, but that’s kind of how life is!) Or is it just clumsiness? We can never know, and it’s unnerving, maybe even structurally bad, but if you like Ferrante more for the psychology than for the craftsmanship, Lying Life is well worth reading. 

E.A.

The Silence |

POSTHUMOUS

We need to consider the possibility that Don DeLillo has died and that this book was put out anyways.

G.C.

The Kennedy Imprisonment |

HISTORY

To commemorate the election of a second Catholic commander-in-chief  and the near-simultaneous fall of the House of Kennedy with Joe III’s loss, I’ve been reading Garry Wills’s gabby volume of sex and questionable psychohistory, published in 1982. To hear Wills — who was socially adjacent to the clan — tell it, the most iconic Irish Catholic family in U.S. history was driven to overperform, overpower, and outsex because their patriarch hated being Irish Catholic (hmmm). Apparently, Joe Kennedy Sr. wanted to be a powerful, liberated “man of the world” but had a bad stomach (meaning no fancy food or liquor) and didn’t like art. So he slept around, cultivating an “English” attitude toward sex, which he passed on to the rest of the poor brood. Sins of the father, yada yada.

B.S.

The Other Total Landscaper |

HORTICULTURE

Philadelphia, whose bell announces “Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof,” has two landscaping companies that claim totalizing effects. The smaller of the two, Total Tree and Landscaping, is downstream the Delaware from its rival. Total has a pretty good website, where it lists services such as astroturf installation and “hardscaping,” something that seems to apply to rocks. A stirring, twenty-image photo album details the process of tree removal, ordered in reverse: piles of wood chips fuse into Tootsie Roll-like segments, and then reassemble into the trunk. Such a process does come across as sublime and all-encompassing; one could liken the montage to a cremation in reverse, passing the body back into the realm of the living and erect. On Yelp, the business’s description reads, chillingly, “TOTAL DOES IT ALL.”  

E.S.B.

Reviews of Dr. Jill Biden on RateMyProfessor.com |

PEDAGOGY

I suppose it’s a feminist victory that none of Dr. Jill Biden’s reviews on RateMyProfessor.com mention her husband, other than oblique references to “all that she has going on.” In the Biden tradition, her scores are middling: 22 students at Delaware Technical Community College rated her, on average, 3.6 out of 5. She ranks higher in the estimation of reviewers at Northern Virginia Community College, where she earns a 3.8. “She is a prof who can improve your writing skills, and she can teach u about the reality of life,” writes one student. Starting in January, the future of humanities in higher ed may rest in the hands of our once Second, future First Lady, who has said that she will not give up her job. A recurring theme in the students’ feedback is that she “really cares” and “has a big heart,” suggesting that, unlike that of our nation, the soul of English 111 is intact thanks to “Dr. B.” 

K.B.

Intercessors for America |

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

Founded in 1973, this organization offers “news Christians need to pray about EVERY DAY.” If you signed up online before the election, you might have downloaded the handy Voter Prayer Guide and other “resources to help you pray strategically,” listened to audio recordings of fellow users’ prayers, or visited the Interactive Prayer Map to see how many people were praying for each polling location at any given time. And the worship didn’t stop last Tuesday. Six days later, the faithful received an “IMPORTANT PRAYER ASSIGNMENT!” Their mission: seek divine intervention in Trump’s legal battle by praying for a list of firms including Jones Day, which has also represented the Bin Laden family and Big Tobacco. “The Lord woke me at 4am to continue praying for the uncovering of fraud and criminal activity,” an intercessor named Silvia writes in a message board post. “He impressed on me that there is a recorded conversation somewhere that when brought to light, arrests would be made throughout the Democratic Party. So I prayed angels would be sent to this or these individuals and the fear of the Lord will cause them to literally tremble.” Have you prayed for Brian Kemp yet? How about Gretchen Whitmer? Click “I PRAYED” and get added to the tally.

R.P.

Amy Klobuchar’s Ex-Boyfriends |

PERSONALS

Much ink was spilled over Amy Klobuchar’s alleged mistreatment of staff: hurling binders at aides, sabotaging their future job prospects, and, after downing a salad with a comb, forcing one guy to clean it as retribution for failing to produce a fork. But nowhere near enough time was spent on the Senator’s deep-pocketed (and potentially D.I.Y.) ex-boyfriends, who––as she told a debate crowd nearly one year ago––contributed some $17,000 to her campaign. To these gentlemen: hello : ) 

T.H.

Rudy Giuliani’s Year (Nov. 2019-Nov. 2020) |

SAGAS

Twelve months ago, Trump’s personal lawyer, and America’s mayor, was preparing for the impeachment. It would later emerge that his associates pressured the President of Ukraine to announce investigations into Burisma and Hunter Biden. Apparently, Trump’s response to those interested in Ukraine was: “You should talk to Rudy.” (“Nobody should be talking to Rudy,” John Bolton once said). In February 2020, Giuliani began hawking cigars when he wasn’t treating his 332k YouTube subscribers to a steady stream of unwatchable, conspiracy-laden videos (some accompanied by cigar commercials). His pièce de resistance was the delivery of the contents of Hunter Biden’s water-damaged MacBook Pro to the New York Post, which managed to arouse a surprising amount of interest, at least among those I know, in Hunter’s schlong. Last week, defending Trump in a parking lot between a sex shop and a crematorium, Giuliani proved that it’s possible to go lower than being tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen into flirting with a fake fifteen-year-old. A year for the record books.

B.B.

Meg Whitman For Commerce Secretary |

APPOINTMENTS

It seemed for a second that Quibi, which took a widely-mocked six-month quick bite of the streaming wars, had been played out, joke-wise. But the Biden-Harris admin will at least stimulate that economy. The president-elect may be mulling the nomination of Republican CEO Meg Whitman, who spoke longer than AOC at the Democratic National Convention and just shuttered a business with $1.75 billion of investment cash, to the cabinet position intended “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce.” Economists predict her plan may give us all, like one Quibi protagonist, “pulmonary gold disease.” 

T.H.

The Debt Ceiling |

BIPARTISANSHIP

Twice in the early 2010s, a Republican Congressional majority successfully bullied Obama and the Democrats into accepting brutal reductions in government spending in exchange for raising the “debt ceiling”—a piece of pro forma legislation that allows the U.S. government to conduct basic borrowing operations. Republican intransigence, in fact, was all that kept Obama and his Congressional liaison Joe Biden from cutting Social Security in 2013. Mitch McConnell will undoubtedly extract pounds of flesh from the sure-to-be pliant centrists in control of the White House in exchange for averting economic cataclysm (reminder: the debt ceiling next expires in July 2021). I am afraid that the media, the lanyards, the Trump-radicalized liberals, and so on have not internalized an important lesson: despite what happened last Tuesday, it can get much, much worse. In fact, it probably will.

N.K.

Strokes reunion concert at the University of New Hampshire, February 10, 2020 |

MUSIC

After knocking doors in the cold outside Newmarket, I drove over to wait in a multi-hour line for one of a few remaining spots behind the equine stables to see AOC and Bernie open for The Strokes. Their latest album, The New Abnormal, which the New York Times claimed “flipped nostalgia toward the future,” wasn’t better than their last, but 2020 had to be an improvement on 2016. So it seemed at the time: someone told us it was the best rally he’d ever attended. Maybe at some point an elderly Sanders will introduce the next President of the United States, possibly an Alexandria, and I’ll think of that concert and feel nostalgic for the future that then seemed possible.

B.B.

Wilco "VOTE" Stickers |

ELECTORALISM

In a desperate attempt to lock down friends my freshman year of college, I paid to go to a Wilco show that was somewhere between three and four hours long. Beside me, some Gen X hipsters who had moved to Maine to start a family hung on Jeff Tweedy’s every word. This year, Wilco — along with Alice Cooper, Jefferson Starship, The Doors, and a slate of other bands closely associated with dad-rock — affixed red, white, and blue “VOTE stickers to their classic albums on streaming services. This gesture of corporate-approved, nonpartisan civic engagement struck me as even more vacuous than the emails from brands urging me to vote. But I’m sure many of those same Maine dads nodded sagely when they opened their apps and saw the sticker on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Democracy in action,” they muttered under their breath, contemplating whether to add the new art to Instagram. Pop back over to The Grateful Dead’s discography, fellas. The VOTE stickers are there too.

C.M.

Dwight Garner’s Reviews of Major Living Authors |

CRITICISM

“This is probably the place to say that, like a lot of readers I know, I’m divided about Robinson’s novels,” he writes, hitting send to his editor as if launching a probe into deep space. He is a critic at the height of his powers, though he would never use the phrase. But the one cliché he cannot avoid reproducing is that the trajectory of the Major Novelist must be parabolic. “The Silence is a minor, oddly frictionless DeLillo novel. In terms of his career, it is not waterfall but spray,” DeLillo is well beyond the apex, now, Mr. Garner says, shutting his laptop, straightening his lapels. At the sliding glass door, he watches the leaves and runs the mantra over in his clinical mind: working from home… working from home…

B.Li.

Mentions | Issue 2 ​

ISAAC ALPERT, THAYER ANDERSON, DAVID ASTROFSKY, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BRAD BOLMAN, BEN HAMILTON, TARPLEY HITT, JOHN KAZIOR, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA,  WILLIAM LENNON, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TREE PALMEDO, JOE PURTELL, FRANCIS RUSSO, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ELISSA SUH, ANNIE TRESSLER, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL

ISAAC ALPERT, THAYER ANDERSON, DAVID ASTROFSKY, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BRAD BOLMAN, BEN HAMILTON, TARPLEY HITT, JOHN KAZIOR, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA,  WILLIAM LENNON, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TREE PALMEDO, JOE PURTELL, FRANCIS RUSSO, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ELISSA SUH, ANNIE TRESSLER, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL

The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase (1997) |

FILM

People from New Mexico rarely let themselves off the hook for making art about New Mexico. Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, partially grew up in Santa Fe, a city dedicated to selling the state to outsiders. This film mixes archival footage with the fictional  story of a woman living near the Trinity Site, where the atomic bomb — the doing of a different Oppenheimer — was? first detonated. She believes her baby to have been immaculately conceived, before deciding it’s the second coming of Lucifer. She kills it in the microwave. Oppenheimer’s work, like Kubrick’s, considers the overwhelming legacy of the genocide of Indigenous people in North America: blood pours out of the microwave as if from the Overlook Hotel elevator.

E. S. B.

“DVD Menu” |

SONG

Anchored by Rob Moose’s gravelly violin, the spacious little instrumental intro to Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher, could easily work as a prestige-TV theme song. But as its title suggests, “DVD Menu”  will also take 20th-century babies back to those pre-Netflix nights where you’d pop in the disc and go make popcorn as a thirty-second snippet of the film’s soundtrack repeats, repeats, and slowly sinks into your nightmares.

T.P.

The Beach Bum |

FILM

Is it possible for a single movie to eliminate every positive feeling you have toward a director? 

B.B.

Reptile Facebook Groups |

LIZARD PEOPLE

A scene where the harshness of the reptilian world — where dinner means live rats, not Purina — clashes absurdly with the infantilized mewling of pet culture. Photos of grass snakes draped on school-aged kids appear alongside screeds against faulty gecko deliveries and the rotting, ulcerated nodules of S.F.D. (Snake Fungal Disease). Some groups are highly specialized. Try Reptile and Amphibian Bioactive Setups for how-tos on low-maintenance enclosures; DIY Terrariums for help with hydro rocks or fake moss bundles; or Rehome your unwanted reptiles here for giving up. But most are social spaces to mingle, gossip, and swap tips on things like “field herping.” Facebook may have gotten older, conservative, and conspiratorial (look no further than South Dakota Reptiles to find QAnon’s trace on the platform’s collective psyche), but the internet’s tendency toward monoculture yields many rabbit holes. Some people just care about Malagasy leaf-nosed snakes. 

T.H.

Reds (1981) |

FILM

“You don’t rewrite my writing!” John Reed says twice in Reds: first to one of his New York editors, Peter Van Wherry; and then, a couple of cinematic hours and several historical years later, to Grigory Zinoviev, one of the seven members of the first Soviet Politburo.Van Wherry is a fictional character, and, played by Gene Hackman, he stands in for any gin-soaked hack the world over — they fuck with your copy because they can. Zinoviev, played by actual writer Jerzy Kosinski, rewrote Reed’s address to revolutionaries in Baku, changing his call for international class war to a call for holy war against the American infidel: don’t go into politics if you don’t want your copy fucked with. (Zinoviev was executed by Stalin in 1936 after the Trial of the Sixteen.) In between these episodes of nonconsensual editing, we witness the love affair of Reed and Louise Bryant — a passion hashed out between Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton across typewriters, where lovers’ quarrels over which line to put in the lede lead straight to the bedroom. It’s safe to say that Hollywood will never produce another epic on the joys and pains of freelancing and leftism quite so lavish. Also featuring Jack Nicholson, as Eugene O’Neill, Reed’s friend who had an affair with Bryant, and apparently never entered a room without asking, “Where’s the whiskey?”

C.L.

Emma Willard’s Maps of Time |

ART

Mesmerizing illustrations of time, if you can get past the fine-with-genocide brand of nationalism woven through Willard’s renderings of American “manifest destiny.” Modern visual timelines — screentime apps, work calendars, and more recently, Covid-19 mortality charts — tend to be suffocating and dimensionless; Willard’s chronologically-constructed rivers, valleys, and temples, give time space to breathe.

J.K.

Natalie Portman’s Master Class |

ACTING!

I learned that shuffling the stuff around on every surface in a room shows people that you’re very upset. 

T.P.

Blue Circle’s Classic Norwegian Roasted Salmon |

FOOD

The fish is impressively sculpted into an almost perfect, believably salmon-colored, rectangular prism. With wild salmon in their final century of existence, one can rest easy knowing that we’ve perfected the industrial salmon product to replace them. A product that briefly swims, eats, lives, and dies so that it can become the ideal pinkish-monolith for Whole Foods shoppers everywhere.

J.K.

Nomadland (2020) |

FILM

As Fern, Hollywood’s foremost no-nonsense thespian Frances McDormand tootles around the West living in her cargo van-slash-home. This feature captures the tension between the evasion of normal life obligations and the pursuit of freedom en plein air, but glosses over political realities — the circumstances behind why McDormand and so many others are working at Amazon on New Year’s Eve, for example. The seasonal hustle rewards these independent contractors with money, flexibility, and time to experience many sherbet sunsets. Major images include five-gallon buckets for bodily functions and McDormand’s fatigue-crinkled visage beneath the moody skyline.

E.S.

#APSTogether |

SOCIAL DISTANCE

Online read-alongs hosted by A Public Space: a brilliant writer holds our hands through 12-15 pages per week. Yiyun Li with War and Peace, Garth Greenwell with A Turn of the Screw, Ed Park with True Grit. If reading in public is “sacral,” “romantic,” and “the private self made public,” as LitHub would have us believe, then close reading in public must be bondage-slash-exhibitionism.

T.A.

The Blacklist |

TV

Imagine the most entertaining Nicolas Cage movie you’ve ever seen stretched over seven seasons (so far) of network television. And instead of Cage it’s James Spader, not so much chewing the scenery as gnashing it to bits with unhinged exuberance. The writers’ flourishes constantly threaten to send things off the rails, but they ultimately stick to soothingly predictable recipes, like the Great British Baking Show reconceived by Dan Brown. Also the soundtrack is really good for some reason.

E.B.

4 3 2 1 (2017) |

NOVEL

What’s better than one Bildungsroman? For Paul Auster, the answer is four. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to grow up Jewish in New Jersey in the decades following WWII, and you’re sick of Philip Roth, then count yourself lucky. Now, you can immerse yourself in that world not once, not twice, but four times in a book the length of four books.

I.A.

Carefree (1938) |

FILM

Fred Astaire is the psychoanalyst we need but don’t deserve. A gloriously uplifting film about subconscious mind control: Ginger Rogers is manipulated by hypnosis, sedation, and, in the end, a punch to the head. Includes the irresistibly senseless musical number “The Yam.”

B.H.

Roasted Watermelon |

FOOD

An attractive vegan YouTuber said roasted-then-smoked watermelon “looks just like meat,” so I tried it out. The result looked vaguely pot roastish, like red meat with a dark glaze. But the illusion only deceived one of the five senses. For the first half of a bite, the desiccated fruit’s rubbery texture was uncannily flesh-like, but each mouthful finished with a slight crunch that can only be grown on a vine. I left the table confused, and determined to no longer cook across Aristotelian categories. All in all, much less tasty than a fresh watermelon. 

J.P.

Desperate Living (1977) |

FILM

There’s something unnervingly topical about watching a character in the throes of a mental breakdown find her calling as the henchman to a dictatorial queen hell-bent on infecting her subjects with rabies. John Waters has always been prophetic. 

I.A.

William Gass’s Hatred |

AFFECT

In an interview with The Paris Review in 1977, William Gass poses the hypothetical question “Why do you write?” and answers: “I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.” Each of his three major novels deals with characters coming to terms with their distaste for the world. In Omensetter’s Luck (1966) a preacher subjects his parish to his suffering, concealing his atheism and daydreaming about how Jesus urinated. In The Tunnel (1995) a Nazi-obsessed professor hates his wife and reflects on being the child of an alcoholic and getting swept up by the energy of Kristallnacht. In Middle C (2013), a music professor specializing in Schoenberg builds an Inhumanity Museum in his attic showcasing newspaper clippings of human atrocities, and perpetually rewrites the sentence: “The fear that the human race might not survive has been replaced by the fear that it will endure.” These are familiar attitudes for Gass. In the afterword to Omensetter’s Luck, he says of the years he spent writing it: “I didn’t much like my life. I didn’t much like my job. I didn’t much like the world.” 

J.W.

Pick Me Up Off the Floor |

MUSIC

Norah Jones’s new album — how do you judge something so tied to the absolute high of your first Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuccino? The new songs are totally 100% just fine. 

B.L.

John Woo’s Unashed Cigarettes |

PROPS

Hong Kong director John Woo, pioneer of the neo-noir action genre Heroic Bloodshed, is a master of the “cool guy” trope. His men ooze indifference, privilege male friendship over the allure of the female lead, tend to go rogue, etc. That decided lack of care contrasts with the hyper-stylized construction of Woo’s scenes. One example: characters rarely ash their cigarettes. Smokers go around with these comically long, curved ashes at the ends of their cigarettes, sometimes almost as extended as the unsmoked cigarette itself. But we never see the ash collapse. It always stays in place, like Tom Cruise’s hair in the Mission Impossible films, the second installment of which Woo would go on to direct. Unfortunately, when I tried this, I got ash all over myself. Not very cool.

W.L.

Town Bloody Hall (1971) |

FILM

About 50 minutes into DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’s documentary about a famed panel discussion on feminism, Germaine Greer tells Diana Trilling: “I adopt the same approach to Freud as you do. I quote him where it suits me and I don’t where it doesn’t.” Norman Mailer is moderating. He doesn’t laugh, which doesn’t matter, since he’s not in on the joke. An audience member is escorted out for not paying the entrance fee; on the way out, she yells: “Women’s Lib is for rich bitches only. Germaine Greer, you’re a traitor! All of you are traitors!” By the time the 85 minutes are up, I have forgotten Norman Mailer exists. 

R.B.

Whose Line Is It Anyway, season 15 |

TV

There should be a special Emmy awarded solely to whomever decided to replace Drew Carey with Aisha Tyler. No longer encumbered by the Brad Shelton of improv comedy, Whose Line… is now an escapist romp of dad jokes, prop humor, and the seemingly limitless talents of Wayne Brady. 

I.A.

How to Behave in a Crowd |

NOVEL

An almost-young adult realizing that most adults, no matter their age, are still young adults. The plot of Camille Bordas’s first English book is plotless in the best of ways: preteen hero, Isidore, loses his father; while his genius siblings escape through endless PhD work, Isidore learns lessons in sex, friendship, and the German language. One of those rare books where the saddest lines are the funniest, and the funniest are the most true . “I had no choice but to be different,” Isidore tells us. “I wasn’t as smart or as good-looking as my brothers and sisters.”

D.A.

The Lobby |

FILM

A character called Old White Male extols the virtues of death over dying while seated in countless lobbies in Heinz Emigholz’s latest feature. Each of these unremarkable and purgatorial spaces is filmed from improbable angles. No other new release will so accurately illustrate pandemic time.

E.S.

Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 - 41 (2020) |

MUSIC

Here is Mozart at the wheel of a Bugatti: Riccardo Minasi and Ensemble Resonanz take us on a near-manic peek-a-boo thrill ride. Maybe a little too zeitgeisty, but with so many surprises, a genuine blast awaits Mozart veterans; for newbies, what an ace welcome.

F.R.

Darling (1965) |

FILM

If you’re a culture enjoyer who manages not to deduce your morals from works of art, come sit by me. Let’s watch Julie Christie wear great skirts in Mod London, flirt with Catholicism, and gulp dumb bitch juice for about two hours, but (not really a spoiler) become a princess in the end anyway. She won Best Actress for this through the opposite of whatever value system got try-hard Natalie Portman the Oscar for Black Swan.

K.V.

Belhaven Scottish Oat Stout |

BEVERAGE

Thick, strong, earthy. Nutritional enough to replace any meal (ideally breakfast). Perfect lockdown drinking.

B.H.

All That Heaven Allows (1955)/ Far From Heaven (2002) |

DOUBLE FEATURE

Some grimace at the word melodrama, and to them I say: begone, heartless trolls. Douglas Sirk made this perfect 1955 film starring Rock Hudson in flannels and Jane Wyman in pretty coats. In 2002, Todd Haynes reimagined the story, this time featuring a blonde(r) Julianne Moore in 1950s Connecticut. For Haynes, as for Sirk, political virtue — a belief in an equitable and fair world for all — is uncorrupted because it’s never something signaled for personal gain; instead, it’s held onto as a source of hope in a world that is otherwise crumbling. It’s nice, once in a while, to spend three hours in the company of people who know how to live. 

R.B.

NatGeo |

TV

If you’re looking for a break from this increasingly burnt Earth, Disney’s recent acquisition offers a lineup of streamable content set on an Earth-like planet sans ecological collapse, depicted in high-saturation colors and populated by erstwhile celebrities like Katie Couric and Joseph Fiennes. A good option if you can’t shell out the 90K for the NatGeo private jet tour.

J.K.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History |

BOOK

There’s something equal parts cathartic and masochistic about lugging a 546-page book about the deadliest pandemic in history around in your tote bag during a modern-day pandemic. John M. Barry’s expansive but gripping story contains familiar details: mass death, government ineptitude, the politicking of science, and pervasive conspiracy theories. But, importantly, it also comes to an end.

A.T.

Lovers Rock (2020) |

FILM

Dance party FOMO abounds in the second episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe trilogy. Essentially just a single shindig recorded for an hour, this concise yet unhurried movie revives the joys of communal singing, an activity found nowhere now but the church. Indeed, the reveler’s sultry rendition of “Silly Games” stripped of instrumentation is a borderline religious experience.

E.S.

Cappuccino (.fm) |

AUDIO

An app that lets users share short audio segments called “beans,” which are collected and delivered as a morning “cappuccino.” Charmingly earnest, free-for-now, and evidence for my theory that podcasts are attractive largely because they repel loneliness. Here, for zero Patreon dollars, I can hear from my actual friends.

B.B.

Mentions | Summer 2020 ​

EMMA ADLER, ISAAC ALPERT, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BEN S. BERNARD, BRAD BOLMAN, NOA DANESH, ANDREW FEDOROV, SCOTT GANNIS, MARELLA GAYLA, BEN HAMILTON, BRIAN E. HARKIN, JANE HU, MATTHEW IRVING STEWART, CAMILLE JACOBSON, GABRIEL JANDALI-APPEL, CLAIRE JARVIS, JAY CASPIAN KANG, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, CRISPIN LONG, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TRISHA LOW, ERIC MACOMBER, KEVIN NGUYEN, TREE PALMEDO, MADISON POLLACK, XAVIER ROTNOFSKY, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ISAAC SCHER, ERIN SOMERS, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL, BRANDON WARDELL, MATTHEW ZEITLIN, TAYLOR ZHANG

EMMA ADLER, ISAAC ALPERT, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, RAFAELA BASSILI, BEN S. BERNARD, BRAD BOLMAN, NOA DANESH, ANDREW FEDOROV, SCOTT GANNIS, MARELLA GAYLA, BEN HAMILTON, BRIAN E. HARKIN, JANE HU, MATTHEW IRVING STEWART, CAMILLE JACOBSON, GABRIEL JANDALI-APPEL, CLAIRE JARVIS, JAY CASPIAN KANG, NOAH KULWIN, BETTY LEMA, CRISPIN LONG, CHRISTIAN LORENTZEN, TRISHA LOW, ERIC MACOMBER, KEVIN NGUYEN, TREE PALMEDO, MADISON POLLACK, XAVIER ROTNOFSKY, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, ISAAC SCHER, ERIN SOMERS, KRITHIKA VARAGUR, JULIAN WADDELL, BRANDON WARDELL, MATTHEW ZEITLIN, TAYLOR ZHANG

Emily Montes |

ALBUM

Here’s what you need to know about rapper Emily Montes. She is five. That’s clear from the jump. “My name is Emily,” she raps in the ethereal opening track, “and I’m five.” Her interests include Roblox and going outside (“I like playing Roblox and I like going outside”). Throughout her work, Roblox is a recurring theme—one song is titled “Roblox Is My Life;” her ad lib is “Roblox!” Where most child stars feel like the product of an overbearing stage mom vicariously living through her spawn, this feels like the experiment of a cool very online older sibling. In “Emily (Corona is Crazy)” she captures the current moment: “This virus is crazy! It’s the end of the world! Boom boom boom! (Roblox!)”

B.W.

Venus in Furs |

FICTION

I read this 1870 novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the namesake of masochism, to see if it still seemed scandalous by today’s standards. Only two parts do. One, when the dominatrix Wanda yokes our poor narrator Severin to a plough and has her servants drive him around a field. Two, when Severin signs a contract with Wanda granting her permission to kill him if she wants. Impressive to get that in writing. Otherwise, it’s mostly whipping. For a more condensed version, stick to the Velvet Underground song.

E.S.

Scooby-Doo |

FILM

When the live-action Scooby-Doo first lit up screens, America was reeling from 9/11 and the Bush administration was prepping for the invasion of Iraq. But kids like me were more concerned with Fred’s shark tooth necklace and the gluttonous CGI dog in a tropical paradise. It left the impression of a country on perpetual spring break rather than at perpetual war. But the two aren’t entirely inconsistent. Spring break is about getting out of control, wrecking shit, and ignoring the consequences. Scooby Doo captured that: Monsters live on party island.

A.F.

History Photographed |

INSTAGRAM

Childhood photos of Elon Musk (~39K likes); Brooklyn Supreme, “one of the biggest horses in history” (~109K likes); smartly dressed children in the 1940s (~69K likes). The comments section is surprisingly tame. It’s the Uniqlo of the meme account universe (i.e., perfect). Fingers crossed that whoever’s running the account skips selling t-shirts and leverages all those millions of followers for a normcore dating app. 

B.L.

Robert Christgau |

CRITIC

Seventy-eight years old and still doing his thing—that thing being holding onto the title of Lil Wayne’s oldest fan. His favorite albums of the 2010s include one by Billie Eilish (at #4) and three by Wussy. Still better than any pop critic under forty.

B.H.

The Lost Writings |

EPHEMERA

Kafka’s final wish that his remaining work be “burned completely, without reading” has long been ignored. In this collection, New Directions seems almost to take the edict as a personal challenge. Here, we’re promised “every single page, even small notebooks filled with pencil scribblings”—the writer “in his entirety” in English for the first time. But is it really the fragments, false starts, and grocery lists that make up an “entire” person? The world may always want more Kafka, but I’m not sure there is more Kafka to be had.

N.D.

Whole New Mess |

MUSIC

Before undertaking her sprawling, elaborately produced 2019 breakup album, All Mirrors, Angel Olsen travelled from her home in Asheville, North Carolina to a church-turned-studio in Anacortes, Washington and recorded sparer versions of the songs, working only with her voice and a guitar. Almost a year later, she has pulled back the curtain, releasing the recordings as Whole New Mess. To call it a rough draft would do it a disservice—it is its own thing, craggy and quietly tortured. Not every record needs to be an opus.

Cr.L.

MyMechanics |

DIY

No technical skill is required to appreciate this YouTube channel; tool restoration draws upon universal anxieties and desires. How much junk is in the garages of American homes? By how many decades will our appliances outlive us? We live in a world of trash, but MyMechanics pursues an alternative vision. Why buy a brand-new arbor press when you can get a rusty one for $30? Pure technical precision plus ASMR audio: he shows you how he makes new screws.

J.W.

The Concert in Central Park |

MUSIC

As far as live albums are concerned, bagginess is par for the course. In Simon & Garfunkel’s first live recording from 1982, the fey troubadours of ’60s folk-pop lean into the ramble. It’s a loose and heady jaunt through their hits, interspersed with languorous asides. (You probably haven’t heard their Tom and Jerry story, for one thing.) It’s nice to hear a large group of people laugh again.

C.J.

The National Hurricane Center's Tropical Weather Discussions |

CLIMATE

Stern weather reports from full-time forecasters. Anonymous pros with usernames like “Forecaster Latto” or “Specialist Roberts” divine our maritime future in Courier New font, predicting the unpredictable with snarky prognostications of the most violent storms on earth. Less a discussion, more a dictatorship of the weather posters. Blogging may have died at the hands of private equity and dubious sex tape lawsuits, but the written word lives on thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s professional meteorologists.

S.G.

Marginal Revolution comments section |

ECONOMICS

On David Brooks’s favorite free-market blog, libertarianism so pure and strong it’ll bleach your hair: “Voluntary exchange,” one user writes, “is actually what keeps us out of caves and is the reason many of us lived past the age of five.”

N.K.

Empire of Passion |

FILM

No one feels good masturbating after watching a Nagisa Ōshima production. Empire of Passion is a testament to the director’s consistency in that regard. Loosely falling into the category of folk horror, this period piece finally answers the eternal question: “What is an appropriate punishment for extramarital sploshing?”

I.A.

The 2020 U.S. Open |

TENNIS

What, I wonder, will be remembered about this year’s tournament, somewhat buried in the onslaught of recent news? The empty stadium filled, not with fans, but with corporate-approved messages (banners read, “THANK YOU FRONT LINE WORKERS” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER”)? Or NoVaxx DjoCOVID, the nickname for known anti-vaxxer Novak Djokovic, who flouted lockdown and contracted COVID-19, only to play a tournament that never should have happened? Or when he smacked a ball into the throat of a line judge–who was later doxxed by Serbian media–disqualifying himself and leaving the tournament without a single Grand Slam winner? Perhaps we’ll look back on it as a changing of the guard, even though it took several acts of God for the titans to give the new kids a turn. For what it’s worth, I’m confident that Roger Federer will be leaving on his own terms (not God’s).

G.J.A.

The Old Curiosity Shop |

NOVEL

A frightening and grotesque Dickens novel, adulterated with the usual pummelling sentimentality. Daniel Quilp is the filthiest character in English literature, and Dick Swiveller is an idol for slackers and shirkers everywhere.

B.H.

All-Dressed Ruffles |

SNACK

The perfect chip—made in Canada, but sometimes found repackaged in the United States. The name is meant to be descriptive: the potato chip’s version of the “everything” flavor, but it tastes more specifically like a cross between salt-and-vinegar and honey-BBQ sauce. Salt, fat, acid, and a tiny bit of sweet.

J.H.

How to Humiliate Your Peeping Tom |

ARTIST'S BOOK

Crude in both content and form, but the coarseness only adds to this handwritten fold-out book’s strange, cantankerous charm. Uneven cutouts and unexpected inserts like “Car-Lag: Six Days of Pain in the Car” abound. Susan Baker, who was at RISD in the sixties, at once embraces and parodies that decade’s counterculture, surveying the sticky territory between free love and perversity, drug-induced enlightenment and sloth, activist fervor and sanctimony. Nowadays, she maintains the Susan Baker Memorial Museum (pre-mortem).

T.Z.

Longmont Potion Castle |

LANDLINES

Many people I like also like Longmont Potion Castle—the middle-aged, Colorado-based prank call artist who has released albums of his work since the 1980s. When my sharpest friend recently told me that she didn’t find him funny, I second-guessed myself and relistened to his calls. LPC occasionally punches up; he once kept Alex Trebek on the line for seven minutes, insisting he had a massive delivery of sod “from Siam” for the host. (Work never stops for Alex: “I didn’t order anything from Siam, and Siam is no longer in existence.”) Locals are the more common victims, trapped by his absurdist requests and stoner lilt. As he distorted his voice and adopted aliases like “Cokie Blaylock,” “Dr. Gordon Hucker,” and “Trinidad, from UPS,” I laughed out loud in the privacy of my “home office,” and then continued emoji-reacting to messages on Slack. 

E.S.B.

The Untamed (陈情令) |

TV

In this Chinese serial melodrama, two exceptionally beautiful men journey to quell demons, cultivate souls, navigate familial politics—and shoot each other longing glances along the way. Turns out the answer to government censorship of queer relationships is just to make everyone else a lot gayer.

T.L.

Fools Rush In |

FILM

Maybe the only romantic comedy to ask the question: Is Las Vegas the compromise between Aguascalientes and New York City? Whatever the answer, the Hoover Dam gets a lot of screen time.

B.E.H.

Kentucky Route Zero |

VIDEO GAME

The premise is simple: you’re Conway, a downcast driver making a final delivery for a failing antique store. Complications include a giant falcon and his human brother, a museum of foreclosed homes, a pair of vaporwave robots, a distillery manned by glowing skeletons, and, centrally, a rhizomatic ghost highway winding through the cave systems of Kentucky. KR0 uses simple economics to subvert the traditionally libertarian ideology of gaming. There’s no becoming the best since there’s nothing to beat. You’re in debt and you’re on the clock. Choices stop being choices; maybe they never were to begin with.

M.I.S.

The Communist |

NOVEL

Walter Ferranini, an earnest postwar Italian Communist politician, is disaffected with his party, his lover, and his ideals. “I’m a modest activist with a dilettante theorist inside,” he says, reflecting my own looping inner monologue. A few months ago, Guido Morselli’s novel read like a mild warning about a wave of less-than-inspired socialist politicians who might have followed a Sanders presidency. Now, it’s a bittersweet dispatch from another world.

B.B

What’s Good at Trader Joe’s |

BLOG

Detailed commentary on hundreds of Trader Joe’s items spanning a decade of new releases and seasonal drops. These are faithfully logged in a late-aughts-style blog interface, seemingly for no one in particular. Each entry is rated on a scale of one to ten “Golden Spoons” and grouped in categories from “Blahhh” to “Pantheon Level – The Best of the Best.” I hope they are making some money off of this thing.

B.L.

Bitter Wheat |

THEATER

A 2019 David Mamet production that may never be seen anywhere again. John Malkovich played Harvey Weinstein-inspired lech Barney Fein in this abrasive sexual harassment farce. Previews in London’s West End received praise from audiences before a barrage of one-star and no-star reviews steamrolled any hopes of an extended run or a New York transfer. Clumsily directed by Mamet (no one else would touch it), but sharp and funny enough to justify its place among his more palatable anti-Hollywood polemics. The text has not been published, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

B.H.

"Shark Lords" |

TV

The standout segment of the FX’s Cake series presents a mismatched team of Australians—two “Extreme Sports enthusiasts,” a PhD with dementia, an intern, and an unwitting deckhand—travelling the seas to “dominate sharks.” The joke is bestiality. 

J.A.

Benelet Sprinkler Pool for Kids |

WATER SPORTS

The kiddie pool has been around for about eighty years. Apparently there was some craze back then and a whole bunch of inflatable things got invented all at once. Since then, most of the improvements have been cosmetic and absurd. You can get a kiddie pool with six-foot dinosaurs or one with built-in beer koozies. But the general concept––a plastic inflatable pool filled with disgusting water for disgusting children––has not changed much. This year, during a heat wave in California, I bought a splash pad, which is just a very shallow kiddie pool that looks like a pizza with little jets of water springing out the crust. There’s just enough circulation to not have to worry about sitting in filth. I’ve found it to be a marked improvement on the original, but I understand why people feel nostalgic about these sorts of things and I will not judge them for it.

J.C.K.

Nine Eyes |

PANOPTICON

I get the feeling that it’s not uncommon to know someone who once mooned a Google Street View car. The medium is now nostalgic; being surveilled by something as conspicuous as a spherical camera on top of a hatchback seems almost quaint. Jon Rafman’s collection of Street View screenshots, which he has updated during quarantine, recalls the retro pleasures of people-watching, traveling, and hiding from—or showing ass to—multinational tech companies. Even the sinister images (an emaciated cow dragging itself across a road, a woman dry-heaving on all fours near a curb) are much better to look at than, say, virtual museum tours. 

E.S.B.

CruiseShipMingle.com |

CRUISING

Where lust and apparent luxury collide, coronavirus be damned. “The truth is,” the About page reads, “different cruise goer go on cruise for different reasons.” But many of these reasons are similar: “Interested in meeting other horny males,” says FuckStud before his ride on the Celebrity Summit. A hetero couple seeks anything but “male on male shit.” Luv2meet of “Cumswell,” San Marino writes: “live…laugh…lust :).” The pandemic must loom over some of the 2,367 minglers, but most don’t mention it in their bios. A perverse and distinctly American necessity, where the melancholic want “love, care and affection” and the randy are “dying to fuck on the High seas.”

I.S.

“America” |

MUSIC

The lead single from Sufjan Stevens’s first solo album in five years trades the fragile guitars of 2015’s Carrie and Lowell for thundering electronic drums and ten minutes of ambient techno. It’s his most politically charged work yet, but the message is muddled. “Don’t do to me what you did to America,” Sufjan pleads. Is he speaking to me? To God? To a fiscally conservative love interest? I’m at a loss, but the outro sure does slap. 

T.P.

Democracy |

NOVEL

Joan Didion’s essential conservatism, here tinged with a postcolonial nostalgia, animates this novel otherwise populated by lovers rhapsodizing on the beauty of nuclear tests and an unnamed character referred to nearly a dozen times as “the Tamil doctor.” Now a Senator’s wife in Hawaii, protagonist Inez used to work alongside a character named Joan Didion at Vogue in the 1960s. The book’s settings (Saigon, Jakarta, Da Nang, et cetera) are interchangeable; these characters manage to find chicken salad and chintz chairs in 100 percent humidity. To understand Inez, imagine if an inscrutable social x-ray took to heart the real Joan Didion’s famous and slightly cryptic essay “On Self-Respect,” in which giving “formal dinners in the rainforest” is posited as a chief example of respecting oneself. Still, I was primed to enjoy a novel filled with weak, icy drinks, talk of “the American exemption,” Garuda flights, and halfhearted tennis. And I did.

K.V.

The Six Times Future Raps “Nobu” on Jumpman |

DICTION

John McPhee once wrote that you only need a few words (“such as corn shocks, pheasant, and an early frost”) to bring a scene to life. Future accomplishes this with one (“Nobu”).

T.Z.

Yewande Komolafe’s Asaro |

RECIPE

A bright, spicy, and—most important—unfussy stew of plantains and yams. (Just buy a thing of fried shallots, to maximize unfussiness.) I’ve made this probably four or five times this summer, and will likely make it four or five times more.

K.N.

Soccer Mommy on Club Penguin |

LIVESTREAM

The first time Soccer Mommy endeavored to hold a virtual concert on Club Penguin Rewritten, the fan-made Club Penguin copycat site, the servers overloaded, and the show did not go on. The event was later rescheduled, and this time, the music prevailed. Animated penguins lobbed snowballs at each other while a purple, pigtailed avatar for Sophie Allison wobbled around, offering something sorely missed in quarantine: communal transcendence through live performance. My computer crashed twenty-seven minutes in.

M.P.

Jackbox Games |

"SOCIAL"

Firmly in the category of thing you’re not sure you’ll continue to use “after all this is over,” these digital answer-the-prompt games employ a cheesy interface and are emceed by obnoxious, disembodied voices (see Quiplash’s “Schmitty”). Hours of extended family fun. May trigger anxiety.

E.A.

Cool for America |

STORIES

Many have complained that Andrew Martin’s characters are mostly well-educated and self-aware, with a real ironic streak. What is mentioned less often is how awful they are when they drink.

N.K.

Inside the NBA |

TV

On August 26, Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s flagship basketball show in solidarity with the players’ strike. A new tenor for the broadcast on which Smith’s co-host Charles Barkley once dunked his head in a tank of water to try to break David Blaine’s breath-holding record—and more courageous than anything the political commentators or late-night comedians have been able to muster. 

E.B.

The Price of Peace |

BOOK

Portrait of the economist as a cool guy. Zachary Carter’s Keynes is an uncompromising aesthete whose economic theorizing is a means of securing the high life—art, sex, champagne—against the threats of revolutionary upheaval, international instability, and domestic reaction. The narrative ends almost seven decades after Keynes’s death, having traced the decline of Keynesianism from a theory of economy and society to a set of mathematized tools for dealing with economic downturns by way of deficit spending. Written before the coronavirus turned Steven Mnuchin into the candyman, the book introduces a Keynes who seems likely to remain ever-present but faintly heard. 

M.Z.

The Octonauts |

TV

The only program my two small children watch: a British adventure cartoon about sentient animals who rescue at-risk sea creatures. The characterization borrows widely from British television culture—there are odd American accents (the lime green Engineer bunny is supposed to be from Florida, but she has a soft Texan accent) and pantomime camp (Kwazii Kitten is a Kentish rascal pirate with a flair for ghost stories). I have many questions: Is the show’s key intertext Heart of Darkness or Are You Being Served? Where did the Vegimals learn to bake? Why is the polar bear, Captain Barnacles, so small? But I’m grateful for children’s programming that isn’t entirely migraine-inducing.

C.J.

Bialetti Moka Pot |

APPLIANCE

In the world of coffee brewing, the ritual matters almost as much as the grounds. There is something about this coffee maker’s four-step process that calls attention to itself. Once in position, it invites you to assume your own: in front of it, at attention. Left too long on the stove, the coffee will burn. But under careful watch, it comes out exceptionally black, thick, foamy, scorching hot. This pot needs you as much as you need it. 

R.B.

Covid-Era UFC |

SPORT

The absence of crowd noise gives the Ultimate Fighting Challenge the welcome impression of unlicensed brawling, lending greater emphasis to the labored breathing and extra-meaty thumps and thwacks. Fighters can now hear the commentary of television announcers in real time and adjust their tactics accordingly. The whole thing’s reminiscent of prompt-based performance art in a sparsely populated theater.

B.H.

Watching Relic (2020) at a Drive-in |

VROOM WITH A VIEW

Traffic was all backed up, so I only caught the last twenty minutes. I was also parked way in the back and couldn’t see much anyway. A guy in the car next to me peed in a soda cup, and The Goonies was playing at the other end of the parking lot. I liked watching that instead. From what I gathered, Relic is about haunted Australians.

X.R.

“Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom” |

ORATORY

“America is special. America is good. America does good all around the world,” Mike Pompeo said in Philadelphia on July 16, coining an apt mantra for tyro diplomats. The seating arrangement of the Commission on Unalienable Rights looked like a Giacometti sculpture that day, according to the Commissioner on Unalienable Rights. 

K.V.

Big Friendship |

NON-FICTION

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman’s ten-year friendship, described alternately in a therapist’s third-person (“Aminatou could have been upset that Ann decided to move away. But Aminatou wholeheartedly supported the move…”) and an all-knowing “us.” Flattening the authors’ voices into an even consensus gives the book the tenor of a PR statement, which, to some degree, it is: Sow and Friedman, who co-host the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend,” are a duo in their professional lives, and the book attends to the pains and resentments that have lingered beneath the surface. Hillary Clinton called their story “universal.”           

M.G.

Intimations |

ESSAYS

Zadie Smith’s instant volume of quality quar lit begins with an apology (for not being definitive; for existing at all and so soon) and ends with an autobiography (an itemization of all the ways the author counts herself lucky—“my physical and moral cowardice have never really been tested, until now”). In between she ponders some big things—(in ascending order of interest if not philosophical penetration) the president, the compulsion to write, privilege, racism, suffering, death—and glances back at a few characters she saw in the Village before withdrawing a big wad of cash from the ATM and leaving town with her family. Heavy lies the crown on the primo interpreter of the now, ever aware of the limits of her range of vision. One night on Zoom her mother tells her of a neighbor who killed his girlfriend and burned their flat down. It could always get worse.

C.L.

Floodfactor.com |

APOCALYPSE

The most accurate models of how badly climate change is going to wreck American floodplains have all been private—secret projections used by asset managers like BlackRock. Until now! This new scientific model makes for much more effective doomscrolling than anything on Twitter lately.

N.K.

HBO Max |

STREAMING

Makes my shortlist for top three HBO video apps.

B.L.

folklore |

MUSIC

It’s nice to no longer pretend, as I remember doing in 2008, that I dislike Taylor Swift’s music.

B.B.

Too Much and Never Enough |

TELL-ALL

Unreliable narrator Mary Trump guides us through a mucky overgrowth of familial grudges. Mary’s poor alcoholic father—mistreated, disinherited, martyred! Eric and Lara, so unresponsive to Mary’s supposed good-faith attempts at reconnecting! Ground-breaking insights into the modern presidency? “The White House was elegant, grand, and stately.”

B.S.B.

12-to-18-Month-Old Mountain Lion |

WILDLIFE

First spotted in Russian Hill, then near the Embarcadero, looking at itself in mirrored office windows. The lion had wandered into the city after being separated from its mother; for a few days, its territory was all of San Francisco. The news reports on the short, strange journey read like a modern-day fable. Police detained the young male without injury—surprising some—and released it in the wild the same afternoon. Two weeks later, its body was found on Highway 1.

E.M.

Canceling Quibi |

QUICK BITE

This recommendation doubles as a reminder: If you downloaded Quibi around the time it launched, your three-month free trial is probably expiring soon, if it hasn’t already. There are many benefits to canceling your subscription; among them the opportunity to reflect on the passage of time. How much has the world changed since you downloaded the ill-fated streaming app? How is it that the videos, at seven to ten minutes, seem both too long and too short?

M.G.

Mentions | Issue 1 ​

EMMA ADLER, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, KIARA BARROW, OWEN BATES, TARPLEY HITT, GIDEON NACHMAN, RYAN MACLENNAN, TREE PALMEDO, REBECCA PANOVKA, JASMINE PECK OPIE, MOLLY ROBERTS, BAILEY TRELA, COLTON VALENTINE, REBECCA ZHU

EMMA ADLER, JULIANNE ARNOLD, ERIK BAKER, KIARA BARROW, OWEN BATES, TARPLEY HITT, GIDEON NACHMAN, RYAN MACLENNAN, TREE PALMEDO, REBECCA PANOVKA, JASMINE PECK OPIE, MOLLY ROBERTS, BAILEY TRELA, COLTON VALENTINE, REBECCA ZHU

Capricious Summer |

FILM

A trio of very Czech-looking men debate the meaning of life as they swim in a river. The images are sepia-toned and gauzy, and the light plot has the charm of a fable, proceeding in a serial fashion: each of the male protagonists, a priest, a colonel, and a bathhouse-keeper, has a shot at wooing the young blonde assistant of a travelling magician—and yet, as in a fairy tale, some mysterious force frustrates their amours. The magician’s high-wire act is one of the loveliest cinematic reveries you’ll ever see. It’s completely relaxing, precisely because, like the best of summers, it never claims to mean anything.

B.T.

Bratfree |

WEIRD

The FAQ of Bratfree, an online refuge for vehement anti-natalists, has a long list of hypothetical “snappy comebacks” to skeptics. Example: “But children are our future!” Comeback: “Death is our future.” It includes a lexical guide to words like MOO (“mindless, bovine mother”), and a warning to outsiders: “We do not seek any parent posters head pats…We will not be test subjects or lab rats…to meet big media’s pro family agenda.” The forums are hotbeds of imagined arguments, at times so nasty the members seem to be working something else out entirely.

T.H.

The H.R. Haldeman Super 8 Film Collection |

ARCHIVES

Shot beautifully by Nixon’s Chief of Staff, who was clearly much better at cinematography than obstructing justice, these tapes (not those tapes) offer the allure of intimacy. Come into the inner circle, they say, if you can bear to be implicated. Whispered jokes with Henry Kissinger. A cabinet member attempting to pet a deer that clearly does not want to be pet. The private nervousness before a televised call to the moon. The official broadcasts have plenty to offer—Merle Haggard serenading Pat the day after her birthday, for example, and reminding everyone that “leather boots are still in style for manly footwear.” But only in Haldeman’s home videos can you watch, from high in the stands of a Soviet circus, bears ride motorcycles and know that sitting beside you is Richard Milhous Nixon.

R.M.

Dinners and Diners–Where and How to Dine in London |

BOOK

“Next to eating good dinners, a healthy [wo]man with a benevolent turn of mind must like, I think to read about them,” wrote William Thackeray. Satisfy your cravings for maskless restaurants—or, failing that, restaurant reviews—with this riotous 1899 collection from Britain’s first professional restaurant critic, Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Chortle as the epicure struggles with dish-pushing waiters, tactless champagne guzzlers, and patriots who refuse to eat “à la’s.” 

C.V.

Air Mail |

FLUFF

For some reason, the coronavirus era is a boom time for Air Mail, with new missives appearing almost daily. Graydon, as much as I appreciate the urgent updates on the Chateau Marmont, “controversial rosé,” and “a very rare purebred bison,” stop reminding me that I shell out $15 quarterly to get a newsletter written by your friends and Cazzie David.

K.B.

Duet for Cannibals (Susan Sontag) |

FILM

The exiled revolutionary Bauer begins to retch and stumbles from the dinner table. While he continues off-camera, Bauer’s wife Francesca urges his new secretary Tomas to eat. Bauer’s plate is replaced; he returns, fills it vigorously, and eats loudly, with gusto. Could his indigestion arise from politics? Saying so would be dangerously close to interpretation. 

J.P.O.

Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman |

NOVEL

Released way back in 1926, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel follows the eponymous spinster as she moves to the countryside and decides pretty casually to become a witch. You could call it a feminist classic, even though the latent suggestion is that a woman who doesn’t want to marry basically has two options (spinster or witch). But the book’s message is really more complicated than that. Even after her conversion, Lolly’s uncomfortable with the associations of her new role, finding peace only when she comes to terms with the “satisfied but profoundly indifferent ownership” of the devil. Heterosexuality, in a nutshell.

B.T.

YouTube Premium |

WEB

For $12/month, YouTube Premium gives you the YouTube experience of your youth (no ads). Chill out and fall down the hole without interference. See where the algorithm takes you—Japanese citypop, Zizek, the secrets of the Scottish Rite. What else can I say, I think it’s worth it not to see ads on YouTube.

O.B.

The Sea, the Sea (Iris Murdoch) |

NOVEL

If you’re trying to live out a culinary fantasy in which you have to survive off of canned foods—creativity thrives on constraint!—try out some of the gourmand narrator’s recipes. Wine for lunch, accompanied by such delicacies as anchovy paste, prunes, frozen kipper fillets, lentils, fried tinned new potatoes, and the baffling “eggs poached in scrambled eggs.” 

R.P.

Harvard’s Report on Jeffrey Epstein |

BAD

Much like a David Foster Wallace novel, it’s all about the footnotes, baby. That’s where we get such salient details as: “A number of the Harvard faculty members we interviewed also acknowledged that they visited Epstein at his homes in New York, Florida, New Mexico or the Virgin Islands, visited him in jail or on work release, or traveled on one of his planes. Faculty members told us that they undertook these off-campus activities primarily in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of Harvard.” Help, I can’t stop talking about this.

K.B.

Dark |

TV

The Black Forest atmospherics and occultish symbolism in this German time-travel show are worth the price of admission alone (thank whoever gave you their Netflix password). But the real MVP is casting director Simone Baer, who conjures up seemingly endless sets of variously-aged German actors that look exactly like one another.

E.B.

The Atlantic's Paywall |

MAG

I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay good money to scoff at David Frum.

B.T.

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson) |

FILM

The perfect quarantine flick: cultural decadence, a web of contact among strangers and acquaintances, meditations on the radical contingency of human existence, plus an Exodus-worthy plague. In sad news, the real-life analog to William H. Macy’s “quiz kid” died last month, likely of Covid-19.

R.P.

The Etymology of Virus Names |

WORDS

I recently found an infographic on Reddit outlining the etymologies of infectious diseases. It includes the coronavirus—named for its spikes which “resemble the sun’s corona.” But it also glosses ailments like mumps (from an archaic word meaning “grimace”), and herpes (from the Ancient Greek herpein, meaning “creep.”) The illustrations of the various pathogens are tiny and alien-looking, like toxic plants from a video game. But the language is sillier and more emotional; more human. Rabies traces to Latin’s arbere, related to the word “rage.” Hantavirus came from the Hantan River, which translates to “lament.” Papilloma, the “P” in HPV, evolved from the Latin papilla, or “nipple.” 

T.H.

Villette |

NOVEL

When Woolf called this Bronte’s best novel, she was simply giving credit where credit is due. Bronte finds words that let her heroine—an obvious proxy for herself—describe mental illness before there was any official vocabulary for it. Still, this is a Victorian Novel, with enough gothic up-nods, father-figure/lovers, and damned good plotting to satisfy the most ardent PBS viewer. Jane who?

E.A.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool |

FILM

Vaguely conscious of the duty-shirking inherent in making a movie whose sole thrust is proving how cool its subject was, the filmmakers go ahead and do it anyway. Apparently coolness just means being a bit of an asshole.

B.T.

The Glass Hotel (Emily St. John Mandel) |

NOVEL

This book is about global crisis, addiction, ghosts and a maybe somewhat better-looking Bernie Madoff. But as much as it’s about the lives of its characters, it’s also about their “counterlives,” or the could-have-beens that are always lurking beneath what actually is. It’s a strange novel to read at a time when typical everyday existence has turned into a sort of counterlife of its own—when what’s hypothetical now is what was normal once. The lines between the could-have-been and the actually-is look blurrier than ever; everything is counter to something else and this reality just happens to be where we’re living.

M.R.

Sunflower |

MUSIC

While it’s a far cry from the sunshine ditties of the The Beach Boys’ teenage heyday or the psychedelic white-man melancholia of the Pet Sounds/Smile era, a case can be made that this oft-overlooked 1970 masterwork is, in fact, the finest thing the Beach Boys ever produced. With primary songwriter Brian Wilson battling hallucinations and drug addiction, the rest of the Boys pitched in equally to the creative process for the first time, making Sunflower an especially varied collection of luscious art-pop. Pay special attention to the proto-indie rock jangle of “All I Wanna Do,” the edgy cop-show rocker “It’s About Time,” and the tender ballad “Forever,” a rare vocal showcase for drummer (and friend of Charles Manson) Dennis Wilson.

T.P.

The Six Accounts Bill Maher Follows |

SOCIAL MEDIA

One thing about Bill Maher, the late night pundit obsessed with saying the N-word, is that while 560,000 accounts follow him on Instagram, he only follows six. Those accounts are: Isabelle Mathers, an Australian model; CJ Franco, an American model; Svetlana Bilyalova, a Russian model; Alexis Ren, an exercise model; Emily Ratajkowski, the model who got famous for having big naturals in the Blurred Lines music video; and Jardín, a “Premium Cannabis Dispensary” in Las Vegas. Some might mock the horny aspirations of a 64-year-old fellow who looks like Jeff Bridges’ wax figure melted. But the man knows what he likes and it’s five models and one regional weed store. “To a coward,” a wise Maher once said, “courage always looks like stupidity.” 

T.H.

Verified Strangers, a serialized novel by Lena Dunham in Vogue |

NOVEL?

Pleased to see that Dunham is still thriving, i.e. writing about a thinly veiled version of herself. In twenty chapters, published twice a week on Vogue.com, Ally struggles through bad dates (“Could lips sweat? His sure felt like they could”) that bring to mind rosy memories of her last long-term relationship (“furious arguments about Dr Seuss’s intentions as an artist and makeup sex about that”). Who says the novel is dead?

K.B.

Travelin' Thru, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 |

MUSIC

Most people agree Dylan’s late-sixties/early-seventies flirtation with country crooning was a bad idea, so it’s nice to have worse versions of some of the songs you’re already pretty ambivalent about. There are interesting discoveries, to be sure; “Lay, Lady, Lay” without its quivering steel guitar turns out to be a lonelier lay entirely, sadder than the spoony string of requests you’re used to, and Dylan’s version of Cash’s “Wanted Man” feels beautifully old-fashioned, a callback to the stripped-down folksiness of his earliest demo tapes. But then Dylan hits you with his bluesy, slued “Ring of Fire” and you realize that, even if ceaseless reinterpretation is central to the folk tradition, some reimaginings are always going to be a bad idea.

B.T.

The new printer I ordered to print health insurance claims from home |

STUFF

I don’t have any complaints except that it crinkles envelopes a little bit.

O.B.

The Lover |

NOVEL

Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical novel, set in colonial Saigon. By night, a white schoolgirl slips out of her dorm to her wealthy adult lover; by day, he feeds her family, and she ignores him because he is Chinese. Questions of race, class, consent, and empire fall away in the face of the narrator’s insistence on her own power and pleasure. Duras’ heady, ornate prose enchant the reader away from starker language that she might not have had: rape, coercion, pedophilia.  

J.P.O.

Covid-era advertising |

EVERYWHERE

Escapism is dead.

K.B.

Soft Power |

THEATER

David Henry Hwang’s fall production at The Public rehashes the 2016 U.S. Presidential election from the perspective of a theater producer in Shanghai. There’s singing and dancing and Trump-bashing by white and Asian people (no Black characters, conveniently). Hillary Clinton is the hero. In the emotional climax, she sings a bluesy show-stopper about her unerring belief in democracy. The message: Dems, get out there and vote harder this year! A neolib fairytale. It was a Pulitzer finalist.

G.N.Y.H.

Correspondence |

MUSIC

In this epistolary album, less Abelard and Heloise and more Poor Folk, Swedish cult-hero Jens Lekman transitions from singing about women to singing with them. The results are mixed. As they take turns sending songs back and forth, Lekman and Annika Norlin tackle some contemporary political situations with grace and sensitivity (“Not Because It’s Easy, but Because It’s Hard”; “Revenge of the Nerds”) and others with mawkishness (“Who Really Needs Who”; “Cosmetic Store”.) “2018 seemed like a good year to do [this],” Norlin said of her album. “Will Trump blow something up? Will a comet hit the earth? Will either of us go on a fun cruise?” No big questions are answered, but the protagonists do scroll through Facebook, send holiday cards, and shower in public.

G.N.

Normal People (Sally Rooney) |

TV+NOVEL

Revenge fantasy for awkward girls spurned by popular boys in high school, with an embarrassingly thin intellectual veneer: conversation topics include de-platforming and collegiate bullshitters who haven’t done the reading. All the reviews talk about sex.

R.P.

The Jargon File |

WEB

The funniest part of the Jargon File, a list of hacker slang that zipped around computer communities from the fifties until 1983, when it was published as The Hacker’s Dictionary, is its insistence on a distinction that few remember or recognize anymore. The word “hackers,” the file maintained, referred only to consummate programmers. “Intelligent. Scruffy. Intense. Abstracted,” their description reads. “Surprisingly for a sedentary profession, more hackers run to skinny than fat…Tans are rare.” These stand-up guys had been defamed by “sensationalist journalism,” which had confused them with criminal coders in the mold of Kevins Mitnick or Poulsen, who didn’t share hackers’ “strong revulsion against theft and vandalism.” They called these guys “crackers.” 

T.H.

Daiya vegan cheddar style cheese shreds |

FOOD

These rubbery, bright yellow slivers of tapioca don’t come close to tasting like real cheese. What they do resemble is that golden, ungodly but somehow also heavenly liquid that they pour on corn chips at the movie theater to create “nachos.” Add a few—but only a few!—on top of your Impossible Foods® vegan taco crumble taco; definitely don’t use on a sandwich. But maybe melt them on a Beyond Burger®? If you’re more of a strict three-meals-a-day vegan, you may want to just stick to nutritional yeast.

T.P.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s 2000 Oscars dress, auctioned off for Covid-19 relief |

STUFF

Not the one from the year she won Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love, but the year after. In the accompanying video, we learn that Paltrow chose it because the late ‘90s are back in style. Thoughtful. This hand-beaded “piece of Oscars history” sold for $26,250.

K.B.

It |

NOVEL

Stephen King’s having a moment: two It movies, a terrible Shining sequel movie, new shows on Hulu and HBO, a Netflix Original Movie. It’s almost enough to make you forget that he writes books, and that some of them are really good. One of them, It, is more than that—it attempts nothing less than to say something comprehensive and definitive about Americans and American life. It’s about solidarity and collective memory, and the relationship between the structural violence of American history and the micro-trauma of individual lives. Yes, this is the one about the clown. 

E.B.

Monos |

FILM

Alejandro Landes’s shoots began at 4AM every day, and food on set was rationed. Base camp lacked electricity, refrigeration, and running water. Like its clear antecedent Apocalypse Now, Monos is a war movie whose creation is more interesting, and gruesome, than the end product. 

G.N.

SpaceX and Space Force |

THE FINAL FRONTIER

Crew Dragon Demo-2, SpaceX and NASA’s joint mission to the International Space Station, launched just one day after “Space Force,” Netflix’s generally low-reviewed satire of the Trump administration’s space ambitions. Coincidence? “Space Force”—the show—has been criticized for not being sharp enough in its satire or even funny at all. So has this administration.

J.A.

Trader Joe’s Light Ice Cream |

FOOD

It only comes in two flavors, and it needs to sit for like ten minutes before a spoon can pass through it. It’s nowhere near as satisfying as normal ice cream and its “healthiness” is dubious. Cheers! 

E.A.

All of the recent Beatles 50th anniversary box sets |

MUSIC

Almost every year of the 2010s has included a Beatles album’s 50th birthday, and each of the last few years has also brought a sleek, many-many-disc deluxe box set (a.k.a. another reason to blow a hundred bucks on the band that you don’t listen to anymore). The Abbey Road set is inessential for everybody: the album’s still great, but the included outtakes and rehearsal cuts are just inferior versions of the real deal. Meanwhile, the Sgt. Pepper set will have audio nerds salivating; its stereo remix (!) brings a new level of clarity to each tuba note and guitar solo. Only the White Album set is truly valuable for a casual fan, with an extra disc of home demos that are, in the Lennon ones especially, quite poignant.

T.P.

Neopets |

HOBBY

Forget Animal Crossing. The best quarantine discovery is that Neopets is way easier to play as an adult, especially when you’re armed with cheat codes from fansites like JellyNeo and DailyNeopets. Feed your Zafara some omelette, play Tombola, spin the Wheel of Excitement, and squeeze in a quick game of Meerca Chase. 2020 could be the year you finally paint your Usul with a Royal Paintbrush at the Rainbow Pool.

R.Z.

Dead North Film Festival |

FILM

Genre-film made in the circumpolar region just feels different. Icy, but open. Given two winter months in some of the coldest climates in the world, filmmakers shoot an unforgiving, otherworldly and quite frankly arrestingly beautiful cold that we access through the screen. These adventures in the high North usually screen every February in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Thanks to the pandemic, Vimeo holds all of this year’s entries alongside the best of years past. 

J.A.

Copyright © The Drift 2021