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, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, 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, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, 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, 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, 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.

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