Mentions | Issue 8 ​


Pocoyo |


If you have spent any time at all immersed in the world of entertainment for the pre-verbal, you have no doubt experienced the brain-softening that sets in after the first few minutes of garish colors and talking animals. Not so with the strangely compelling Pocoyo, a Spanish children’s cartoon from the mid-aughts that is set in a literal void. Every episode begins the same way: the eponymous Pocoyo is wandering around the blank whiteness when he is apprehended by a benevolent, disembodied voice (Stephen Fry in the English version) that proceeds to instruct the happily receptive Pocoyo and his friends Elly (sassy pink elephant) and Pato (deranged Cubist duck) in the mysteries of the universe (shapes! colors! numbers!). Imparted from on high, the primers on triangles feel less cloying than revelatory — which, for three-year-olds, they probably are.


Ark of Grace |


The MAGA years gave rise to a crew of Pentecostal pastor-prophets who champion Donald Trump as a divinely appointed leader — lost election or no — giving a spiritual drumbeat to the Stop the Steal movement. One Trumpy prophetess (and January 6 attendee) is a former accountant named Amanda Grace whose signature act can be found in her sparsely shot home vlogs — on Facebook, Rumble, and her own app — where, alongside apocalyptic salvos, she proudly shows off her cast of rescue pets, including a pony, parrot, lamb, and piglet. Grace has ably mashed two genres: think The Late Great Planet Earth meets @animalsdoingthings. In one video, a dove interrupts mid-speech, fluttering into the frame to perch on her head. She cracks a big smile and shrugs. “This stuff happens at the house all the time,” she says. The bird coos and pecks affectionately, hops off screen, and Grace’s jeremiad resumes.


Crimes of the Future |


Twitter said people would be puking at this thing. But Cronenberg’s latest — an artsy body horror flick about surgeries that are performed in both senses of the word — is surprisingly sterile. Slit arteries bleed conservatively, organs do not rupture before the eyes, not once does an orifice relieve itself of slick, pulpy matter. There are entrails, but not enough. Instead, the society imagined here lumbers along in weary old age, and most of the blood seems to have coagulated in place. Dystopian hedonism has never looked so banal. 


Pacifiction |


The iconoclastic Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra has so far spent this century adapting a variety of literary works — from Cervantes and Casanova to Catherine Millet and Saint-Simon — into beguiling, provocative, yet strangely enervating cinematic experiences. Pacifiction is his first to step off the page, and the result is spectacular. This meandering, Conradian odyssey of a French diplomat in modern-day Tahiti probes the moral integrity, and really just the practicality, of a globalized economic system being forced on countries still burdened by colonialism. Across its nearly three languorous, uneventful hours, Pacifiction hypnotizes and then strikes like a cobra, subordinating viewers to Serra’s elusive yet totalizing vision of, as Lévi-Strauss put it, the Sad Tropics.


Irma la Douce |


In this 1963 Billy Wilder farce, an escort, Irma, captures the heart of a rookie cop named Nestor in Paris’s red-light district. Hoping to save Irma from a life of tricking, Nestor disguises himself as a wealthy British client and acquires the extra cash by secretly moonlighting as a butcher. One of them sneaks out of bed each night to lead a double life, and the other one earns honest wages through sex work. “Why is it nine out of ten try to reform me?” asks Irma.


How German Is It |


Insofar as the recently deceased Austrian-American experimentalist Walter Abish is talked about at all, it’s usually in the context of this PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel from 1980, in which the two brothers Haargenau — along with the rest of Germany — cope with the news that everyone’s favorite up-and-coming city, Brumholdstein, was built on concentration camp grounds. Abish was a Jewish refugee whose family fled Vienna for Shanghai, Israel, and finally New York; decades later, without ever having set foot in “the new democratic Germany,” he glimpsed it through the films of Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and relied on old Baedeker travelogues to fill in the gaps. At least one German critic has described the book as “the Jew’s revenge,” but Abish’s chilling tone never rises anywhere near the level of hectoring polemic. Rather, his M.O. is to hint at vestiges of Nazi attitudes in 1970s and ’80s Germany and then abruptly change the subject, like an awkward tour guide dodging a penetrating question. How German Is It’s signal achievement is the artfulness with which it avoids rhetoric: it’s not even one-sided enough to agree with itself — and that might be the most Jewish thing about it.


Lanternfly Crusades |


No one can drop new ways to devolve state responsibilities to individual choice like the USA. Vaccines, schools, and now… killing invasive species. The spotted lanternfly — which some of its would-be assassins pointedly call “Chinese lanternflies” — is, on the surface, an absurd target for ordinary citizens, but thanks to an unusually effective media and PSA campaign, this high-jumping bug has nested in our collective consciousness. NYC Parks makes an exception to a citywide protection of wildlife to ask, “Please squish and dispose of this invasive pest”; New Jersey begs citizens to “Help us Stomp it Out!”; Penn State advises anyone who thinks they “killed/caught a spotted lanternfly” to report it to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, whose phones are surely ringing off the hook. I’m no expert, but if spotted lanternflies lay 30 to 50 eggs at a time, they must be leaving local vigilantes in the dust. We should probably take the L on this one — though it is heartening that Americans seem to have some reserves of public spirit yet.


Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch |


Photography is “the most literary of the graphic arts,” Walker Evans once claimed. “Flaubert’s aesthetic is absolutely mine,” he said a few years before his death in 1975. “Spiritually, however, it is Baudelaire who is the influence on me.” As Svetlana Alpers shows, Flaubert’s impersonality and Baudelaire’s irony have much in common with Evans’s spare, sometimes brutal, always beautiful photographs. Inevitably, she accepts Evans’s own self-fashioning as heir to the French greats, but even if you’re not convinced by the big picture, her expert close readings artfully trace Evans’s willful, capacious ambiguity and gesture toward how much has yet to be explored in Evans’s pictures, and within Evans’s America.


Memoria |


In the opening minutes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s forever unstreamable new film, the character played by Tilda Swinton first hears the “bang” that will continue to haunt her. Unsatisfied with a sound engineer’s impressive attempts to help her recreate it, she drives from Bogotá into the Andes in search of the noise. Hours after leaving the theater, still concerned, I learned that she, like the director, has exploding head syndrome, recorded in medical journals since at least 1876, and perhaps experienced two centuries earlier by René Descartes. Despite the terrifying name, it’s considered a benign parasomnia. WebMD-ing on behalf of a fictional character doesn’t have quite the charm of visiting a sound studio, but afterward I did feel a little better about all the driving she’d been doing alongside those cliffs.


Nostalgia |


Mario Martone is distinguished in Europe for his versatility, his grandiloquent literary voice, and his career-length chronicle of life across the Italian class spectrum. Following Troubling Love, a Ferrante adaptation more evocative of the firebrand novelist’s perversion and darkness than any other, and The Scent of Blood, his “every woman loves a fascist” masterpiece of the mid-2000s, Nostalgia arrives as a late-career opus. It follows uberdaddy Pierfrancesco Favino’s irresistible, violet-hour urge to journey back into the dark heart of Naples and confront the violent contradictions of his past.


New York’s Tenth Congressional District |


After Labor Day in certain portions of high-rent New York City, one doesn’t wear white or use a lefty third-party ballot line even in a safe Democratic district. Or at least that latter is what progressive runner-up Yuh-Line Niou decided in mid-September. It was the anticlimactic end to a primary that should have been electric: an open seat chance to represent Wall Street, Ground Zero, Dimes Square, AND Park Slope in Congress for a generation. But the heavy hitters tripped. A former mayor couldn’t reignite the Summer of Bill. A carpetbagging Hudson Valley congressman bungled the reverse Covid commute. Three local political women in the prime of their careers got outspent by the heir to a jeans fortune who dads and moms saw a lot on MSNBC. But the Times editorial board promised that “those who have worked with Mr. Goldman behind the scenes describe him as diligent and prepared and a person of integrity.” His mailers agreed! The Gray Lady also to-be-sured that Goldman might need to court his “lower-income” constituents. Well, there’s been weeks of cloudy, yellow tap water in a housing project on the northern side of the district. The complex is named after Jacob Riis (How the Other Half Lives).


Örlæti |


In this Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV) series, Sigtryggur Baldursson, founding member and former drummer of the Sugarcubes, travels the country discussing mysterious Icelandic place names and their histories with locals and experts. He’s also often drumming — in front of a waterfall, next to a creek, in the road, in a field, and on his steering wheel as he drives. For context, Baldursson often consults scholar Emily Lethbridge, who references old maps and manuscripts, as well as artist Rán Flygenring, who shares creative renderings of toponyms and her theories behind them. Consistently faced with competing explanations and etymologies, Baldursson playfully throws up his hands, and at one point he and Lethbridge joke that residents should vote on which onomastic interpretations they prefer; for now, Lethbridge notes, anglophone tourists’ versions of Icelandic place names, such as Diamond Beach, already come up on Google Maps. 


Oudolf Garden Detroit |


If Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf’s medium is flora, his subject is time. His plantings on Manhattan’s High Line made him famous, but Detroit’s Belle Isle is better suited to his trademark swathes of North American perennials and grasses; on the open, three-acre site, flowers, foliage, and seed heads harmonize in various stages of decay and rebirth. Buoyant or gloomy depending on the season, the garden, which opened in 2021, is rich in what Oudolf calls the “emotion of nature,” wherein “you feel more than what you see.” Don’t tell the urban renewal prognosticators, lest the garden become yet another symbol of Detroit’s comeback.


Bellucci’s Pizzeria |


Untitled Pizza Movie (2020) recounts the mercurial life of pizzaiolo Andrew Bellucci — who served time behind ovens from New York to Kuala Lumpur, and behind bars at Otisville Correctional Facility, for embezzlement. In 2020 Bellucci opened Bellucci Pizza in Astoria with his former business partner Leo Dakmak, and this March, after the relationship soured, he opened his own parlor, Bellucci’s Pizzeria, a few blocks down 30th Avenue. When we made it to the true Bellucci’s, settling on a Vegan Dream pie after mistakenly stopping to buy a slice from his lawsuit-filing nemesis, the man himself approached to say, in his mellow cadence, “So you got the vegan.” We missed out on the shop’s most notable offering: the famed clam pies. Not on the menu at the Bellucci-less Bellucci, they require 48-hour notice — shorter than the wait for Untitled Pizza Movie II, which ought to exist. 

L.S.J. & W.A.

Luzifer |


In this Austrian horror flick, the monosyllabic, melancholic Johannes lives out a prelapsarian fantasy with his religious mother on an Alpine mountaintop. The duo engages in a tortured fanaticism involving nature worship, self-harm, and yonic caves. The threat of original sin looms — developers want the land for a new ski resort — but then an exorcism is performed, and we learn, once again, that nothing ruins paradise like a tourist with a drone.


“La Face B” |


Three years of DJ EasyEvil’s metaphysical detours through space-time are free to download off the Swiss national broadcaster. Drawn from a legendary stash of vinyl ferreted out of far-flung corners, the crate-digging Genevois’s mixes wind through decades, languages, and musical cultures: Thai ’90s pop to Turkish ’70s love ballads to ’60s songs of African liberation. This is a trust game: you’re always falling, and you’re always being caught.


Foyle’s War |


Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is a policeman, and his war is a war on crime. As detective chief superintendent of Hastings during the Second World War (that’s not his war, a paradox that endlessly interests this 2000s British crime drama and period piece), he’ll spend a bog-standard episode tracing the source of purloined rations (B-plot) while investigating a British industrialist with close ties to “Jerry” (the Nazis; A-plot). In the end, he’ll forgive a minor crime — like dancing the jitterbug after curfew — and deliver a monologue so dry that the major villain commits suicide. That’s the show’s possessing alchemy: Foyle is strangely powerless. He can’t drive, so he perches in the passenger seat like a prim tween while Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) ferries him about. He can’t contravene the War Office, so the villains’ consciences must do his work for him. This show is the daydream not of police officers but of busybodies. 


Keep This Far Apart |


Conventional wisdom has it that live-streamed plays are inferior to in-person performances. This series of short digital dramas, available on Vimeo, knocks that notion on its head. Written by six different playwrights during the first year of the pandemic, the sequence opens with a scene that could easily be drawn from an Ottessa Moshfegh novel: a young woman takes a call on her laptop while pruning her pubes, bloody evidence visible on-screen. The digital format improbably turns us into hunched, conspiratorial voyeurs of other people pickled in various predicaments: trying to connect with an ex, monetizing their lives on OnlyFans, weathering the banalities of work conversation. Rupert Friend also does an unmissable impression of a cat.


Maxwell Jacob Friedman |


With his signature Burberry scarf and smug grin, professional wrestling’s reigning villain stands out as a first-rate elitist. What especially sets him apart, though, is rare talent on the microphone. In the industry’s most memorable promo in years, Friedman tore down the fourth wall and called out the brass of All Elite Wrestling for undervaluing him and brownnosing washed-up ex-WWE talent. “I’m the only guy who is capable of carrying this company on his back!” he screamed. In seven blistering minutes, Friedman pulled off the unthinkable, something possible perhaps only in wrestling — he made himself irreplaceable by telling his bosses to fuck off.




A South Indian thriller that makes the MCU look like Power Rangers, RRR has been hailed as revolutionary. Unfortunately, throwing snarling tigers at pompous colonizers and beating them in a manly dance-off does not necessarily a revolution make. Director S.S. Rajamouli offers a Brit-bashing anti-colonial epic of unrivaled spectacle, yet his vision stops far short of imagining an India that was not always, or need not always be, as divided as it presently is. Still, it’s not every day we get a three-hour buddy flick about toppling empire.  


Behind the Curve |


The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was created with the noble mission of “driv[ing] chemical safety change through independent investigation,” but, in classic late ’90s style, it does so through recommendations, not laws. In the mid-2000s, CSB was an early adopter of computer animation technology at a time when even DreamWorks didn’t know quite what to do with it. The resulting video recreations of actual accidents under investigation are surreal and often darkly funny, with a devoted following among industry pros and depths-of-YouTube connoisseurs alike. In one 2013 video, three doughy, animated humans are vaporized by a blurry wave of fire seconds before a very human inspector flatly notes that “these additional operators were exposed to a serious risk.” I’d say the tone shift gave me whiplash, but I watched the video about proper safety restraints first.


Dawn Studios |


Since 2020, the Guamanian-American artist Lisa Blas has set her alarm for the particular time, between astronomical and nautical dawn, when the sun ascends from eighteen to twelve degrees below the horizon. At a table near windows facing the Hudson River, she prepares her materials — wood panels, paper, water-based paints, metallic ink, and gouache — and, as darkness lifts, begins to paint. If fog obliterates the sky and river, she still repeats this daily practice. Snowy days, too. You don’t need to get up before urban cockcrow to view her work, which can be seen by appointment until sundown at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in Midtown.


Close |


Is there something inherently beautiful about suffering? What if the suffering person is themselves very beautiful? Is it alright to torture a beautiful person if their suffering sends an Important Message? The young Belgian director Lukas Dhont is too caught up in the libidinal riptide of his latest film, Close, to realize he’s swimming in these ethical waters. Built on a foundation of manipulative, made-for-T.V.-movie-like contrivances, yet expunged of their thrilling perversity and necessary messiness, Close chronicles the fallout after one possibly gay, lightly bullied teenager commits suicide. Following Girl, the director’s graphic, sense-deadened 2018 debut about a young, miserable, trans ballerina, Dhont has established an effective formula: all pathos, no real feeling.


Religious News Service Morning Reports |


This daily missive informs its virtual devotees of papal travels, sectarian disputes, and the many niche affinity groups that can be found among people of the faith. These include the Christian Furry Fellowship, a ministry whose members are strongly identified with animal “fursonas,” and a South Texas nudist community that affirms it’s possible to be modest in the buff. (“I think it’s odd, I think it’s strange, but I have no proof it’s sinning,” a local pastor declares.) Perhaps it’s true that, in this Substack-saturated moment, there are too many newsletters and most are passé. But pretty soon we’ll be living in an actual theocracy and all news will be religious news, so this one’s probably worth your time.


Nope |


If the Berlin Biennale is any indication, a significant segment of the elite international art world has decided that artists’ chief political responsibility is now to confront audiences with mimetic representations of atrocity: witness Jean-Jacques Lebel’s installation, a maze formed by Abu Ghraib torture photos blown up to life size. Thank God, then, that Jordan Peele has chosen to remain a mass-culture entertainer. His latest blockbuster, Nope, cleverly allegorizes the political limits of disaster-porn spectacle. (Its title expresses one sentiment that Biennale attendees might be moved to utter after parting the curtain to enter Lebel’s labyrinth.) Nope intertwines two parallel stories of predatory animals who lash out and kill spectators — especially those who make the mistake of looking the creatures directly in the eye. Viewers might hope that their consumption will help them to rectify past injustices, Peele suggests, but they are liable to end up consumed themselves. Atrocity is most helpfully regarded from an oblique angle. 


Biden’s BBL |


The internet was quick to accuse Joe Biden of plastic surgery when he emerged from a second Covid-19 quarantine with what appeared to be a blepharoplasty, but those shouting into the void on Twitter weren’t the first to ask just how much it might cost to look like Joe Biden. Lorry Hill, a diligent YouTube chronicler of celebrity plastic surgery trends, estimates $15,000 in hair transplants, a $15,000 mini facelift, a $30,000 deep plane facelift, $45,000 in crowns and bridges, and $5,000 annually in Botox. But the million-dollar question — “Why didn’t he get a matching neck lift?” — will be up to his presidential biographers to answer. “It’s puzzling,” says Hill. “My only explanation for this is that a neck lift does present with a much longer recovery, and perhaps he was worried about that as he started down the campaign trail.” Of course, plastic surgery isn’t the only possible explanation for Biden’s enviable skin. Where Hill sees higher sideburns and a tighter lower face as evidence of $110,000 in plastic surgery, our friends at QAnon see something else entirely: “IS THAT REALLY JOE BIDEN OR IS IT A CLONE, OR MAYBE A BODY DOUBLE??????” one woman asks on Facebook. But why go to all the trouble of cloning someone? “Maybe the real JB is in gitmo or even better yet, hell?” suggests a circumspect poster on


Desperately Seeking Susan |


Madonna plays the mysterious title character navigating a fluorescent New York; Rosanna Arquette’s Roberta is a housewife tired of monotonous errands and her husband’s humdrum hot tub business. A personal ad brings them together. In the film’s original ending, the duo rides off into the sunset on a desert vacation. This was eventually cut, so as not to promote unrealistic expectations for what Craigslist’s Missed Connections actually lead to. 


Princess Kay of the Milky Way |


On the eve of the Minnesota State Fair, the winner of the dairy princess competition is crowned, awarded a scholarship to support her studies, and given this title. Serving as the “good-will ambassador” for the state dairy industry, Princess Kay will visit classrooms to discuss how dairy is “sustainable” and “innovative” in an attempt to ward off criticism of cattle’s carbon emissions and compete with an ever-growing army of alternative milk products. Her coronation ceremony reflects the insecurities of an industry caught between old-school conventions and a pressure to respond to the world it’s feeding. When asked what she loves about dairy, this year’s winner replied with a rehearsed one-liner before being shepherded away for beloved fair traditions: sitting in a glass-walled refrigerator, posing for a sculpture of her face carved out of butter.


Airfix Model World |


Since its launch in 2010, this model-builders’ monthly has been steadily reinvigorating the hobby. Professional model-makers and military enthusiasts alike fill the pages with reviews, guides, and quippy snippets of war history, but the miniaturized machines — both classic and obscure — are the real heroes: picture World War II-era fighters alongside 1:72 models of the MQ-9A Reaper drone, used to bomb ISIS, and 1:35 reconstructions of NATO’s Leopard 2A6NL tank. There’s a strange disconnect between the models’ painstaking verisimilitude and the imperial realities of the original contraptions. Of a 1:48 build of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jet, which bombed Vietnam with impunity in Operation Rolling Thunder, one reviewer concludes that “the lack of bombs” might “be a downside.” 


Kate |


In Kate Berlant’s one-woman show at the Connelly Theater, the comedian plays Kate, a young woman from Santa Monica, California, who has moved to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming an actor. Everything is absurd in Berlant’s world, including Berlant, and if you’re familiar with her work — which includes the podcast “Poog” with Jacqueline Novak and various sketches and other film and television appearances with John Early, among many other projects — you may already understand its wonderful sense of irony, and the skilled way that Berlant can skewer both the language of liberal arts academia and the solipsism of millennial identity with a single gesture. This particular performance revolves around the narcissistic ambitions of acting, opening with several Steve Jobs-esque portraits of Berlant in black and white, and culminating in Berlant’s repeated (and failed) attempts to make herself cry for the audience by discussing her trauma from being diagnosed with an iron deficiency. Yet, somewhere, in between the jokes, winks, and over-the-top characters — from a “shrewish” Irish mother to a husky regular at a jazz bar who’s seen it all — Berlant also manages to reveal more of herself, too. Which is exactly what many of us have been waiting for.


The Bear |


F.X.’s latest critical darling is an entertaining but rather uncanny specimen of blue-collar chic, a show about gentrification that is itself hopelessly gentrified. Jeremy Allen White stars as an ultra-fancy chef who’s recalled to his Chicago roots by his brother’s tragic death. Determined to salvage his family’s Italian beef operation, White’s character returns to run the shop in River North — one of the city’s swankiest neighborhoods, but inexplicably depicted here as the hardscrabble working-class village it was roughly 50 years ago. The effect is something like Sesame Street by way of Dennis Farina. Episodes are punctuated by montages of Instagram-caliber cityscapes set to a playlist of the best of early-aughts indie rock. It’s cheesy but innocuous fun, competently constructed to tug on the heartstrings of viewers who are themselves ambivalent about their decisions to leave behind the heartland and climb the professional ladder. Things go off the rails, however, every time Amherst, Mass. native Ebon Moss-Bachrach opens his mouth and utters his abrasive, almost prosecutable caricature of a Chicago accent. Stick to Wilco, guys.


Requiem for a Norm |


At nine years old, Lorenza Böttner lost her arms in an improbably extravagant accident: climbing to reach a bird’s nest atop a transmission tower, she was electrocuted and fell some 650 feet. A retrospective at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art displays the improbable art she made, mostly with her feet and her mouth, in the three decades between the fall and her death from AIDS. Most of the work is self-portraiture of a sort, iterating her authoritative jaw and flowing hair with a genderpunk whimsy; in one painting, Böttner reads a book held open by her toes, while behind her, a red rose blooms from a rock, its two leaves bent around the stem like legs encircling a lover. Most haunting is a pencil sketch of three jewelry clasps that look like hands, each clutching a black bolus. It’s a queer anti-portrait: what Böttner lost turned into accessories she might have worn, an absence made ornament. 


Marcel the Shell with Shoes On |


We should be afraid of — not delighted by — this 89-minute reboot of the 2010 viral sensation. It forecasts a future in which “rand0m” YouTube videos from the mid-to-late 2000s return as glitzy A24 films. Just imagine a feature-length version of “It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!!!”


VladTV |


This channel’s profane longform interviews with faded pop stars, athletes, ex-cons, and hangers-on (think “It Wasn’t Me” singer Shaggy, gun-toting former NBA star Gilbert Arenas, and hip-hop video vixen Karrine “Superhead” Steffans) are often more revealing than any sit-downs with A-listers. The eponymous Vlad gets his subjects, freed from the shackles of peak fame and P.R., to tell stories you would never hear on Oprah, like when a face-tatted, bandana-clad Aaron Carter details a foray into coke-dealing shortly after the release of his final teen-pop album. Vlad will never interview the stars when they shine the brightest, but he’s interviewed the women who have slept with them, and it turns out that they usually give the better quote. 


“Atopos” |


In A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes famously characterized the loved being as atopos, an unqualifiable, “ceaselessly unforeseen originality.” In her latest single, Björk revisits the “unclassifiable OTHER” by dressing up as a prophesying mushroom. Her fungal grotto overflows with love’s primordial elements — spores, gills, pileal caps. Under oozing snoticles, an ensemble of dour toadstools play bass clarinets in garish harem pants while a papakha-clad DJ Kasimyn sways dreamily over his drum machine. Looking on, one is drawn less to the portentous calls for connection (“if my plant doesn’t reach towards you, there’s internal erosion towards all”) and more to the rings that branch into sterling silver cordyceps. Perhaps, though, there’s something to envisioning one’s lovers as mycelium — inescapable, world-sustaining, and ultimately consisting of innumerable fine hairs.

T.M.R. |


At the apex of its influence, this vlogging site had a partnership with The New York Times, capital from the founding chairman of C-SPAN, and a monopoly on blurry videos of Matthew Yglesias and Ross Douthat. While its co-founder says that “the era in which Bloggingheads makes sense is kind of over,” the company’s newly renamed YouTube channel indicates that it still possesses an engaged audience. Glenn Loury’s vlogs with John McWhorter (about such subjects as “The ‘Badass MF’ Problem in the Black Community” and “Returning to the race and IQ debate”) make up approximately 94 percent of the site’s most-watched uploads. The only exceptions in the top twenty are an interview with a Singaporean diplomat on Sino-American relations and a video entitled “Sex with Older Women.” Occasionally reactionary, with whiffs of realpolitik and shamelessly horny overtones: maybe the era in which Bloggingheads makes sense has only just begun.


Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe |


Previous versions of Mike Judge’s cartoon featured the protagonists wandering through deserted shopping malls, empty Texas subdivisions, and desolate parking lots. In this latest installment, that sense of lonely vacancy expands to a cosmic scale. America’s own Beckettian pair are pulled into a black hole and transported from 1998 to 2022, where everyone is just as screen-addicted and media-addled as they are. The saga of “two very, very stupid and horny teenagers” has always been one of the better, funnier expressions of American alienation. Once, cable television was the main source of consolation; today, it’s a smartphone. We’re all Beavis and Butt-Head now.


Acting Class |


Reading a Nick Drnaso comic evokes the same visceral, second-hand embarrassment as watching a Nathan for You sketch — and not just because half of the characters are rocking the signature bowl cut. In this new graphic novel, his first since the 2018 Booker Prize-longlisted Sabrina, we follow a group of misfits as they join an experimental acting class at their local community center in an attempt to overcome various social anxieties. But while “famous” cartoonists from alt-comix’s past have built careers out of lampooning sad-sack characters like these — some, like the hunky male painters’ model or the sexually stagnant couple, feel straight out of a Dan Clowes book — Drnaso instead chooses to approach his cast with empathy. Acting Class is sometimes silly, sometimes sad, but even its most cringe-inducing conversations are suffused with compassion for the weirdos having them.


Mentions | Issue 7 ​


Titanic Conspiracies |


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


Everything Everywhere All at Once |


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


“Mohabbat” |


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


The Chopped & Screwed Revival |


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


Out of the Blue |


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


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


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


The Northman |


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


@the.brisk.god |


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


Watergate Salad |


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


Bridgerton (Season Two) |


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


Women Running |


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


“Chaise Longue” |


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


Better Call Saul |


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


A Dance to the Music of Time |


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


Black Wings Has My Angel |


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


“Before Yesterday We Could Fly” |


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


Bear Paws |


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


Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino |


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


Chiropractor Videos |


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


A Children’s Bible |


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


The Nurse Antigone |


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


Anecdotes |


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


“Very Bad Wizards” |


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


The Special Relationship |


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


@SebaldUte |


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

M.N. |


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


Zoo |


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


“The Football Ramble” |


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


“Fundie Fridays” |


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