Mentions | Summer 2021 ​



The Chair |


There is a certain kind of academic who prefers to imagine the university as a resort for cavorting professors. The Chair, Netflix’s glossy new six-part series, is fantasy fulfillment for such an academic: Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) becomes the first woman of color to hold the eponymous chair of the English department at Pembroke, a fictional Ivy League university struggling to update its crusty curriculum and diversify its aging faculty. Seemingly bereft of student workers, staff, or contingent faculty, Pembroke is a battleground where pure culture war can be waged. The students themselves make their only meaningful appearance, en masse, when Ji-Yoon’s colleague and love interest, the disheveled and functionally alcoholic Bill (Jay Duplass), thoughtlessly performs a Nazi salute during a lecture about absurdism. Clips of the gesture are wrenched out of context and disseminated online, and Bill’s students are quick to form a bloodthirsty horde. With brats like these in the lecture hall, it is difficult to understand why Ji-Yoon and Bill are forever declaring, in showy fits of sentimentality, how much they love teaching — and without immiserated adjuncts, graduate students, and staff on the scene, it is difficult to understand campus activism as anything but ludicrous overreaction. Thankfully, real students are rarely so stupid. They aren’t organizing against phantom Nazis — occasionally it’s real ones.


Beatriz at Dinner |


White Lotus fans in Mike White withdrawal might consider the feature he wrote in 2017, in which an uncharacteristically dowdy Salma Hayek plays a masseuse surprised by an invitation to her wealthy client’s party. If the recipe is different, some ingredients are the same: a breezily insufferable Connie Britton, a disdain for white elites that mostly manages to remain self-aware, a third-act death. Both stories share a grim acknowledgement: put-upon staff may fantasize about enacting bloody murder, but it’s coddled white executives who invariably wield the bigger weapon. 


Beam Me Up Scotty (2021) |


After an extended social media hiatus, Nicki Minaj thrilled fans this spring with an Instagram announcement: a re-release of her breakout 2009 mixtape. The new version came with some fresh material but consisted mostly of the songs that first secured her place in hip-hop — vintage Nicki at her fiercest and most foul. It’s an odd album to revisit; none of the original sixteen tracks would be cut today. Even the spoken-word interludes come across as retro, too vigorous for our trapped-out present. But that’s sort of the point. In re-releasing a decade-old record, she’s reasserting the terms of her stardom, making sure you heard her the first time.


As You Like It |


The perfect play for a season of chaos and dissolution —  more summery than Midsummer, studded with gobbledigook ditties and endless scenes of delirious repartee. Arden, where the action unfolds, is the pastoral flipside of the quarantine period, a place where being outside of time is a blessing rather than a curse. There is a problem, or so it seems; some people sing; some other people call each other cucks; a man pretends to be a woman dressing as a man imitating a woman; the problem is not solved but rather slips by. What story or non-story could be more appropriate as we witness the return of the random?


California Split |


Robert Altman, who spent the seventies making movies with a shaggy, lived-in feel, found his most alluring setting in the rundown casinos and horse tracks of this 1974 comedy, which stars George Segal and Elliott Gould as a pair of charismatic gamblers stumbling through the peaks and valleys of their addiction. Altman, a gambler himself, lovingly renders the lifestyle’s appeal — late-night drinking, friendships based on enabling others’ worst impulses, the gambler’s ever-present conviction in the proximity of riches. But an inevitable emptiness is never far away, and upon finally getting what they want, the pair immediately plunge into melancholy. Recent crypto converts would do well to take note — as the duo grows desperate for their next score, their gambles get stupider. Before long, they’re drunkenly placing bets over who can name all seven dwarves: “Dumbo wasn’t in that cast?”


@pomological |


In 1886, the USDA began to catalog the rapid expansion in American agriculture by commissioning 21 watercolor artists, over the next 56 years, to meticulously paint 7,497 works depicting various fruits and nuts, including 3,807 of apples alone. Now, you can browse the results thanks to a Twitter bot that captions each “Pomological Watercolor” with specimen name, artist, and date. The feed is spare and peaceful; scrolling it feels like walking through a small, esoteric museum. The concentration of material, so similar in form and subject, teaches the viewer to attend to the details: the rich layers of purple in Ellen Isham Schutt’s 1905 painting of a “Griffins Improved” grape, the speckles of brown furnished by Mary Daisy Arnold in 1912 on a “Givens” apple. After enough scrutiny, even the common fig begins to look strange.


Vive le Tour (1962) |


Conventional cycling spectator wisdom holds that the Tour de France’s majesty lies in its gradual progression — a slow burn revealing its plot and subplots over 23 days and 2,200 miles. French filmmaker Louis Malle apparently didn’t have time for all that — his documentary clocks in at only 18 minutes. But that’s long enough for Malle to convince even the most casual viewer that today’s Tour is a betrayal of tradition, a bastardization of a once-great athletic contest. Somewhere along the path to modernity, the Tour lost one of its trademarks: the infamous drinking raid. “They enter a café, shoving everyone aside,” the narrator explains. “It isn’t quite looting, but they demand and take anything: red wine, champagne, beer. Even water, if there’s nothing better.” Where today’s hormone-ridden Übermenschen ride space-age titanium alloy bicycles and slurp protein gels from pouches, the tanned, rag-tag domestiques of Malle’s time steer with one hand while raising a stolen beer bottle with the other. In one charming scene, a rider holds his comrade’s seat as he relieves himself in motion mid-race. Who needs a slow burn when you can have a fast piss?


The White Lotus |


This ensemble miniseries, shot at the Maui Four Seasons in the winter, could only have arisen from the filming constraints of 2020, but it’s best approached with a bingo board of extremely-online cliches from a few years earlier: girlbosses, ASMR, Hillary stans, K-holes, women reading Elena Ferrante, the ethics of “exotic” tourism, clickbait, rimming — plus bitchy Zoomers literally modeled on the hosts of Red Scare. (It’s all, of course, about the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality.) Too on the nose? The HBO murder-mystery-that’s-actually-just-about-the-fucked-up-relationships-of-rich-people genre has reached its apex. 


Hudson Yards food carts |


There’s no shortage of writing about how bad this place is, but it bears repeating: Hudson Yards is an anti-neighborhood, a place to go in New York City if you hate New York City. The project’s developer, The Related Companies, is a caricature of movie villain proportions, from its semantically inane name to its Trump-boosting, drone-racing owner, Stephen Ross, to its latest plot to eradicate the Yards’s sole redeeming feature: food carts. Nowadays, vendors attempting to sell melon on a hot day might find their regular parking spaces taken over by gargantuan flower planters and extrusive landscaping. Those that prevail are treated to NYPD fines, in spite of de Blasio’s promise to cut back cart searches. The vendors are organizing with the excellent Street Vendor Project, but unlike Ross, few can count on a cash influx from their parents, and Related’s appetite is unyielding: it will continue to evict any trace of unpolished city life. Or maybe it represents what city life has become. What says post-Bloomberg Manhattan more than an 80-year-old billionaire denying a pedestrian a hot dog?


Design Home |


Design Within Reach armchairs are actually within reach in this app that allows you to roleplay as an interior decorator. Warning: too much time may pass as you stock up on mid-century benches for Miami timeshares, wicker stools for coastal balconies in Cape Cod, and a wagon wheel coffee table for “an industrial living room” in Brooklyn on behalf of a “video editor” with curiously ample income. It’s all fun and games until your digital wallet runs dry, and you find yourself reaching for your IRL Mastercard instead.


169 Water Street |


The classic walk-through video, a low-rent, shaky-cam affair that conceals as much as reveals, is familiar to any would-be home-buyer. But recently, real estate auteurs have attempted to elevate the genre. This video by Halstead Property adds a meta twist: mocking the rituals of home sales prep in order to sell the house. “Is the film crew here?” the self-described “pesky owner” asks at the outset, primping her hair for the camera. The agent demurs, ever-conscious of the actual film crew. But as she begins to prepare the property, her duties are disrupted by a series of “unexpected” obstacles. A bespectacled playwright, struck by sudden inspiration, refuses to leave the home office; a shirtless man hops in the shower; a baby takes over the couch. Another agent, patronizing and bowtied rival, appears on the roof to run down the house’s finer selling points (all to include in the “real” video). Here’s life as it could be, should you purchase the townhouse for $4,595,000: hamfisted tomfoolery, “affordable” monthlies, and passive aggression. The low-grade melancholia of inhabiting a lifestyle ad comes free. 


Darryl |


In Jackie Ess’s new novel, the titular 45-year-old fetishist likes to watch men fuck his wife, an activity from which he derives “vicarious athletic enjoyment.” He is a cuck, but “not a Republican;” a pluralist, but “not a political guy;” an ally, but not a feminist. (“I’m not trying to be,” he assures the reader.) In an attempt to impress his favorite bull, Darryl even becomes a “sports guy,” imagining being cucked by LeBron James himself. “I basically don’t belong in this world,” says Darryl, a character of notably digital origins – his consciousness mediated and mutilated by surveillance, his worldview bitterly but often hilariously organized by principles of identity, nomenclature and the sort of overdetermined self-reflection that runs amok online. Some of today’s flashiest fiction takes up the internet as its subject — sometimes explicitly, showing characters caught in its throes, or formally, in prose designed to mimic the fragmentation of digital life. Darryl doesn’t obviously fall into this tradition; Ess writes in a fairly standard first-person confessional, and its narrator is disposed more to Reddit than Twitter. But Darryl still typifies the abasement and alienation of life online, leading you to wonder if the novel, too, has been cucked by the World Wide Web.


Prime ads during Mad Men |


When Mad Men first premiered, it played ad-free on the AMC channel and later on Netflix. The show recently moved to Amazon Prime, where most episodes feature upwards of seventeen ads (many of them Amazon’s own). In one plotline, Don Draper tells Heinz to stop trying to sell beans and ketchup separately: it’s just Heinz — not an assortment of products that share a manufacturer so much as a signifier, a name that represents the vast expanse of processed American cuisine. In a Doritos ad that plays during commercial breaks, a voice-over emphasizes that the triangular orange chip, with its well-established brand recognition, need not even be named. But Amazon dispenses with subtlety, superimposing directions around the edge of the screen: “Don’t forget it, just list it. Just say, ‘Alexa, add Doritos to my cart.’” As Don loses Heinz to another agency less concerned with semiotics, Amazon overrides both Mad Men and Doritos for trying to make advertising appear anything other than a blatant grab for cash.


Subject to Review |


This stylish, slant short by Theo Anthony, available on ESPN+, is about the philosophical implications of the Hawk-Eye computer system in tennis, which uses cameras to track the trajectory of balls and judge whether they are in or out. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make a sports documentary about anything more interesting than the players themselves. The film should have more moments depicting mid-aughts tennis stars rebelling against their new cyclops god; in one of the few, from the 2007 Wimbledon finals, Roger Federer approaches the umpire and contests a shot from Rafael Nadal that Hawk-Eye determined “in” by one millimeter. “You can’t turn it off?” he asks. Good question.


Henry Cavill's gaming PC |


Last summer, the English actor of Snyder-cut fame shared an Instagram video documenting his assembly of a new computer. Cavill, a vocal appreciator of video games, exemplifies the Mr. Potato Head school of acting. This is, of course, a compliment. Cavill cuts an undisguisable profile. His characters’ costumes (Superman’s spandex, a white wig in The Witcher) serve to emphasize, rather than hide, his protagonist-shaped face and physique. The DIY video features Cavill as a tinkering nerd, costumed at home, too: bearded and tank-topped, absolutely rippling out of it. Poor guy — even his attempts at earnest everyman scan as superhuman. Over Barry White’s honeyed bass, the post shows Cavill fiddling with little screws and delicate parts, culminating in a shot of the finished computer. Its exposed guts glow, cycling through a technicolor spectrum. In this image — revealing the insides of a geeky machine as carefully constructed as its maker — lies the most charming glimpse into Cavill yet caught on camera.


Blaze |


Country artists from Hank Williams, Jr. to Blake Shelton have written ballads about what makes them country. Blaze Foley, a rowdy, rumpled fixture in the Texas music scene of the ’70s and ’80s, had no need for such self-mythology. Equal parts lore and biopic, this film tells Foley’s tragedy through the voices of his friends, sampling real interviews from Townes Van Zandt and Gurf Morlix. From the treehouse he shared with his wife Sybil to the few Texas honky-tonks that hadn’t banned him for brawling, Blaze toted his only possessions along — a jacket and a guitar, both held together by duct tape. Shot and killed at thirty-nine while defending a friend, he never achieved fame, but his songs reached millions through chart-topping covers by John Prine, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. The film’s juxtaposition of two Blaze Foleys — the rambling, alcoholic vagabond and the gentle hero — leaves us wondering whom to believe. In the chasm between tall tales and tragic realities, the legend of this unpretentious, unknown cowboy has room to grow.


The Chopin Project |


Before Ólafur Arnalds served as the drummer for hardcore Icelandic bands like Fighting Shit, he grew up listening to Chopin at his grandmother’s house. For this 2015 album, Arnalds and the German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott scouted out vintage instruments in Reykjavik, then overlaid their tones with snippets of the 21st century soundscape — ambient noise, clips of conversation, whispers, and rain. These nine tracks of spatial sounds and gadgetry conclude on 30 seconds of decaying static: the technologically altered silence of a white noise machine.


@SpaceLiminalBot |


This Twitter bot imports pictures from r/LiminalSpace, a popular subreddit filled with captionless posts of empty atriums, hallways, terminals, and highways — familiar things in unfamiliar contexts, both cinematic and banal. Unlike the subreddit, which accepts a range of posts from members, the bot is curated; its images cohere into a consistent aesthetic. A pinned tweet provides the account’s only guidelines: “Reposts, pictures/videos with people in them, and off-topic (non-liminal) posts are NOT allowed,” though the latter rule is often broken (see: dolphin-shaped toilet paper holder). The collective impression of these visual in-betweens is at once nostalgic, apocalyptic, and surprisingly meaningful — unlike when anyone uses the term “liminal space” in a graduate seminar.


Martin Schoeller |


This German photographer nabbed a recent New Yorker assignment (taking Wendy Williams’s portrait for the May 24 issue), but the Obama years were his golden age. He shot the cover of Andre Agassi’s occasionally deranged 2009 memoir, “Open,” then gave his signature treatment — high-def close-ups, with operating-table illumination predating the democratization of ring lights — to Zuckerberg, Bezos, Trump, and a litany of Hollywood A-listers (also, once, a group of mixed-race people for a 2013 National Geographic story, which declared that “race is no longer so black and white”). Schoeller manages to capture his subjects as both babyish and godlike, making the stars he photographs appear just like us: narcissistic. Ultimately, the thing more people should know is that he’s a white guy with dreads.


The line to enter the Alice Neel exhibit at The Met |


Amid this exhibit’s glowing reviews and deserved recommendations, few have mentioned the inevitable hour-long line that visitors will have to weather before they can enter the must-see show, aptly titled “People Come First.” The line snakes through several galleries; on weekends, it stretches as far as the “Ancient Near East.” The outcome is a forced contemplation of works that one might have otherwise rushed past, both on the walls and in the murmurings of would-be Neel-gazers, anticipating their eventual entry. “The literary canon is all white men,” a woman examining a creamy Rodin sculpture told her friend. “He is toxic and I don’t want to talk shit about him,” another guest-in-waiting noted, hands crossed before Stuck’s Inferno. An elderly woman in a wheelchair scanned a room of “Classical Art from Cyprus” in awe: “I have never seen so much rock!”


The Art of Escapism Cooking |


Mandy Lee, a Taiwanese-Canadian architect, is not trained as a chef and has never worked in a restaurant. She taught herself to cook in China, while coping with alternating depression and anger at the pollution, censorship, and urban anomie of Beijing. This book, her first, began as an “angry food blog” popular for its surprising flavor combinations, elegant photography, and acerbic writing. Lee’s recipes grow out of love not only for street food and classic dishes, but also for straight-up comfort junk, which she makes from scratch. There’s nothing new about drawing on transcontinental cultural traditions, but the way she converts sausage into cornflakes, stuffs mochi into challah, and devotes an entire chapter to dog food leaves you wondering if she’s a dedicated heretic or just pure agnostic.


Trilliums |


These propeller-like plants take seven years to bloom from seed, with deep rooting that immunizes them against unseasonal chills. They blossom for just a single month per annum: mere weeks ago, millions unfurled across Canada; they will resume hibernation within days. The three-petalled perennial is Ontario’s official flower — a status it shares, across an ecologically invisible border to the south, with the state of Ohio. The Ojibwe people of Southern Canada traditionally harvested its roots to induce labor during childbirth. Toronto’s Gothic Revival architecture adapted their starry shape into its signature gingerbread gables. Now, teenagers use trillium-spangled fake IDs to buy booze underage, while their grandparents pay for hip replacements with similarly decorated health cards. If plucked, the fleeting trefoil ceases flowering for years, so various species are protected in Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. These native plants run like a thread of aesthetic sinew through North American culture, neat illustrations of the natural world cutting through the borders we’ve made for ourselves.


Mentions | Issue 4 ​



Can’t Get You Out of My Head |


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. 


Janet Yellen’s stamp collection |


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.


The Healy-Raes’ campaign songs |


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.


ThingsICantFindOtherwise |


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.


Fuck the System |


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.”


Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Series |


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. 


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


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.”


Exuma |


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?” 


Last Days of the Dog-Men |


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. 


Greenland |


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.


Pull ‘n’ Peel Twizzlers |


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.


ThisPersonDoesNotExist |


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. 


“Trust The Process” |


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 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).


Kurt Vonnegut’s seasons |


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.


Ithaca Buffalo Ranch Hummus |


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.


Another Round |


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.”


Mikey and Nicky (1976) |


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.


Museum of Lost Memories |


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. 


@ChefsandDogs |


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. 


Survivor: Season 1 (2000) |


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. 


The Searcher |


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.


Nuggs Fake Chicken Nuggets |


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.


“Deja Vu” |


“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.


Spider-Man’s Manhattan |


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.


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