Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Premium Gore

The first episode of Steven Soderbergh's The Knick, which is streaming for free, is worth watching just for the street scenes in turn-of-the-century New York. It's a nasty, crowded place, but the shots aren't overstuffed and bustling—the show knows it has time, so it doesn't feel the need to introduce you to every rag peddler and slumlord at once. In this way, it is not like a movie.

Here is how The Knick is like a movie: It's beautiful, and it's totally disgusting. The Knick is possibly the most visually arresting show in TV, not only for its setting but for its portrayal of the human body, inside and out, intact and ripped apart. Among its closest aesthetic competition is NBC's Hannibal, which is equally organ-obsessed: The Knick's camera lingers on primitive surgeries intended to save people; Hannibal's lingers on bizarre surgeries intended to cause suffering.

Most of the acclaimed/new-golden-era/sad-people/big-money TV shows are formally gorgeous. Mad Men's sets and actors are carefully arranged and filmed with vivid detail, and the fantasy world of Game of Thrones is as completely rendered as anyone could want. But these shows keep going and going—there are about forty hours of GoT—which has the odd effect of numbing the audience to their visual mastery. A single frame captured in Westeros might contain a dozen costumes, a CGI beast, ugly people and stunning people, an enormous castle. At first this is stunning, and it stays that way for a while. Eventually the big set pieces start to feel the same. You expect them, and they fade into the background.

The same could be said of the show's other dependable source of novelty, its constant violence. Swords plunge into bodies and big brutes slash away at villagers and after a while you just start to tune out. Then someone's head literally explodes, and the camera doesn't cut away, and everyone is reminded they're watching PREMIUM gore, on HBO. (The Walking Dead has become a sort of weekly splatter film: A queasy and conflicting blowoff valve for people who like to watch human-ish creatures get killed in new ways, in the loose context of a story, before they start their workweeks).



Off the Beaten Path: Adventures in NYC

fishing boats (1)

Brought to you by Heineken

In France, most of the country shuts down for the month of August as its citizens escape the heat and humidity for their annual beach vacations. In New York, most of us are lucky to have offices with air conditioning and a friend whose parents have a pool to visit on the weekends in Long Island. By the end of summer, we’re over the heat but still desperate to make the most of it before the leaves change. So what’s a jaded New Yorker to do this August other than marry a French person and adopt the best of their cultural norms? Here are some ideas for enjoying the city indoors and out:

Rooftop camping:

Do you love camping but hate the idea of schlepping upstate with all your gear? Is the roof of your building accessible? Is your landlord the absentee type? If the answer to all these questions is yes then pitch a tent on your roof and spend the night under the stars you can’t see because of light pollution. I thought I maybe invented this idea, but a quick Google search let me know that the New York Times was all over this concept last summer.

Nitehawk Cinema:

Movie theaters are obvious summer destinations because of the air conditioning and opportunity to sit in a darkened room for two hours without speaking. But sneaking in a beer isn’t as fun as a server bringing you one with an order of fish tacos, like they will at Nitehawk in Williamsburg. The theater shows new releases; cry it out with Boyhood, and curated series like naughty movies at midnight. If you love it there so much you can drink at the bar before and after films are shown. READ MORE


Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 19, 2014

weather review sky 081914b★★★★ The morning was gray and dripping, even as the information online declared that there was a zero percent chance of rain. Gradually things brightened; the deck dried out. Still there was little beach-bound foot traffic. The seven-year-old went out to blow bubbles in what was now sunshine, exhorting them to fly over the roof of the building closer to the ocean. The sea at high tide was the color of wine bottles and the color of cobalt, deep beautiful tones, and deliciously warm, and much too rough to try swimming in. Letting the breaking sandy foam rush past, waist high and above, was the least alarming way of savoring it. There was no chilly shock—it felt as if it were warmer than the air, though it couldn't have been. The children dug in the sand and refused to go near the water. Bright white little shells emerged, their edges eroded away. At sundown the sky was crocheted with silver and purple, with the sun a big smear of wet gold paint in the west. Kites hung above the dunes, fluttering and seemingly secure there, till one plunged nose-first out of view. The breeze smelled salty. Glasses of white wine sweated on the edge of a balcony overlooking the boardwalk. The west went through various more or less lurid colors, arriving at last at scarlet.


What Happens When 'The Simpsons' Becomes Dad Humor?

Grandpa_Suitcases1. Hey-hey

Nothing lasts forever. Take me: I used to be a medium-funny guy. You could count on me to bring a reliable number of chuckles to social occasions. I wasn’t hilarious, but I made sure to get a few solid laughs at parties, galas, potlucks, and ad hoc social gatherings.

These days, I don’t know what’s going on. Every once in a while, when I crack wise or make a seemingly-sly reference, the oddest thing happens. A few people laugh, but others just look at me, their faces like ash. In those panicky moments when I wait for the bombed joke to pass, a fear grips my bowels. Perhaps the fear: 

I’m getting old.

The worst part is, I recognize the look I’m getting. It’s the same look I give my dad whenever he makes a joke that, despite having the contours of humor, doesn’t quite hit me in the gut. Even if it seems well made, it just doesn’t make me laugh. It’s too… foreign.

What’s weird about my current predicament is that I know fully well the lineage of my sense of humor. Everything that I think of as “funny” was filtered through years of loving, referencing, and digesting the comedy aesthetic of golden era Simpsons.

As a formal foundation for jokes, you could do worse. In true modernist tradition, early Simpsons episodes emphasized structure, lasting cultural references, and finely-honed layers of complexity. What’s more, everybody else was watching the same show.

“Funny” only becomes possible when people share the same points of reference. Without sympathetic context, there’s no way to subvert expectations. But nowadays, I don’t know, man. Against the modernist tendencies employed by early Simpsons, today’s internet-heavy conditions seem rabidly post-modern, with an emphasis on the eradication of structure, a flurry of rapid re-mixes, and the invention of new grammars and patois that dissolve as soon as they are understood.

Culture has moved on from The Simpsons, despite the show’s unwillingness to pass into comedy Valhalla. In other words, Simpsons is becoming dad humor: structures so well trod that they can never again surprise, no matter how perfectly crafted. The aesthetic earmarks of this mid-90s humor juggernaut are becoming as antiquated as puns and pies-in-the-face. 

If this trend continues, it seems likely that it will occur in stages, as more and more young and influential people are unaware of the debt we owe to the likes of Groening, Meyer, Swartzwelder, et al. Compared to the emerging humor aesthetic, the old-school modernist approach will look like it’s for effete try-hards, instead of the cool culture-jammers of the future.

What does that mean? Where does that take us?

I don’t know about you, but my cartography’s all fucked up. I want to map out this structure, and try to see what happens when this style of joking becomes isolated and misunderstood, like dads the world over. READ MORE


The Lost Section

6514072343_38ea9b90ba_zHere is a weird thing about the technology section of the most important newspaper in America: A number of its biggest stars have left in recent months. While reporters at large papers frequently move around and often change beats—especially at the Times—all of these reporters continue to cover technology, just not from the tech desk. Nick Bilton, its most famous writer, who lives in the future and watched Twitter get hatched, now runs his "Disruptions" column in the Styles section; Claire Cain Miller now covers "tech + gender/work/family" at the Times' explainer site, the Upshot; Jenna Wortham, its brightest star, recently decamped for Sunday Business, where she continues to cover technology and culture; and it was announced the other week that David Stretfield, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for his work on the Times' remarkable iEconomy series about Apple's supply chain, while not technically leaving the technology desk, was taking on a "wider role as an enterprise correspondent" and would "contribute pieces to other sections of the paper, including the Sunday Magazine, and will expand his portfolio to take on topics beyond tech."

These moves are partly because the tech desk is tightly circumscribed, in both content and form, by its placement within and subservient to the business section, a structure that, to the outside world, makes less and less sense every day. This is why other sections, in particular Styles, always free to cover whatever, have been been able to colonize the far more interesting and fertile field of cultural technology coverage at a relentless pace. (Even many of the technology section's occasionally ambitious and captivating stories about how technology is changing how we live that truly intersect with business, like Vindu Goel's piece on how Facebook sold us krill oil, have been published in Sunday Business.) READ MORE


Polly Asks: New York Magazine Wants Me to Write Ask Polly For Them. Should I Tell Them to Piss Off?

byeDear Readers,

I need to tell you a story. That means this will be just like every other Ask Polly column, except this story is a little longer than usual, and at first, when you read it, you'll ask, "Where's the tepid dude of the week?" Just bear with me.

In September of 2012, after reading and admiring The Awl for years, and writing a few short humor pieces for them, I sent Choire Sicha an email. 

Subject: Existential advice column
That's what I should be writing for The Awl.

Come on, pay me a tiny bit and it's yours! Just enough $ so my husband doesn't roll his eyes and spit whenever he hears the word "Awl."

Choire's one-word reply was:


Two days later, I sent in my first column and The Awl published it, and thus began one of the best gigs of my career. My first editor, Carrie Frye, let the term "pious fuckwinder' run in my second column. My second editor, Choire, was even more tolerant of dubious strings of adjectives. (He also once forgot to pay me for five months, but when I responded with a three-thousand-word screed on the madness of freelance writing, he sent me a check and published my screed and paid me for that, too.) My third editor, Matt Buchanan, let the term "dickweasel" run. In a world full of pious fuckwinders and dickweasels, in other words, The Awl is an island of sanity, and originality, and humility. I had hoped to never leave. READ MORE


On Hair, There and Everywhere, and Intra-Cultural Shame

dem brows

“A girl told me today that I would be a lot prettier if I got my eyebrows threaded. So I told her she’d be a lot prettier if she got surgery to turn her fivehead into a forehead!!”

File that one under the “swing and a miss” column of my sick burn top hits listicle, but biting wit notwithstanding, my mother was unperturbed.

“Maybe you should start threading your eyebrows,” she conceded, staring fervently at the thicket perched above my nose like it was an unsolvable calculus problem.

I was not expecting that response. I was nine.


Any article trending on the Internet right now can tell you how difficult growing up female is, but let me make it clear: growing up female and Indian is about 100x worse. Thanks to my follicular birthright, I was covered in body hair – not just that adorable little unibrow, or even the wispy mustache that would put prepubescent teenage boys to shame, but wrist to shoulder, leg to ladypart thick black hair. The longest relationship I’ve ever been in, 16 years and counting, has been with the nice Indian lady who threads and waxes me bare – a woman who, despite being so skilled at hair removal she made it a career, once commented, “I just don’t understand why your chin hair is so stubborn.” (Me either, Roma Auntie, but I agree with you, it does seem like laser hair removal has really helped, right?)

If you were interviewing me to be an entry-level management consultant at your top four firm, and – in lieu of asking me how many ping pong balls I thought could fit into a Boeing-737 – asked how many hours I’ve spent in my life removing body hair, I wouldn’t just estimate that shit to show you my thinking. I can give you cold hard numbers. 18 years, seven minutes of leg shaving every three days, one hour of arm waxing, eyebrow threading, and myriad other ways to “clean up” the rest of my face every three weeks, and I’m staring down the barrel of 723 and one half hours. Throw on another half hour of laser hair removal (saying nothing of the time I spent crying in the car after laser hair removal, because it hurts that badly), and that’s 30 days of my life dedicated to maintaining the image that I was, as Leonardo DiCaprio puts it in The Wolf of Wall Street, “hairless from the eyebrows down.” READ MORE


Ryn Weaver, "Stay Low"

A nice counterpoint to Weaver's "Promises" and "OctaHate." Never quite an anthem but not nearly a downer.


Questions We Ask the Oldest People

Can you imagine reading a story like this about yourself?

A 111-year-old retired Japanese educator who enjoys poetry has been recognized as the world's oldest living man…

Asked how he felt about the record, Momoi pushed his back upright and said he wants to live longer.

"Say, another two years," he said.

Momoi said he enjoys reading books, especially Chinese poetry, and sometimes practices calligraphy.

He said there is no special trick for his longevity, but his caregivers say Momoi keeps early hours and eats healthy, according to NHK public television.

It's always the same pattern with these wire stories:

Oldest person, do you think you have long left?

I hope so, like most other people I do not want to die.

Oldest person, what are your hobbies?

I have some, I wish I had started more. I wish I had started a lot of things.

Oldest person, what is your secret?

Sleep, eating well. Do those count as secrets? Surely not. My friends did these things too and they are all gone, now.

You were alive during [war] and [major event in world history], and before [technology].


Oldest person, thank you for your time, my job is done and yours is too. I'll talk to your family right after you die!

Thank you, too. Now I must reckon, privately and in public, with the fact that I am the oldest man on Earth and still know nothing.

I think I would skip my turn, if possible.


Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 18, 2014

weather review sky 081814★★★★ Sun found the splinter or stray cactus spine in a finger, a tiny golden spark for the tweezers (turning to avoid the tweezer-shadows) to surround and snuff. Pine cones lay everywhere; the two-year-old had to be dissuaded from expanding his collection of them to three and beyond. The ocean was rougher than before, with chunks of seaweed in it and a bobbing lump of foam garbage, but out beyond the churn it was still soothing to float in. At the trolley stop in the afternoon, the sun experimented with severity, but was mollified by a cloud. A rabbit sprinted alongside the trolley for a few strides, then veered off. The trolley rolled past trim, modest houses, then past an unfinished ostentatious house. A cool breeze blew through the wooden interior.  A hawk flapped by with one wing notched by a missing primary. Out on the boardwalk, the air moved in warm and cold layers, like the water. The two-year-old went on a stomping run, xylophonic footsteps advancing down the boards. Across from the concrete pillars of the seaside hotel construction site, two goldfinches, plumage unreal in its schematic boldness, perched on bobbing grass stems at the crest of the dunes.


"It’s Uber, but for Golden Parachutes"

The two-way path between government, politics, and private industry, densely shaded by lush money trees, is so well-worn it seems to have been carved by the finger of God, a well-known capitalist, long ago. And yet, fresh trade routes establish themselves all the time. David Plouffe, the man who successfully convinced a majority of the United States in 2008 that Barack Obama would change the country for the better, is now going to make the same argument for Uber, a service that seeks to deeply weave itself into the infrastructure of cities in order to make as much money as possible. Meanwhile, Kara Swisher notes, former Obama press secretary Jay Carney "is still in the running to take over the top comms job at Apple."

This was inevitable; we were warned. Silcon Valley once believed that—whether by dint of its vast sums of money, its increasingly intimate role in the lives of a billion people, or mass delusion—that it was beyond the reach of politics. It has discovered, perhaps via machine learning, that it is like any other titanic industry that has come before it: Why evade power when you can wield it?


Dude Text Decoded

I just wanna leave my number.

We dudes can be a confusing, emotionally constipated, nearly-illiterate group of horndogs with smartphones. And since it’s 2014 and most people are paralyzed by the idea of speaking into a phone receiver, we must fumble our path to fornication via cryptic texts which barely constitute as flirting, let alone communication, most of the time.

But hey! I’m a dumb dude with thumbs and a libido! So let me pull back the Old Spice-scented curtain and let you peek inside the mind of the modern bro’s texting intentions:

hey = I am scared, unfathomably scared.

sup? = Please do not discover my insane insecurities, I do not feel cool. Ever.

what are you up to tonight? = I can’t even begin to explain the intense, deep loneliness brewing within me and one more night alone, eating cheeseburgers in my underwear, watching The Wire (have you seen The Wire?) is such a daunting dive into the abyss that I will undoubtedly break. READ MORE


Subway Rat Goes Big

There's a rat. The intercom woman speaks: "The next stop is 47th–50th Streets, Rockefeller Center." The rat is walking in your direction. The train across the platform—other way—is about to leave. "Stand clear of the closing doors, please." The rat is trotting like a wolf. A loud clattering sound: A suitcase down the stairs? Repairs? The rat doesn't care. The rat is galloping. The rat is here. The rat bites. Get off my subway platform, human. Your time is over.


The Body Counter

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.06.38 PM

Michael Lansu has been a crime reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times for the past decade. Since October 2013 his role has been more specific: editor of the Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch blog, where he reports on every homicide in a city which had five hundred murders in 2012.

Each victim receives a landing page on Michael’s blog. Some are bare-bones, just a news brief on their death. Others—where the victim’s family was more talkative, or the prosecution more successful—are elaborate, Facebook-like pages, with in memoriam posts and updates on suspects’ court dates. The overall effect is strangely human: part crime reporting, part obituary.

Summer is the busiest season for Michael—there were and eighty-two shootings over July 4th weekend—but he made time to meet me at Starbucks and share his thoughts on his work and violence in Chicago.

Your blog’s mission is to humanize Chicago's murders, as opposed to lumping them together into statistics. Can you talk a little about homicides that have deviated from the typical, statistics-driven Chicago crime narrative?

Well, first I want to say that statistics are good. They give you a good idea of which neighborhoods are seeing the highest volume of murders, like Austin, South Shore, Grand Crossing. Really, any murder that happens in the lower-crime neighborhoods is one of the outliers.

Age is another dimension—people outside the eighteen-to-twenty range are kind of outliers. Michael Sullivan, he was an older guy who was walking to work when someone shot and killed him in a robbery. Others that were unique: Endia Martin this year, a fourteen-year-old girl, was shot and killed by another fourteen-year-old girl in a fight over a boy. That was out of the ordinary, because of her age and because she was a girl. Shamiya Adams, an eleven-year-old girl, was killed by a stray bullet a couple weeks ago on the West Side, while she was at a sleepover.

But I really try not to think, oh, just because this one goes against the numbers, I should focus on it more than the others. That goes against what I want to do. Homicide coverage in Chicago has gotten much better, especially with social media making it easier, but it’s still really hard to know which murder is interesting when you’re not making an effort to talk to people. Just because somebody was nineteen years old and in an alley at 3 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting story.



Kelela with Le1f, "OICU"

Kelela, sounding pained but calm. Le1f, floating easily in P. Morris's murky production. A good song for staring blankly into the middle distance! [Via]


Producing a Beyoncé-themed Burlesque Show on a Budget

Beyonce-Partition-videoPart one of a series, wherein the author attempts to answer the question, "Can I produce A NYC burlesque show without losing my shirt?"

It wasn't long after I became friends with burlesque star and producer Calamity Chang through freelance work that I came up with the idea for Beylesque, a Beyoncé burlesque show to take place on or around the pop diva's 33rd birthday. "It could be huge!" I said. "It's underground meets mainstream pop. You could serve birthday cupcakes and have a dance-off/twerkout during intermission."

See, I'm great at coming up with ideas that I absolutely, 100% guaranteed will never follow through with — TV commercials, reality shows, a jewelry line — and then pushing said ideas onto people who might actually be able to pull them off.

Calamity wasn't sold on my Beyoncé burlesque idea at first, but that didn't keep me from suggesting it a few more times. And then she said, "Okay, we're doing it." We? I haven't planned an event involving more than a handful of friends since my debauchery-free, free pizza-ful days as a college RA.

Beylesque is now a real thing and it's happening Saturday, September 6, at 11 pm! Here's how we're pulling it off, so far.

The Name:

Calamity and I needed a show name that would scream "Beyoncé" without warranting a cease and desist letter. We also thought of our target audience. "All the Single Ladies" it was. Runners-up: "Crazy in Love," "Bootylicious," and "We Bey All Night." READ MORE


Say What You Mean, New York Post

The Post has come out boldly in favor of catcalling. Some of the essay's core points, adjusted for clarity:

I realize most women with healthy self-confidence don’t court unwanted male [THREATS AND VERBAL ASSAULT]. In fact, most women seem to hate it. It’s not brain science — when a total stranger [DEMEANS AND INTIMIDATES] you, it’s validating. Enjoying male [VIOLENCE] doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender.

The saddest thing about these unimaginatively provocative stories—the DON'T HATE ME FOR MY PRIVILEGE essays, the CALM DOWN, PEOPLE! rants—is that the best-case outcome is the education of one person: The writer-subject, who will become either permanently entrenched or emotionally broken as a result of the ensuing backlash. Otherwise, the ripples don't even make it to the edge of the pond. Some readers nod their heads and turn the page; others click, think "oh [hell] no," and generate some angry social media. It's first and foremost a human sacrifice intended to insert a small thrill into the paper: the private thrill of reading your horrible opinion expressed in public at no personal cost (there but for the grace of god!), or the more public thrill of identifying something utterly and completely wrong.


The Weird Near Future of News

NowThisNews was started a couple years ago as a "brand new video network built from scratch for people who get their news on mobile devices and through social streams." It was given five million dollars. Its early videos were short YouTube-style news bulletins; most of the old embeds seem to be gone. Now, a few PIVOTS later, the company is focusing on publishing news directly to apps, including Vine and Instagram. This concept—bypassing websites, going directly to other companies' channels—is something that a lot of people will start trying over the next year, because the internet is broken.

NowThisNews is also publishing directly to Snapchat, the ephemeral texting and video app. Here is what Snapnews looks like in its primitive form: A ninety-second reel, divided into small units, each composed by finger or stylus. Who knew! This is NowThisNews's Monday stream in its entirety: READ MORE


Three Lost Days at the Biggest Architecture Show in the World


People often say that their hometowns or favorite cities are unique. "There’s no place like New York," they declare. This is true, up to a point—no two cities are exactly alike—but, broadly speaking, it’s nonsense. Almost every modern city is like New York, because nearly every city is substantially like every other city: There are traffic jams and suburbs and hip, formerly industrial neighborhoods and decaying ones. But Venice? Venice is different. There’s no place like Venice.

The same quality that made the Queen of the Adriatic a world power in medieval and Renaissance Europe—her amphibious nature, unassailably positioned out in a lagoon, her finger on the pulse of Mediterranean trade—has made her a singularly ornamental city in the twenty-first century. Some old imperial capitals have sprawled uninterrupted into modern metropolises, like London and Moscow, while many of Venice’s onetime rivals have shrunk into sleepy little provincial resorts, like the Republic of Ragusa—now Dubrovnik, Croatia—or developed into modern centers of trade and industry, like La Serenissima’s nemesis, Genoa. Venice is too big and spectacular to fade away, too constrained to sprawl, too peculiar to reinvent itself. It’s a relic, left behind by the shifting currents of trade and history: as Portugal and Spain opened naval routes to Asia and the Americas, Venice went from being a crossroads of international trade to a relative backwater; as technology advanced, the Arsenale went from being the world’s greatest and most sophisticated industrial facility to an antiquated shipyard incapable of launching modern vessels.

So today, Venice relies overwhelmingly on tourism; half of the city’s economic activity is directly tied to it, and almost everything else relies, if indirectly, on tourists’ money. The one substantial sector of the economy that isn’t tourism-related is education, and at the intersection of tourism and the academy lies the city’s modern specialty, cultural events—the world-famous film festival, boat races, conferences, and the Biennale.

When somebody says "Venice Biennale," you probably think of the Art Biennale, picturing great hordes of glamorous art-world people drifting from debauched party to debauched party, Bellinis in hand. Maybe you read Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi? The Architecture Biennale is a little different. There are still some glamorous, fashionable art-world types, but replace about seventy percent of them, in your mind’s eye, with frumpy, middle-aged white guys. Then replace all those Bellinis with Aperol spritzes and tone down the revelry; people are relatively sober, treating the occasion more like a professional conference than a carnival.



Bethany Beach, Delaware, August 17, 2014

weather review sky 081714★★★★ Blue gaps opened in the cloud cover. The little glimpse of ocean off through the pines was gray. The sun burned through on the way to the farmer's market, making the walk back bright and hot enough for the children to complain about. Out on the beach, the waves spread cool air as they broke. Now the water was the green of good olives, and where it broke it was the green that appears now in late-rmodel cars. The swells were gentle, though people still swarmed the water with their artificial floating planks, sub-surfboards, as if some excitement might happen. A wind roared over wet ears on the way back up onto the shore, and a gust uprooted the beach umbrella and flung it five or ten yards, where it hit a stranger from behind. Inland, crape myrtles were in bloom on the supermarket lot. Even on the barren asphalt, the heat was less than painful. A gray cloud moving through the blue released a drop or three of rain as the grill smoked and fought to get going. The wind kept the smoke moving to every quarter. The clouds drifted briskly. A pile of them out to sea began to turn purple and gold.