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kottke.org posts about TV

Want to Buy a Bob Ross Painting? You Can’t. (And Here’s Why.)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

During the course of his television career, Bob Ross painted more than 1000 paintings. But you never see them for sale. You can buy Bob Ross paint sets and even a waffle maker that makes waffles that look like Bob Ross — “Pour in the batter, lower the lid, and before you know it, there’s Bob Ross ready for butter and syrup.” — but good luck buying one of his actual paintings. In this charming little video from the NY Times, we learn where all of Bob Ross’s paintings are, meet the paintings’ custodians, and discover why the art isn’t for sale.

In 1994, the talk show host Phil Donahue asked Mr. Ross to “say out loud your work will never hang in a museum.”

“Well, maybe it will,” Mr. Ross replied. “But probably not the Smithsonian.”

Some of Ross’s paintings can be viewed at The Bob Ross Art Workshop & Gallery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Every episode of The Joy of Painting can be viewed on YouTube or sometimes streaming on Twitch. I watched on Twitch for a couple minutes just now and was tickled to catch him saying one of his signature phrases: “happy little trees”.

The Simpsons Intro Reimagined as a Russian Art Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

The Simpsons has never exactly portrayed its characters in a flattering light, but this version of the show’s title sequence reimagined as a Russian art film by Lenivko Kvadratjić is downright depressing. (via bb)

My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

A Documentary on Jim Henson’s Creative Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2019

Defunctland has produced a six-part documentary series on Jim Henson. Each episode focuses on a different creative project that Henson did. Here’s the trailer:

The first four episodes are already out…here’s the second episode on Sesame Street:

You can watch the rest of them on YouTube.

Vintage TV Test Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

It’s hard to believe now, but television didn’t used to be a 24/7/365 affair. TV stations stopped broadcasting late at night and when they were off the air, they would commonly display a test pattern until programming resumed in the morning.

Used since the earliest TV broadcasts, test cards were originally physical cards at which a television camera was pointed, and such cards are still often used for calibration, alignment, and matching of cameras and camcorders.

From Wikimedia Commons and Present & Correct, here are some vintage test patterns:

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

As you might expect, the BBC test card with the girl and clown has both a backstory and a cult following.

One of the most-used test images was RCA’s “Indian-head” test pattern:

TV Test Patterns

As this annotated version shows, each of the card’s elements had a specific testing purpose:

TV Test Patterns

If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, here’s 36 minutes of vintage test patterns from all around the world:

Photos from the Chernobyl Disaster in 1986

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Chernobyl

Chernobyl

Alan Taylor has put together a selection of photos taken in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. You may have seen some of these scenes recreated in HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries.

Liquidators clean the roof of the No. 3 reactor. At first, workers tried clearing the radioactive debris from the roof using West German, Japanese, and Russian robots, but the machines could not cope with the extreme radiation levels so authorities decided to use humans. In some areas, workers could not stay any longer than 40 seconds before the radiation they received reached the maximum authorized dose a human being should receive in his entire life.

See also more recent photos of Chernobyl and the exclusion zone and Masha Gessen’s take on what HBO’s series got wrong.

Ikea Recreates Famous TV Living Rooms Using Only Their Furniture

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

For an ad campaign running in the United Arab Emirates, Ikea recreated the famous TV living rooms from three shows using only Ikea furniture and housewares. See if you can guess which shows these are from…

Ikea TV Rooms

Ikea TV Rooms

Ikea TV Rooms

(via @mkobach)

Chasing the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

In July, American Experience will air Chasing the Moon, a 6-hour documentary film about the effort to send a manned mission to the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

The series recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Utilizing a visual feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material — much of which has never before been seen by the public — the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events. Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.

Among the stories not usually told about the Moon missions is that of Ed Dwight, NASA’s first black astronaut trainee:

Since 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, there’s a *lot* of stuff out there about the Space Race and Apollo program, but this film looks like it’s going to be one of the best. The film will start airing on PBS on July 8 and the Blu-ray & DVD comes out on July 9. There’s a companion book that will be available next week.

The Trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2019

The first trailer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix’s long-awaited prequel to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, is finally here. From Vanity Fair:

The new series, which takes place years before the events of the original film, follows three creatures, called Gelfling, who discover the horrifying secret behind the power of a group of villainous critters called the Skeksis. The heroes — Taron Egerton’s Rian, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Brea, and Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet — embark on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world, which, at the time of the film, is dying, with sickness spreading across the land as the Skeksis control the powerful Crystal of Truth.

As you can see from the trailer, the series uses puppets and not CGI characters, just like the original. The 10-part series debuts on Netflix on August 30. In the meantime, the original 1982 movie is available on Netflix right now.

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.

The Trailer for the Downton Abbey Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

The Downton Abbey movie is nearly upon us (it’s out in Sept) and the first full-length trailer is here. The action picks up a couple of years after the TV show ended and concerns the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the estate. I’ve embedded the UK trailer above — it’s better than the American trailer even though it gives away a bit more of the plot. Plus, in the UK version you get to see the deployment of Carson in the Battle of the Head Butlers. Carson’s glance of disdained indifference toward the royal butler might be the most spine-tingling battle moment since Aragon uttered “for Frodo” and charged headlong into the hordes of Mordor.

Update: Some real talk from Robert Bennett about the escapist fantasy of Downton Abbey:

really the point of the entire show was to let middle american viewers dabble in the lavish lives and costumes of the edwardian .001% without feeling bad about what made that lifestyle possible

anything that threatened that “safari in the aristocracy” aspect — be it the realism of class warfare, or the actual, historical evolutions of the era that would have upended everything that happened — was quickly neutered and turned into quaint fluff.

Still excited for the movie though. Butler Battle 2019!!

Nichelle Nichols’ 1977 NASA Recruitment Film for Space Shuttle Astronauts

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2019

In this NASA promotional film from 1977, Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols takes a tour of the Johnson Space Center with Apollo 12 astronaut Al Bean and urges viewers, especially women and people of color, to sign up to be astronauts on NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

As one of the first black women to play a lead role on television, Nichols was a role model for women and people of color, particularly those interested in science, space, and engineering. When she was she thinking of quitting Star Trek, Nichols met Martin Luther King Jr. at a NAACP fundraiser and he talked her into staying on the show. She recalled King telling her:

Do you not understand what God has given you? … You have the first important non-traditional role, non-stereotypical role. … You cannot abdicate your position. You are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be.

So when NASA came calling, Nichols used her position well:

She relayed her response to NASA with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “I am going to bring you so many qualified women and minority astronaut applicants for this position that if you don’t choose one… everybody in the newspapers across the country will know about it.”

Nichols credited Star Trek with the success of her recruiting efforts. “Suddenly the people who were responding were the bigger Trekkers you ever saw. They truly believed what I said… it was a very successful endeavor. It changed the face of the astronaut corp forever.”

Among the recruits drawn to NASA by Nichols’ efforts were Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Ronald McNair & Judith Resnick, who both died in the Challenger accident, Guion Bluford, the first African-American in space, and Mae Jemison, who was the first black woman in space. The diversity of the latest batch of NASA astronauts-in-training is a testament to Nichols’ and NASA’s joint efforts as well. (via open culture)

Trailer for Season 5 of Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2019

Black Mirror is back for a fifth season on Netflix starting June 5. The season will consist only of three episodes and will star, among others, Miley Cyrus, Topher Grace, Andrew Scott, and Anthony Mackie. Here’s the trailer:

I have to admit that I haven’t watched all of season 4 yet…or Bandersnatch. Living in an episode of Black Mirror isn’t exactly conducive to wanting to watch Black Mirror.

Running From COPS

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2019

Running From COPS is a new podcast that examines the cultural influence of the long-running TV show COPS. Vox did a short video on the main themes of the show:

From a Fast Company article about the podcast and its creator, Dan Taberski:

The problem is that Cops is more reality show than documentary, and Taberski, a veteran reality show producer, knows there’s a huge disparity between reality show “reality” and documentary reality. In the course of their investigation, the Running from Cops team discovered that the police had final cut approval for the series. “When you start to look at the contractual relationship between producers and police-and we got our hands on a few of those contracts between Cops and the police departments — I think people will be really surprised how much the police are controlling their own message on the show,” Taberski says. Watching the show in that light, he adds, “It just shows how dicey it is to be using reality-show storytelling techniques for something so real and important as policing, and how your biases can creep in even unintentionally.”

Taberski and the producers also found that while prostitution, drugs, and violence make up 58% of crime depicted on Cops, according to the FBI, those three categories only account for barely 17% of crime IRL.

The first four episodes are available now on your favorite podcasting platform. I binged them over the past week and they’re worth a listen.

Balanced Anarchy or Open Society?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

A clip from 1985 of James Burke talking about how microchips will change politics by making it possible for everyone’s opinion about the nature of the world to be heard and tallied. This slightly longer version of the same clip is worth watching:

You can also watch the entire episode from which it was taken.

Personal computing and the internet changed (and continues to change) the balance of power in the world so much and with such speed that we still can’t comprehend it. Ordinary people have more power today than they have ever had in history, but already powerful people have seen their potential reach and influence grow even more quickly. The system enabled by connected microchips can make everyone heard, but it can also make a reality TV star President of the United States. And this dynamic is still very young…we’re in for a wild ride, folks.

Why Everyone Is Watching TV with Closed Captioning On These Days

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2019

Ice Law Order

A few months ago I noticed that several friends (who speak English and aren’t deaf) routinely watch TV and movies with closed captions and subtitles on. I asked about this on Twitter and the resulting thread was fascinating. Turns out many of you watch TV this way for all kinds of different reasons — to follow complex dialog in foreign or otherwise difficult accents, some folks better retain information while reading, keeping the sound down so as not to wake sleeping children in tight living spaces, and lots of people who aren’t deaf find listening difficult for many reasons (some have trouble listening to dialogue when there’s any sort of non-ambient noise in the background).

For instance, Stephanie Buck wrote:

I turned them on last night when watching Sex Education because the mixture of strong accents, British slang, and fast talking means I miss a lot otherwise. Also I’d had 2 margaritas.

David Sun Lee:

When I watch tv alone at night I gotta keep the tv low so the effects and soundtrack don’t wake up the kids. Usually that means the voice track is lost.

Jeremy Negrey:

Typically the whole family is in the living room, but some might be watching their iPad or on their phone so there is a lot of competing noise. I found it helps me focus on what I’m watching.

As Sebastian Greger notes in his summary of the resulting thread, closed captioning is a great example of how accessibility features can benefit everyone, especially those who may have disabilities or limitations that aren’t typically acknowledged as such.

The reasons why people watch TV with closed captions on, despite having good hearing abilities and not being constrained by having to watch muted video, are manifold and go far beyond those two most commonly anticipated use cases.

See also Why Gen Z Loves Closed Captioning.

This post first appeared in an issue of Noticing, kottke.org’s weekly newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Winter Is Coming, the Climate Change Message at the Heart of Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

In a Q&A with the NY Times back in October, George R.R. Martin connected the goings-on in Westeros with the challenges raised by climate change here in the real world.

The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change, which, to my mind, is conclusively proved by most of the data and 99.9 percent of the scientific community. And it really has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs. Jobs are a very important issue, of course. All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean. So really, climate change should be the number one priority for any politician who is capable of looking past the next election. But unfortunately, there are only a handful of those. We spend 10 times as much energy and thought and debate in the media discussing whether or not N.F.L. players should stand for the national anthem than this threat that’s going to destroy our world.

That message has always lurked in the background of the HBO show but seemed closer to the surface in the latest episode — mild spoilers! — which finds several factions that were formerly set against each other in various configurations all working together to defeat a much more threatening common enemy. It is quite difficult, nearly impossible even, to imagine a similar coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and everyone in between allied with each other to combat climate change, but we’re going have to get there somehow. We either do it soon and get the world we want or we continue to do very little and pay a much heavier price later for a world that no one wants.

Update: See also Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recap of the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. Wait, what?!

And as much as Dany wants to take on her family’s enemies and take back the Iron Throne, she knows that she must first fight the army of the dead that threatens all mankind. This is a revolutionary idea, in Westeros or anywhere else. A queen who declares that she doesn’t serve the interests of the rich and powerful? A ruler who doesn’t want to control the political system but to break the system as it is known? It’s no wonder that the people she meets in Westeros are skeptical.

David Attenborough Hosts “Climate Change: The Facts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

From the BBC and hosted by David Attenborough, “Climate Change: The Facts” is an hour-long program on the science of climate change and what we might be able to do about it.

Sir David’s new programme laid out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it.

“In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined,” Sir David stated in the film.

“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”

With each successive nature series, Attenborough has become more vocal about the effects of climate change on our planet and its plant and animal populations. In his new Netflix series Our Planet, climate change takes center stage.

Compared to its predecessors, the series also frames the value of nature in a new way. Usually Attenborough’s programs establish a place or a species as a thing of remarkable beauty-this soulful orangutan, that industrious bird of paradise-before warning that it is somehow imperilled. The value of the creature is its existence. We may never see a polar bear, but we take pleasure from knowing that they’re out there. In “Our Planet,” the value of nature is presented as something much closer to home, and more practical. Attenborough reminds viewers again and again of the connections that link these far-flung ecosystems to our own species’s survival. Protect the sea otter because it’s lovely, if you like, but also because it keeps in check the sea urchins that otherwise mow down kelp forests, which act as crucial carbon sinks. “We are part of nature. We aren’t separate from nature,” Attenborough told me.

The Saturday Night Live Portrait

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

SNL Bumpers

SNL Bumpers

Since 1999, Mary Ellen Matthews has been the official photographer of SNL. For each show, Matthews captures a stylized portrait of the host, which is then used for “bumpers” between commercials and the live program.

“I kind of think of them as billboards. They pop off the screen,” Matthews, a self-described “one-woman circus,” told Vulture in a recent interview. “I like to make it as easy as possible for everyone. I don’t want them overthinking this part of the show. It should be super fun and super easy. It’s an open invitation to get kooky.”

BeyoncĂ© Drops “Homecoming”, a Live Album of Her Coachella Performance

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

With a tweet at 3:20am this morning, Beyoncé announced her latest album, a 40-track live album of her acclaimed 2018 Coachella performance. You can listen to Homecoming right now on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube, and Pandora.

The album is a complement to a Netflix film of the performance, also called Homecoming and also available today. Here’s the trailer for that:

After the Coachella performance last year, the NY Times’ music critic Jon Caramanica wrote:

Let’s just cut to the chase: There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon, than Beyoncé’s headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Saturday night.

It was rich with history, potently political and visually grand. By turns uproarious, rowdy, and lush. A gobsmacking marvel of choreography and musical direction.

The Historical Precedents for the Excessive Violence in Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Game of Thrones made its return to HBO last night and, surprise, someone died! According to this compilation video, over 174,000 people have died on the show in seven seasons. The sheer numbers and the fact that some of the deaths have been, shall we say, a little creative (even for a fantasy show) sometimes interfered with my ability to fully suspend my disbelief when watching. Take Khal Drogo killing Viserys Targaryen by pouring molten gold on his head in the first season:

That’s a pretty outlandish death, an over-the-top display of sadism for the benefit of a TV audience. Right? Well, I’ve been reading Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World and I’ve discovered that Game of Thrones hews close to historical precedent when it comes to inventive murder.

According to some sources, after the Roman Emperor Valerian was captured in battle in the 3rd century, he was subjected to something much worse than a simple death at the hands of the Persian Emperor, Shapur I:

The Emperor Valerian was humiliated after being taken prisoner and held in “the abject form of slavery”: used as a human footstool for the Persian ruler “by bending his back to raise the king as he was about to mount his horse,” his body was eventually flayed “and his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians, that the remembrance of a victory so signal might be perpetuated and that this spectacle might always be exhibited for our ambassadors.” He was stuffed so all could see the folly and shame of Rome.

Around the end of the 10th century, a leader of the Rus’ was ritually executed by Pecheneg steppe nomads:

The capture of the prince was gleefully celebrated, and his skull was lined with gold and kept as a victory trophy, to be used to celebrate ceremonial toasts.

In 1182, rising tension between the Byzantine Empire and the rising Italian city-states like Venice resulted in attacks against citizens of the city-states who were living in Constantinople:

Many were killed, including the representative of the Latin church, whose head was dragged through the city’s streets behind a dog.

The Mongols, under Genghis Khan and subsequent rulers, used brutality as a tool to shock and awe local populations into peaceful submission, making examples of those who resisted their advances:

Nīshāpūr was one of the locations that suffered total devastation. Every living being — from women, children and the elderly to livestock and domestic animals — was butchered as the order was given that not even dogs or cats should be left alive. All the corpses were piled up in a series of enormous pyramids as gruesome warnings of the consequences of standing up to the Mongols.

It was a very effective technique:

In 1241, the Mongols struck into the heart of Europe, splitting their forces into two, with one spur attacking Poland and the other heading for the plains of Hungary. Panic spread through the entire continent, especially after a large army led by the King of Poland and the Duke of Silesia was destroyed, and the head of the latter paraded on the end of a lance, together with nine sacks filled with “the ears of the dead.”

When the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258, they moved through the city “like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep,”

The city’s inhabitants were dragged through the streets and alleys, like toys, “each of them becoming a plaything.” The Caliph al-Mustaʿṣim was captured, rolled up in fabric and trampled to death by horses. It was a highly symbolic moment that showed who held real power in the world.

And finally, if there was any remaining doubt that George R.R. Martin modelled the Dothraki on the Mongols and Khal Drogo on Genghis Khan, consider the death of Inalchuq, a 13th-century Persian governor:

Stories such as that of a high-ranking official who was ordered into the presence of a newly arrived Mongol warlord and had molten gold poured into his eyes and ears became widely known — as was the fact that this murder was accompanied by the announcement that this was fitting punishment for a man “whose disgraceful behaviour, barbarous acts and previous cruelties deserved the condemnation of all.”

Perhaps Game of Thrones doesn’t seem so fantastical after all…

Russian Doll has depth, and bodega scenes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

In one of his recent media diet* posts, Jason mentioned Russian Doll.

Russian Doll. Groundhog Day adjacent. Natasha Lyonne is mesmerizing. (B+)

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Natasha Lyonne is quite mesmerizing in Russian Doll, and both Greta Lee and Chloe Sevigny give layered performances around her curly bangs and gruff but sensitive delivery. But the Groundhog Day comparison sells it short.

Russian Doll is all at once a New York story, a story of rediscovery, of addiction, of healing, of trauma, and of how visually stunning a vivid palate can be on the small screen. The full season was utterly captivating on many levels, and deserves more recognition than just being good episodic television. The soundtrack is note-perfect as well, though Love’s “Alone Again Or” will forever stand in my mind as part of this scene in Bottle Rocket. (The best Wes Anderson film. Fight me.)

I lived by Lyonne’s tidbit of advice via The Cut for a couple cold weeks in March, but really it’s always applicable for introverts.

This is all to say, please watch Russian Doll if you haven’t already, and let’s discuss. Find me on Twitter.

My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month and a half. For books, I’m currently reading Silk Roads and listening to the audiobook of Guns, Germs, and Steel, which are rhyming in interesting ways. Looking back, I haven’t listened to any significant new music in months and months. What am I missing?

Turnton kitchen scissors. Ernest Wright very kindly sent me a pair of their kitchen scissors. I’ve posted so much about their story that I can’t really be objective at this point no matter what, so I feel ok saying the craftsmanship of these scissors is flat out amazing. (A-)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Never not entertaining. (A-)

Tag. Kinda fun but the real-life story was better. (C+)

Alita: Battle Angel. The big eyes worked. (B)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Liked this even more the second time around and I love reading and watching all the making-of stuff. (A-)

Cold War. Along with Roma, Spider-Verse, The Favourite, and If Beale Street Could Talk, this was one of the most beautifully shot films of 2018. Every frame a painting, indeed. (B+)

The Grinch. I wasn’t expecting to sympathize so much with The Grinch here. The social safety net constructed by the upper middle class Whos totally failed the most vulnerable member of their society in a particularly heartless way. Those Whos kinda had it coming. (B)

Mortal Engines. Why was this panned so much? It wasn’t great but it was entertaining…this and Alita felt similar to me. (B)

Leaving Neverland. I wrote some thoughts about this here. (A)

Why Is This Happening? The Uninhabitable Earth with David Wallace-Wells. Fascinating and scary interview of David Wallace-Wells about his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth. Weirdly, I felt almost hopeful at the end of it though. (A)

Captain Marvel. I liked Brie Larson in this role very much. Looking forward to seeing more in Avengers: Endgame. (B+)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Great movie. Very few films have matched the inventiveness of its action sequences since it came out. (A)

Apollo 11. The nearest IMAX theater is more than a 3-hour drive from where I live, so I had to watch this in a tiny theater with what sounded like a single speaker located at the front of the room. This greatly diminished the intended effect of the pristine 65mm footage. (B)

Living more than a 3-hour drive from the nearest IMAX theater. (F)

The History of English Podcast. This was recommended to me by a reader because of this post. I listened to a pair of episodes about surnames: What’s In a Name? and Trade Names. Super interesting stuff. (A-)

Kohler 10282-AK-CP shower head. My shower head sucked, I replaced it with this one, and now my shower head doesn’t suck anymore. (B+)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. The Salt episode intensified my desire to go to Japan. (B+)

Aquaman. Not as good as Wonder Woman, but way better than Justice League or any of the other recent DC movies. (B)

Cooking As an Art, With Jerry Saltz. This podcast episode is pretty uneven in spots, but when Chang just lets Saltz talk, it’s a goldmine of quotable ideas. “Pleasure is an important form of knowledge.” (A-)

The Unknown Known. Late in the film, Donald Rumsfeld says to his interlocutor Errol Morris: “I think you’re probably, Errol, chasing the wrong rabbit here.” Morris got a bit unlucky here in his choice of subject — by the end of the movie, we don’t know anything more about Rumsfeld than when we started. (C+)

Chef’s Table, Enrique Olvera. Oh man, I can’t wait to go to Pujol next week. (A-)

Kindle Paperwhite. I upgraded from my old Paperwhite. I like the flat screen, that it’s lighter, and the waterproofing is going to come in handy, but the speed and screen quality are pretty much exactly the same. Are e-ink interfaces already as sharp & responsive as they are ever going to be? (A)

Bumblebee. Entertaining, but I still have a problem with the Transformers movies because the robots are so overly detailed that it’s hard to know where to look when they’re on-screen. They should be more abstract and iconic (a la Scott McCloud’s Big Triangle in Understanding Comics). (B+)

Emily Wilson on Translations and Language. Having not read multiple translations of Homer, some of this was over my head, but the rest was really interesting. (A-)

Generative.fm. Been listening to this while working more or less constantly for the past week, mostly the “Otherness” and “Meditation” tracks. (A-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Deadwood: The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2019

Open the canned peaches because Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock, and the rest of your Deadwood favorites are back on May 31 in Deadwood: The Movie. Here’s a tease:

Swearengen: You ever think, Bullock, of not going straight at a thing?

Bullock: No.

I’m in 1000%. For more on the movie’s action/plot, read Tim’s post from December.

Cutting Commentary on News Media’s Complicity in Spreading Hateful Views

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, a pair of comedians whose hilarious cooking show I’ve previously featured, are back with Get Krack!n, a series that parodies a typical TV morning show. In this clip, they debut a new segment that perfectly skewers how TV media provides a platform for radical kooks to promote hateful agendas for the mutual benefit of both kook & show. (Note: this clip contains swearing and simulated religious bigotry & misogyny.)

They’re not necessarily views that we endorse or share personally, Kate McCartney, but they’re definitely opinions that we are 100% complicit in broadcasting, and that in time we will go to hell for.

This is an Australian show, but a similar panel and topic could easily have appeared on any number of Fox News programs.

A Fan-Made Trailer for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2019

This trailer made by cinematographer and director Morgan Cooper imagines a contemporary reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that’s a little darker and grittier than the original. I dunno about you, but that’s one of the best fan-made trailers I’ve ever seen. I say give Cooper the show and let him run with it.

Stacey Abrams, Star Trek Superfan

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 08, 2019

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Georgia politician, almost-Governor, and Democratic superstar Stacey Abrams has a secret to her success: she loves Star Trek. In particular, she loves my favorite Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In explaining her approach to politics as a black Democratic woman in a state controlled by white Republican men, she devotes several pages to a pivotal scene from “Peak Performance,” an episode from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

In the episode, Data, the preternaturally pale android with a greenish cast to his skin, is playing Strategema, a game that appears to be some incredibly complicated form of 3-D holographic chess, against a humanoid grandmaster named Kolrami. Data cannot defeat Kolrami, he discovers, but he can outlast him, drive him into a rage and force him to quit the game, which is itself a kind of victory.

Ms. Abrams writes that this has helped her focus her own thinking. “Data reframed his objective — not to win outright but to stay alive, passing up opportunities for immediate victory in favor of a strategy of survival,” she says in the book. “My lesson is simpler: change the rules of engagement.”

Stacey Abrams

This sparked some predictably joyous reactions among Star Trek fans:

And the following thoughtful thread from Manu Saadia (@trekonomics) on the history of progressive politics, as modeled in the Star Trek universe:

It actually is possible to overthink this. All of this about politics and the imagination and utopian possibilities is true. But at the same time, ultimately, it’s just a really cool show. It’s one we grew up with. And as politicians get younger, it’s one we’ve always had with us, framing our background on entertainment, war, morality, politics, economics — everything.

The world the original Star Trek entered was one where space was only beginning to open, as a direct consequence of the nuclear and geopolitical crisis than enveloping the planet. Now, we have all new geopolitical crises to deal with. Star Trek offers a surprisingly resilient fictional framework for understanding most if not all of them. That’s a powerful tool. It’s foolish to pass it up.

Oh, and Ms. Abrams — keep bustin’ ‘em up.

Fred Rogers Was Attracted to Both Men and Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2019

Like many people my age, Mister Rogers had a large influence on me in terms of how to act as a man. As Maxwell King wrote in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, he was not perceived at the time to be traditionally masculine:

Rogers himself was often labeled “a sissy,” or gay, in a derogatory sense. But as his longtime associate Eliot Daley put it: “Fred is one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. So if they are saying he’s gay because… that’s a surrogate for saying he’s weak, that’s not right, because he’s incredibly strong.” He adds: “He wasn’t a very masculine person, he wasn’t a very feminine person; he was androgynous.”

In a 1975 interview for the New York Times, Rogers noted drolly: “I’m not John Wayne, so consequently, for some people I’m not the model for the man in the house.”

When I was little, Mister Rogers was the man of the house. My dad worked a lot and I sometimes only saw him for a few hours on weekends. Instead, my male role models were Captain Kangaroo, the men of Sesame Street (Mr. Hooper, Bob, Gordon, and Luis), and, most of all, Fred Rogers.

Now, some in the LGBTQ+ community are finding Fred Rogers to be a posthumous bisexual role model. Directly after the passage above, King continues:

In conversation with one of his friends, the openly gay Dr. William Hirsch, Fred Rogers himself concluded that if sexuality was measured on a scale of one to ten: “Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle. Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive.”

As Out’s Mikelle Street notes, it’s tough to tell what Rogers meant by that in terms of his sexuality. We do know he was married to his wife Joanne for more than 50 years until his death in 2003. Rogers also advised François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons and came out as gay during his time on the program (though not on air), to not go to gay bars while working on the show and encouraged him to marry a woman.

Clemmons did but then divorced his wife to live as an openly gay man, piercing his ear as a sign of his sexuality. He was not allowed to wear earrings while filming though — for years Clemmons masked his own sexuality, under the advice of Rogers, in an effort to be successful.

Could it be that the actor was less forthcoming about his sexuality because he understood what Hollywood then required for success?

If Street is right, perhaps Rogers didn’t come out publicly about his sexuality for the same reason he advised Clemmons to mask being gay and the same reason millions of other people didn’t in the 70s and 80s: fear of social stigma. As King repeatedly writes in the book, Rogers always put the needs of the small children who watched his program above all other concerns. Perhaps he felt that a potential scandal about his sexuality, even a small one, was not worth jeopardizing his relationship with his television neighbors.

For Clemmons though, there was little doubt that Rogers accepted him for who he was:

He says he’ll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.

Clemmons asked him, “Fred, were you talking to me?”

“Yes, I have been talking to you for years,” Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. “But you heard me today.”

“It was like telling me I’m OK as a human being,” Clemmons says. “That was one of the most meaningful experiences I’d ever had.”

Update: Clemmons spoke at length in this Vanity Fair interview about his relationship with Rogers, his sexuality, and appearing on the show. One excerpt:

And [during the show], I could not handle people having an open discussion about the fact that François Clemmons is living with his lover. I did feel like I was risking [something], because people knew who I was. I had a full conversation with Fred about what it could possibly do to the program and to my role on the program, and I didn’t feel I wanted to risk it. You know, the articles that have talked about me, I don’t think they’ve taken into full account that societal norms were vastly different than what they are right now.

Some Observations on Leaving Neverland

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2019

I watched Leaving Neverland last night in one four-hour sitting…as in I literally didn’t leave the sofa. Completely riveting. Here are some thoughts I have about it.

1. At its heart, this is not actually a movie about Michael Jackson. It’s about two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, whose lives were utterly ruined by a man they idolized & trusted. Their childhood innocence ripped away. Their families torn apart. Their current families left wondering if they can be trusted with their own children. As the movie progresses, Jackson almost fades into the background and the viewer is just left with these men, feeling and empathizing with them and their families.

2. One of the things I was most struck by, especially in the early part of the film, was the way the two men and their families described Jackson in almost a tender, loving way. There was little on-camera anger and lashing out (although there undoubtably was during their still-ongoing recovery process). I was left with a feeling of unease that in a deep and complicated way, these two men still care for Jackson. That feeling’s gonna stay with me for a loooong time.

3. As I’m writing this post, one of Jackson’s songs echoes in my head: “Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me.” I have no idea what to make of this or how to process it.

4. It is pretty simple. Unless you’re willing to perform complicated mental gymnastics to bamboozle yourself into conspiracy theory land, the plain truth is that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. You can feel however you want about that — he was a monster, he was a man broken by his own abusive childhood & twisted by the vortex of fame — but you cannot simply dismiss it. Maureen Orth covered previous accusations about Jackson for Vanity Fair; her recent article is a good short summary of the facts.

5. If you’re a famous actor who spent lots of one-on-one time with Jackson when you were a child, why would you ever in a million years tell anyone that he sexually abused you?

6. A statement released by the Jackson estate said that Leaving Neverland is “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death”. Who knows if they actually watched the film because it is the opposite of a sensationalistic hit piece. This isn’t Michael Moore bombast. The film is careful, methodical, and, aside from some slightly ominous music at times, quite respectful towards Jackson given the circumstances. As Wesley Morris writes, “‘LEAVING NEVERLAND’ is long but delicately, patiently done — and so quiet; you can practically hear yourself listening.”

7. No One Deserves As Much Power As Michael Jackson Had by Craig Jenkins:

If you don’t believe that Jackson touched anyone inappropriately, you have to reckon with the fact that he knowingly coerced families into allowing their children into his orbit while incrementally driving their parents away; that he nudged them out of the picture as they got a little older, only remembering to call when he needed someone to testify in a court of law. You have to listen to the Robson family explain how Jackson’s machinations pried the young boy’s parents apart, how the singer convinced them to move to Los Angeles from Australia, how Robson’s father committed suicide because they left him.

You come away from the film with the sense that Jackson was, at a minimum, a troubled and deeply manipulative person, more so than we’d ever imagined.

8. In Michael Jackson Cast a Spell. ‘Leaving Neverland’ Breaks It., Wesley Morris grapples with his fandom of Jackson (just as he did with Bill Cosby last year).

The story was that Jackson never molested anybody. And we stuck to it, and it stuck to him. And the question now, of course, is what do we do? It’s the question of our #MeToo times: If we believe the accusers (and I believe Wade and James), what do we do with the art? With Jackson, what can we do? Wade became a successful choreographer who’s made a career out of teaching his version of Jackson’s hydraulic bounces, whips, and stutters to Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, Cirque du Soleil and rooms full of aspiring dancers. “Look Back at It,” the big single from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s No. 1 album from January, is built out of two Jackson hits. Michael Jackson’s music isn’t a meal. It’s more elemental than that. It’s the salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. His music is how you start. And the music made from that — that music is everywhere, too. Where would the cancellation begin?

9. Where does the cancellation begin? I have no idea about the music; I love so many of his songs (my kids are fans too, which is a whole other thing I don’t know how to deal with) but “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” now has a second sinister meaning that I will never be able to shake. I will say this though: I’ve posted a number of things about Jackson on kottke.org over the years that are unrelated to the sexual abuse allegations. Not anymore. It’s time to hear other stories.