homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about interviews

Phoebe Waller-Bridge Answers

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2019

The Guardian got a bunch of writers and performers — folks like Olivia Colman, Roxane Gay, Nigella Lawson, and Victoria Beckham — to ask the delightful Phoebe Waller-Bridge a bunch of questions and the whole thing is delightful because she is, as I said earlier, delightful.

Lucy Prebble, playwright: How many really good works do you think a writer has in them?

PWB: I’m going to say infinite for the sake of my own professional optimism, but I don’t think there’s a rule. I do think there are only so many things you can pull out of the bones of you … and they are usually the good ones. I don’t have a number for you. Fuck it, six.

Jack Thorne, playwright: Did you ever consider an ending where the Priest — I refuse to call him Hot Priest — said yes?

PWB: May I clarify that I never scripted him as Hot Priest! That was the good work of the internet meeting Andrew Scott’s impossibly intense charisma. There was an idea for an alternative ending, but I’ll never say what it was…

Anne Enright, novelist: Is it better to be fucked up by religion than by life? And why is damage so sexy?

PWB: If I was going to choose, I’d rather be fucked up by religion. At least that is something I could feasibly escape and still be breathing.

Damage is indicative of vulnerability, which I think always feels a little dangerous. It is evidence that a person can feel deeply, that they can be open … then that delicious wall goes up and we just want to scramble over it and save (and feel) the person. It’s irresistible. I also think damage is a glimpse of something honest, and that’s always attractive.

National Geographic Asked Women from Around the World About Their Breakthroughs and Challenges

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

As part of their Nov 2019 issue focusing on women, National Geographic asked a group of women six questions:

What Is the Most Important Challenge That Women Face Today?
What Is the Greatest Hurdle You’ve Overcome?
What Was Your Breakthrough Moment?
What Needs to Change in the Next 10 Years?
What Is Your Greatest Strength?
What Advice Would You Give Young Women Today?

The interviewees include Jacinda Ardern, Melinda Gates, Roxane Gay, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Goodall, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. When asked about the most important challenge facing women today, the answer was almost universally “lack of equality” (although Laura Bush turned it into an opportunity to worry about boys being left behind educationally in the US). Here’s Jane Goodall’s answer:

In so many developing countries, women have no freedom. In poor communities families tend to provide money to educate boys over girls. In many cultures women have no access to family planning, have numerous children, and are solely responsible for their care. For these reasons not only women but children — and thus our future — will suffer.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote this about her breakthrough moment as a student in Nigeria:

It was when I was nine years old, in the third grade, and I remember this very clearly. My teacher had said that the child with the best results on the test that she gave would be the prefect. So I got the best result — and then she said, ‘Oh, I forgot to mention, it has to be a boy.’ I just thought, Why? It would make sense to have said the class prefect has to be the child with the best grades or the child with some sort of useful skill. But the idea that this position of prestige and power in the classroom was reserved for somebody by an accident of being born a particular sex — that was just strange. So my sense of righteous indignation flared up, and I said to my teacher, ‘That makes no sense.’ That was the first time that I spoke up about sexism. It didn’t work, but it was the moment for me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Oprah Winfrey on what she perceives to be her greatest strength:

No question, it’s connection to other people. You know, I’ve interviewed rapists and murderers and child molesters and all kinds of people who have done terrible things — but I can put myself in the space of where they are in that moment and meet them where they are. So my ability to connect to where you are in that moment — not to the thing that supposedly defines you — that’s one of my great strengths. I think that had I had the love, the attention, the family surroundings that would have nurtured and supported me in the way that I thought I needed, I wouldn’t have it. I think that this connection and yearning to know the heart of other people came from my own sense of loneliness, my own sense of wanting to be understood and know that whatever I’m feeling, somebody else has felt it too.

Zach Galifianakis’ Brief Stint at Saturday Night Live

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

In this clip from a longer conversation in the Off Camera interview series, Zach Galifianakis talks about his brief two-week stint on Saturday Night Live and how he felt when a sketch he wrote totally bombed at the cast table read.

Here are all 10 clips of the interview. See also Robert Downey Jr. recounting his year-long SNL career.

Interviewing Ira Glass

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

ira_glass.jpg

One of the troubles with interviewing Ira Glass is that Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about interviews.

Claudia Dreifus: When we first discussed doing this, you asked if I had heard a recent Terry Gross interview with Howard Stern. Why was that?

Ira Glass: Because it was an interviewer interviewing an interviewer. It was interesting to hear him appreciate her moves. He also clearly had no idea who she is. He admitted, “I sort of looked you up last night.” Whereas I know Terry has been listening for years.

To be clear: he’s an excellent interviewer. Part of the pleasure was hearing these two iconic radio voices talking to each other. Stern clearly admired the interview she was doing. She did such a good job of pointing him to things, being appropriately critical of the way that he talks about women, but also being appropriately admiring.

If I were to interview him, I’d feel intimidated.

Really?

Yeah. He’s a bossy sort of presence. I don’t like interviewing famous people. They make me nervous. I’ve always tried to avoid interviewing famous people.

Is that because they are usually over-interviewed or because they arrive at an interview with impenetrable masks?

All of these things.

It’s just more difficult. To get them to say anything real, you have to find an angle on their experience that will open them up. And there are things famous people want to keep private, things they’re tired of talking about, things they’ve told so many times that they have no interest in telling them again—but will tell again in exactly the same words they’ve used in the past…

Can I go back to something? And feel free to edit this any way you like. I’m already editing this interview in my head because I’m a crazy person and can’t stop myself. This idea of not wanting to interview famous people, that’s one of the things that led to the work I’m doing today. I knew in my twenties, while at NPR, that the thing I wanted to do was document regular people’s lives. The question then was, “How do you do that?”

It is weird to me that Ira Glass in his sixties. (He just turned 60 in March.) All this time, Ira Glass was less than a year younger than Prince.

Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about podcasts that he doesn’t seem ready to share. You can see it, he kind of schtums up and falls back on generalities and a few broad compliments. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all he’s got, maybe that’s all we can have.

Ira Glass says he borrowed and borrows a lot from Roland Barthes’ S/Z when trying to get interviewees to structure a story, but I don’t really see it. This line made me laugh though.

At college, we were assigned Barthes’s S/Z , which made me understand what I could do in radio.

Really? How did the French semiotician help shape your journalism? Frankly, a lot of people find semiotics to be…

—this incredibly pretentious literary theory that takes as its thesis that narrative is part of the general conspiracy of language to imprison us in our place in society. I ignored that.

Ira Glass should find more ways to tell stories about what working in radio was like in the seventies. There’s something there. He doesn’t catch it all.

The Forgotten Power of Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

David Remnick recently interviewed Robert Caro and if you’ve read Caro’s book, Working, or the New Yorker article based on the book, there’s not much new here, but this exchange at the end is worth highlighting:

Remnick: We are living in a political moment, and when you watch the current President it seems that one of the saving graces is that, for all his erratic thinking, insulting thinking, his insults directed at minority groups — and, well, practically everyone — that he’s not that good at the exercise of power. He won the election, but if he had Johnsonian capacities in terms of the exercise of power, we might be even in deeper trouble than we already are.

Caro: Well, I think that that’s correct. And I think, [what] you say about Johnson, what does it mean to [be like] Johnson? You say, well, he wins election over Barry Goldwater, in 1964, by this tremendous majority. So the next morning he’s on the phone — or the morning after, he’s still hoarse the day of the election — calling the House Majority Leader and saying, “You know, the only thing that can hold this up here is the Rules Committee. Now is the moment to change the Rules Committee. Here’s how to do it.” And in the next couple of months he passes Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the voting-rights bill… I’m forgetting the rest of it. The most amazing — he could seize a moment because of this political genius that he has, and change, really, the face of America. It’s hard to remember a day when there wasn’t Medicare or Medicaid.

Remnick: You write in “Working” that there is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power. But there’s also great good that can come out of it. It seems to me sometimes that people have forgotten this, you write. Why have we forgotten it?

Caro: You ask very good questions. I think we’ve forgotten it because we’ve had too many Presidents who don’t use political power — you say, what are things that change people’s lives? In the last century, Social Security, Medicare-like, right now I’m working on a section that, you could say, if I wanted to call it this, is what it was like to be old and sick in America before Medicare. And as I’m doing this I’m thinking, People aren’t even going to be able to imagine this. What was it like to be old in America before Social Security? People can’t imagine it. The power of government to do good for people is immense. And I think we have forgotten that power.

An Interview with a Contemporary Russian Spy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Deniss Metsavas served for many years with the Estonian Defense Forces and was, at the same time, a Russian spy. In this video for The Atlantic, Metsavas describes how he was recruited by Russian intelligence using kompromat (compromising material).

For years, Metsavas navigated his disparate allegiances. He got married and started a family. But as he grew in prominence in the Estonian Defense Forces, his Russian handlers began to demand highly classified information on Estonia’s involvement with the United States and NATO, specifically with regard to weapons. Metsavas tried to extricate himself, only to find that his handlers would stop at nothing to obtain the intel-including ensnaring a family member in the increasingly dangerous situation.

Watching the video and reading the accompanying article, you get the sense that maybe the Cold War never ended…

Still Ill: 25 Years of the Beastie Boys

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

Still Ill is a short documentary about the Beastie Boys’ career from approximately Paul’s Boutique to Ill Communication.

The 15-minute documentary tracks the Beastie Boys’ rejuvenation in the years after the release of 1989’s Paul’s Boutique — now considered a masterpiece but at the time a commercial flop — first with 1992’s Check Your Head and ultimately with Ill Communication, which produced the epic single and music video “Sabotage” and returned them to playing arenas.

Featuring interviews with Diamond and Horovitz from this March in Austin, Texas — as well as new interviews with keyboardist Mark “Money Mark” Nishita and producer Mario Caldato and rarely-seen 1990s footage of the band - Still Ill focuses heavily on late Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch and his contributions to Ill Communication. Through footage and the words of his friends, the documentary captures Yauch’s journey into activism, which would blossom with the Tibetan Freedom Concerts later in the decade, as well as his famous denunciation of misogyny in hip-hop on the single “Sure Shot”: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends / I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”

If you’re an Amazon Prime member or subscriber to Amazon Music, you can listen to a 40-minute mix of commentary from Mike D and Ad-Rock about Ill Communication and songs from the album.

Meeting Gorbachev

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Werner Herzog’s latest film is called Meeting Gorbachev, in which he sits down with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for a series of interviews about his life, political career, and his role in ending the Cold War. From a review in the NY Times:

The two men appear to like each other immensely — in narration, Herzog calls Gorbachev “one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century” — but Gorbachev can be a cool customer. He sometimes seems guarded in his assessment of what he might have done differently. He says he believes the Soviet Union should have given its republics more rights instead of dissolving entirely. As for Boris Yeltsin, who became the first president of a post-Soviet Russia, he says, “I should have sent him off somewhere.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists interviewed Herzog about the film.1

It’s not easy to speak of what I tried to accomplish. I think as a natural concomitant you get the feeling that there should be better times between the West and Russia. The demonization of Russia is a great mistake of the Western media and Western politics, and we should try and seek a climate that was created by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the most improbable characters you could ever put together in one room.

Meeting Gorbachev is out in US theaters now, but just barely. Probably best to catch this streaming in a month or two.

  1. I love the in situ audio clips in this piece. I’ve only seen this technique used a few times…more sites should do this.

Robert Caro on Writing and Understanding Power

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Working, a memoir from master interviewer and researcher Robert Caro, is coming out next week. David Marchese, no slouch himself when it comes to interviewing people, talked with Caro for the NY Times Magazine about his career, his process, and his ongoing multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro allows that his insatiable curiosity about getting the whole story might not necessarily be a good thing at times.

I would like to have written more books. I’d like to finish this last Johnson book. But it’s the element of time — you’re always thinking no one will know if the thing you’re working on isn’t in the book. Take the Margaret Frost thing. [The introduction of “Master of the Senate” tells the story of Margaret Frost’s humiliating and failed attempts to register to vote in Eufaula, Ala., in 1957.] You say everybody knows about blacks not being able to vote in the South, so you don’t have to go into that. But I’d remembered coming across testimony from the Civil Rights Commission and I went, This is horrible. A sense of anger boils up, and it leads you to say, “What was it like if you tried to register to vote?” Don’t just say, “It’s hard.” What was it really like? You think you understand how hard life is in the South because you’ve seen movies about it. But then you learn about a guy who wanted to vote, Margaret Frost’s husband, who sees someone drive to his house and shoot out the light on the porch. He was going to call the police but then saw it was a police car driving away from his property. It was like the Jews in Nazi Germany: There was no place for these people to turn. So, do you want to write the book without showing that? The answer is no.

Has anyone ever done an interview with an expert interviewer about the experience of interviewing another expert interviewer? I would definitely read a debrief of Marchese on how to get someone like Caro, who knows all the tricks of the trade, to actually tell you something that they don’t want you to know. I’m also thinking of Errol Morris and Seymour Hersh at the end of Wormwood and how Morris can’t quite get what he wants from Hersh.

Monica Lewinsky on Public Shaming

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

This week, Last Week Tonight covered the topic of public shaming and the episode included an interview by host John Oliver of Monica Lewinsky, who shared her experience of going through perhaps the most intense and enduring instance of public shaming ever.

The whole video is worth watching, but if you want to skip to the Lewinsky interview, it starts around the 15:00 mark. Lewinsky doesn’t do a lot of interviews, and it’s interesting that Oliver has built enough trust to get one, especially as the host of a comedy show.

How People Spent Sudden Financial Windfalls

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2019

Topic asked more than a dozen people how they spent sudden windfalls of money. Among those queried were two MacArthur grant winners, people who inherited money, game show winners, a professional poker player, and a woman who lost her house because of Hurricane Maria. TV writer & editor Danielle Henderson:

The only directive I’ve ever given my agent, my manager, anyone on my team, is to make sure I get paid like a white man. I do not want to get any offers that are lower than average because I’m a woman or I’m black. I’m not out here demanding a quadrillion dollars, but if I see that somebody’s sold a project for a certain amount and my project is in a similar vein, I’m not settling for less than that.

Planetary scientist Sara Seager:

When I got my MacArthur award in 2013, they asked, “What are you going to spend the money on?” I said, “I’m going to spend it all on household help so I can spend more time with my kids and more time on my job.”

If you have kids, or a person who relies solely on you, not only do you have to take care of them and want to spend time with them, but you have to make their breakfast and their lunch, if they’re really little. And then clean up after them. There’s this endless series of chores. I got tons of responses from people saying, “I can’t believe you said that,” because people won’t admit that. People don’t want to admit the price you pay for working.

Author Ijeoma Oluo wrote a separate article about spending the royalties from her bestselling book on a house for her mom.

A big check, for $70,000. No, we’re not talking a big Publishers Clearing House grand-prize check, but it was definitely the biggest check I’d ever held with my name on it.

I gazed at the statement, then closed my eyes for a moment and said to myself:

“I can build mom a home now.”

It was the first time I felt truly successful in every sense of the word.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain, The Last Curious Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

For GQ, Drew Magary talked to the family, friends, and coworkers of Anthony Bourdain for this piece on the life of the late chef/traveler/writer/explorer/whatever. Here’s how he got his big writing break, which led to so much else:

David Remnick (editor in chief, ‘The New Yorker’): My wife came home one day, and she said, “Look. There’s a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work,” which seemed…adorable, right? A mother’s ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, “I’d like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that’s okay.” That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don’t know if there’s any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.

Prior to becoming the best-ever host of a travel show, he’d actually traveled very little internationally (only France and Japan) and his first go of it wasn’t successful:

Tenaglia: Japan was a fucking disaster.

Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.

Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, “Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries.”

Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I’m gonna double dip here. I’m going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I’m going to write articles.

Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, “We are so screwed.”

But it turns out this inexperienced traveler & newbie TV host was the exact right person for the job.

He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, “Holy crap, I’m actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to.” You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.

My only complaint about this piece is the length…I would have happily read on for hours.

Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I’ll never forget laughing my ass off because he was obsessed with my dog, who’s a small dachshund. He’d always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.

How Fascism Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Yale philosopher Jason Stanley recently published a book called How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Sean Illing interviewed him for Vox about what fascism is and isn’t and whether Trump is practicing fascist politics (spoiler alert: yes). I found this bit about how America is particularly susceptible to fascism interesting (italics mine…that is an amazingly succinct paragraph about American culture):

Well, the Ku Klux Klan deeply affected Adolf Hitler. He explicitly praised the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US, as a useful model.

The 1920s and the 1930s was a very fascist time in the United States. You’ve got very patriarchal family values and a politics of resentment aimed at black Americans and other groups as internal threats, and this gets exported to Europe.

So we have a long history of genocide against native peoples and anti-black racism and anti-immigration hysteria, and at the same time there’s a strain of American exceptionalism, which manifests as a kind of mythological history and encourages Americans to think of their own country as a unique force for good.

This doesn’t make America a fascist country, but all of these ingredients are easily channeled into a fascist politics.

This has been on my mind lately; here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on a trip to Berlin:

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism.

Update: In a video for the NY Times called Is President Trump Fascist?, Stanley goes over the three elements that are always present when fascism takes hold of a country.

Open Culture has a good summary of the video if you prefer to read.

Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves-between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on-are what we might call pre-existing conditions. Fascists may not invent the hate, but they cynically instrumentalize it: demonizing outgroups, normalizing and naturalizing bigotry, stoking violence to justify repressive “law and order” policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.

Watching a Teen Music Star Grow Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

Vanity Fair interviewed singer/songwriter Billie Eilish last October just as her career was taking off. A year later, they repeated the interview with her, now 16 years old, using the same questions to see what had changed — 2017: 257K followers on Insta, playing to crowds of 500 people. 2018: 6.3 million Insta followers, crowds of 40,000+. The result is really affecting, particularly on questions like “Do you feel pressure?” where the difference in answers is greatest.

Eilish’s situation is extreme, but some version of this is playing out with all of America’s youth right now, dealing with how to be in the world when interacting with thousands or even hundreds of thousands or millions of other people, far beyond Dunbar’s number, is increasingly commonplace. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye and who’s playing that Cat’s in the Cradle song anyway?!

American Dharma, Errol Morris’ upcoming documentary about Steve Bannon

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2018

Errol Morris has made a documentary film about Steve Bannon called American Dharma that he refers to as “a kind of horror movie” for folks uneasy in Trump’s America. There’s no trailer yet but a pair of recent interviews with Morris shed light on the film, the third installment of the director’s American Political Monsters trilogy (along with The Fog of War and The Unknown Known).

Both interviews are quite good. Here’s a bit from Frank Bruni’s chat with Morris in the NY Times:

Bruni: Is Steve Bannon an earnest ideologue or is he a cynical and grandiose opportunist?

Morris: It’s the big question. And everybody, including myself, wants a pie graph. They want to be able to say what percentage is ideologue, what percentage is snake-oil salesman. And I’m not sure I can answer the question. We all know that being an effective salesman is coming to believe in what you’re selling. You know, I like to think that the human capacity for credulity is unlimited, unfettered. But the human capacity for self-deception — the ultimate self-credulity — is also unfettered, unlimited. I look at him and I think to myself: You can’t really believe this stuff. And yet, for all intents and purposes, he does.

Bruni: Which stuff do you find it hardest to believe he believes?

Morris: I find it hardest to believe that he thinks that Donald Trump is an honest man. I find it hard to believe that he thinks that Donald Trump is enabling populist programs. How is this tax cut or the attempt to roll back capital gains taxes — how does that benefit the people? Is allowing all kinds of industrial pollution populism? I could go on and on.

I try making fun of him. You know, he was reading a book about tariffs and China and the Great Wall. And I said to him, “You know, the wall really worked in China.” He said, “How’s that?” I said, “No Mexicans.”

And from Deborah Chasman’s conversation for the Boston Review:

DC: It’s clear that he’s good at giving voice to a legitimate grievance, at least in some contexts. In the United States there’s the legitimate grievance that a corrupt political machine has left a bunch of people behind. But I’m unclear what he is actually delivering to these people, or even just thinks he is giving them, other than this permission to hate.

EM: I think that’s certainly part of it. He told the French National Front, “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativist. Wear it as a badge of honor.”

I also think you see it in his reaction to Charlottesville. He basically says, “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. The neo-Nazis have no currency in our culture.” In my movie he even says that the neo-Nazis are a creation of the liberal press. Which, of course, is absurd. Yes, the liberal press gets upset by neo-Nazis being coddled by the president, and why shouldn’t they? But that’s not to say that journalists parked them in Charlottesville and caused them to run over people.

Bannon also called Macron “a little Rothschild’s banker.” He said, “The French are realizing how much Macron has become an embarrassment. He’s a Rothschild banker who never made any money, the ultimate definition of a loser. He would sell his soul for nothing.” I did not like that. He doubtlessly would say that his remarks were not anti-Semitic, but I would respectfully disagree. He knew what he was doing. He knows who he’s appealing to.

DC: So why talk to Bannon at all? What’s to be gained?

EM: I think there’s a lot to be gained. I consider myself a journalist, proudly so, and the job of journalism is not to have five pundits sitting around a table on Fox News or CNN. The job of journalists is to report-to go out, look at stuff, and report on it. I went out in the field and this is what I saw, and I would like to present it to you for your consideration.

I find Morris’ constant interrogation of the truth — in politics, in photography, in storytelling, in people’s own minds — endlessly fascinating. I’m looking forward to this one, despite the subject matter, and will share the trailer when it arrives.

Paying the stereotype tax in poker

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Maria Konnikova is a writer for the New Yorker. Or she was until she went on sabbatical to play poker professionally. After immersing herself in the game while working on her third book, The Biggest Bluff, Konnikova discovered she was quite good at it, winning over $230,000 and a major tournament in a year.

Claudia Dreifus recently interviewed Konnikova for the New York Times and asked her about how she handles being one of the few women on the pro circuit.

When you see someone looking a certain way, you assume they play a certain way. So once I figure out how they view women, I can figure out how to play against them. They’re not seeing me as a poker player, they’re seeing me as a female poker player.

There are people who’d rather die than be bluffed by a woman. They’ll never fold to me because that’s an affront to their masculinity.

I never bluff them. I know that no matter how strong my hand, they are still going to call me because they just can’t fold to a girl.

Other people think women are incapable of bluffing. They think if I’m betting really aggressively, it means I have an incredibly strong hand. I bluff those people all the time.

There are people who think that women shouldn’t be at a poker table, and they try to bully me. So, what do I do? I let them. And I wait to be in a good position so that I can take their chips. Just like life, right?

In a 2015 NPR interview, pro player Annie Duke talked about getting her opponents to pay the stereotype tax.

VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.

DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.

VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.

DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.

VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players thought women weren’t creative.

DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.

VEDANTAM: And then there’s a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.

DUKE: The angry chauvinist.

VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can’t bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.

DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.

Update: In an episode of The Pay Check podcast, Duke and Konnikova “discuss power dynamics and sexism in the ultra male dominated field” of poker.

Being the book, an interview with an audiobook narrator

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

If you grew up in the 80s, you might remember Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous in Perfect Strangers or Serge in Beverly Hills Cop. But Pinchot has built a second career as an award-winning audiobook narrator. I recently listened to him read A Man on the Moon and while the story of the Apollo program is engrossing all by itself, his narration is fantastic. This interview of Pinchot by Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach trilogy) is really interesting, particularly the bits about how he approaches his work.

Q: Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?

A: I do, though, like all philosophical resolutions, I only intermittently achieve it. The essential task facing the narrator is to identify or invent a vivid personal definition of what “narrating” ought to be. I am uncomfortable with the chilliness of the word narration. It sounds very much outside the action - the voice on a National Geographic educational film intoning, “These giraffes are just learning how to mate”; or my mother, upon Audrey Hepburn’s entrance in My Fair Lady, informing the room: “She used to have such big doe eyes; what happened to her eyes?”

Simply “reading a book” aloud in an airless audio booth is the kind of mental and physical punishment only ever glimpsed in the lower section of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. I decided early on that I should not “read” the book but “be” the book, the way I imagine Homer, in performance, “was” the Odyssey. We know he wasn’t “reading” it. In any case, if an audiobook listener doesn’t have the time to curl up with the actual physical text, he or she still yearns for, and deserves, the experience of being carried away by the author’s vision.

Anthony Bourdain on travel, luxury, the Despot’s Club, and more

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

Back in February, Maria Bustillos was set to interview Anthony Bourdain and she figured she’d get about 15 minutes of his highly scheduled time. Instead, the pair spent two-and-a-half hours chatting about anything and everything and the result is this great dialogue, one of the last extensive interviews Bourdain gave before he died in early June.

I like the idea of inspiring or encouraging people to get a passport and go have their own adventures. I’m a little worried when I bump into people, and it happens a lot — “We went to Vietnam, and we went to all the places you went.” Okay that’s great, because I like those people and I like that noodle lady, and I’m glad they’re getting the business, and it pleases me to think that they’re getting all these American visitors now.

But on the other hand, you know, I much prefer people who just showed up in Paris and found their own way without any particular itinerary, who left themselves open to things happening. To mistakes. To mistakes, because that’s the most important part of travel. The shit you didn’t plan for, and being able to adapt and receive that information in a useful way instead of saying, like, “Oh, goddamnit, they ran out of tickets at the Vatican!” or whatever, “That line at the Eiffel Tower is you know, six hours!” and then sulk for the rest of the day.

On my recent trip, I had some things that I wanted to see but largely ended up playing it by ear. And that thing about the mistakes…that hits really really close to home. I also loved his recontextualization of luxury:

I do find that my happiest moments on the road are not standing on the balcony of a really nice hotel. That’s a sort of bittersweet — if not melancholy — alienating experience, at best. My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin’ across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on… this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment.

Luxury as freedom of time, place, and companions. Read the whole thing…lots of great stuff in there. Like: he gave away all the royalties to Kitchen Confidential to “various deserving people”.

The meaning of the ending of 2001 according to Stanley Kubrick

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2018

Few directors allowed their movies to speak for themselves more than Stanley Kubrick. Still, when it came to 2001: A Space Odyssey and its mysterious ending, he did attempt to let viewers know what his intention was. In a 1969 interview with Joseph Gelmis, he quickly summed up the entire plot in two paragraphs:

You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe — a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system.

When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn, an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman, if you like, and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny.

But recently, an audio clip from a never-released Japanese documentary recorded in 1980 surfaced in which the director shares his view of the ending of the film in more detail.

I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out. When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I’ll try.

The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film.

They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with animals to try to give them what we think is their natural environment.

Anyway, when they get finished with him, as happens in so many myths of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, transformed and made into some sort of superman. We have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is the pattern of a great deal of mythology, and that is what we were trying to suggest.

So that’s the plot stated plainly, but luckily it takes nothing away from any of the metaphorical meanings that people have ascribed to the film over the past 50 years.

Mister Rogers fixed old shows if he felt they were wrong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, is out tomorrow in select cities.1 Tim Grierson interviewed director Morgan Neville about the film for MEL magazine and Neville revealed this incredible story about how Rogers used to go back and edit some of his shows so they’d play better for children as times changed.

There’s one detail that I really liked that’s not in the film, which is he felt like the shows should be evergreen. As he often said, the outside world of the child changes, but the inside of the child never changes. So he thought his shows should play the same to two-year-olds now or 20 years ago. But as the years would go on, he would find things that had happened in old episodes that didn’t feel current, where maybe he used a pronoun “he” instead of “they” — or he met a woman and presumed that she was a housewife. So he would put on the same clothes and go back and shoot inserts and fix old episodes so that they felt as current as possible, so that he could stand by them 100 percent. I’ve never heard of that happening — it’s kind of amazing.

Amazing. As someone who regularly goes back into my archive to append updates to old entries, I love this anecdote so much.

  1. I’m really trying to channel Mister Rogers right now because I won’t be able to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for a few weeks because it’s not playing anywhere near where I live and my schedule won’t allow for a roadtrip. I am frustrated and a little angry about this, Mister Rogers. What should I do?

The arrested development of the Arrested Development cast

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2018

Sopan Deb recently sat down with some of the cast of Arrested Development (Jeffrey Tambor, Tony Hale, Jason Bateman, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, and David Cross) for an interview about the show’s upcoming new season. Deb asked the group about the allegations against Tambor related to his work on Transparent, and Walter (who plays Lucille Bluth on the show) begins to cry as the men in the room, particularly Bateman, offer explanations for Tambor’s on-set verbal abuse of her.

BATEMAN: Again, not to belittle it or excuse it or anything, but in the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, “difficult.” And when you’re in a privileged position to hire people, or have an influence in who does get hired, you make phone calls. And you say, “Hey, so I’ve heard X about person Y, tell me about that.” And what you learn is context. And you learn about character and you learn about work habits, work ethics, and you start to understand. Because it’s a very amorphous process, this sort of [expletive] that we do, you know, making up fake life. It’s a weird thing, and it is a breeding ground for atypical behavior and certain people have certain processes.

SHAWKAT: But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.

WALTER [THROUGH TEARS]: Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation. I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go. [Turns to Tambor.] And I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again.

TAMBOR: Absolutely.

WALTER: But it’s hard because honestly — Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here, for The New York Times.

Walter stated that Tambor apologized, but none of the men in the room said anything as simple as “that was inappropriate” or “that shouldn’t have happened to you”, even as they circle the wagons for Tambor. Although Bateman later apologized on Twitter for mansplaining, it seems like they haven’t really been listening to their colleagues and peers over the past several months about what it might be like being a women on the set of one of these shows.

The cultural shift from not selling out to blowing up

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

In an essay called After Authenticity, Toby Shorin writes:

I haven’t heard about anyone selling out in a long while. Sometime between 2008 and 2018, capitalizing on your success as an artist to build a skate brand went from being reprehensible to being the thing that everyone is doing.

This reminds me of something Jonah Peretti used to talk about all the time, the indie rock mentality vs. the hip hop mentality. From this 2010 New Yorker article:

“Remember, you’re not selling out,” Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of the Huffington Post, told Denton. “You’re blowing up. Think in terms of hip-hop, not indie rock.”

And in this 2012 interview with Sarah Lacy (partial transcript):

I think hate is good way to build community among a small group. It’s like, “We read Gawker, and we hate those fuckers at Conde Nast and we hate the person who is just a blowhard and drives around in a car and makes more money than me. We hate the celebrity at the party, but I was at a party with a celebrity.”

That’s good for creating an in-group of “we’re the cool kids”, and I see it more as like an indie rock mentality. It’s like “my band is good and all the other bands suck”. That builds a close feeling. Contrast indie rock to hip hop, where it’s like you don’t sell out you blow up.

For me, I grew up listening to hip hop, I grew up in Oakland. It’s a little bit more like, “let’s try to make something that doesn’t suck, let’s try to do great stuff, let’s try to make big things”. But it’s a little bit less of, “let’s create an in-crowd and define all the things that that in-crowd hates so that we all feel closer to each other”.

Over the last decade, hip hop won and indie rock lost (culturally speaking) and as a result, blowing up has become preferable to not selling out.

Philip Glass: “I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

I enjoyed reading Lolade Fadulu’s interview with Philip Glass about the composer’s early life and how he made a living in NYC before being able to fully support himself with his music (which didn’t happen until he was in his early 40s). As a boy, his mother made sure he got a musical education and his job at his father’s record store exposed him to the idea that people paid money for art:

To this day, among my earliest memories was someone would give my father $5 and he’d hand them a record. So the exchange of money for art, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what everybody did. I never thought there was anything wrong about making money.

As an adult, Glass worked odd jobs (plumber, mover, cab driver) to have the independence to work on his music:

I had an ensemble at the time. I would go out and play for three weeks. We would come back from the tour, and we usually had lost money so I had to make money immediately. I put an ad in the paper. My cousin and I ran the company, and I moved furniture for about three or four or five weeks. Then I went on tour again. Again, we lost money.

That went on for years. I thought it was going to go on for the rest of my life, actually. It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living, really, from writing music. That happened kind of by accident.

I was interested in jobs that were part-time, where I had a lot of independence, where I could work when I wanted to. I wasn’t interested in working in an office where everything would be very regimented.

As his musical career took off, Glass continued to take his other work seriously. From a 2001 profile of Glass in The Guardian:

Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

But after Einstein on the Beach dazzled critics at the Metropolitan Opera, Glass’s days in the driver’s seat of a cab were limited:

The day after the performance, Glass was back driving his taxi: “I vividly remember the moment, shortly after the Met adventure,” he says, “when a well-dressed woman got into my cab. After noting the name of the driver, she leaned forward and said: ‘Young man, do you realise you have the same name as a very famous composer’.”

Glass is my favorite composer, but as much as I love his music, I might appreciate the way he has approached his work and career almost as much.

Errol Morris on Stephen Hawking, “a king of infinite space”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

From an interview with Errol Morris on his friend Stephen Hawking (about whom he made a documentary), Morris shares why Hawking’s A Brief History of Time resonated with so many people beyond the scientific community.

I read the book on the plane on the way over. I was surprised, because I had been told that it was a book about theoretical physics and cosmology. But it was something much more than that. It was a work of literature.

He had done something strange and unusual and powerful. He had described himself and his own situation in terms of his science. Hawking’s greatest discovery — Hawking Radiation — was, in its own way, a tour de force. He was combining elements from general relativity, from quantum mechanics, and from thermodynamics in a new way. There’s something extraordinary about it, but what was most extraordinary about it is that here you have this entity, a black hole, from which nothing can escape. The gravitational field is so strong, surrounded by an event horizon. Nothing can escape from the black hole. Nothing inside that event horizon can get out.

What did Hawking show? Hawking showed that black holes are not entirely black. Radiation can escape from a black hole. He showed the mechanism through which this could occur.

At the same time, he’s telling you that he’s been condemned to this chair, to motor neuron disease, to ALS, and is really unable to talk. He’s lost his ability to speak, and now has to use a computer device, a clicker, a screen with a built-in dictionary and cursor. Despite the disease, he’s not trapped inside of himself. He’s able to communicate. He would always cite the famous line from Hamlet, “Bounded …”

“… in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.”

The whole thing is well worth a read. Like this bit about Hawking’s voice double:

Q: What was the process of working on the film with him like? Not all of those passages are from the book. Were you sending him questions?

A: Yes. He was writing answers, and some of the material was taken from lectures that he had given. Some of it was written for the film. I called him the first nontalking talking head. It became pretty clear that you had to assemble a dictionary of Hawking shots, but there’s no point in interviewing him for those, because it’s not synced. It’s a voice synthesizer. He gave us the voice synthesizer so we could just assemble his voice in the office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he insisted on calling “the pseudo-Cambridge.” There’s nothing like this project.

Q: Wait. He sent you the synthesizer so he could send you an answer and then you could feed it through the synthesizer to get the sound of his voice delivering the answer?

A: That’s correct.

Frank Ocean interviews statistics rapper Timmy T

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

timothee-chalamet-boots.png

Frank Ocean interviews Timothée Chalamet and it’s brilliant.

FO The time period of 20th Century Women seems close to Call Me By Your Name, that ’80s time period. Did you get into these past eras of fashion and shit when you were doing the film?

TC Absolutely. I’m a total “nostalgist” and Call Me By Your Name’s director, Luca, grew up in that time period. In fact, the book is set in ‘88 and he changed it to ‘83 because he said that was the year in your life you can hear music from. In the movie, there’s Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, or just the Bach or Beethoven—those are all songs from Luca’s youth, what it was like for him in Italy in the ’80s. Also, in 1988, the AIDS crisis had already hit and that was part of the reasoning for making [the film] a little bit earlier too, so it wasn’t as intense, and could be a little more utopic. What a tragedy for movies now that if you want to be contemporary, phones have to be involved, with texting and FaceTime. I don’t know if [the characters in] Call Me By Your Name would ever have that relationship if there was passive-aggressive commenting and “likes.” They actually had to talk, figure each other out, and struggle with their emotions.

Noticing the world’s wonders amidst its horrors

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2018

The latest issue of Noticing (kottke.org’s weekly newsletter) went out today. This issue includes a link to my interview with Laura Hazard Owen at NiemanLab about kottke.org turning 20 years old next month, the state of blogging, and the melancholy of the conversation around the decline of the open web.

I think that it’s been really hard, the last couple of years, to cover anything — I don’t know how to say this in a way that isn’t going to get all weirdly interpreted — it’s been hard to cover anything but things that are serious. Because, you know, a lot of people - I think very rightly - feel that if you’re someone who thinks the world is coming down around all of us, that you should be on a mission to try to fix that. And I think that there are plenty of sites and plenty of media outlets and plenty of people who are oriented in that direction and moving in that direction.

But I don’t think kottke.org is one of those things. I think that the site is much more about things that are a little bit more — I don’t want to say hopeful, but a lot of it is, like, look at this cool thing. Look at what humans can do when they have enough time and energy and whatnot to do them! When you called, I was had just been watching the SpaceX thing. Seeing those two booster rockets land at the same time blew my mind. I was just sitting here, yelling, like, oh my god!

There has to be room in our culture for that type of stuff — that stuff that is inspirational and aspirational — because it provides some sort of hope that we can actually have more of that in our lives, rather than less.

To which Tim added (italics mine):

I freely admit that this is something Jason does as a blogger way better than I do (along with writing fewer words more often). I think I look at the world and mostly think less “oh my god!” and more “how in the hell does that work?” But I think the two of them have to be complimentary. Learning begins in wonder (the Greeks would call it thauma) as much or more than in criticism (skepsis).

That last line sums up my approach here (and honestly, to life) as well as you can in one sentence. Noticing could very well have been called Wonder instead.

You can read the rest of this week’s newsletter here or subscribe here.

Lost in Light: How Light Pollution Obscures Our View of the Night Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

Because of light pollution from urban areas, many people around the world don’t know what the night sky actually looks like. Sriram Murali made a video to illustrate light pollution levels by shooting the familiar constellation of Orion in locations around the US with different amounts of light pollution, from bright San Francisco to a state park in Utah with barely any light at all. In SF, about all you can see are the handful of stars that make up Orion’s belt, arms, and legs. But as the locations get darker, the sky explodes in detail and Orion is lost among the thousands of visible stars (and satellites if you look closely).

This video is a followup to one Murali made of the Milky Way in increasingly dark locations, which is even more dramatic:

But he did the second video with Orion as a reference because many people had no concept of what the Milky Way actually looks like because they’ve never seen it before. Murali explains why he thinks light pollution is a problem:

The night skies remind us of our place in the Universe. Imagine if we lived under skies full of stars. That reminder we are a tiny part of this cosmos, the awe and a special connection with this remarkable world would make us much better beings — more thoughtful, inquisitive, empathetic, kind and caring. Imagine kids growing up passionate about astronomy looking for answers and how advanced humankind would be, how connected and caring we’d feel with one another, how noble and adventurous we’d be.

The measurement scale for sky darkness is called the Bortle scale, as explained by David Owen in his wonderful piece in the New Yorker:

In Galileo’s time, nighttime skies all over the world would have merited the darkest Bortle ranking, Class 1. Today, the sky above New York City is Class 9, at the other extreme of the scale, and American suburban skies are typically Class 5, 6, or 7. The very darkest places in the continental United States today are almost never darker than Class 2, and are increasingly threatened. For someone standing on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on a moonless night, the brightest feature of the sky is not the Milky Way but the glow of Las Vegas, a hundred and seventy-five miles away. To see skies truly comparable to those which Galileo knew, you would have to travel to such places as the Australian outback and the mountains of Peru.

Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh interviewed Paul Bogard, author of a book on darkness about light pollution and the Bortle scale:

Twilley: It’s astonishing to read the description of a Bortle Class 1, where the Milky Way is actually capable of casting shadows!

Bogard: It is. There’s a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That’s not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I’ve been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can’t have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.

A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it’s bright. That’s the great thing — the darker it gets, if it’s clear, the brighter the night is. That’s something we never see either, because it’s so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.

If you’d like to find a place near you with less light pollution, check out The Light Pollution Map. I’m lucky enough to live in a place with a Bortle class of 3 and I’ve visited class 2 locations before…visiting one of the class 1 parks out west is definitely on my bucket list.

Interview with Mallory Ortberg

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 01, 2017

Hi everyone. Tim Carmody here. Jason and I are trying something new. I interviewed Mallory Ortberg, probably best known for the site she cofounded called The Toast, about her new subscriber-supported newsletter The Shatner Chatner. (It’s actually been in operation since March, but has a brand new home on the web.)

The full (well, fuller) interview is on my newsletter, which is called Backlight. Below, Kottke.org gets an exclusive, handcrafted, heavyweight gram vinyl excerpt, where Mallory describes what The Shatner Chatner is all about and its place in today’s simultaneously imploding and exploding media galaxy.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, check out my Tinyletter and keep coming back here to Kottke. It’s an experiment in collaboration we’re excited to try.

___________________

Mallory Ortberg: I love the Shatner Chatner. It feels very important to me that this newsletter always be in some way connected to… not necessarily Bill Shatner the man, but William Shatner the persona. That’s always super important, for me to distinguish between the two. People keep trying to say, “did you hear that thing that William Shatner said on Twitter?” I’m like, “no, I never want to know about Shatner.”

Bill Shatner is just the flawed material manifestation of the spirit of Shatner.

It’s a fact. It’s a red herring you know. Let it be what it is. I am trying to commune on a different level with with the Shatner… I feel like I have a running list of male fictional characters that weirdly drive the engine of the Shatner Chatner where I’m constantly trying to figure out, “what is my relationship to you? Why are we kind of the same?” And Niles Crane is also one of those people. And I again don’t know why. That’s what I’m still trying to use Shatner Chatner to figure out.

So Shatner has emanations and penumbras not just on this planet, but fictional ones too, in other characters.

There’s like one body, with multiple incarnations.

[The new site] is a little more professional, but it’s not the same - it’s not like The Toast Part 2, where I have to also run a whole website. They run the website. I just get to make jokes. And it’s not to say that it is The Toast 2.0, content-wise either. It’s very much just like Mallory’s weird thoughts and feelings, for however many folks would be interested. It may be, you know, a smaller crew, but I also want to make sure that it’s like a reasonable amount of money and not something that like only really well-off people will be able to afford.

I mean, I can’t always necessarily convince an editor to publish, “Hey, I wrote a bunch of stuff about my weird inability to love Stephen Sondheim but I really want to, because it helps me understand my best friend Nicole.” That can be the hard pitch to make when outlets are cutting their editorial teams. Whereas I’m like, “ah, but I’m pretty sure at least 5000 people would actually be super into learning more.”

That makes sense, especially when you have a track record of being able to bring your audience with you; they’re interested in going wherever you’re going.

Sure. And if they don’t, you know, then I’ll get to do that too. whatever the experience is going to be, it feels just like cool to get to try something that’s not the same as either, “OK it’s going to be a full time job. I have to run this website, I have to do a lot of behind the scenes stuff as well as write a lot, and I also have to make sure that on a daily basis the site is close to profitable, or else we’re going to run into trouble.” And then at the other end something like a free newsletter is really really fun, and then after like six months, it’s like, “oh, but this is how I make my living. I should probably at least try to not write for free all the time.” Even though, again it’s my choice, it’s not like somebody was trying to get me to publish a newsletter and then not pay me. It’s just more of a sense of what’s the right balance here between getting paid for my time and work versus not overworking myself.

I was pretty jazzed about the possibility that I won’t have to like answer any more e-mails than I do already which is great. Very hard time doing that. But I will get to write some more.

Will the newsletter still be published weekly?

So my hope is, with some money coming in, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to it than just once a week. For me, as somebody who has kind of a high natural tendency toward output, I really like to write kind of a lot. You know I took some time off after The Toast to write a little less and rest, and it was great. But I love to write and I love to come up with a bunch of dumb ideas and make jokes.

And you know again I would make it really clear: It’s not The Toast, the Sequel, because you can’t like promise anybody else’s involvement. “Don’t worry, I’m reuniting the gang, I’m back on the road.” Can’t do it. I mean, if anyone listening were to say, “I have ten million dollars and I want to make you restart The Toast,” I’m sure I could talk Nicole into it in a couple of years. This isn’t that.

So it’s a solo project?

I think it’s going to stay mostly solo. It would be so fun to periodically have like Nicole and some of my pals stop by. But I think especially because I’m charging individually, I don’t want to ask anybody to be a regular recurring feature if they’re not also making money. So I think it is going to be solo in that regard.

I’m still going to be writing books, and it’s not affecting other projects that I’ve got going on. But it’s nice, especially as a freelancer, you know - I freelance for Slate, I freelance my books (that’s probably not like the way to look at it). I have a lot of independent projects. I don’t have like a day job where I get benefits and health insurance. So part of what feels exciting about this is at least the opportunity to try to have that home base.

As grateful as I am for all the opportunities I’ve gotten over the last couple of years, I’m also very aware that, like The Toast, which is something that I loved and did well, that could go away. Not necessarily in the next five minutes, but in the next six months or the next year and the next two years. And so I always want to have at least one or two things that I feel like “OK, if everything else fell apart tomorrow, would I be able to pay my bills next month?” “How am I doing my best to make sure that I am taking care of myself financially in a really hot and cold field?” I’m a freelance writer. That’s means sometimes things are really flush and sometimes are really not.

I know I hope it works out. If it doesn’t at least I give it a shot. Like, I’m always a little bit anxious to think ahead to what my next thing with my backup with my third fallback plan. All the way down to, you know, let’s assume the entire industry craters tomorrow. “Where could I try to go get a job that would give me dental insurance?”

It’s funny because, I don’t at all think “oh, the future best response to that is everybody go start a newsletter and become like a freelancer!” It’s part of what’s just like really painful is just a reality of: people get fired for trying to unionize; people get fired for reporting sexual harassment at work; companies are laying off a lot of people both in my industry and in other industries. Just systematically we’re removing workers’ protections and making sure that people who have to work to live don’t have to work. There are a lot of people who work 40, 50, 60 hours a week and who do not have health insurance or retirement plan or unemployment and don’t know how they’re going to pay for food this month.

I’m really grateful that that right now, I’m making decent money. But also, you know, starting a newsletter is not the answer to the fact that we live in a society where workers are just not taken care of, not prioritized, not given a fair exchange for their work. Which of course every conversation I feel like that everyone has about work right now comes back to “we need unions,” “we need workplace protection,” and all that.

So I don’t want to pretend like this is the correct response to the world we live in. It’s just the project I’m excited about. And I’m anxious, and I call my representative in Congress all the time but it feels weird and threatening.

At the same time, I have so many people I know, not really like personal friends but just people I love on line, who have newsletters, and I love it so much, and I wish there were more ways for people to charge like a small amount for it. Right? I have so many people that I would love to pay, like, a couple of bucks a month to read their thoughts about food or movies or feelings or you know all of the above and anything that makes that easier. I’m kind of jazzed to at least explore.

I know I was thinking, if I were giving advice to someone who was like, “I used to do this job for money and now I do it for free,” it would be, try to make some money doing it. Because you know can you can do it.

“Therapy” rhymes with “Jay-Z”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2017

Dean Baquet, executive editor of the NY Times, recently interviewed Jay-Z about his latest album (which I like a lot), OJ Simpson, his marriage & infidelity, race, and Kanye.

Jay-Z also talked about his experience with therapy:

BAQUET This album [“4:44.”] sounds to me like a therapy session.

JAY-Z Yeah, yeah.

BAQUET Have you been in therapy?

JAY-Z Yeah, yeah.

BAQUET First off, how does Jay-Z find a therapist? Not in the Phone book, right?

JAY-Z No, through great friends of mine. You know. Friends of mine who’ve been through a lot and, you know, come out on the other side as, like, whole individuals.

BAQUET What was that like, being in therapy? What did you talk about that you had never acknowledged to yourself or talked about?

JAY-Z I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand.

And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, “Aw, man, is you O.K.?” I was just saying there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You’re in this space where you’re hurting, and you think I see you, so you don’t want me to look at you. And you don’t want me to see you.”

Mosaic, Steven Soderbergh’s app/HBO TV series thingie

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2017

Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, Mosaic, takes two forms. The first is a free iOS app that contains an interactive miniseries with over seven hours of footage that you can move through in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure, with “DVD extras” built right into the story. Mosaic will also air in a more conventional linear form on HBO in January. Both versions star Sharon Stone, Beau Bridges, and Garrett Hedlund. Wired has the story of how Mosaic came to be.

Where they ended up was a smartphone-enabled story, developed and released by Silver’s company PodOp, that lets viewers decide which way they want to be told Mosaic’s tale of a children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone, who turns up dead in the idyllic ski haven of Park City, Utah. After watching each segment — some only a few minutes, some as long as a standard television episode — viewers are given options for whose point of view they want to follow and where they want to go next. Those who want to be completest and watch both options before moving on can do so, those who want to race to find out whodunit can do that too. Because each node, filmed by Soderbergh himself, feels like a TV show, launching Mosaic can be akin to sneaking a quick show on Netflix while commuting to work or waiting on a friend; but because it’s long story that’s easily flipped through, it can also enjoyed like the pulpy crime novel on your nightstand, something you chip away at a little bit at a time before bed. It’s concept isn’t wholly original — Soderbergh himself notes that “branching narrative has been around a long time” (the most obvious analogue is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but Soderbergh cringes at that analogy) — but that it finds a way to appeal to both fans of interactive storytelling, and people who just want to watch some decent TV.

Matt Zoller Seitz also interviewed Soderbergh about the app/show for Vulture. It’s a really good interview (not surprising with Seitz at the helm); they inevitably got into the question of Hollywood and abuse of power:

MZS: Do you believe that in order to make memorable art, you have to be disturbed in some way?
SS: Not at all.

MZS: That’s what’s often raised as a defense of Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, and others.
SS: No, I don’t believe that at all. It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility.

You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.

MZS: Meaning, like a bully.
SS: Yes, and I would argue instead, “You’re 50 percent of what you could have been, because of the way you behave.” Ultimately, there is a large group of people who are talented, who you want to be in business with, but who won’t be in business with you. I don’t know how you view that as being your best self, or the best version of your business, but I’m really curious to see going forward what changes.