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kottke.org posts about TV

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

Data-Stratagema.jpg

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.

When They See Us, a Series on the Central Park Five by Ava DuVernay

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Ava DuVerney has written and directed a four-part TV series called When They See Us that “chronicles the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit”. Here’s a teaser trailer:

The series starts airing on Netflix on May 31.

And if you haven’t seen it, the documentary The Central Park Five (directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon) is excellent.

Trailer for Fleabag Season Two

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2019

After a nearly three-year wait, the second season of the excellent Fleabag is coming soon (March 4 in the UK, May 17 in the US on Amazon). Here’s a snack-sized trailer:

If you aren’t on the Fleabag train yet (and you definitely should be), you can catch up with the first season on Amazon Prime (it’s only six 25-minute episodes). Oh, and you can catch series creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag the play in NYC starting next week.

Leaving Neverland

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2019

Set to air on HBO starting March 3rd, Leaving Neverland is a two-part documentary film about the experiences of two men who were befriended by and allegedly sexually abused by Michael Jackson as young boys. Here’s the trailer:

Leaving Neverland is a two-part documentary exploring the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the film crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of his own.

As this quick timeline of abuse allegations against Jackson notes, both Safechuck and Robson previously denied that Jackson had abused them.

Robson, by this point a choreographer for stars like Britney Spears, testified that he had spent the night at Neverland more than 20 times but that Jackson had never molested him or taken a shower with him.

James Safechuck, who had met Jackson as a young boy in the 1980s when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial, also denied publicly that he had been abused, although he was not called to testify.

David Ehrlich saw the film at Sundance and was completely convinced by the stories of the two men.

It may not be much of a secret that Michael Jackson acted inappropriately with a number of young boys, but there’s no way to prepare yourself for the sickening forensic details presented in Dan Reed’s four-hour exposé. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware of the various allegations that were made against the King of Pop; the asterisks that will always be next to the late mega-star’s name. It’s quite another to hear the horrifyingly lucid testimony that stretches across the entire duration of “Leaving Neverland,” as two of Jackson’s most repeat victims bravely lay bare how a universal icon seduced them away from their realities, splintered their families beyond all recognition, and leveraged their love for him into a disturbing litany of sexual acts.

The eloquent and straightforward “Leaving Neverland” was made for no other reason than to give shape to a nebulous cloud of rumors, many of which were floated in public before they were silenced behind settlements, and none of which a jury was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the wake of Reed’s film and the shattering interview footage that it exists to share with us, there’s no longer a reasonable doubt. There’s no longer any doubt at all. Not only do the documentary’s two main subjects perfectly corroborate their separate accounts in all of the most tragic of ways, but they do so with a degree of vulnerability that denies any room for skepticism.

Other stars who previously had private or ignored abuse allegations leveled against them — Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Woody Allen, Louis CK — have been judged more harshly and their accusers have taken more seriously in recent years, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jackson after the documentary airs.

National Geographic’s Upcoming Documentary on the Apollo Missions

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2019

With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing coming up this summer, the media is about to go into Apollo overdrive. (And I am fully here for it!) So far, there’s been First Man and this Apollo 11 documentary featuring a recently discovered trove of 65mm footage. Add to that Apollo: Missions to the Moon, a documentary series by Tom Jennings for National Geographic. Here’s the trailer:

Engadget has some info on the content of the film:

Director Tom Jennings (who previously documented the Challenger explosion and Princess Diana) is relying on a few uncommon technological tricks to enrich the experience. He’s melding NASA footage with Apollo black box recordings, for example, and is syncing 30-track audio from Mission Control. The aim is to create an “Apollo-era time machine,” Jennings said.

Add an original Hans Zimmer soundtrack into the mix and this could really be something special.

My Recent Media Diet, the “Please God Let Winter Be Over Soon” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 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 since the beginning of the year. One of the reasons I like doing these posts is the great recommendations I get back from readers. Turns out some of you know me and my tastes pretty well by now. For instance, a reader emailed a rec for the amazing Apollo 13 podcast listed below. I never would have found that on my own…thanks, Jason (no relation).

Vice. Inventive filmmaking from McKay. Watching parts of this was difficult though…Cheney is a ghoul. (B+)

Bird Box. Mindless but fun. The aliens made no sense… (B)

Rainbrow. Faces weren’t designed to control games. I think I may have sprained my eyebrows? (C+)

Roma. A masterpiece from Cuarón. My pick for the best film of 2018. (A)

A Fish Called Wanda. What was the middle one again? (B+)

The Apollo 13 series on the Brady Heywood Podcast. Sean Brady is a forensic engineer and in this five-part series about the Apollo 13 mission, he does a play-by-play of what went wrong on the mission and how the NASA and the three astronauts worked together to solve it. This is five hours of storytelling stuffed full of technical details and I was completely riveted the entire time. A thrilling engineering tale. (A)

Uplift standing desk. Still getting used to it, but I like being able to alternate between sitting and standing. (B+)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I read the Simon Armitage translation to the kids as our bedtime story over the course of a few weeks. The English epic was not the fan favorite that Harry Potter or the Odyssey were. (B)

The Departed. Probably not the best Scorsese film but perhaps my favorite? (A)

Desktop Tower Defense. I still love this game. (A-)

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris. A bracing history of how humans learned where and when we are in the universe. (B+)

They Shall Not Grow Old. The restoration & colorization brought World War I right into the present, but I found myself wondering if all the digital editing & sound effects crossed the line into fiction. (B+)

Shoplifters. What does “family” mean in the 21st century? Watching this made me think of this story about older Japanese women purposefully shoplifting in order to go to jail. (A)

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. I had no idea going in that this movie was exactly about my family: an older boy (who likes space battles) and younger girl (who likes Friends and parties) who struggle to play Legos together under constant threat of me chucking all of them into the trash if they don’t stop fighting. They nailed it, right down to the crack about Radiohead’s music being depressing…every time I play RH in the car, I hear a chorus of boos from the back seat. (A-)

The Mule. I don’t know who this movie is for or why I went to see it. (D+)

Minding the Gap. You might think this is about how skateboarding binds three friends together. And it is! But it’s also about the compounding debt of domestic violence, toxic masculinity, and economic depression in America. My sole complaint is that it could easily have been 30 minutes longer. (A)

Classic Doctor Who marathon on Twitch. Nothing makes me more nostalgic for my childhood than old episodes of Doctor Who. I may have over-indulged in this marathon. (B+)

You Were Never Really Here. Excellent direction, music, and sound design. (B+)

Widows. Fun ensemble thriller. (B+)

Burning. Engaging but the slow burn was a bit too slow. I also watched this in a terrible theater and my opinion might have been different if the quality were better. (B+)

If Beale Street Could Talk. Beautifully filmed romantic dread. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad at the end. (A-)

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

Killing Eve. Was I supposed to hate both of the very annoying main characters? And why is everyone so incompetent at their jobs? Villanelle is so sloppy and arrogant she would never have gotten away with one murder, let alone a dozen. I don’t think this show is for me, but I can see why others like it. (B-)

The Three-Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin. A re-read…burned through all three books in a week, by far the most concentrated reading I’ve done in years. (A)

Crazy Rich Asians. A rewatch. I’m not suggesting this should be up for Best Picture at the Oscars or anything, but this movie deserves some end-of-the-year recognition as a romantic comedy that also did some heavy thematic lifting without being either frivolous or overbearing. The filmmakers hit it just right. (A-)

Heat. This is Allen Iverson’s favorite movie. No one chews scenery like Pacino in this movie. Wow. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

BBC Earth Announces Five New Nature Documentaries, Including “Planet Earth III”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

The team at BBC Earth have announced that they’re working on five new nature documentary series set to air in the next few years, including Planet Earth III and One Planet: Seven Worlds, narrated by David Attenborough. Here’s a teaser trailer:

Fantastic news…Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II are two of the best documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. There’s more information about the new shows in these two BBC press release.

Perfect Planet will be a unique fusion of blue chip natural history and earth sciences explaining how the living planet operates. This five part series will show how the forces of nature — weather, ocean currents, solar energy and volcanoes — drive, shape and support Earth’s great diversity of life. It will broadcast in 2020.

Frozen Planet II will take audiences back to the wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctica. Ten years on from the original Frozen Planet, this series tells the complete story of the entire frozen quarter of our planet that’s locked in ice and blanketed in snow. It will broadcast in 2021.

Planet Earth III will be the most ambitious natural history landmark ever undertaken by the BBC. Combining the awe and wonder of the original Planet Earth, the new science and discoveries of Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II, and the immersive character-led storytelling of Dynasties, the series will take the Planet Earth experience to new heights. It will broadcast in 2022.

One Planet: Seven Worlds, airing sometime later this year, will consist of seven episodes, one for each of the world’s seven continents.

Millions of years ago incredible forces ripped apart the Earth’s crust creating seven extraordinary continents. This series will reveal how each distinct continent has shaped the unique animal life found there.

We will discover why Australasia is full of peculiar and venomous wildlife; why North America is a land of opportunity where pioneers succeed; and what the consequences are for life racing to compete on the richest of all continents, South America.

Attenborough is narrating this series but it’s not clear whether he’ll be doing the same for Frozen Planet II or Planet Earth III. For one thing, the man is 92 years old and for another, Netflix is luring the BBC’s talent with promises of bigger budgets and wider reach.

Mad Men but with All the Cigarettes Replaced by Kazoos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

Cignature Films is showing the first episode of Mad Men in its entirety but with all of the cigarettes replaced with kazoos. Here’s a short clip (watch the whole thing here):

Though smoking in movies was a staple element of old Hollywood, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that tobacco has had a resurgence in recent years on the big screen. It has been reported that 44% of adolescents who start smoking do so because of smoking images they have seen in the movies. Cignature Films wants to change this statistic for the better.

They also have plans to do the same with Fight Club, The Godfather, and Stranger Things. I’m wondering how long this is gonna stay up though…a clip or two is perhaps covered under fair use but I can’t see studios allowing entire movies and episodes to be shown without some kind of legal action. (via rob walker)

What Time Is the Super Bowl? (According to a Theoretical Physicist)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Ever since the Huffington Post struck SEO gold in 2011 with their post about what time the Super Bowl started, pretty much every online publication now runs a similar article in an attempt to squeeze some of Google’s juice into their revenue stream. My “attempt” from last year: What Time Isn’t the Super Bowl?

For this year’s contest, Sports Illustrated decided to ask theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of The Order of Time, his thoughts on time and Super Bowls.

6:30 p.m. is the time the Super Bowl will start in Atlanta. Most of us are not in Atlanta. So for us, the game will start later than that. You need the time for the images to be captured by the cameras, be broadcasted to air or cable, be captured by my TV screen, leave my TV screen, get to my eyes (not to mention the time my brain needs to process and decode the images). You may say this is fast — of course this is fast. But it takes some time nevertheless, and I am a physicist, I need precision. For most of us, the game will actually start some time later than the kickoff in Atlanta.

Not only that, but time moves at different speeds for each of us:

We have discovered that clocks run at different speed depending on how fast they are moved, and depending on how high they are positioned. That’s right, it is a fact: Two equal clocks go out of time with respect each other if one is moved and the other is kept fixed. The same will happen if one is kept, say, above your head, and the other lower, say, at your feet. All this was discovered by Einstein a century ago; for a while it was just brainy stuff for nerds, but today we are sure it is true. A good lab clock can check this, and it is truly true. Your head lives a bit longer than your feet (unless you spend a lot of time upside down).

So, the clock of the guy up in the high sections of the stadium runs faster than the clock of the referee on the field. And Tom Brady’s clock (if he were to wear one) runs slower, because Tom moves fast (okay, maybe not “fast,” but faster than the people sitting and watching him).

P.S. The Super Bowl starts at approximately 6:30pm EST on Feb 3, 2019. (via laura olin)

Creating Saturday Night Live’s Cue Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

As part of their YouTube series on how the Saturday Night Live sausage is made, this short video details how the cue cards that the actors read from during the show are made and used. There’s even a tiny little bit in there about how they use whitespace (between words and lines) to make sure the cards are readable from a distance.

I am kind of amazed that the cue card process is still done by hand. I don’t want to see any hard-working staffers or interns getting fired, but it seems like a couple of fast large-format color printers capable of printing on poster stock and a block letter handwriting font could dramatically streamline the workflow, particularly when late-stage changes are needed.

In a Race to the Edge of the Solar System, Which Star Trek Ship Would Win?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

These visualizations of the speed of light I posted last week somehow demonstrate both how fast light speed is and how slow it is compared the vastness of the galaxy & universe. Science fiction often bends the rules of physics as we currently understand them, with fictional spacecraft pushing beyond the speed of light. In Star Trek, the measure of a ship’s velocity is warp speed. Warp 1 is the speed of light, Warp 6 is 392 times the speed of light, etc. In this Warp Speed Comparison video, EC Henry compares the top speeds of various Star Trek vessels (the original Enterprise, Voyager, the Defiant), racing them from Earth to the edge of the solar system.

Once again, you get a real sense of how fast these ships would be if they actually existed but also of the vastness of space. It would take 10 seconds for the fastest ship to reach the edge of the solar system at maximum warp and just over 6 hours to get to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Wikipedia lists a few dozen stars that are within a day’s journey at full warp…a trip that takes light more than 16 years. The mighty speed of light is no match for the human imagination. (thx, jim)

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

Recorder Movie

In 1979, a woman named Marion Stokes started recording live television and didn’t stop for more than 33 years. Director Matt Wolf is making a movie about Stokes and her archive.

Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today.

The Internet Archive is supposedly archiving them and putting them online (so says this 2013 Fast Company article) but there’s no evidence that any of the videos are live on the site. (Rights issues? Budget?) In the meantime, you can check out this Tumblr has a collection of stills from the Stokes tapes.

The Best of My Media Diet for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2019

2018 Bestnine

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts. In this post, I’m gonna share some of the very best of that content, stuff that stuck with me in one way or another. I marked my absolute favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine Instagram images of 2018.)

Books. I made an effort to read more books this year, particularly those written by women. Hope to continue both of those trends in 2019.

After years of reading the entire Harry Potter series with my kids, we spent several months reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I was unsure whether they would be into it, but they’d routinely ask for some extra reading time before bed.*

Charles Mann is one of the best nonfiction authors out there, a master of combining culture, history, and science into compelling stories. The Wizard and the Prophet is his latest book and I recommend you read it.*

Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

(The theme of the book also popped up in Avengers: Infinity War.)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I will always be a total space nerd and this is a great history of the Apollo program.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Lots for me to chew on in this one, not least of which is the value of a non-traditional childhood.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kitchen Confidential read by Anthony Bourdain. This book is 18 years old but aside from some details, it felt as immediate and vital as when it came out. What a unique spirit we lost this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller. A fun and engrossing “sequel” to The Odyssey.

In response to this post about They Shall Not Grow Old by Tim Carmody, Stephan Pimpare wrote: “Howard Zinn is derided for a sometimes simplistic and sloppy history, but his singular contribution was a kind of historical Rashomon — the urgent lesson that the shape of all histories can and should be inverted.” Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an inversion of sorts of the traditional history of Silicon Valley.

Movies. Geography has hindered my movie choices since moving to Vermont, and I haven’t seen many of the movies on everyone else’s best of lists. But my movie-viewing has also been less adventurous this year; I’ve preferred less challenging fare after long work days.

Somehow, Black Panther came out this year? It seems like it’s always been with us. BP is the 2018 movie I’d most like to erase from my memory so I could watch it again for the first time. (Honorable mention to Avengers: Infinity War.)

Isle of Dogs. The cinematography and production design of this were just so good. I left the theater wanting to make great things.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I waited to see this one at home because I didn’t want to be caught sobbing in public.

Even in the age of Netflix, going to the theater can still be a lot of fun. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night with a bunch of Queen fans and they made the theater shake with their singing, clapping, and stomping.

Three Identical Strangers. A fascinating documentary about nature vs nurture.

TV. I watched a lot of TV this year, perhaps too much. But not a whole lot of it ended up being that substantial…I saw nothing this year as good as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, or The Vietnam War. Maybe I should watch a little less next year?

The Americans. An excellent final season and a very strong and heartbreaking last episode.*

My Brilliant Friend. I spent the first 3-4 episodes disappointed that it wasn’t the books, but by the end, I was ready for a second season. The two lead actresses were excellent, particularly Margherita Mazzucco as Elena Greco.

The Handmaid’s Tale. Many people felt this stumbled this season, but I was not one of them.

Music. Not a musical year for me. The only thing I would single out is Kendrick Lamar’s album for Black Panther.

Podcasts. I like listening to podcasts with discrete seasons or topics these days…so not a lot of Reply All or Radiolab but more like the following…

Seeing White. Recommended by a reader, this 14-part series on race and whiteness is essential listening.*

Slow Burn. Two seasons, one on Watergate and the other on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Both excellent.*

Caliphate. Upsetting and important. This is a look at ISIS you don’t get on cable.*

Experiences & misc. Most of my favorite stuff falls into this category this year.

An Incomplete History of Protest. This exhibition at the Whitney was up for a long while, so I got to see it a few times.

Alto’s Odyssey. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite games. Several months ago, I made it up to #2 on the global high score list. I deleted it from my phone last week because I was playing it too much.*

Kennedy Space Center. Hoping to go back for a launch sometime soon!*

Lots of things about Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, my breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, and having dinner on a tiny street of tiny businesses, loosely joined.*

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. What Chrysanthe said.

Electricity. Ok, let me explain. I live in a rural area and work from home so when it’s really windy or there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. Sometimes it’s out for an hour or two, sometimes longer. It would be quaint if I didn’t have stuff to do. When electricity isn’t the default, you come to appreciate it a lot more.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum. Science and technology museum in Berlin. Along with the Topographie Des Terrors, this was my favorite thing from my stay in Berlin.

Foggy hikes. I’d never hiked in the fog before and now I think I might prefer it to sunny days?*

My new electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for months now and I still look forward to brushing with it. My mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. After spending so much time in the Wizarding World on the pages of books and on movie screens, it was a complete trip to wander around Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the rest.*

Solo roadtrips across the United States. Probably my favorite thing of the year. Can’t wait to do this again, perhaps in the American Southwest.*

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. Watching those two boosters land back on the surface at almost the same time was mind-blowing.

Sleep. Getting at least 7 (and often 8+) hours of sleep every night has transformed my life. This is even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation.

Goodthreads t-shirt. I’m heading into uniform territory and having plain white t-shirts that fit me perfectly is essential.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

The trailer for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a feature-length special premiering tomorrow (12/28) on Netflix:

In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge. Welcome back.

What if Stranger Things but Black Mirror?

Update: There were rumors that an upcoming Black Mirror episode would feature a Choose Your Own Adventure style narrative. Well, it appears that Bandersnatch is that episode. From Variety:

“Bandersnatch” comes with five possible endings. Viewers who choose the quickest path, and decide against any do-overs, can make it through the film in around 40 minutes. The average viewing time is around 90 minutes.

Altogether, there are over a trillion unique permutations of the story. However, this also includes relatively simple iterations that don’t necessarily alter the story itself. For instance, one of the first decisions is helping Stefan to choose which cereal to eat in the morning. “We want [viewers] to have a successful choice early on,” said Engelbrecht.

The Top 10 Title Sequences of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

From the Art of the Title, the picks for the best opening credits sequences of the year. Their #1 is Babylon Berlin, which would have been my pick as well.

Babylon Berlin Titles

The list also includes the titles for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which might be the most visually inventive box office #1 in recent memory.

Interestingly, two of the sequences on the list aren’t from film or TV but from conferences: Semi Permanent 2018 and Made In The Middle 2018. Only three out of the ten were from movies.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

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 last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Deadwood Returns

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

Swearengen.jpg

More than twelve years after the original, beloved TV series was cancelled, the Deadwood movie is very real. The entire core cast has been reassembled, shooting began this fall, and Entertainment Weekly has behind-the-scenes stills that are, well, very exciting.

That’s 76-year-old Ian McShane as barman Al Swearengen above, and below is Timothy Olyphant as now-venerable lawman Seth Bullock. Jesus, they both look great.

Bullock.jpg

Producer Carolyn Strauss gives the following notes on where the Deadwood movie is taking these characters:

The movie is set in 1889 as the town prepares to celebrate South Dakota joining the Union as the 40th state. What’s the film about, basically?

If you ask David, it’s about the passage of time. The toll of time on people. It’s mellowed some people and hardened others. And it’s about the town’s maturing and becoming part of the Union and what that event sets in motion, in a very personal way for the people that it brings in town and what ensues. The toll of time has not just struck Deadwood and the characters but all the people making it as well, you get to see the faces of people 12 years later. And it was really profound. Actors were crying at the table read — not necessarily from the script but the emotion of being back and doing something we all loved doing so much. You normally have a great experience and then it’s over. You don’t normally get the chance to do this in life. It was kind of a gift.

Al Swearengen was of the driver of much of the action in the series, can you give us a sense of what he’s up to?

The time has taken its greatest toll on Swearengen. He’s the person who really drove so much of the life of the town and there’s a sense of that power waning somewhat, and what ensues of that is a big part of the story.

I can go back and forth on the relative “greatest TV show ever” merits of The Wire or The Sopranos, but Deadwood is the show that’s meant the most to me. I’ll always contend that the first season is the best single season of television ever. And the scene below, when Bullock confronts Alma Garrett’s reprobate father who’s out to steal her gold mine, is the single greatest sequence in television history.

It’s just so magnificently constructed. The wordless, claustrophobic tension, as seemingly the entire town (except Al — Al’s not leaving his bar) intuits that lightning is about to strike in the middle of their camp. The actors’ wordless gestures to each other, that convey so much care and nervous energy. The artful cutting from one part of town to the next, without ever breaking from the overall impression that everything is happening in real time. The barely concealed sexuality of it all, in the middle of the violence. And the beautiful use of rack focus, as single shots flip from one character’s reaction to another. It’s claustrophobic and expansive all at once.

And as Joanie Stubbs tells Alma later, “if he was here, I’d wish a beating on my daddy mornings and evenings like your pa took today.”

I have a quote that I’ve kept in my Twitter bio for years. “Everything changes — don’t be afraid.” It’s a motto I’ve tried to live my life by, and it is, of course, from Deadwood.

Another scene that’s meant a lot to me is Reverend Smith’s quoting from 1 Corinthians at Wild Bill Hickok’s funeral. “For the body is not one member, but many” becomes, in David Milch’s reworking, a spiritually animated philosophy of community. It is a politics, and a form of politics we would do well not to forget.

The New Yorker’s 2005 profile of writer/creator/showrunner/polymath David Milch is one of my favorite pieces ever to appear in the magazine. It does an outstanding job of expanding on the philosophy encapsulated in the Reverend’s speech:

When Milch speaks, it’s with a natural storyteller’s alert, legato fluidity. His hands stay busy and he projects a cerebral intensity. He has brown eyes, a wide mouth, a strong nose, dark hair that he refuses to let go gray—he turns sixty this year—and the pale fleshiness of someone who doesn’t expose himself much to sunlight. “There’s a story by Hawthorne, ‘Ethan Brand,’ about a man who goes out looking for the unpardonable sin,” he continued. “He discovers that it’s the violation of the sanctity of another person’s heart. To use an instrument to open up another person without a loving, terrified humility is the unpardonable sin. That’s what medicine does, and Cochran has done it too much. At the beginning, he falls back on his fear. But then, in apprehending for just a moment the suffering of the others in the room with Swearengen, he’s able to go past it and he finds that the minute one person is brave the spirit comes alive. What I’m trying to suggest to the actors is that the modern situation is predicated upon the illusion of the self’s isolation—that business of ‘I’m alone, you’re alone, we can bullshit each other when we’re fucking or whatever else, but the truth is we’re alone. Right?’ Well, I believe that that is fundamentally an illusion.”

The Deadwood movie is now easily my most anticipated movie/TV show/anything of 2019.

A Lion Fighting Off a Pack of Hyenas

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

David Attenborough’s new nature series, Dynasties, is already airing in the UK and Canada (we have to wait until January 19 in the US) and they’ve also been posting some video clips on YouTube. Perhaps the most compelling is the video above, of a young male lion being attacked by a pack of hyenas.

You can check out some of the other clips in this playlist, including painted wolves fighting off honey badgers to protect their young and emperor penguins practicing parenthood with a snowball.

Blame Fox News for Fake News, Not Facebook

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2018

In the Washington Post, Henry Farrell interviews Yochai Benkler, whose recent book with co-authors Rob Faris and Hal Robert, Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics, presents evidence that right-wing media functions in a completely different way than the rest of the media does.

On the right, audiences concentrate attention on purely right wing outlets. On the left and center audiences spread their attention broadly and focus on mainstream organizations. This asymmetric pattern holds for the linking practices of media producers. Both supply and demand on the right are insular and self-focused. On the left and center they are spread broadly and anchored by professional press.

These differences create a different dynamic for media, audiences, and politicians on the left and right.

We all like to hear news that confirms our beliefs and identity. On the left, outlets and politicians try to attract readers by telling such stories but are constrained because their readers are exposed to a range of outlets, many of which operate with strong fact-checking norms.

On the right, because audiences do not trust or pay attention to outlets outside their own ecosystem, there is no reality check to constrain competition. Outlets compete on political purity and stoking identity-confirming narratives. Outlets and politicians who resist the flow by focusing on facts are abandoned or vilified by audiences and competing outlets. This forces media and political elites to validate and legitimate the falsehoods, at least through silence, creating a propaganda feedback loop.

The authors also argue that Fox News is doing much more harm to our democracy in spreading false information than Facebook or Twitter.

The highly asymmetric pattern of media ecosystems we observe on the right and the left, despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter usage is roughly similar on both sides, requires that we look elsewhere for what is causing the difference.

Surveys make it clear that Fox News is by far the most influential outlet on the American right — more than five times as many Trump supporters reported using Fox News as their primary news outlet than those who named Facebook. And Trump support was highest among demographics whose social media use was lowest.

Our data repeatedly show Fox as the transmission vector of widespread conspiracy theories.

I’ve been beating this drum for awhile and still don’t know why this 2017 study that showed compelling evidence that Fox News moved the 2008 presidential election Republican vote share by 6.3% to the right all by itself isn’t a much bigger deal.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant.

In keeping with Benkler et al’s findings regarding media asymmetry, the study did not identify a similar swing to the left for MSNBC or CNN viewers.

The question is, what the heck do we do about Fox News? Shun Rupert Murdoch? Sleeping Giants and other groups have been effective in hamstringing other right-wing media sources like Breitbart (as well as some Fox News shows), but Fox News has worked hard to position itself as mainstream, so pressuring advertisers would be tough to muster support for. What about a boycott of other Fox properties? If the Disney sale goes through, those properties would include the Fox channel (home of The Simpsons, NFL games, college football, etc., The World Series), Fox Business News, and a number of sports channels (Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Fox Soccer Plus). Are people going to be willing to give up watching The World Series and The Super Bowl to put financial pressure on Fox? And my pals who do startups…are they going to refuse to go on Fox Business News promote their businesses? I have my doubts about that.

Network Propaganda is available on Amazon and also as a free PDF download here.

“Our Planet”, a Nature Documentary Series from David Attenborough & Netflix

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

It looks like Netflix has sifted through their data and determined subscribers cannot get enough of the Planet Earth and Blue Planet nature series, so they’re making their own. With David Attenborough. The teaser trailer for Our Planet borrows heavily from Planet Earth (fonts & music are similar) but is light on the details, aside from the launch date: April 5, 2019.

Update: The full trailer is out, which I’ve embedded above. Here’s the previous teaser trailer:

The Our Planet series will consist of 8 episodes filmed across 50 countries. April 5 is soooon!

My Recent Media Diet for Fall 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2018

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 last month or so. Ok, two months in this case…it’s been awhile. There are a lot of movies on this installment of the list, but I’ve actually gotten some reading done as well. I’m still making my way through Making a Murderer’s second season, just started Small Fry, and am looking forward to seeing the Fantastic Beasts sequel with my kids in a couple of weeks. I’m trying to convince them to dress up when we go to the theater but no dice so far.

Origin Story by David Christian. This is a book based on Christian’s Big History concept, a story that weaves everything from quarks to water to dinosaurs to humans fighting entropy through greater energy & resource usage into one long history of the universe. (B+)

Slow Burn Season 2. Leon Neyfakh and his team are operating at a high level…this is one of the best podcasts out there. I had two major and conflicting thoughts while listening to this season: 1. Bill Clinton is not a good human being, should not have been President, and should not be embraced by contemporary progressives, and 2. The investigation of Clinton by the “independent” counsel was motivated entirely by partisan politics, was mostly bullshit, and shouldn’t have led to anything close to Clinton’s impeachment. (A+)

Three Identical Strangers. Fascinating entry in the nature vs nurture debate. This movie had at least two more gears than I expected. (A-)

Prohibition. Really interesting three-part documentary from Ken Burns & Lynn Novick about Prohibition in America. For instance, I didn’t know that the early temperance movement was led by women who were basically fed up with their husbands coming home and beating & raping them. Between this and some other stuff I’ve been thinking about, I’m convinced that while prohibition isn’t the answer, the US would be a better place to live if alcohol consumption were much lower. (A-)

Seeing White. What even to say about this? Fantastic and fascinating podcast series about the notion of “whiteness”, where racism comes from, and a lot of related topics. For instance, the synopsis for the second episode is “For much of human history, people viewed themselves as members of tribes or nations but had no notion of “race.” Today, science deems race biologically meaningless. Who invented race as we know it, and why?” Two episodes particularly stick out: the one about Native Americans and the one on white affirmative action, which was extraordinarily eye-opening. Top recommendation, a must-listen. (A+)

Smokey and the Bandit. This always seemed to be on TV when I was a kid. I gotta say, it’s still entertaining. But whoa, the casual overt racism that made it into movies in 1977. Oof. (B)

First Reformed. Ethan Hawke is terrific in this spare film. (B+)

Deadpool 2. I feel like I should feel bad for liking this so much. Probably did laugh until I cried. (A-)

A Beautiful Mind. I saw this when it came out and it seemed more straightforward than Oscar-winning this time around. Best Picture? I don’t see it. (B)

Mad Max: Fury Road. Fourth or fifth viewing? God, this movie is just so simple and devastatingly effective. It just *works*. (A)

Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June. Roxane Gay wrote of this book: “Sometimes, a book swells into something far lovelier than you assume it will be.” Exactly right. (B+)

Montreal bagels. Better than NYC bagels. And it’s not close. (A-)

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King. A bit uneven in spots, but there’s some really great stuff in here. Rogers really was an incredible person. (A-)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Getting ready for the sequel. (B+)

Maniac. I’ve watched the first four episodes of this. Good aesthetics and quirky but I’m wondering if I really need to finish the rest of it. (B)

Searching. Worth watching for the unique way the story is told. Solid & engaging plot too. (B+)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I’ve already forgotten what happens in this movie. (C)

Last Seen. No one knows who stole $500 million worth of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in 1990 nor has the art ever been recovered. This podcast details the major theories and suspects. (B)

Civilizations. This wannabe art history nerd loved this series. (A-)

Reply All: The Crime Machine. Fascinating story about how the NYPD got hooked on crime statistics, which helped them to clean up the city but then went wrong. (A-)

Schwartz’s Deli. The smoked meat sandwich somehow lives up to the hype. Don’t skip the pickle! (A-)

First Man. I noticed many of the things that Richard Brody did in his review but don’t consider the film a “right-wing fetish object”, Armstrong’s red baseball cap aside. It seemed to me that the arrested emotional development of Armstrong & his fellow astronauts was not played for heroic effect but actually seemed rather sad. If this was the great America we need to get back to, count me out. (B+)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Not as fun as the original. (B-)

Tomb Raider. This should have been better. (B-)

Bohemian Rhapsody. Pro tip: always go to fandom movies on opening night, even if you’re not particularly interested in the movie. I saw this with a packed theater of Queen fans. People were dressed up and they sang along to the songs. During We Will Rock You, the theater was actually shaking. Really fun. Like this guy, I also have a new appreciation on Queen’s music. Oh and if you’re bent about the liberties taken with the story, this take on the film by a Queen superfan is worth reading. (A-)

The TED Interview podcast w/ Elizabeth Gilbert. The second section, on the grief she left after her partner died earlier this year, in particularly worth a listen. (B+)

X-Men. Viewed during an 11-hour plane ride. Solid but shows its age with the action stuff, which was slow and inconsequential. I also watched the two sequels. (B)

Moneyball. I somehow hadn’t seen this before and really liked it. I think I need to read the book again. (A-)

Ocean’s Thirteen. Surprisingly fresh for the 13th movie in the series. Don’t @ me. (B+)

Volver. I need more Almodovar (and Penelope Cruz) in my life. (B+)

Farsighted by Steven Johnson. The advice on how you can make better long-term decisions is actually quite short, but Johnson’s explanation is typically well-informed and buoyed by keen storytelling. Favorite line: “The novel is an empathy machine.” (B+)

Conversations with Tyler w/ Paul Krugman. Tyler Cowen might have the best interview questions around. My favorite aspect of this episode is how many times Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner, says some version of “I don’t know” in reply to a question. (B+)

Conversations with Tyler w/ Malcolm Gladwell. Another thought-provoking episode. Gladwell answered every question. (B+)

Conversations with Tyler w/ Michael Pollan. Psychedelics seem increasingly promising. Time to read Pollan’s book on the subject perhaps. (B+)

Making a Murderer. The second season isn’t as compelling as the first (at least through the first 2/3s) but the show is still an intriguing examination of our legal system, class & wealth, the power of the human imagination, and all things Wisconsin. (A-)

I also covered a bunch of stuff I experienced in Berlin in this post so I won’t repeat myself. I plan on writing a similar post for Istanbul this week.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

In Praise of Oscar the Grouch

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

Oscar.png

Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney is retiring after almost 50 years, and everybody is leading with the fact that he played and voiced everybody’s favorite, Big Bird. And then, if they get a chance, they might get around to mentioning that other iconic character he gave a voice and a soul, one of my favorites, Oscar the Grouch.

Karen Zraick writes about Oscar and his origins in the New York Times:

In his book “The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch),” Mr. Spinney wrote that he based Oscar’s voice on a surly cabdriver from the Bronx who took him to a meeting.

“He was the stereotypical cabby of the time — a guy in his 40s from the Bronx wearing a tweed cap with a little brim — and he kind of growled out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Where to, Mac?’” Mr. Spinney wrote.

He had found “the ideal model” for his new character, and he marveled as the driver “went on and on, colorfully expressing his opinion of Mayor Lindsay with a lot of four-letter words.”

Travis Andrews does the same in the Washington Post:

The purpose of Oscar, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s description of the character, is to teach “the importance of understanding, tolerance, and diversity.” According to Robert W. Morrow’s book “‘Sesame Street’ and the Reform of Children’s Television,” Oscar acted differently and lived in a different kind of home as a metaphor, “to dramatize tolerance for those who are different. … In segments about conflicts between Oscar and the others on the street, the show taught how children might cope with diversity in the context of school desegregation.”

Ok, sure. Ariane Beeston at Essential Kids more thoroughly spells out Oscar’s character, and its effect and appeal:

1. It’s okay to be different;
2. One man’s trash is another grouch’s treasure;
3. Embrace who you are and be yourself;
4. Just because you’re grouchy, doesn’t mean you can’t also be kind;
5. Emotions can be confusing.

Almost everyone gives credit to Spinney for giving Oscar his emotional complexity, with a simple mandate: Oscar is always grouchy and contrarian, but Oscar is never mean or cruel. In short, Oscar always has a heart. Let’s hope Spinney’s successor can continue to thread that needle. The kids of the present and the future deserve an Oscar who can be everything that he is.

The split-second choreography of a long one-shot

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 05, 2018

The Showtime series Kidding did something quite clever (really, two things): for a scene showing one of its characters’ transformation over the course of a year, it compressed multiple discordant events into a long, cut-free, panoramic photography shot of a single room. Outfits change, actors come and go, furniture, props, and lighting are moved in and out of the room, all without cuts.

Now, while the main camera shoots all around the increasingly unrecognizable room, a second camera, shooting from above the set, shows how they did it. A mix of body doubles, quick outfit changes, and grips and crew working furiously to move the entire set around just outside the camera’s field of vision.

It’s worth watching a couple of times. It’s a little like one of Penn and Teller’s bits where they show you how they pulled off the magic trick. You see everything they needed to do to do what they did, but you still don’t entirely believe they pulled it off.

Dynasties, a New Nature Documentary Series from BBC & David Attenborough

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2018

After the triumphs of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, 92-year-old David Attenborough is back with a new BBC nature series called Dynasties. The five-part series will follow five “celebrated, yet endangered” groups of animals — emperor penguins, tigers, lions, painted wolves, and chimpanzees — as they fight for survival. From the trailer, it looks as though Dynasties will be heavily narrative, perhaps even more so than Planet Earth and Blue Planet. No word on when this is airing yet.

See also 10 hours of extremely relaxing ocean scenes and 40 hours of relaxing Planet Earth II sounds.

Teenage Dolphins Get High on Puffer Fish Toxin

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

In 2014, BBC aired a two-part documentary that featured intimate and close-up footage of dolphins using remote-controlled cameras disguised as sea creatures like turtles and fish. In one of the scenes, a group of adolescent dolphins captures a puffer fish and passes the ball-shaped little guy around. But as narrator David Tennant explains, what the dolphins really appear to be after is the toxin released by the puffer.

When attacked, puffer fish release a neurotoxin. In high doses, it can kill, but in small doses, it has a narcotic effect. It seems to be affecting the dolphins. They appear totally blissed out by the whole experience. And remarkably, all take turns in passing the puffer around.

Puff, puff, pass. Puff, puff, pass. Look at these blissed-out young’uns!

Dolphins High

The dolphins were filmed gently playing with the puffer, passing it between each other for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, unlike the fish they had caught as prey which were swiftly torn apart.

Zoologist and series producer Rob Pilley said that it was the first time dolphins had been filmed behaving this way.

At one point the dolphins are seen floating just underneath the water’s surface, apparently mesmerised by their own reflections.

Making a Murderer, season two

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

In season one of Making a Murderer, filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos profiled Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were convicted for murdering Teresa Halbach in 2005, following the process of the police investigation, the trials, and how their families and the family of the victim reacted to everything.

In season two, which starts on Netflix on October 19, Demos & Ricciardi return to Wisconsin as the two men fight to get released from prison. Here’s the teaser trailer:

I thought the first season of the show was excellent, perhaps the best of the recent crop of true crime stories that includes Serial, S-Town, and the like.

Update: Here’s the full trailer.

I could have done without all the ham-fisted dramatic music and cuts…in my recollection, the series isn’t like that at all.