Culture

Culture Vultures

The Liberal But Watchable John Oliver

By 7.16.14

If you haven’t watched John Oliver’s new show Last Week Tonight on HBO, let me recommend a few bits.

There’s the one where he enlists Lisa Loeb to mock Portland hipsters and Obamacare at the same time. And this one, featuring the best Morrissey reference ever, on the European Court of Justice’s insane ruling that forces Google to take down links upon request. And this interview with a droll Stephen Hawking.

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Flick Story

Roman Polanski’s ‘Venus in Fur’ Is Lightweight and Campy

By 7.15.14

Venus in Fur opens like a horror film—more precisely, like a horror-comedy. The camera swoops slowly over rainswept streets toward a shuttered theater, as thunder rolls and a darkly glittering waltz plays. The music sets the mood for something like Beetlejuice or even Gremlins: The carnival’s in town, and it opens at midnight!

Roman Polanski’s adaptation of David Ives's play about Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s perverse novel Venus in Furs manages to sustain this edgy, gleeful mood despite its layers of adaptation and influence. On one level it’s just an unhealthy confection, a movie-length warning: Be careful what you wish for, that classic horror maxim. Or, Be careful what you swoon for

On a deeper level the movie is about perhaps the most important question: Is there anything outside the self? Is a genuine surrender of the will possible, or is everything just egoism in the end, since you’re still the one choosing to give or withhold yourself? 

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Did the Marxist Philosopher Slavoj Zizek Plagiarize a White Nationalist Magazine?

By on 7.11.14 | 4:24PM

It certainly looks that way. The other night I was reading my galley copy of Adam Kirsch's forthcoming essay collection, Rocket and Lightship. It's full of good stuff, but the best piece in it is about the Slovenian Marxist gadfly Slavoj Zizek. Zizek is a strange character: a social democratic dissident turned unapolegtic Leninist; a pop-culture loving obscurantist; a millionaire philosopher. He is also, Kirsch intimates, without quite saying as much, an anti-Semite.

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A Further Perspective

Our Boring Secular Consensus

By 7.11.14

In 1839, the future saint Jeanne Jugan gathered a group of women and girls, and began administering care to the poor of Rennes, France. One-hundred and seventy-five years later, Jugan’s group, Little Sisters of the Poor, has apparently become something far more sinister. That’s according to the reliably irrelevant National Organization for Women, which recently included the sisterhood on its “Dirty 100” list of groups that have been “using religion to justify discrimination, deny women’s equality.”

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The Great American Saloon Series

Vodka is Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless, and Amazing

By 7.10.14

October 4 is National Vodka Day, but no one knows precisely when, where, or even why vodka was first made. (Even National​VodkaDay.com admits that “we have not found the origins of why, but it works for us. No harm celebrating responsibly on other days as well.”) It depends on your definition of vodka.

We can go as far back as the eighth century A.D., when alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan, known to the West as Geber, invented the alembic to capture vapor from heated wine, which he described as “of little use, but of great importance to science.” (If only he had placed it in a frosted glass bottle and had beautiful women sell it at the local taverns!) In the fourteenth century, the Italians were drinking aqua vitae, which supposedly they learned to make from alchemists in southern France, who, in turn, had studied the methods of the Arabs. In any event the Italians brought their product to Moscow, and around 1430 a Russian monk named Isidore supposedly turned this into vodka.

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A (Sort of) Defense of Soccer

By on 7.9.14 | 10:55AM

As soccer lovers and bandwagon hoppers the world over wait to watch the semifinal games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a few puerile pundits have transformed it into their own Hyde Park in which to set up a soapbox and spew pompous oratorical diarrhea. Ann Coulter’s adolescent attacks on soccer are easy enough to dismiss as the usual ranting and raving of an irrelevant demagogue, an attempt to politicize sport for personal profit and blow some last bombast into a deflating brand of irreverence. We may read her, wish she was being pleasantly satirical rather than gleefully inane, and turn away laughing with distaste.

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The Beer Spectator: In Support of Smoking

By on 7.4.14 | 10:04AM

My favorite smoking section is located outside the Barnstable County Superior Court on Cape Cod. Across the street from the entrance, there is a lone sign amidst the weedy grass of the parking lot median. “Smoking Section,” it declares. Smokers are not welcome to stand on the sidewalk in front of the court. No, they must walk across the street, where all can judge them.

Everybody witnesses smoking, and everybody reacts in their own ways. Some ignore it. Some cough artificially. Some announce the health hazards of smoking, as if the graphic warnings on the packs didn’t tell us enough.

Why submit oneself to such ostracization?   

It’s simple: smoking, whether it’s a cigarette, a cigar, or a pipe, is soothing. It’s social, invigorating, and recreational. It doesn’t matter how high taxes are or whether the MPAA rates a movie because of smoking on screen; some people just want their fix.

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Lena Dunham Weighs in on Hobby Lobby

By on 7.3.14 | 2:14PM

As a twenty-four-year-old woman with friends on all sides of the political spectrum, I’ve heard quite a bit about the Hobby Lobby decision over the past couple days. I’ve seen a few thoughtful responses, but mostly I’ve been struck by the illogical and factually incorrect criticisms from otherwise intelligent and well-educated friends. If someone looked at my Facebook and Twitter feeds, he would surely think that birth control was banned forever and soon there will be babies everywhere.

The panic-stricken tirades came straight from the top. Feminist actress Lena Dunham tweeted, “Women's access to birth control should not be denied because of their employer's religious beliefs.” Sandra Fluke experimented with different fonts in Photoshop to send the message that “we’re sick and tired of SCOTUS putting corporate interests ahead of women’s rights!” Meanwhile, the writers at the Salon.com office just ran around screaming about Armageddon.

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Boob Tube

‘Orange Is the New Black’ Proves TV is Being Written for Binge Watchers

By 7.3.14

There’s a wonderful subplot in the new season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black that follows Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), a cranky, elderly cancer patient. A bit player in season one, she remains a marginal character with whom the show nonetheless elects to spend time. We follow her to her chemotherapy. We learn the story of her youth as a bank robber (she’s still unrepentant). We watch her grapple with her rapidly approaching death, which has become more terrible to her because she’ll be dying alone in prison.

To the other inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary, Rosa remains “that person with cancer” (maybe most memorably demonstrated when somebody misguidedly recommends her The Fault in Our Stars). But because the show is so willing to spend time with a character so peripheral, Rosa is opened up to the viewer in a way she is not for her fellow inmates. She goes from being a joke to being a person. The joke begins to be on the other inmates.

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Sports Arena

Patawomeck Tribe: Snyder Could Rename the Redskins After Us

By 7.3.14

Hail to the Potomacs? If the owner of the Redskins wants to put the controversy over his team name to rest while keeping a Native American theme, he’ll likely have one local tribe’s blessing.

“I was just telling my wife the other day, ‘Why don’t we write to Dan Snyder and suggest changing the name to the Washington Potomacs?” said John Lightner, chief of the Patawomeck tribe of Virginia.

The Patawomecks (or Potomacs), native people of the region, gave their name to the river that flows through Washington, D.C. In the 1600s they belonged to the tribal confederation headed by the great chief Powhatan, from whose war club daughter Pocahontas, legend has it, saved John Smith. (Pocahontas’s mother was a Patawomeck.) Today the tribe counts some 1,500 members, most in Stafford County, Va.

If — and that’s if — the Redskins wanted to style themselves the Potomacs, after the local tribe and the great waterway that shares their name, the tribe likely would endorse the move, Lightner, said.

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