Special Report

From Boob Jokes to Ukraine: A Talk With Robert Evans of Cracked.Com

By 7.31.14

Gallows humor is one of the most traditional and least savory elements of esprit de corps. For cops, doctors, soldiers, social workers—anybody whose job site is the miserable human heart—gallows humor puts the “against the world” into us-against-the-world. In a Venn diagram of “jokes cops post in online forums” and “civil rights violations,” a lot of material would fall in the overlap area. Emergency-room abbreviations like CTD (Circling the Drain) or FDGB (Fall Down Go Boom) cauterize the emotions, triaging competence at the expense of empathy. When gallows humor enters journalism it’s often dehumanizing without the excuse of necessity: I’ll always love the tabloid style, but one day I realized that HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR describes the death of some mother’s child. 

In this hard-bitten landscape, the journalistic experiment in empathy has embarked on is an outlier. Cracked, which started out as MAD Magazine’s kid brother, now looks more like a punk version of the Washington Post.

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Kids These Days

Back Off, Tiger Moms: The Kids Are Alright

By 7.24.14

The news has been filled with their stories—children just seven or nine or eleven years old, on their own, faced with the impossible, braving death under a hot sun, with nothing but their wits to tell them when to roll down the window.

You thought I was talking about the child migrants? No, I’m referring to our own chubby doltlings, who apparently aren’t up to playing in the park by themselves or even capable of sitting quietly in a car without spontaneously expiring, much less handle a 1,400-mile journey from Guatemala unaccompanied.

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The Movies You Watch Aren’t Gay Enough, Say Activists

By on 7.23.14 | 4:37PM

Gay and transgender characters don't feature often enough in major Hollywood films, according to a bizarre claim from the activist organization GLAAD. I say that the claim is bizarre because their gripe is that "only" 17 out of 102 big studio films from 2013 featured gay characters. GLAAD regularly bean counts the number of homosexuals in film in their Studio Responsibility Index. "Only" seems a bit of an odd choice of words, though, when 3.8% of Americans identify as LGBT. If anything, gays are disproportionately represented in movies. This should hardly be surprising, given the distinctly liberal complexion of the entertainment industry.

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Culture Vultures

Why Does Anyone Care About Vampires?

By 7.23.14

Are vampires scary? Though by all rights they should be, they’ve never really frightened me. Or even been that compelling, really: I read Dracula once and stopped there.

Pop culture, on the other hand, loves vampires. But most of its vampires aren’t frightening either. From The Vampire Chronicles to Buffy to True Blood to Twilight, vampires can be seductive or they can be ridiculous, but they don’t seem to provoke fear in the audience or even seem to be designed to. (Articles I’ve never seen: “Scary moments from last night’s True Blood.This sort of article, on the other hand….) Indeed, the vampire who kicked off this whole trend back in 1819 was modeled on Lord Byron; a striking figure, to be sure, but not really a frightening one.

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Flick Story

Talking Too Much: Scott Derrickson’s ‘Deliver Us From Evil’

By 7.22.14

In The Brothers Karamazov, after the atheist Ivan has talked for two full chapters—“Rebellion,” the greatest statement of the problem of evil, and “The Grand Inquisitor”—he gives his Christian brother Alyosha a chance to respond. Here we’ve heard the prosecution speak. What’s the case for God?

And Alyosha leans over and kisses him.

Scott Derrickson’s new, sincere horror film Deliver Us From Evil should have listened to how much the wordless Alyosha was saying. Human arguments can only be as big as the arguers. So much of God is left over: outside, eldritch, Other. 

Horror should be the genre which best captures this inexpressibility of God, the wrongness of Him compared to the tidy, familiar, practical mental apparatus by which we make sense of the world. The Exorcist is admirably incomplete: tragic, broken, ferocious in the face of evil but submissive in the face of suffering. It convinces by never trying to convince.

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Uber Trolls Washington

By on 7.21.14 | 4:06PM

In a proverbial middle finger to authorities in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and other states, the popular taxi service Uber’s advertising has gone from clever to downright hysterical. Uber is offering free rides in the Tyson and Reston areas of Northern Virginia this week.

Uber’s campaign is brilliant because of its message. Coinciding with the long-expected opening of the Washington Metro Transportation Authority's silver line, which starts at Dulles airport and joins the orange line in Rosslyn, Uber is promoting free rides with the code name “SILVERLINE” to and from Tyson’s Corner.

This is a direct dig at some of the actions taken against the company in both D.C. and Virginia. According to Blake Seitz and the Washington Examiner, the D.C. Taxi Operators Association staged a major protest:

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A Tribute to the Onion

By on 7.21.14 | 11:41AM

Let the world take note of the Onion and its incredible commentary on the Middle East. On Friday, it tackled the escalating conflict in Gaza with the headline: “Palestinians Starting To Have Mixed Feelings About Being Used As Human Shields.” The piece employs sarcastic understatement with aplomb, pointing out the lunacy of human action.

It would ruin the humor to try and summarize the deceptively mundane “news” article that follows that title. It’s the truth artfully concealed as a lie, however. Whether or not Palestinians have awoken to the reality that it is their leaders who put them in the line of fire and give Israel cause to retaliate, the Onion points out that truth for anyone who gets their news on the Internet.

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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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