Monday, April 21, 2014
Watching Mad Men feels a bit like refinishing a wooden chair, sometimes. You’re methodically working away with sandpaper at the arms and legs of this thing, which has been this way for as long as you can remember, and you’re up close and it seems like work, but it’s also strangely soothing, and suddenly you step back after an hour and the whole chair has a different appearance.
At least, that’s how I felt about it last night. Not all that much seemed to happen, because after all, it's Mad Men; with some surprises the pacing tends to be slow and steady. Yet, by the end of the episode everyone looked a bit different from how they started. We also got a return of Sally Draper (can I please have Kiernan Shipka’s eyebrows?), who’s at boarding school and grown up enough to attend the funerals of her friend’s mothers. And there was plenty of juicy intraoffice politics at Sterling Cooper Draper.
The first scenes of the episode, which is called “A Day’s Work”—yep, that’s a clue, or more of a hammer hitting a nail on its obvious head—involve Don. He’s in work limbo, waking at 7:30 a.m. only to fall back asleep until noon, hanging in his apartment in his pajamas watching TV, reading magazines, monitoring his liquor intake, watching bugs crawl along the floor. He is a mess. Until, suddenly, it’s time to start playing “work,” to put on a suit and tidy up and look like he’s got it together, because his secretary Dawn is coming over to give him the latest intel about the agency.
Dawn and Don clearly have an affinity for one another—he respects her, he needs her, now more than ever, for her connection to work and because she is human (I imagine days go by when he interacts with very few people; he’s lonely, he’s a bit lost, he is the '50s success story now heading into the vastly changed landscape of the '70s). Dawn likes Don because for all his flaws he’s never really been a shithead to her the way her new boss, Lou Avery, is. Don and Dawn have more than a very similar name, they have a connection, they have ambitions and they have secrets. So when he asks her to cover up for him with Megan, who still doesn’t know he’s on involuntary leave, Dawn does it; when he asks her to visit and give him agency dirt, she does. But she doesn’t want to take his money, even though she eventually does that, too, him pressing it into her palm like a dad giving his daughter cab fare. And she won’t get files from Peggy’s office for him. It’s funny: Don Draper can be so very shady, so sexually conniving, and yet with certain women, he is kind and gentle and openly needy. Or maybe that’s the new Don. Here, we see Dawn working for her boss, yes, but in a certain position of power, too—there are things she will and will not do.
At boarding school, someone’s mom has died, and Sally and her friends are planning a trip to the city for the funeral. No one seems all that distraught: “Jesus, Draper, is this your first funeral?” asks one of Sally’s friends, but Sally, the girl who grew up too fast, is upset. Her world has shifted yet again, and now people’s parents are dying? READ MORE
The Boston Public Library's Flickr account has an amazing collection of postcards from the '30s and '40s, all published by a Boston firm called Tichnor Brothers, and you can search them by state: Florida, from whence came Ma and Pa Pelican, has over 3,000 postcards in the archive. [Via]
Photo via BPL/Flickr
Pop hits these days usually have at least two or three writers, and the choruses are generally celebratory — “victim to victory,” as Furler put it. For some, this process can still be soul-wrenching and endless, but Furler has no patience for that. In recent years, she has become a one-woman hit factory, working with Kurstin and others to write songs for artists like Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé. And her hits — including Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones” and Eminem’s “Beautiful Pain” — seem to roll off something of a pop-music assembly line. Furler wrote Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in 14 minutes. After the D.J. David Guetta invited her to write the melody and lyrics for one of his songs, she futzed around on the Internet and pumped out “Titanium” in 40 minutes. (It has since been downloaded more than 3.7 million times.)
Sia wrote "Diamonds" in less time than it takes me to drink a cup of coffee. The behind-the-scenes women of the music industry (20 Feet to Stardom, holy shit) are endlessly fascinating, and I'd read unlimited words on them and would certainly read a whole book about Sia, who got drug-riddled and suicidal when forced to go on tour, eventually "dress[ing] herself and her band in masks and black costumes so crowds couldn't see their faces onstage." She got sober and found out she was better off writing for other people:
Daniel explained to Furler that she didn’t have to put herself out there as personally as she did on “Breathe Me.” He described what he called “high concept” songs — the industry trick of coming up with a word or phrase that works as a simple, poignant, bankable metaphor, like the Katy Perry song “Firework.”
Spotting a piggy bank on a table, Furler asked him: “So I could write, ‘I’m not your piggy bank’?”
“Exactly,” Daniel said.
If there is one idea that we can all agree on, it is that all popular literature needs to be re-written once every 25 years or so, so that nobody gets confused by a book’s weird, outdated references to “sanitary napkin belts” or “Spiro T. Agnew.”
This goes doubly so for young adult literature, where older books do actually get updated on the regular. They did it a little bit to Are You There, God?, It’s Me, Margaret? a few years ago, switching out the heroine’s old-timey menstrual products for maxi pads; and they did it a lot to the Sweet Valley High novels, many of which were re-written in 2008 and scrubbed of all mentions of Capezio shoes, burger restaurants, and other Reaganite concerns. The revised versions substitute pining over Roberto Cavalli gowns for pining over mauve ruffled blouses, and replace old-fashioned phrases with the kind of talk that might be more familiar to the modern reader, such as “this sucks” and “you suck.” It allows the reader to truly take in the Wakefield twins on a deeper level, without being distracted by how none of the characters have cell phones.
But I say: why stop there? How many classic pieces of young adult literature will be left in the dustbin of history because they refuse to change with the times? I offer the following rough outlines for your consideration; once we agree on all of these revisions, we can get to work doing something about all those references to diaphragms in Danielle Steel books.
Little House on the Prairie: To avoid alienating audiences, we’re going switch the book’s focus so that it now centers more on the hopes and dreams of a little girl surviving the harsh American frontier, 150 years before the invention of Mountain Dew. She thrives—mostly through her unwavering faith that someday, somehow, someone will eventually invent Mountain Dew.
The Phantom Tollbooth: Work in something about texting and driving—something about how it’s never okay to do, not even for a second, not even when you’re in a parallel universe that’s structured around puns.
My Friend Flicka: Modern audiences might be less familiar with the ins and outs of farm animals and ranches than readers of the past. To keep in touch with these more current sensibilities, Flicka the horse has been changed to Vice President Joe Biden; the boy who befriends her is now a pair of jeggings; and the ranch where they live has been replaced with a rainbow party. READ MORE
Here's a great piece by Michael Reid Roberts, up at the American Reader:
Upworthy Titles Often Make a Relatively Banal Claim. Until They Change It.
The most essential grammatical tic that Upworthy employs is a bit more complex than simple word choice or sentence structure: the titles introduce a fairly typical story, idea, or theme in the first sentence, then use a much shorter sentence to complicate or undermine it. This is irritating as hell. And I think that’s the point; the second sentence piques you to resolve the irritation it causes. A quick perusal of today’s Upworthy page shows sundry examples of this construction, which range from the accusatory (There’s A World War Happening Online Right Now. And You Might Be A Mercenary In It.) to the empowering (If You Could Press A Button And Murder Every Mosquito, Would You? Because That’s Kinda Possible.).
I love the way he talks about the "You Won't Believe What Happens Next" construction:
The repetition of this clause only fills me with some vague Lovecraftian dread for the future. After all, the sentence has two elements: “you won’t believe” (disbelief, incredulity) and “what happens next” (anticipation, the future). The combination creates a tension in me that can border on the existential.
Certainly these titles ("Someone Gave Some Kids Some Scissors. Here’s What Happened Next.") inspire existential dread: expressed best, perhaps, by Sarah Miller. [The American Reader]
For this study [...] volunteers who had been kept awake all night were divided into two groups. All were asked to chew gum in the morning, but one group got a plain wintergreen placebo, while the other chomped on gum laced with 200 milligrams of caffeine, or about the same amount that's in two cups of black coffee. The participants were then put in situations where researchers "encouraged them to go along with a lie in order to earn some extra money," Christian says. "We tried to replicate a situation where a boss or a peer was pressuring them to cut ethical corners at work."
The results: Those who got the extra boost of caffeine consistently balked when researchers urged them to cheat, while those who were just exhausted — and had chewed the non-caffeinated gum — showed a marked willingness to cast conscience aside and go along with the deception.
-This study another way: sleep deprivation turns you into a shithead, which, sure. "Two other suggestions," says Fortune. "Put in nap rooms at the office and don't skimp on the free coffee." If you work at home, the world is your nap room! [Fortune]
This is going to be a big year for Prince: he's back with Warner Bros (18 years since he left, dramatically), he's got the rights to his back catalogue, and he'll be releasing a new album and reissuing Purple Rain for its 30th anniversary. On Friday after announcing the Warner Bros deal he dropped this new single, a falsetto funk power ballad. Maybe the I used to want the house with the biggest pooooool line is a reference to Drake?
Happy Easter! We've compiled some of the best April 20 recipes from some of the finest gourmands of our time. Have a lovely weekend.
THE CHOCOLATE-CHIP-PEANUT-BUTTER "SELF-SURPRISE"
Submitted by "Jo."
Sprinkle chocolate chips into the peanut butter jar and eat it with a spoon.
Sometimes, you'll finds chips in the peanut butter later, which I like to call a "self-surprise."
THE COOKIE DELIVERY FAKE-OUT STRAT
Submitted by "Miley."
Based on the true events of April 20, 2009.
1. Peruse www.insomniacookies.com and select a minimum of two cookies per person, keeping in mind that the oatmeal raisin is way better than you’d expect and actually a really solid choice.
2. Call 1-877-63-COOKIE to arrange a delivery. Wait on hold for 20 minutes, keeping in mind that it will feel like four days.
3. Dance/sing along with the hold music, Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.”
4. Forget who you called or why you are on hold.
5.. Complain about the wait time to the flustered man who finally answers. He will tell you they’re “doing the best they can,” and that it’s the “busiest day of the year.” Yell, “THIS IS INSANITY” and hang up.
6. Bake your own cookies.
7. While cookies bake, find “Stir It Up” in the depths of your iTunes, and eat remaining half of the batter with your hands.
8. Eat cookies, alternating bites with sips of PBR.
THE FROZEN BLUEBERRY AND PISTACHIO LAYER CUP READ MORE
Let’s get the obvious out of the way immediately: Jesus Christ Superstar is the greatest film of all time.
Growing up, I looked forward to Easter for two reasons: candy, and our annual Good Friday JCS screening. My immediate family at the time was composed of one serious Catholic, one agnostic, and me, a bizarre child so obsessed with Christianity that I insisted on dressing as a semi-obscure Biblical character for Halloween (it was Miriam, sister of Moses). This movie—the 1973 Norman Jewison-directed cinematization of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s rock opera based on the last days of Jesus Christ—was our favorite, and remains so to this day, in spite of the fact that the same people are now, respectively, a post-Catholic, an agnostic, and an atheist who believes in astrology and ghosts. While it’s still nice to mark the passing of another year with a Good Friday viewing, the movie’s true power has little to do with Jesus or the Christian holidays and everything to do with the transcendent possibilities of film, music, and badass postmodern costuming.
JCS is not a religious film exactly, even though its lyrics are carefully adapted from scripture, in part because of the very sympathetic portrayal of some characters’ creeping doubt that the protagonist is actually the “son of God.” Instead, it's a celebration of Jesus' story on its own merits as a defining cultural myth and a cautionary tale about authority, trust, and ego that leaves the burden of real faithfulness to the viewer. This is why the movie can be just as powerful a secular story as a religious one. The film’s costumes are a fabulously anachronistic mash-up of “period” dress (interpreted via the traditions of European religious art) and 1970s American counterculture styles, and this indifference to so-called “accuracy” drives home the point of the movie, which is that the story is universal, whatever you believe.
Though JCS was a play before it was a movie, the movie’s visual are most enduring because no stage production can ever reach as many people as the film already has. And it has reached, and deeply touched, a lot of people; I once spoke to Ted Neeley (the actor who played Jesus) on the phone, and he described his life as essentially having had to conform to near-Jesus-like standards of behavior, lest he break the spell his performance has cast on two generations and counting.
Jesus Christ Superstar glories in a postmodern embedding of history in the present, visually collapsing time and space to tell its story in a way that’s religion-neutral and yet essentially spiritual. It is an ancient folk tale told through classic rock and far-out 70s slang, the grandest of grand old narratives bent to fit a very modern form, perfectly of its time though set 1,940 years earlier. The challenge facing costume designer Yvonne Blake was how to match the perfectly po-mo pastiche of Lloyd Webber and Rice's music and lyrics with the dress of its large, rambling ensemble cast. Many of the costumes are what would now be called “ironic,” a sartorial wink in the direction of what’s expected followed by a campy pirouette and a scissor leap off in the opposite direction (and maybe a back handspring and some jazz hands thrown in for good measure). Yet somehow all that parody and play never demeans or mocks, allowing instead just enough breathing room for reverence. READ MORE
As we approach the end of another Friday I've got a serious question: did anyone else's week go really weirdly, perhaps due to blood moon? Mine was pretty weird. But luckily there is this very special weekend we've got coming up and in case you need some reading material there's been lots of good stuff this week, like:
Let me know if you've experienced any large disturbances! And either way, have fun tonight doing exactly what you please, and we'll see you back here on Monday.
Photo via wackystuff/Flickr
Oliver Sacks at the New York Review of Books writes on the mental life of "plants and worms, among others," and it is a wonderful science essay that completely buries the jellyfish lede:
In the 1880s, however, despite Agassiz’s and Romanes’s work [defining the role of synapses as they relate to organism function], there was still a general feeling that jellyfish were little more than passively floating masses of tentacles ready to sting and ingest whatever came their way, little more than a sort of floating marine sundew.
But jellyfish are hardly passive. They pulsate rhythmically, contracting every part of their bell simultaneously, and this requires a central pacemaker system that sets off each pulse. Jellyfish can change direction and depth, and many have a “fishing” behavior that involves turning upside down for a minute, spreading their tentacles like a net, and then righting themselves... If bitten by a fish, or otherwise threatened, jellyfish have an escape strategy—a series of rapid, powerful pulsations of the bell—that shoots them out of harm’s way; special, oversized (and therefore rapidly responding) neurons are activated at such times.
Of special interest and infamous reputation among divers is the box jellyfish (Cubomedusae)—one of the most primitive animals to have fully developed image-forming eyes, not so different from our own.
Box jellyfish have "retinas, corneas, and lenses." Box jellyfish: they're just like us. Box jellyfish: *faints* [NYRB]