Why R.E.M.’s 1993 Out of Time May Be the “Most Politically Important Album” Ever

Raise your hand if you bought your first music on cassette tapes. No, not those detourned objects of nostalgia circa 2013, but the “this is the latest technology and that’s that” kinda thing. Okay, you in the back there, remember when the CD came to town? Yeah, and remember those boxes—all that ridiculous packaging, with the long cardboard box twice as long as the product? What was that all about? The rest of you, keep up: It was a different time. Okay, since we all still know what vinyl looks like when handsomely placed on store shelves (maybe you’ve seen this at your local Urban Outfitters), we know that record sleeves are big and square and CD cases are small and square. And the problem for those record stores when the CDs came to replace tapes—but not the precious vinyl—was that the main displays were for the big squares, and the stores didn’t wanna change ‘em. Thus the long CD box: two of them side by side equaled the area of one record.

Problem solved? Not for spoilsports like R.E.M. who (you in the back, remember?) released that album Green in ’88 and went on endlessly about “think global, act local” enviro—blah blah. Why they cared so much about the lives of shade-giving, wish-granting trees I’ll never know, but they did, and it bothered them, these wasteful boxes. So, enter Tipper Gore. Wait, what? Who? How? A short history: Some time ago, Al Gore’s wife Tipper and many others were upset by raunchy lyrics—especially by the 2 Live Crew fellows—and lobbied for those “Parental Advisory” stickers to get stuck on explicit CDs, and some music was censored, and Gore and her coalition of mostly right-wing friends found a convenient boogeyman in popular music. (Are you googling? It’s spelled “PMRC”). A lot of this agitation over explicit lyrics came from genuinely concerned parents. A lot of it came from political opportunists and people who like using legislation to enforce their religious morality.


Where in Stipe’s name is this going? It ties together through one man, Jeff Gold, Warner Brother’s exec during the release of the band’s 1993 album Out of Time. Gold needed the long box for this CD, and he wanted the then-new Rock the Vote project to register millions of young music buyers, who would then, he reasoned, vote out the pols who did the censorship. Gold and Rock the Vote founder and Virgin records co-founder Jeff Ayeroff convinced the band to do the long box thing by making half the box a Rock the Vote petition for the Motor Voter Bill, which would allow voters to register through their local DMV. And that, according to radio show 99% Invisible, is how REM became the face of Rock the Vote and the Motor Voter Bill in 1993. Marketing! And environmentalism. See that sensitive activist at the top of the post? That’s Michael Stipe making a Rock the Vote pitch. See that picture above? (Click to embiggen.) That’s the dorsal side of Out of Time’s CD long box package. The card at the bottom addresses itself to the young record buyer’s Senator. It says,

Dear Senator:

I support the Mother Voter Bill. According to the U.S. Census, in the last presidential election 78% of 18-29 year olds who were registered to vote voted. We aren’t as apathetic as some people think. It’s just that the laws make it hard for many of us to register.

I hope I can say my Senator supports the Motor Voter Bill.

Your Constituent

In no small part because of R.E.M.’s lobbying, the Motor Voter Bill was passed. Many did not like it then and do not like it now. They say it encourages voter fraud, which you might think would be rampant and completely out of control by now, but is not in the least. In any case, the law remains unreasonably controversial, as do many, many laws that make it easier for all kinds of citizens to vote. But you probably know that story already.

For more on why Out of Time is possibly “the most politically important album of all time,” listen to the first episode of new podcast Pitch below, and visit their site for a transcript of their detailed interview with Jeffs Gold and Ayeroff. And for Stipe’s sake, get yourself registered and get to the polls this November.

via 99% Invisible

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Watch The Reality of the Virtual: 74 Minutes of Pure Slavoj Žižek (2004)

Slavoj Žižek must make a tempting documentary subject; you have only to fire up the camera and let him do his thing. Or at least the Slovenian academic provocateur and intellectual performance artist, in films like The Pervert’s Guide to CinemaThe Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, and Žižek!, has given the impression that he can effortlessly carry a film all by himself. The directors of those aforementioned movies did a bit more than sit Žižek down before a rolling camera, but Ben Wright, maker of The Reality of the Virtual, seems to have taken the man’s raw oratorical value as the very premise of his project. This 74-minute documentary — if even the word “documentary” suits such a radically simplified form — simply has Žižek sit at a table, in front of some bookshelves, and talk, ostensibly about “real effects produced by something which does not yet fully exist,” as he identifies them in the realms of psychoanalysis, politics, sociology, physics, and popular culture.

Shot by Ben Wright over the course of a single day,” writes the New York Times’ Nathan Lee, “here is the apotheosis of the talking-head movie, made up entirely of seven long, static takes of Mr. Žižek,” animated only by his own “habitual repertory of twitches, spasms and uncontrolled perspiration, an alarming frenzy of exuberance that contributes to his reputation as a rock star of philosophy.” The theme at hand, which certainly has something to do with belief and truth, possibility and impossibility, the reality within the unreal and the unreal within reality, takes him through the widest possible range of associated subjects. Those who appreciate Žižek primarily as a master of focused digression — and I have to imagine his fan base contains many such people — will find no purer expression of that particular skill. Then again, to truly experience Žižek, maybe you have to take an actual class taught by him. If The Reality of the Virtual inspires you to do so, count yourself as braver than I.

Find many more heady films on our list of Free Documentaries, part of our larger collection, 675 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Colorized Photos Bring Walt Whitman, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller & Mark Twain Back to Life

whitman color

When disco pioneer Giorgio Morodoer released a colorized version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – featuring a soundtrack with Billy Squier, Pat Benatar and Adam Ant, no less – film purists everywhere howled with disbelief at how the film’s moody black and white had been turned into Easter egg pinks and blues. It felt like a gimmick and, worse, it just didn’t look real.

Colorization has come a long way since then. In the hands of the right Photoshop wizard – like artist Dana Keller – a colorized photograph of, say, the Oklahoma dust bowl or turn-of-the-century Coney Island gives viewers the chill of the uncanny. People and things that have long since departed this world suddenly seem vital and alive. It makes that foreign country called the past feel eerily familiar.

Above is a picture of poet Walt Whitman. His trademark long hair and Karl Marx beard would look right at home in certain corners of Portland. Apart from that, there is both a sensitivity and ferociousness about this picture. Whitman definitely looks like he’s capable of delivering a barbaric yawp. You can see what the picture looked like in its original black and white here.

chaplin and keller color

This photograph of Helen Keller drawing a hand over Charlie Chaplin’s face from 1919 looks like it could be a still from an upcoming Oscar bait biopic. In fact the picture was taken in Hollywood while Keller was on one of her speaking tours. (See original here.)

twain color

Likewise with this portrait (original here) of Mark Twain. You can almost hear him make some pithy comment like “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.” As you can see from the picture, Twain didn’t take that risk, opting for more of a whiskery scowl.

goebbels color

This picture of Joseph Goebbels (original) staring down a Jewish photographer is simply terrifying. It’s the sort of death stare common among psycho-killers, death row inmates and, apparently, Nazi propaganda ministers.

burger color

And this picture of a humble burger flipper from 1938 is so crisp that it looks like it might have been taken yesterday.

If you have an hour to kill, you can see many, many more colorized pics from the past over at Inspire 52.

A big H/T to Natalie W. G.  for sending these our way.

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Marilyn Monroe Reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1952)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his art blog Veeptopus.

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Map Showing Where Today’s Countries Would Be Located on Pangea


The supercontinent of Pangea formed some 270 million years ago, during the Early Permian Period, and then began to break up 70 million years later, eventually yielding the continents we inhabit today. Pangea was, of course, a peopleless place. But if you were to drop today’s nations on that great land mass, here’s what it might look like. (Click on the image to view it in a much larger, high resolution format.) The map’s creator is Massimo Pietrobon, someone who playfully describes himself as “a famous explorer and cartographer of Atlantis,” and who has taken on other experiments with maps in the past. When someone claimed that the scale of certain countries wasn’t exactly right, Massimo was quick to confess on his blog, “Yes, it’s just a trial, it can be better.” But it’s a creative start.

via Pickover’s Reality Carnival

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“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language


There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist. And then there’s the Japanese word tsundoku, which perfectly describes the state of my apartment. It means buying books and letting them pile up unread.

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868-1912) and has its origins in a pun. Tsundoku, which literally means reading pile, is written in Japanese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let something pile up and is written 積んでおく. Some wag around the turn of the century swapped out that oku (おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – meaning to read. Then since tsunde doku is hard to say, the word got mushed together to form tsundoku.

As with other Japanese words like karaoke, tsunami, and otaku, I think it’s high time that tsundoku enter the English language. Now if only we can figure out a word to describe unread ebooks that languish on your Kindle. E-tsundoku? Tsunkindle? Visit our collection of Free eBooks and contemplate the matter for a while.

The illustration above was made when Redditor Wemedge asked his daughter to illustrate the word “Tsundoku,” and she did not disappoint.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his art blog Veeptopus.

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One Woman, 17 British Accents

In April, we featured a tour of 14 British accents in 84 seconds. But as any commenter to that video will tell you, such a selection only scratches the surface of the variety of ways a given Briton could potentially speak English. “It’s important to state that there is no ‘British’ accent,” says the web site of BBC America’s Anglophenia. “There are so many regional dialects spread across tiny geographical areas that to arrive in, say, Swansea or Leicester (pronounced “lester” — you’re welcome), and launch into a stream of corblimey cockneyisms would go down extraordinarily badly.” This blog and video series, which brands itself “British Culture with an American Accent,” has spent more than a little energy helping its fans sort out the “infinite world of variety in the accents of the British Isles.” At the top of the post, Anglophenia host Siobhan Thompson demonstrates no fewer than seventeen British accents.

And not only can Thompson speak them, she can tell you who else speaks them. Other users of the middle-class, BBC-friendly “received pronunciation” include currently bankable film and television actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. And pretty much only on film and television do you hear the more refined-sounding “heightened received pronunciation,” and even then mainly from characters like Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess. She also does a truly Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels London accent, the flat East Anglian inflection that everyone loses when they move out of East Anglia, and thirteen more from across the rest of England as well as Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Once you learn to comprehend all these varieties of speech, though, you may still fail to grasp the meaning of what you hear. The Anglophenia episode above, “How to Speak British,” gives you a primer on a series of expressions — “Away with the fairies,” “Swings and roundabouts,” “Horses for courses” — you’ll only ever hear said in a British accent.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Theodor Adorno’s Philosophy of Punctuation


German critical theorist Theodor Adorno is known for many things, but a light touch isn’t one of them. His work includes despairing post-fascist ethics and a study on the sociology and psychology of fascism. Those who dig deeper into his catalog may know his rigorously philosophical Negative Dialectics or dense, opaque Aesthetic Theory. Given the seriously heavy nature of these books, you might surprised, as I was, to read the paragraph below:

An exclamation point looks like an index finger raised in warning; a question mark looks like a flashing light or the blink of an eye. A colon, says Karl Kraus, opens its mouth wide: woe to the writer who does not fill it with something nourishing. Visually, the semicolon looks like a drooping moustache; I am even more aware of its gamey taste. With self-satisfied peasant cunning, German quotation marks (<<> >) lick their lips.

The skillful deployment of aphorism seems typical; the playfulness not so much. But Adorno’s short essay, “punctuation marks,” takes a sober turn shortly thereafter, and for good reason. Punctuation is serious business. Sounding much more like the Adorno I know, the dour Marxist writes, “History has left its residue in punctuation marks, and it is history, far more than meaning or grammatical function, that looks out at us, rigidified and trembling slightly, from every mark of punctuation.” Okay.

Well, Adorno would just hate what I’m about to do, but—hey—this is the internet; who has the time and concentration to traverse the rocky course of thought he carves out in his work? Maybe you? Good, read the full essay. Not you? See below for some bite-sized highlights.

Punctuation as music: “punctuation marks,” Adorno writes, “are marks of oral delivery.” As such, they function like musical notation. “The comma and the period correspond to the half-cadence and the authentic cadence.” Exclamation points are “like silent cymbal clashes, question marks like musical upbeats.” Colons are like “dominant seventh chords.” Adorno, a musicologist and composer himself, heard things in these symbols most of us probably don’t.

The semicolon: There is no mark of punctuation that Adorno rejects outright. All have their place and purpose. He does decry the modernist tendency to mostly leave them out, since “then they simply hide.” But Adorno reserves a special pride of place for the semicolon. He claims that “only a person who can perceive the different weights of strong and weak phrasings in musical form” can understand the difference between semicolon and comma. He differentiates between the Greek and German semicolon. And he expresses alarm “that the semicolon is dying out.” This, he claims, is due to a fear of “page-long paragraphs”—the kind he often writes. It is “a fear created by the marketplace—by the consumer who does not want to tax himself.” Right, I told you, he would hate the internet, though he seems to thrive—posthumously—on Twitter.

Quotation marks: While Adorno accepts every punctuation mark as meaningful, he does not accept all uses of them. In the case of the quotation mark, his advice is precisely what I have received, and have passed on to overly glib and thoughtless students. Quotation marks, he writes, should only be used for direct quotes, “and if need be when the text wants to distance itself from a word it is referring to.” This can include writing words as words (the word “word” is a word…). Adorno rejects quotation marks as an “ironic device.” This usage presents “a predetermined judgment on the subject”; it offers a “blind verdict.”

The ellipsis: On this mark, Adorno becomes very prickly, particular, and, well… elliptical. Three dots “suggests an infinitude of thoughts and associations.” Two is the mark of a hack. I leave it to you to parse his reasoning.

The dash: First, we have “the serious dash,” in which “thought becomes aware of its fragmentary character.” Dashes may signal “mute lines into the past, wrinkles on the brow” of the text, ”uneasy silence.” Dashes need not connect thoughts. The “desire to connect everything,” Adorno writes, is the mark of “literary dilettantes.” Thus the “modern dash” is debased, a symptom of “the progressive degeneration of language.” It prepares us “in a foolish way for surprises that by that very token are no longer surprising.” Adorno also prefers another use of dashes—more below.

Parentheses: Parenthetical phrases (like this) create “enclaves” and admit the “superfluousness” of their contents, which is why many stylebooks frown upon them. Their use in this way “capitulate[s] to pedantic philistinism.” The “cautious writer”—writes punctiliously cautious Adorno—will place parentheticals between dashes, “which block off parenthetical material from the flow of the sentence without shutting it up in a prison.” The parentheses do have their place, as do all marks of punctuation in Adorno’s lexical theory. But probably only if you are Proust.

Reading Adorno—on punctuation and anything else—can be intimidating. His erudition, his disdain for carelessness, middlebrow expediency, and the crude forms of expression given birth by commerce of all kinds: these are attitudes that can seem at times like overbearing elitism. And yet, Adorno understands the burdensome nature of writing prescriptions. “The writer,” he admits, “is in a permanent predicament when it comes to punctuation marks: if one were fully aware while writing, one would sense the impossibility of ever using a mark of punctuation correctly and would give up writing altogether.” Far too many have done so. We “cannot trust in the rules,” nor can we ignore them. What to do? Err on the side of the abstemious says our poker-faced German Strunk; to avoid sloppiness or rote misuse, follow an Epicurean mean: “better too few than too many.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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The Baffler Makes Its Back Issues All Free to Read Online


The New Yorker wasn’t the only magazine that relaunched its web site this week. The Baffler did the same. They got a new look and feel. And they made plenty of loyal readers happy by making 25 years of back issues freely available online. The editors of the magazine — that “loose collective of disaffiliated culture critics, knowledge workers, poets, illustrators, and closet utopians” — write:

Well, when The Baffler was born in 1988, we never could have foreseen this #innovation, but here we are. Please enjoy this new and uncharacteristically shiny iteration of The Baffler online—featuring not only our new issue (no. 25, “The None and the Many”), but also, for the first time ever, all of our digitized archives in one place.

That’s 25 issues, 432 contributors, 277 salvos, 450 graphics, 172 poems, 73 stories, 3,396 pages made of 1,342,785 words. You can click on individual pieces or flip through entire issues page by page, if you so desire.

You can flip through the sporadically-published back issues and revel in the iconoclastic magazine that “ridicules respectable business leaders, laughs at popular consumer brands as souvenirs of the cultural industry, and debunks the ideology of free-market nincompoops in the media and on the campuses.” Or, if you’re looking for some more direction, you can head to the The Paris Review, where Dan Piepenbring makes some recommendations, starting with his “personal favorite, Steve Albini’s “The Problem with Music,” a terse, caustic critique of the record industry at the height of yuppie-ism and major-label excess.”

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Read 15,000 Marvel Comics Online for 99 Cents (for a Limited Time)


Right now, Marvel is running a promotion where if you join Marvel Unlimited, using the promo code SDCC14, you can pay 99 cents for your first month, during which time you can access “over 15,000 Digital Comics, featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the galaxy’s vilest villains – all spanning Marvel’s 75 year history!” Yes, that includes the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, The Mighty Thor & many other favorites.

According to Wired, the “comics can be viewed on PC and Mac, as well as iOS and Android devices through a Marvel Unlimited app. Readers can download up to 12 comics at a time for offline reading.” A Marvel Unlimited subscription usually costs $69 a year or $9.99 a month, but the terms and conditions say that “Subscribers can cancel their subscription at any time by accessing My account or e-mailing Marvel customer service.” In other words, you can subscribe for one month, pay 99 cents, read a heck of a lot of comics, then decide if you want to continue the subscription — or not — before the end of 30 days. (Just as an fyi, Audible.com offers a similar arrangement with audio books. You can join their 30-day free trial, download a free audio book, then decide whether you want to stick with the program before the month’s end. No matter what you decide, you can keep the free audio book. Find more details here.)

If you prefer to just pay zero cents for comics, please see our two prior posts.

Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

Download Over 22,000 Golden & Silver Age Comic Books from the Comic Book Plus Archive

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A Quick Animated Tour of Iconic Modernist Houses

From Italian graphic designer Matteo Muci comes “a two-minute animated voyage through some of the most iconic masterpieces of modern architecture: Ville Savoye by Le Corbusier, Rietveld Schröder House by Gerrit Rietveld, Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Glass House by Philip Johnson and Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.” Illustrations of the houses can be viewed and freely downloaded here.

H/t goes to Ian M. for sending this quick visual treat our way.

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