Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour Teaches a Course on Creativity & Leadership

Imagine a famous magazine editor, and smart money says the image that comes to mind has a bob haircut and sunglasses. No one has defined the role of magazine-editor-as-cultural-force, and so consistently lived it, more than Anna Wintour, and the online education company Masterclass has somehow convinced her to take her hand off the wheel of Vogue — and put aside those oversized shades — just long enough to star in a course about how she steers that behemoth of a publication through the waters of fashion. "I know many people are curious about who I am and how I approach my work," Wintour says in the trailer above. "This is a class for those who want to understand my leadership style, and then understand the experiences that have helped me become an effective leader."

You may well have already heard a thing or two about Wintour's leadership style, the famously exacting nature of which has provoked different reactions from different people (and possibly even inspired a bestselling novel and its feature-film adaptation).

But as Wintour herself explains it, "you need someone who can push you, that isn't pulling you back" — sensible advice even for leaders of companies, teams, and classrooms who don't mind projecting a somewhat more laid-back image. But even for those who want to project as much individual strength and resolve as possible, "it's really, really important to surround yourself with a team whose opinions that you trust, who are not in any way frightened of disagreeing with you, and you have to listen."

In her Masterclass, Wintour teaches, in other words, "how to be a boss." That phrase appears at the top of its syllabus, whose twelve lessons include "Anna's Management Tips" and "Editorial Decision-Making" as well as "Photographers and Models," "A Look Back at Iconic Covers," and "Transforming the Met Gala." Though geared toward viewers with an interest in the business of fashion (case studies include the careers of Miuccia Prada and Michael Kors), "Anna Wintour Teaches Creativity and Leadership" also offers principles for any human endeavor that requires invention, group work, and meeting hard deadlines over and over again. You can take the course individually for $90 USD, or as part of a $180 yearly all-access pass to every course on Masterclass, including another one on creativity by a similarly productive cultural figure, similarly recognizable by personal style alone: David Lynch.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Byrne Launches Reasons to Be Cheerful, an Online Magazine Featuring Articles by Byrne, Brian Eno & More

Happiness, we know, is hard to come by, even in the best times. And if we agree on nothing else, we might agree that these are not the best of times. An air of gloomy dread and outraged alarm prevails for good reason. There have been many other times in history to justifiably feel this way. In 1944, German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno—exiled for ten years from his home and sojourning through a U.S. he found increasingly fascist in character—resigned himself to quiet despair.

“There is no way out of entanglement,” he wrote in his trenchant, gloomy collection of aphorisms, Minima Moralia. “The only responsible course is to… conduct oneself privately as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.”

Adorno’s absurdist melancholia came from many places: his assessment of capitalism’s inescapability, his survivor’s guilt, his generally morose temperament…. He rarely confessed to having happy thoughts even when things were going well. Another thinker of the period, philosopher of the absurd and a writer for the French Resistance during World War II, had a very different take on the question of happiness in dark times.

Albert Camus reminded us that all times are dark times for someone. Speaking after the war in 1959, he castigated the idea that we should be shamed into misery. “Today happiness is like a crime,” Camus sneered, “never admit it. Don’t say ‘I’m happy’ otherwise you will hear condemnation all around.” One pertinent question both of these very different perspectives address is whether happiness is morally responsible.

Former Talking Heads frontman, record label maven, and frequent cultural critic David Byrne has answered the question in the affirmative with his project, Reasons to Be Cheerful, first an online compendium of news stories, now a curated online magazine designed to be a “tonic for tumultuous times.” Reasons to Be Cheerful starts with the premise that we are subjected daily to “amplified negativity” that wildly skews our view of events around the world.

It’s an old complaint; we’ve all heard, or voiced, a version of why don’t they ever show any good news? Byrne put his creative energy and resources behind the criticism to do something about it, “collecting good news,” he says, “not schmaltzy, feel-good news, but stuff that reminded me, ‘Hey, there’s positive stuff going on! People are solving problems and it’s making a difference!’”

In their blurb for the introductory video at the top, the Reasons to Be Cheerful team describe the site as “an online editorial project” that is “part magazine, part therapy session, part blueprint for a better world.” The site’s “stories of hope” don’t shy away from sentiment, but they are “rooted in evidence” and purport to show “smart, proven, replicable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.”

A sampling of articles currently on the site gives us a story about how lawyers might “end up saving the world” by taking on polluters the way they took on the tobacco industry; a piece about how cheap solar in China has “fueled the world’s green-energy revolution”; and essays about education in prison and the creation of a public waterfront from donated private property on Lake Erie. This being a David Byrne project, there is also, of course, a story about "the way to a two-wheeled utopia." The current edition features several articles by Byrne himself, and another by Brian Eno.

Byrne and the editors and writing staff make no explicitly political statements, but they clearly value things like quality public education, clean air and water, a sustainable climate, and the creation of more public space—all areas that are now vastly under threat. Whether or not you find your own reasons to be cheerful in this commitment to positive journalism may depend on who and where you are, and whether you tend to see the world more like Adorno or Camus.

via Rolling Stone

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

When MAD Magazine Ruffled the Feathers of the FBI, Not Once But Three Times

Many of us grew up reading MAD, the soon-to-be-late illustrated satirical magazine. But only the generations who went through their MAD periods in the publication's first couple of decades, from the 1950s through the 1970s, enjoyed it at the height of its subversive powers. As hard as it may be to imagine in the 21st century, there was even a time when MAD came under scrutiny by no less powerful an organization than the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, and faced the wrath of its first and most feared director J. Edgar Hoover at that. But did the heat stop its creators from doing their necessary work of irreverence? Most certainly not.

"In a memo dated November 30, 1957," writes Mental Floss' Jake Rossen, "an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as 'A. Jones.' raised an issue of critical importance." That issue had to do with what the FBI file on the case described as several complaints made "concerning the 'Mad' comic book," and specifically "a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a 'full-fledged draft dodger.' At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that." Agent Jones also weighed in with a judgment of MAD itself: "It is rather unfunny.”

You can see all this for yourself in the documents from the FBI file, excerpts of which are available to download at thesmokinggun.com. "Criticizing or lampooning the FBI has become standard media fare," says that site, "but when J. Edgar Hoover ran the joint, the bureau wouldn't stand for such swipes — and often retaliated by investigating its foes. So that's why it's great to see that MAD magazine wasn't intimidated by Hoover and seemed to take pleasure in needling the Director." It did it again in 1960, two years after publisher William Gaines promised never to mention Hoover's name in the pages of MAD, when it made fun of the FBI's top man twice in a single issue, once in a faux advertisement for a vacuum cleaner called “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux.”

The exchanges that ensued, says thesmokinggun.com, reveal the FBI's possession of "one lousy sense of humor." But they also reveal no small degree of courage on the part of a still-new humor magazine in the face of an intelligence organization more than empowered to seriously disrupt lives and careers. Not long thereafter, MAD would become a recognized American institution in its own way, poking fun at seemingly every phenomenon to pass, however ephemerally, through the national zeitgeist. But now that its own run, which adds up to a highly non-ephemeral 67 years, has come to an end, we'd do well to reflect on what its history tells us about satire and the state. The condition of that dynamic today may cause some of us to do just what MAD mascot Alfred E. Neuman never did — worry.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The End of an Era: MAD Magazine Will Publish Its Last Issue With Original Content This Fall

As a cultural reference, MAD magazine may have died decades ago. This is a not a disparagement, but a statement of fact. The kind of satire the august, anarchic comic first unleashed on the world of 1952 debuted in a cultural milieu that is no more, and a form—the illustrated, satirical periodical—that is increasingly niche. MAD left an indelible impression on American publishing’s past, but as the magazine’s legendary cartoonist Al Jaffee tells The Washington Post, “it’s mostly nostalgia now.”

Responding to the market’s cues, MAD will more or less disappear from newsstands, publishing legacy content on a subscription-only basis and on the direct market, “a.k.a. specialty and comic book stores,” writes Gizmodo, “like the vast majority of DC’s comics output is already.” MAD shaped itself in opposition to Cold War paranoia and never seemed to find a new edge after favorite targets like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan left the scene. The magazine turned almost exclusively to pop culture parody in the 90s. As ABC News reports, MAD “peaked at 2.8 million subscribers in 1973,” then began its decline, with only “140,000 left as of 2017.”

The magazine’s founding editor, cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, passed away in 1993. His successor Al Feldstein, who brought the magazine to international prominence, died in 2014. MAD's longtime, tight-knit staff of writers and cartoonists are mostly retired, and most are sanguine about the winding down. “It’s been a logical development,” comments another MAD cartooning legend, Sergio Aragonés. To wit, after Issue 10 (MAD re-numbered last June) comes out this fall, there will be no new content, “except for the end-of-year specials,” notes The Post. “All issues after that will be republished content culled from 67 years of publication.”

This still represents a great way for newcomers to MAD to catch up on its wildly skewed view of the last half of the 20th century, though some imagination is required to appreciate how subversive their humor was for much of its run. MAD inspired countless offshoots in the decade after its founding, setting the tone for radical campus publications, countercultural cartoonists, and comic writers, some of whom went on to become Stephen Colbert and Judd Apatow, who both wrote in the pages of MAD about how much the magazine meant to them during their apprentice years.

The list of MAD devotees, both famous and not (I count myself among the latter), runs into the millions, but it runs along some obvious demographic divides. As the magazine is poised to become a gift-shop version of itself, tributes have poured in for its editors, writers, and cartoonists—all of them, to a man, well, men. And most of those tributes—those from prominent cartoonists and writers claiming MAD as a formative influence, at least—are also from men of a certain generation, most of them straight and white.

Such market segmentation, one might say, speaks to the way MAD's brand of political satire remained embedded in its heyday. As laid-back cartoonists Jaffee and Aragonés recognize, you can’t stay young and relevant forever—though MAD had a remarkably good run. The Post offers a notable example of Mad’s passage into history. When the current president “mockingly referred to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as Alfred E. Neuman”—the once-ubiquitous, gap-toothed symbol of take-no-prisoners irreverence—the 37-year-old Buttigieg replied, “I’ll be honest. I had to Google that.”

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

Was Jackson Pollock Overrated? Behind Every Artist There’s an Art Critic, and Behind Pollock There Was Clement Greenberg

Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock is one of the few painters whose work is easily identified by people who don’t care much for modern art.

More often than not, they’ll cite him as a prime reason they don’t want to spend a sunny Saturday at MoMA with you.

They’re entitled to their opinions, just as author Phil Edwards, host of the Vox series Overrated and a Pollock fan, is entitled to his.

In the most recent episode of Overrated, above, Edwards examines the driving force behind Pollock’s enduring fame.

His conclusion?

The muscular support of a highly influential art critic, Clement Greenberg, who was chummy enough with Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, to frolic with them in the Hamptons.

(Jeffrey Tambor appeared to have a ball playing him in Ed Harris’ Pollock biopic.)

Greenberg said one glimpse of Pollock’s 1943 “Mural” was all it took to realize that “Jackson was the greatest painter this country has produced.”

Greenberg was interested in what he called “American-Type” painting and Pollock, with his highly physical, booze-soaked macho swagger, was a “radically American” poster boy.

He was one of the first to mention Pollock in print:

He is the first painter I know of to have got something positive from the muddiness of color that so profoundly characterizes a great deal of American painting.

His cheerleading resulted in a LIFE magazine profile, “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?,” that took a travelogue approach to the artist’s drip painting process.

Their stars rose together. Though Greenberg's attention eventually wandered away to newer favorites, Pollock's career owed much to his forceful early champion.

We remember the artist better than the critic because of those giant, splattered canvases—so accessible to those looking for illustrations of why they hate modern art.  The critic’s art is more ephemeral, and unlikely to show up on umbrellas, tote bags, and other gift shop swag.

Those with an interest in Pollock—pro or con—would do well to follow Edwards' suggestion to bolster their understanding of Greenberg’s taste, and his role in promoting both Pollock and his fellow Abstract Expressionists.

Watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Overrated free online.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Believer Magazine Has Put Its Entire Archive Online for Free

Founded in 2003, The Believer magazine gained a reputation for being an off-beat literary magazine with a commitment “to journalism and essays that are frequently very long, book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and interviews that are intimate, frank and also very long.” Founded by authors Vendela Vida, Ed Park and Heidi Julavits, and originally published Dave Eggers' McSweeney's, The Believer has featured contributions by Nick Hornby, Anne Carson, William T. Vollmann; columns by Amy Sedaris and Greil Marcus; and also interviews--like this one where director Errol Morris talks with filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Now published by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las VegasThe Believer has entered a new era. It has launched a brand new web site and made its 15-year archive freely available online. It's a first for the publication. Enter the archive of the "highbrow but delightfully bizarre" magazine here.

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Every Cover of MAD Magazine, from 1952 to the Present: Behold 553 Covers from the Satirical Publication

For 65 years and counting, the pages of Mad magazine have entertained readers by satirizing all the cultural items, social fads, news items, and political issues of the moment. Throughout that span of time the covers of Mad magazine have done the same, except that they've entertained everyone, even those who've never opened an issue, whether they want it or not. Though on one level designed purely as disposable visual gags, Mad's covers collectively provide a satirical history of America, and one you can easily browse at Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site, "a resource for collectors and fans of the world's most important (ecch!) humor publication."

Gilford started the site back in 1997, a year that saw Mad's covers take on such phenomena as The X-Files, the Spice Girls, the Tamagotchi, and Seinfeld. That last seizes the presumably irresistible opportunity to draw Jerry Seinfeld scowling in irritation at "Neuman" — not his nemesis-neighbor Newman, but Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman, who appears in one form or another on almost all of the magazine's covers.

These sort of antics had already been going on for quite some time, as evidenced, for instance, by the June 1973 cover above in which Neuman dons a Droog outfit to take the place of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange — or, in Mad's, view, A Crockwork Lemon.

To see the archive's covers in a large format, you need only scroll to the desired year, click on the issue number, and then click on the image that appears. (Alternatively, those with advanced Mad knowledge can simply pick an issue number from the pull-down "Select-a-Mad" menu at the top of the page.) Gilford keeps the site updated with covers right up to the latest issue: number three, as of this writing, since the magazine "rebooted" this past June as it relocated its offices from New York to California. Recent targets have included Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump, and, of course, Donald TrumpMad's longevity may be surprising, but it certainly doesn't look like America will stop providing the ridiculousness on which it has always survived any time soon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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