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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George Orwell Identifies the Main Enemy of the Free Press: It’s the “Intellectual Cowardice” of the Press Itself

Image by BBC, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked away in the style section of yesterday’s Washington Post—after the President of the United States basically declared allegiance to a hostile dictator, again, after issuing yet more denunciations of the U.S. press as “enemies of the people”—was an admonition from Margaret Sullivan to the “reality-based press.” “The job will require clarity and moral force,” writes Sullivan, “in ways we’re not always all that comfortable with.”

Many have exhausted themselves in asking, what makes it so hard for journalists to tell the truth with “clarity and moral force”? Answers range from the conspiratorial—journalists and editors are bought off or coerced—to the mundane: they normalize aberrant behavior in order to relieve cognitive dissonance and maintain a comfortable status quo. While the former explanation can’t be dismissed out of hand in the sense that most journalists ultimately work for media megaconglomerates with their own vested interests, the latter is just as often offered by critics like NYU’s Jay Rosen.




Established journalists “want things to be normal,” writes Rosen, which includes preserving access to high-level sources. The press maintains a pretense to objectivity and even-handedness, even when doing so avoids obvious truths about the mendacity of their subjects. Mainstream journalists place “protecting themselves against criticism,” Rosen wrote in 2016, “before serving their readers. This is troubling because that kind of self-protection has far less legitimacy than the duties of journalism, especially when the criticism itself is barely valid.”

As is far too often the case these days, the questions we grapple with now are the same that vexed George Orwell over fifty years ago in his many literary confrontations with totalitarianism in its varying forms. Orwell faced what he construed as a kind of censorship when he finished his satirical novel Animal Farm. The manuscript was rejected by four publishers, Orwell noted, in a preface intended to accompany the book called “The Freedom of the Press.” The preface was "not included in the first edition of the work," the British Library points out, "and it remained undiscovered until 1971."

“Only one of these” publishers “had any ideological motive,” writes Orwell. “Two had been publishing anti-Russian books for years, and the other had no noticeable political colour. One publisher actually started by accepting the book, but after making preliminary arrangements he decided to consult the Ministry of Information, who appear to have warned him, or at any rate strongly advised him, against publishing it.” While Orwell finds this development troubling, “the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech,” he writes, was not government censorship.

If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.

The “discomfort” of intellectual honesty, Orwell writes, meant that even during wartime, with the Ministry of Information’s often ham-fisted attempts at press censorship, “the sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.” Self-censorship came down to matters of decorum, Orwell argues—or as we would put it today, “civility.” Obedience to “an orthodoxy” meant that while “it is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other… it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness," not by government agents, but by a critical backlash aimed at preserving a sense of “normalcy” at all costs.

At stake for Orwell is no less than the fundamental liberal principle of free speech, in defense of which he invokes the famous quote from Voltaire as well as Rosa Luxembourg’s definition of freedom as “freedom for the other fellow.” “Liberty of speech and of the press,” he writes, does not demand “absolute liberty”—though he stops short of defining its limits. But it does demand the courage to tell uncomfortable truths, even such truths as are, perhaps, politically inexpedient or detrimental to the prospects of a lucrative career. “If liberty means anything at all,” Orwell concludes, "it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Read his complete essay, "Freedom of the Press," here.

via Brainpickings

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

A Field Guide to Fake News and Other Information Disorders: A Free Manual to Download, Share & Re-Use

"Recent scandals about the role of social media in key political events in the US, UK and other European countries over the past couple of years have underscored the need to understand the interactions between digital platforms, misleading information and propaganda, and their influence on collective life in democracies," writes First Draft, an online journal published by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Hence comes A Field Guide to 'Fake News' and Other Information Disorders--a free manual that helps "students, journalists and researchers investigate misleading and viral content, memes and trolling practices online." Packed with valuable data visualizations, the manual highlights a "series of research protocols or 'recipes' that can be used to trace trolling practices, the ways false viral news and memes circulate online, and the commercial underpinnings of problematic content."

A Field Guide to 'Fake News' and Other Information Disorders was co-produced by the Shorenstein Center and the Public Data Lab. Because it's published under a Creative Commons License, you're free to copy, redistribute and reuse the book. Beyond that, you can find all of the assets needed to translate and publish the guide into other languages over on this GitHub page.

via First Draft

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Will You Really Achieve Happiness If You Finally Win the Rat Race? Don’t Answer the Question Until You’ve Watched Steve Cutts’ New Animation

Illustrator Steve Cutts sets his latest animation, "Happiness," in a teeming urban environment, with hundreds of near identical cartoon rats standing in for human drudges in an unfulfilling, and not unfamiliar race.

Packed subway cars, a bombardment of advertising, soul-deadening office jobs, and Black Friday sales are just a few of the indignities Cutts’ rodents are subjected to, to the tune of Bizet’s "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle."

Rampant over-consumption—a major preoccupation for this artist—offers illusory relief, and a great deal of fun for viewers with the time to hit pause, to better savor the grim details.




The maximalist frames read like a gratifying perversion of Richard Scarry’s relentlessly sunny Busytown. As with Cutts' 80s-throwback Simpson’s couch gag: pop-culture references and visual input whip by at subliminal warp speed. 

They may also serve as an antidote to the sort of messaging we’re constantly on the receiving end of, whether we live in city, country or somewhere in-between. Check out the scene as Cutts pans up from the subway platform, 52 seconds in:

The panty-clad female model for Blah cologne’s fashionably black and white ad is emaciated nearly to the point of death.

“You’re better than laces” flatters the latest (laceless) shoe from a swoosh-bedecked footwear manufacturer, while a radiator-colored beverage floats above the motto “Just drink it, morons.”

Krispo Flakes fight depression with “the bits other cereals don’t want.”

Heaven help us all, there’s even a poster for TRUMP The Musical.

This freeze-frame scrutiny could make an excellent activity for any class where middle and high schoolers are encouraged to think critically about their role as consumers.

As Cutts, a one-time employee of the digital marketing agency, Isobar, who contributed to campaigns for such global giants as Coca-Cola, Google, Reebok, and Toyota, told Reverb Press in 2015:

These are things that affect us all on a fundamental level so naturally they’re a main focus for a lot of my work. Humanity has the power to be great in so many ways and yet at the same time we are fundamentally flawed. I think it’s the conflict between these two that fascinates me the most. As a race of beings we’ve made incredible achievements in such a short space, but at the same time we seem so overwhelmingly intent on destroying ourselves and everything around us. It would be very interesting to see where we’ll be in a hundred years. The term insanity is intriguing – it’s almost like we’re encouraged to act in a way that seems genuinely insane when you look at it objectively, but it’s often accepted as normal right now. I think we will have to evolve beyond our current thinking and way of doing things if we want to survive.

See more of Cutts’ animated work here. And while he doesn’t go out of his way to hype his online store, a gallery quality print of The Rat Trap would make a fantastic gift from your cubicle mate’s Secret Santa. (HURRY! TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!!)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Woodward Is Now Teaching an Online Course on Investigative Journalism–a Course for Our Time

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.

Bob Woodward made his bones as an investigative journalist when he and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein blew open the Watergate scandal in 1972. Their reporting exposed the "dirty tricks" of Richard Nixon's re-election committee. Government investigations followed and the president eventually resigned.

Today we're living in another age when investigative journalism is of paramount importance. Only now it's under attack. But, take heart, Bob Woodward is now teaching an online course on investigative journalism. In 24 video lessons, he'll teach you the importance of human sources, how to gather information, how to interview people, establish facts, and build a story. He reminds us, "This is the time when we're being tested. Let's tell the truth, let's not be chickenshit." Amen to that.

You can now enroll in his course, which costs $90. But, for $180, you can get an annual pass to every course in the MasterClass catalogue. Other courses in the Masterclass catalogue include:

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MIT Is Digitizing a Huge Archive of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures, Papers and Other Documents & Will Put Them Online

If you’re a linguist, you’ve read Noam Chomsky—no way of getting around that. There may be reasons to disagree with Chomsky’s linguistic theories but—as Newton’s theories do in physics—his breakthroughs represent a paradigmatic shift in the study of language, an implicit or explicit reference point for nearly every linguistic analysis in the past few decades.

If you’re on the political left, you’ve read Chomsky, or you should. Even if there are significant reasons to disagree with whatever controversial stance he’s taken over the years, few political theorists have approached their subject with the degree of doggedness, intellectual integrity, and erudition as he has. Chomsky began his second career as a political activist and philosopher in the late sixties, speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam war. Since then, he’s written majorly influential works on mass media propaganda, Cold War politics and interventionist war, economic imperialism, anarchism, etc.

Now an emeritus professor from MIT, where he began teaching in 1955, and a laureate professor at the University of Arizona, Chomsky has reached that stage in every public intellectual’s career when archivists and curators begin consolidating a documentary legacy. Librarians at MIT started doing so a few years ago when, in 2012, the MIT Libraries Institute Archives received over 260 boxes of Chomsky’s personal papers. You can hear the man himself discuss the archive’s importance in the short interview at the top. And at the MIT Library site unBox Chomsky Archive, you’ll find slideshow previews of its contents.

Those contents include the 1953 paper “Systems of Syntactic Analysis,” which “appears to be Chomsky’s first foray in print of what would become transformational generative grammar.” Also archived are notes from a 1984 talk on “Manufacturing Consent” given at Rutgers University, outlining the ideas Chomsky and Edward S. Herman would fully explore in the 1988 book of the same name on “the political economy of the mass media.” And in the category of “activism,” we find materials like the newsletter below, published by an anti-war organization Chomsky co-founded in the 60s called RESIST.

MIT hopes to “digitize the hundreds of thousands of pieces” in the collection, “to make it accessible to the public.” Such a massive undertaking exceeds the library’s budget, so they have asked for financial support. At unBoxing the Chomsky Archive, you can make a donation, or just peruse the slideshow previews and consider the legacy of one of the U.S.’s most formidable living scientific and political thinkers.

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

What Is Fair Use?: A Short Introduction from the Maker of Everything is a Remix

Back in 2010, we began featuring a series of videos from filmmaker Kirby Ferguson. Called Everything is a Remix, the four-part video series explored the idea that (to quote from one of my earlier posts) "great art doesn’t come out of nowhere. Artists inevitably borrow from one another, drawing on past ideas and conventions, and then turn these materials into something beautiful and new." That applies to musicians, filmmakers, technologists, and really anyone in a creative space.

If you would like to watch the original series in its totality, I would refer you to the video below. Above, you can now watch a new Kirby Ferguson video that delves into the concept of Fair Use--a concept defined by the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use website essentially as "any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work." They go on to say:  "Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement."

Needless to say, fair use is an important concept if you're making your own videos on Youtube, or if you're a teacher using media in the classroom.

By the end of his short video, if you're still not clear what Ferguson means by Fair Use, you're in luck. He's giving you the opportunity to submit questions to be answered by "a real live lawyer in a follow up video." He also includes extra resources at the end of the segment.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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