The world has gotten truly surreal.
The world has gotten truly surreal.
The Heller family writes: "Solitary confinement does strange things to the best of us and this quarantine was really having an effect. My wife texted me and said, 'we need to remake a music video.' I thought that sounded like a lot of work, but her persistence paid off and here we are. Enjoy!"
Because we all need a mental health break these days. Couple it with a version played on a rubber chicken when you're done...
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Plato’s ideal of philosopher-kings seems more unlikely by the day, but most modern readers of The Republic don't see his state as an improvement, with its rigid caste system and state control over childbearing and rearing. Plato’s Socrates did not love democracy, though he did argue that men and women (those of the guardian class, at least) should receive an equal education. So too did many prominent European political philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries, who had at least as much influence on world affairs as Plato did on Athens, for better and worse.
One such thinker, Jeremy Bentham, is often remembered as the inventor of the panopticon, a dystopian prison design that makes inmates internalize their own surveillance, believing they could be watched at any time by unseen eyes. Made infamous by Michel Foucault in the mid-20th century, the proposal was first intended as humane reform, consistent with the tenets of Bentham’s philosophical innovation, Utilitarianism, often associated with his most famous disciple, John Stuart Mill.
Bentham may also have been one of the most progressive secular philosophers of any age—espousing full political rights for everyone—by which he actually meant everyone, not only European landowning men. “In his own time,” writes Faramerz Dabhoiwala at The Guardian, Bentham “was celebrated around the globe. Countless practical efforts at social and political reform drew inspiration from him. […] He was made an honorary citizen of revolutionary France, while the Guatemalan leader José del Valle acclaimed him as ‘the legislator of the world.’ Never before or since has the English-speaking world produced a more politically engaged and internationally influential thinker across such a broad range of subjects.”
Bentham took the role seriously, though there may be the seeds of a morbid practical joke in his last philosophical act.
As he lay dying in the spring of 1832, the great philosopher Jeremy Bentham left detailed directions for the preservation of his corpse. First, it was to be publicly dissected in front of an invited audience. Then, the preserved head and skeleton were to be reassembled, clothed, and displayed ‘in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought and writing.’ His desire to be preserved forever was a political statement. As the foremost secular thinker of his time, he wanted to use his body, as he had his mind, to defy religious superstitions and advance real, scientific knowledge. Almost 200 years later, Bentham's 'auto-icon' still sits, staring off into space, in the cloisters of University College London.
His full-body parody of saints' relics doesn’t just sit in London, in the “appropriate box or case” he specified in his instructions. It has also sat in its box in cities across England, Germany, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Not unlike an aging British rock star,” writes Isaac Schultz at Atlas Obscura, “the older he gets, the more tours he seems to go on. Sometimes Bentham’s severed, mummified head," with its terrifying, unblinking glass eyes, "accompanies the rest of him.” Sometimes it doesn’t.
The head, which was supposed to have been kept atop the fully dressed skeleton, was mishandled and damaged in the creation of the “auto-icon” and replaced by a wax replica (surely an accident and not a way to mitigate the creepiness). What did Bentham mean by all of this? And what is an “auto-icon”? Though it sounds like the sort of inscrutable prank Salvador Dali might have played at the end, Bentham described the idea straightforwardly in his pamphlet Auto-Icon; or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living. The philosopher, says Hannah Cornish, science curator at the University College London, genuinely “thought it’d catch on.”
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
In his short, final work of moral philosophy, Bentham shows that, like Plato, he didn’t quite get the point of making art, advancing a theory that becoming one’s own icon would eliminate the need for paintings, statues, and the like, since “identity is preferable to similitude” (to the extent that a mummified corpse is identical to a living person). Other utilitarian reasons include benefits to science, reduced public health risks, and creating “agreeable associations with death.”
Also, in what must have been intended with at least some undercurrent of humor, he asked that his remains “occasionally be brought into meetings involving his still-living friends,” writes Schultz, “so that what’s left of Bentham might enjoy their company.”
Learn more about Bentham’s “auto-icon” in the Atlas Obscura videos here, including the video further up showing how a team of professionals packed up and moved the whole macabre assemblage to its new home across the University of London campus. And read an even more detailed description, with several photographs, of how the oldest partially mummified British rock star philosopher travels, here.
Now you know what knock me down with a feather means...
There are apps to track the number of daily minutes you habitually fritter away on social media, but can your smartphone help you get a handle on the automotive color preferences of midday San Diego drivers?
Or the number of planes landing at San Diego International Airport on the day after Thanksgiving?
Or, for that matter, the traffic patterns of non-professional surfers hoping to catch a wave at at Point Loma?
No, but filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker can.
His "time collapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vigor he brought to bear as a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s, exploring Iraq, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
This impulse might lead others to join a club, take a class, or check out restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
For Kuckenbaker, it means setting up his camera for a fixed shot, uncertain if his experiment will even work, then spending hours and hours in the editing room, removing the time between events without altering the speed of his subjects.
It’s a form that requires a lot of patience on the part of its creator.
He estimates that he spent 2 hours editing for every second of Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3, above, providing him ample time to listen to the following audiobooks (get your free Audible trial here):
Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen
How Music Works by David Byrne
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
1493 by Charles Mann
1491 by Charles Mann
With the Old Breed by E. Sledge
The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Each car was keyed out of the original shot, then ranked and reinserted based on color. 28 of the raw footage’s 462 didn’t make the cut due to erratic shape or movement. See if you can spot them in the extremely ordinary-looking original footage, below. Extra credit for spotting the empty Gatorade bottle that made it into every frame of the compression:
His studies may not reveal much about his home city to the average tourist, but Kuckenbaker himself is able to interpret the numbers in ways that go beyond mere quantity and averages, such as San Diegans’ apparent vehicular color preference:
Nationally, red is a more popular color than blue. But not San Diego. San Diego, there’s more blue than red, so it’s like, you know, an outlier. And I thought about that for a while and it’s like, personally, the way I understand the city, that makes sense to me. The sort of tone of the city, the attitude of the city—it’s an ocean city. I can see why people would think, “Well, I live in San Diego. Why would I have a red… I want a blue car!”
His Point Loma compression boiled an hour's surfing down to 2 minutes and 15 seconds that KPBS’ David Wagner heralded as “a surfer's wildest dream come true, a fantasy break where perfect waves roll in one after another like clockwork, no lulls in between.”
The raw footage and Kuckenbaker’s documentation of the After Effects technique used to composite the waves speaks to a slightly more tedious reality. No word on what audio books got him through this one, though he goes into the technical specs and quotes Joseph Conrad on his blog.
The compression of the nearly 70 arriving Black Friday flights that kicked off Kuckenbaker’s San Diego-based time collapses in 2012 feels a bit martial, especially if Ride of the Valkyries just happens to be playing in the background. It makes me worry for San Diego, and also wish for a Kuckenbaker to come collapse time in my town.
See more of Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse videos here.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine. Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
This week Open Culture commemorated the 50th anniversary of the release of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" by exploring the song's relationship to the Apollo 11 moon landing and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mattel, they handled things a little differently, releasing a new David Bowie Barbie Doll. Here's their spiel: