How the Films of Hayao Miyazaki Work Their Animated Magic, Explained in 4 Video Essays

Last week we fea­tured a video that con­vinc­ing­ly places the char­ac­ters of Hayao Miyaza­ki and his Stu­dio Ghi­b­li’s ani­mat­ed films into real life-set­tings. It jux­ta­posed two very dif­fer­ent kinds of real­i­ty, the con­crete three-dimen­sion­al one in which we live and the fan­tas­ti­cal two-dimen­sion­al one those char­ac­ters inhab­it, in the process demon­strat­ing that both some­how car­ry an equal weight. How, then, do these most respect­ed of all ani­ma­tors so con­sis­tent­ly pull it off, cre­at­ing real­is­tic worlds through an inher­ent­ly unre­al­is­tic medi­um? In “The Immer­sive Real­ism of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li,” the video essay just above, Ash­er Isbruck­er address­es that very ques­tion, look­ing into the nuts and bolts of their ani­ma­tion tech­niques as well as, through Miyaza­k­i’s own words, what we might call their ani­ma­tion phi­los­o­phy.

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li has stayed (at the very least) a cut above oth­er ani­ma­tors not just by virtue of their exper­tise at cre­at­ing con­vinc­ing phys­i­cal worlds — whether or not their physics aligns with that of our own — but at cre­at­ing con­vinc­ing emo­tion­al worlds, pop­u­lat­ed with char­ac­ters full of desires and con­tra­dic­tions of their own. In “Hayao Miyaza­ki — The Essence of Human­i­ty,” which Ayun Hal­l­i­day wrote up here last year, video essay­ist Lewis Bond of Chan­nel Criswell exam­ines Miyaza­k­i’s “approach to ani­mat­ed film­mak­ing that con­cen­trates on the emo­tion­al intri­ca­cies of his sub­jects, as opposed to cre­at­ing — iron­i­cal­ly — car­toony char­ac­ters,” result­ing in ani­mat­ed films that don’t speak down to chil­dren but “help us all fur­ther under­stand the human con­di­tion.”

Once you start seri­ous­ly try­ing to answer the ques­tion of what makes a Nau­si­caä of the Val­ley of the Wind or a My Neigh­bor Totoro or a Spir­it­ed Away so cap­ti­vat­ing, an abun­dance of rea­sons occur. Just above in “Hayao Miyaza­ki: What You Can Imag­ine,” JD Thomp­son iden­ti­fies the pow­er of imag­i­na­tion that ani­mates, lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly, all of Ghi­b­li’s movies. Below in “Hayao Miyaza­ki — Every­thing by Hand,” the video essay­ist RC Ani­me con­sid­ers the sheer amount of labor that goes into work that flies under the flag of “one of the hard­est-work­ing ani­me direc­tors,” and how it ulti­mate­ly deliv­ers more impact with sim­ple ges­tures than oth­er high-pro­file pieces of ani­ma­tion do with extend­ed action set pieces.

All these video essays touch on one espe­cial­ly impor­tant part of Miyaza­k­i’s cre­ative process: he begins mak­ing a film not with a script to be strict­ly adhered to, but with a series of sketch­es and sto­ry­boards. Dur­ing the long and ardu­ous course of pro­duc­tion, the sto­ry can thus change to suit the needs of the char­ac­ters, their emo­tions, and the worlds imag­ined around them. This pri­ma­cy of the image makes sense for a cre­ator like Miyaza­ki, who began with the child­hood dream of becom­ing a com­ic artist, and who dur­ing his peri­od­ic “retire­ments” returns his focus to that much sim­pler medi­um. He has, in fact, just emerged from the lat­est such retire­ment and got­ten to work on anoth­er ani­mat­ed fea­ture, as revealed in a tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary on his life and work appro­pri­ate­ly titled Owaranai Hito — “The Man Who Does­n’t Stop.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Essence of Hayao Miyaza­ki Films: A Short Doc­u­men­tary About the Human­i­ty at the Heart of His Ani­ma­tion

Watch Hayao Miyaza­ki Ani­mate the Final Shot of His Final Fea­ture Film, The Wind Ris­es

Soft­ware Used by Hayao Miyazaki’s Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio Becomes Open Source & Free to Down­load

Watch Hayao Miyazaki’s Beloved Char­ac­ters Enter the Real World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Bill Murray & Gilda Radner Deliver the Laughs in Two 1970s Skits for National Lampoon

Bill Mur­ray is Amer­i­ca’s kind­liest, most eccen­tric, best known sec­u­lar elf, spread­ing joy through­out the year, as he treats strangers to impromp­tu birth­day ser­e­nades, poet­ry read­ings, and bach­e­lor par­ty toasts.

How will younger fans, who’ve nev­er been exposed to the brash Mur­ray of yore, react to his late 70s San­ta, above, for the “Nation­al Lam­poon Radio Hour”? This Grinch is a spir­i­tu­al fore­fa­ther of such depart­ment store bad­dies as Bil­ly Bob Thorn­ton and that guy from A Christ­mas Sto­ry.

For­get about Flexy the Pock­et Mon­key… Murray’s sham-Claus glee­ful­ly denies even the hum­blest of sweet-voiced lit­tle Gil­da Rad­ner’s requests — a Nerf Ball and a Pez dis­penser.

Sat­ur­day Night Live fans of a cer­tain vin­tage may detect more than a hint of Lisa Loopner’s boyfriend Todd De LaMu­ca in Murray’s vocal char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Instead of Noo­gies, he sends Rad­ner gig­gling through “the trap door.”

Man, these two had chem­istry!

They revis­it­ed the sce­nario in a hol­i­day sketch for Sat­ur­day Night Live’s 3rd sea­son, with San­ta down­grad­ed from “evil” to “drunk­en.”

Murray’s “Kung Fu Christ­mas” for the Nation­al Lam­poon Radio Hour’s 1974 Christ­mas show, above, makes a smooth vin­tage chas­er.

In addi­tion to Rad­ner, col­lab­o­ra­tors here include Paul Shaf­fer, Christo­pher Guest, and Bil­l’s broth­er Bri­an Doyle-Mur­ray, a lily white line up unthink­able in 2016.

The lyrics and silky vocal stylings con­jure visions of a dis­co-grit­ty yule­tide New York, where “every race has a smile on its face.”

This time Rad­ner gets to do the reject­ing, in an extend­ed spo­ken word inter­lude that finds Christo­pher Guest show­er­ing her with offers rang­ing from a house in the South of France to a glass-bot­tomed boat. (“Didn’t you like that Palomi­no horse I bought you last year?”)

Mur­ray who con­tin­ued to explore his musi­cal urges with his SNL char­ac­ter, Nick the Lounge Singer, was replaced by David Hur­don when “Kung Fu Christ­mas” was record­ed for 1975’s Good-bye Pop album.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Bill Mur­ray, the Strug­gling New SNL Cast Mem­ber, Apol­o­gize for Not Being Fun­ny (1977)

Stream 22 Hours of Funky, Rock­ing & Swing­ing Christ­mas Albums: From James Brown and John­ny Cash to Christo­pher Lee & The Ven­tures

Stan Lee Reads “The Night Before Christ­mas,” Telling the Tale of San­ta Claus, the Great­est of Super Heroes

Bill Mur­ray Reads Great Poet­ry by Bil­ly Collins, Cole Porter, and Sarah Man­gu­so

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Hear Jorge Luis Borges Read 30 of His Poems (in the Original Spanish)

In a recent post on the math­e­mat­i­cal-mind­ed Dutch graph­ic artist M.C. Esch­er, Col­in Mar­shall referred to David Auer­bach’s short “Inquest on Left-Brained Lit­er­a­ture.” Here, Auer­bach sit­u­ates Jorge Luis Borges among writ­ers like Richard Pow­ers, Umber­to Eco, David Mitchell, Haru­ki Muraka­mi and oth­ers, who exist “on a par­al­lel track of lit­er­a­ture that is pop­u­lar specif­i­cal­ly among engi­neers.” From his obser­va­tions, Auer­bach draws only “one obvi­ous con­clu­sion… that engi­neers tend to like nov­el­ists that deal in math and sci­ence mate­r­i­al.”

Auerbach’s list seems legit­i­mate (he men­tions “anoth­er schol­ar who also works amongst engi­neers” and who “pro­duced near-dupli­ca­tion of this list”). But it prompts one impor­tant ques­tion for me: How do these writ­ers see them­selves? As pri­mar­i­ly lit­er­ary authors? Genre writ­ers? Engi­neers them­selves, of a sort?

In the case of Borges, we have an elo­quent self-descrip­tion from the author in his intro­duc­tion to the Select­ed Poems 1923–1967. “First and fore­most,” writes Borges, “I think of myself as a read­er, then as a poet, then as a prose writer.”

While Borges may hold tremen­dous appeal for left-brain thinkers like pro­gram­mer Jamie Zaw­in­s­ki, he began his career as a very right-brained poet, and con­tin­ued to see his work as pri­mar­i­ly “addressed to the imag­i­na­tion” rather than “to the rea­son.”

I can­not say whether my work is poet­ry or not; I can only say that my appeal is to the imag­i­na­tion. I am not a thinker. I am mere­ly a man who has tried to explore the lit­er­ary pos­si­bil­i­ties of meta­physics and of reli­gion.

Borges is inor­di­nate­ly mod­est. His work is poet­ry, espe­cial­ly, of course, his actu­al poetry—volumes of it, writ­ten over six decades of his life— from his first pub­lished col­lec­tion in 1923, Fer­vor de Buenos Aires, to his last, Los con­ju­ra­dos in 1985. It has always seemed to me some­thing of a tragedy that Borges is not bet­ter-known as a poet among his Eng­lish-speak­ing read­ers. It’s not for lack of excel­lent trans­la­tions, most of them guid­ed by the mul­ti-lin­gual Borges him­self.

The sit­u­a­tion is much dif­fer­ent, in my expe­ri­ence, among Span­ish-speak­ers. There is indeed a Latin-American—and specif­i­cal­ly Argentine—resonance in some of Borges’ verse that is impos­si­ble to trans­late. For those who can appre­ci­ate Borges in his orig­i­nal lan­guage, we bring you the album above, 30 poems read by the author him­self. You can hear one of those read­ings, “Arte Poet­i­ca,” in the video at the top of the post, with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. The direc­tor, Neels Castil­lon, describes the short film as “a jour­ney around Argenti­na and Uruguay to illus­trate words of Jorge Luis Borges.”

Eng­lish speak­ers can also sam­ple trans­la­tions of Borges’ poet­ry here and here. Or dive into the trans­la­tion of “Arte Poet­i­ca,” or “The Art of Poet­ry” here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Enchant­i­ng Jorge Luis Borges Read “The Art of Poet­ry”

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967–8 Nor­ton Lec­tures On Poet­ry (And Every­thing Else Lit­er­ary)

Borges Explains The Task of Art

What Does Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel” Look Like? An Accu­rate Illus­tra­tion Cre­at­ed with 3D Mod­el­ing Soft­ware

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

A Crash Course in Existentialism: A Short Introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre & Finding Meaning in a Meaningless World

Very broad­ly speak­ing, all phi­los­o­phy con­tains with­in it dialec­ti­cal ten­sions: some ideas seem ennobling and con­sol­ing, oth­ers unset­tling and alien­at­ing. Every school, move­ment, and indi­vid­ual thinker deals in some mea­sure of both. Some­times we feel unset­tled because of his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al dis­tance. When Socrates talks about slav­ery or cen­sor­ship in mat­ter-of-fact ways, for exam­ple, we might be star­tled, but his audi­ence didn’t see things the way we do. When it comes, how­ev­er, to the Exis­ten­tial­ists, the cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal milieu of these thinkers may resem­ble our own close­ly enough that state­ments which shocked their read­ers still shock most peo­ple today.

Take one of the big­ger ques­tions like, oh, the mean­ing of life. “We under­stand our lives as being mean­ing­ful,” says Hank Green above—brother of John Green, the oth­er half of the Crash Course edu­ca­tion­al team. We might find pur­pose and ful­fill­ment in a num­ber of things, from reli­gion to art, sports, careers, and pol­i­tics.

Exis­ten­tial­ists, Green tells us, would say that “any or all of these things can give your life mean­ing.” Con­sol­ing, eh? “But at the same time,” and here comes the down­er, “they say none of them can.” These thinkers may be spread out over time and space—from the 19th cen­tu­ry Den­mark and Ger­many of Kierkegaard and Niet­zsche to the 1950s France of Sartre, De Beau­voir, and Camus. But Exis­ten­tial­ist thinkers share at least one com­mon trait: anti-essen­tial­ism.

As Green explains, clas­si­cal phi­los­o­phy offered the com­fort­ing expla­na­tion that every­thing con­tained an essence: “a cer­tain set of core prin­ci­ples that are nec­es­sary or essen­tial for a thing to be what it is.” Not only do chairs and tables have essences but so do human beings, they thought, and “your essence gives you a pur­pose.” Still a very wide­spread and com­mon­place belief, we can prob­a­bly agree, and one peo­ple rarely think about crit­i­cal­ly unless they’re hav­ing… well, an exis­ten­tial cri­sis. So far so good when it comes to grasp­ing the essence (sor­ry) of Exis­ten­tial­ist think­ing.

Green goes astray how­ev­er, when he gets to Niet­zsche, whom he claims embraced Nihilism, “the belief in the ulti­mate mean­ing­less­ness of life.” Not only did Niet­zsche vehe­ment­ly oppose nihilism as self-defeat­ing, but he feared the con­se­quences of its spread, even if he some­times saw it as an inevitable prod­uct of moder­ni­ty. Anoth­er impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when study­ing so-called Exis­ten­tial­ist thinkers is that they them­selves were deeply trou­bled by their trou­bling insights. Kierkegaard turned to a rad­i­cal form of Chris­tian­i­ty, Camus to an intro­spec­tive indi­vid­u­al­ism… and per­haps the most famous Exis­ten­tial­ist, Jean Paul Sartre, came to embrace doc­tri­naire Marx­ism.

But first, he for­mu­lat­ed the most quotable max­im of Exis­ten­tial­ist thought: “Exis­tence pre­cedes Essence.” From this, he drew a con­clu­sion both trou­bling and con­sol­ing: “It’s up to each of us to deter­mine who we are. We have to write our own essence through the way we choose to live.” But this lib­er­at­ed con­di­tion is absurd: it means we are ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble for every­thing we do, even when we have no idea what’s going to hap­pen when we do it, or any larg­er pur­pose for doing it at all. Whether ardent­ly reli­gious like Kierkegaard or ardent­ly athe­ist like Niet­zsche and Sartre, Exis­ten­tial­ist philoso­phers who stared into the void found there all of the bound­less free­dom and ter­ri­fy­ing ver­ti­go we came to asso­ciate with the neu­ro­sis of the mod­ern human con­di­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Crash Course Phi­los­o­phy: Hank Green’s Fast-Paced Intro­duc­tion to Phi­los­o­phy Gets Under­way on YouTube

What Is an “Exis­ten­tial Cri­sis”?: An Ani­mat­ed Video Explains What the Expres­sion Real­ly Means

Simone de Beau­voir Defends Exis­ten­tial­ism & Her Fem­i­nist Mas­ter­piece, The Sec­ond Sex, in Rare 1959 TV Inter­view

Exis­ten­tial­ism with Hubert Drey­fus: Four Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

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

Radio Garden Lets You Instantly Tune into Radio Stations Across the Entire Globe


A pret­ty cool project.

Pick a place on the globe. Any place. Then tune in and hear what’s play­ing on the radio in that loca­tion.

The ser­vice is called Radio Gar­den, and here’s what it’s essen­tial­ly all about:

By bring­ing dis­tant voic­es close, radio con­nects peo­ple and places. Radio Gar­den allows lis­ten­ers to explore process­es of broad­cast­ing and hear­ing iden­ti­ties across the entire globe. From its very begin­ning, radio sig­nals have crossed bor­ders. Radio mak­ers and lis­ten­ers have imag­ined both con­nect­ing with dis­tant cul­tures, as well as re-con­nect­ing with peo­ple from ‘home’ from thou­sands of miles away – or using local com­mu­ni­ty radio to make and enrich new homes.

While Radio Gar­den lets you tune into broad­casts across dif­fer­ent geo­gra­phies, anoth­er ser­vice pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on OC–Radiooooo–lets you hear radio broad­casts across time. That is, his­tor­i­cal broad­casts.

Between the two ser­vices, you’ll be cov­ered spa­tial­ly and tem­po­ral­ly. What more could you want?

Update: Radio Gar­den is now appar­ent­ly avail­able as an app on Google and Apple.

via Boing Boing

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Watch a 2‑Year-Old Solve Philosophy’s Famous Ethical “Trolley Problem” (It Doesn’t End Well)

“A run­away train is head­ing towards five work­ers on a rail­way line. There’s no way of warn­ing, but you’re stand­ing near a lever that oper­ates some points. Switch the points, and the train goes down a spur. Trou­ble is, there’s anoth­er work­er on that bit of track too, but it’s one fatal­i­ty instead of five. Should you do that?” Here we have the trol­ley prob­lem, which since its first artic­u­la­tion in 1967 by Philip­pa Foot has become the clas­sic exam­ple of an eth­i­cal dilem­ma as well as per­haps the best known thought exper­i­ment in all of phi­los­o­phy.

This expla­na­tion of the trol­ley prob­lem comes from one of the Har­ry Shear­er-nar­rat­ed BBC- and Open Uni­ver­si­ty-made ani­ma­tions pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. The short video above takes a dif­fer­ent approach, not just using a chil­dren’s train set to illus­trate it but then putting the famous ques­tion to the child him­self.

“Uh oh, Nicholas,” says the two-year-old’s father from behind the cam­era, “this train is going to crash into these five peo­ple! Should we move the train to go this way, or should we let it go that way?” The ele­gance of the tod­dler’s solu­tion, imple­ment­ed with­out hes­i­ta­tion, must be seen to be appre­ci­at­ed.

The father, E. J. Masi­cam­po of Wake For­est Uni­ver­si­ty, research­es “the effort­ful men­tal process­es that seem to sep­a­rate humans from oth­er ani­mals: resist­ing temp­ta­tions and impuls­es, rea­son­ing and deci­sion mak­ing, think­ing about and sim­u­lat­ing non-present events, and mak­ing plans for the future.” Among his pro­fes­sion­al goals, he lists work­ing toward “a the­o­ry of the human con­scious­ness” by uncov­er­ing “how con­scious thought con­tributes to human func­tion­ing in light of its appar­ent lim­i­ta­tions.” He’s tak­en on a prob­lem even hard­er than the one with the trol­leys; per­haps young Nicholas, what with his demon­strat­ed gift of “think­ing out­side the box,” invalu­able in the philo­soph­i­cal dis­ci­plines, can offer some assis­tance.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

How Can I Know Right From Wrong? Watch Phi­los­o­phy Ani­ma­tions on Ethics Nar­rat­ed by Har­ry Shear­er

9‑Year-Old Philoso­pher Pon­ders the Mean­ing of Life and the Uni­verse

Are You a Psy­chopath? Take the Test (And, If You Fail, It’s Not All Bad News)

The Epis­te­mol­o­gy of Dr. Seuss & More Phi­los­o­phy Lessons from Great Children’s Sto­ries

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Board Game, Inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s Rollicking Novel

There was a time, fair chil­dren of the late 20th cen­tu­ry, when every movie and tele­vi­sion show had itself a board game. Most were bad. But we bought them, and then tried our best to make it work. You can see a col­lec­tion here. Few ever recre­at­ed the spir­it of the orig­i­nal work, but instead coast­ed by on a cyn­ic’s heart hop­ing to har­vest your pop cul­ture mem­o­ries.

How­ev­er, the board game ver­sion of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, cre­at­ed by design­er, pro­gram­mer, and artist J.R. Bald­win, is very much in the spir­it of Hunter S. Thompson’s book and well-loved film adap­ta­tion by Ter­ry Gilliam. It is also very dan­ger­ous to play, and is prob­a­bly not sur­viv­able unless you are Hunter S. Thomp­son and you have trav­eled in time to 2009. That’s the year of our clip above, when Alana Joy inter­viewed Bald­win for a web chan­nel called Life on Blast.


The game comes in a brief­case mod­eled after Thompson’s trav­el­ing apothe­cary, and uses a board, game pieces, and cards. The board is designed to look like a psy­che­del­ic trip, with the spaces and indeed the whole board mod­eled after pey­ote but­tons, which were also part of Thompson’s Gonzo logo. The start­ing space quotes the famous first lines of the book (“We were some­where around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold”) and the goal space uses the quote “All ener­gy flows accord­ing to the whims of the great mag­net” writ­ten around a brain.


But it’s the oth­er con­tents of the case that make the game spe­cial: drugs and alco­hol, to be tak­en depend­ing on what cir­cle you land on the game board. Three dif­fer­ent card groups dic­tate actions to take dur­ing the game. Yel­low cards mean the play­er must mea­sure out an amount of drugs (includ­ing stim­u­lants, inhalants, or hal­lu­cino­gens) or a shot of booze or absinthe and ingest. (The game help­ful­ly comes with a scale.) Blue cards send the play­er on an adven­ture or activ­i­ty. Red cards are chal­lenges to be tak­en while under the influ­ence of the sub­stances.


So, okay, Baldwin’s game is not to be tak­en seriously…or tak­en oral­ly. It’s actu­al­ly a one-of-its-kind piece of art that can be pur­chased for $3,500. Drugs, like bat­ter­ies, are not includ­ed. You must sup­ply your own, pos­si­bly through your attor­ney.

“You could, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, sur­vive the entire game, on all these dif­fer­ent sub­stances” Bald­win says. “So why not?”

You can get a sense of the game from the images above. They come from Bald­win’s web­site, where you can see yet more visu­als.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hunter S. Thompson’s Har­row­ing, Chem­i­cal-Filled Dai­ly Rou­tine

Read 11 Free Arti­cles by Hunter S. Thomp­son That Span His Gonzo Jour­nal­ist Career (1965–2005)

Play­ing Golf on LSD With Hunter S. Thomp­son: Esquire Edi­tor Remem­bers the Odd­est Game of Golf

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

Yes, the Holocaust Happened, Even If a Top Google Search Result Says It Didn’t

We’re well into the back­lash cycle of the post-elec­tion out­rage over “fake news,” as com­men­ta­tor after com­men­ta­tor calls this phrase into ques­tion and cel­e­brates the fall of the gate­keep­er media. Tak­ing a phrase from Tom Wolfe, Matthew Con­tinet­ti at the con­ser­v­a­tive Com­men­tary argues that “the press… is a Vic­to­ri­an Gen­tle­man, the arbiter of man­ners and fash­ion, the judge of right con­duct and good breed­ing.” We should not lament this gentleman’s loss of a “lib­er­al, afflu­ent, enti­tled cocoon.” He had long ago “changed his job descrip­tion and went from telling his read­ers what had hap­pened to telling them what to think.”


Like­wise, The Inter­cept has shown how fake news pan­ic pro­duced a “McCarthyite Black­list of inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tions lumped togeth­er by “shod­dy, sloth­ful jour­nal­is­tic tac­tics” of the kind used by “smear artists” and ped­dlers of dis­in­for­ma­tion. Pol­i­tics aside, what we should at least gath­er from this firestorm is that the sto­ry of “fake news”—or of delib­er­ate hoax­es, lies, and propaganda—is much old­er than the Inter­net, though the speed at which it spreads has increased expo­nen­tial­ly with the dom­i­nance of social media. We’re left won­der­ing how we might reclaim some ori­en­ta­tion toward the truth in any media. If every­thing is poten­tial­ly fake news, what can we trust?

With the pro­fes­sion­al vet­ting of infor­ma­tion in cri­sis, we are thrown back on the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Dar­win­ism advanced by “British defend­er of cap­i­tal­ism” Her­bert Spencer, who—writes Tim­o­thy Sny­der in his New York Times best­seller Black Earth: The Holo­caust as His­to­ry and Warn­ingdescribed the mar­ket as “an ecos­phere where the strongest and best sur­vived.” In our infor­ma­tion ecosys­tem, “strongest and best” is often deter­mined not by nat­ur­al forces, nor by expert adju­di­ca­tion of mer­it, but by algo­rithms… and cash. And as jour­nal­ists at The Inde­pen­dent and else­where dis­cov­ered last week, Google’s algo­rithms have decid­ed that the best, most help­ful answer to the ques­tion “did the holo­caust hap­pen?” comes from neo-Nazi hate site Storm­front, in a piece glibly titled “Top 10 rea­sons why the Holo­caust didn’t hap­pen.”

It should go with­out saying—and yet it must be said—that no seri­ous his­to­ri­an of the peri­od con­sid­ers the sys­tem­at­ic mass mur­der of mil­lions of Jews and oth­er “unde­sir­ables” to be an open his­tor­i­cal ques­tion. The hor­ror of the 30s and 40s, writes the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Muse­um, is “one of the best doc­u­ment­ed events in his­to­ry” and denials and dis­tor­tions of these events “are gen­er­al­ly moti­vat­ed by hatred of Jews.” (See their video explain­ing denial­ism at the top.) There’s no ques­tion that’s the motive in Google’s top search result for Holo­caust denial­ism. Google admits as much, writ­ing this past Mon­day, “We are sad­dened to see that hate orga­ni­za­tions still exist. The fact that hate sites appear in search results does not mean that Google endors­es these views.”

And yet, writes Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr at The Guardian, the search engine giant also “con­firmed it would not remove the result.” Cad­wal­ladr details how she dis­placed the top result her­self “with the only lan­guage that Google under­stands: mon­ey.” Lil­ian Black, the daugh­ter of a Holo­caust sur­vivor, com­pared the tech giant’s response to “say­ing we know that the trains are run­ning into Birke­nau, but we’re not respon­si­ble for what’s hap­pen­ing at the end of it.” But they should bear some respon­si­bil­i­ty. Google, she says, shapes “people’s think­ing… Can’t they see where this leads? And to have a huge world­wide orga­ni­za­tion refus­ing to acknowl­edge this. That’s what they think their role is? To be a bystander?”

The ques­tion forces us to con­front not only the role of the press but also the role of the new gate­keep­ers, Google, Face­book, Twit­ter, etc., who have dis­placed Vic­to­ri­an sys­tems of man­ag­ing infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge. The loss of sta­tus among aca­d­e­mics and pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists and edi­tors may have salu­tary effects, such as a democ­ra­ti­za­tion of media and the emer­gence of cred­i­ble voic­es pre­vi­ous­ly con­fined to the mar­gins. But what can be done about the cor­re­spond­ing rise in delib­er­ate mis­in­for­ma­tion pub­lished by hate groups and pro­pa­gan­da orga­ni­za­tions? Moral con­sid­er­a­tions car­ry no weight when the fig­u­ra­tive “mar­ket­place of ideas” is reduced to the lit­er­al mar­ket.

Dan­ny Sul­li­van, a search engine expert Cad­wal­ladr cites, sug­gests that the rea­son the Storm­front result rose to the top of Google’s search may be noth­ing more than pop­ulism for prof­it: “Google has changed its algo­rithm to reward pop­u­lar results over author­i­ta­tive ones. For the rea­son that it makes Google more mon­ey.” The ris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of hate sites presents a growth oppor­tu­ni­ty for Google and its com­peti­tors. Mean­while, racist hate groups spread their mes­sages unim­ped­ed, ordi­nary cit­i­zens are bad­ly mis­in­formed, and so-called “self-rad­i­cal­ized” indi­vid­u­als like mass killer Dylann Roof and Tom­my Mair—who mur­dered British MP Jo Cox this past sum­mer—con­tin­ue to find the “strongest and best” cas­es for their homi­ci­dal designs, no mat­ter that so much of the infor­ma­tion they con­sume is not only fake, but designed­ly, malev­o­lent­ly false.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

High School Teacher & Holo­caust Expert Sus­pend­ed for Draw­ing Par­al­lels Between Trump & Hitler’s Rhetoric

Mem­o­ry of the Camps (1985): The Holo­caust Doc­u­men­tary that Trau­ma­tized Alfred Hitch­cock, and Remained Unseen for 40 Years

The Touch­ing Moment When Nicholas Win­ton (RIP) Met the Chil­dren He Saved Dur­ing the Holo­caust

Rudolf Braz­da, Last Man to Wear the Pink Tri­an­gle Dur­ing the Holo­caust, Tells His Sto­ry

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

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