George Saunders Tries to Order One Mousetrap Over The Phone

This adventure in modern shopping is brought to you by Clickhole.

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The News Is Broken, and Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Plans to Fix It With His New Site, Wikitribune

“The news is broken and we can fix it.” That’s the idea driving the creation of Wikitribune, a news platform being built by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Borrowing tools and concepts from the influential online encyclopedia, Wikitribune will be free and supported by readers, not ads. It will feature professional journalists and community members, working side by side, to produce fact-checked journalism that’s readily supported by evidence and sources. And anyone can flag mistakes or submit revisions for review.

Watch Wales outline the vision for Wikitribune in the Kirby Ferguson-made video above. Then, consider making a financial contribution to the new news platform here. They’re now raising money to get operations started and hire 10 journalists.

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How Jonathan Demme Put Humanity Into His Films: From The Silence of the Lambs to Stop Making Sense

“My friend, the director Jonathan Demme, passed last night,” wrote Talking Heads’ David Byrne on his blog yesterday. “I met Jonathan in the ‘80s when Talking Heads were touring a show that he would eventually film and turn into Stop Making Sense,” the famous — and in the minds of many, still the very best — concert movie. “I loved his films Melvin and Howard and Citizens Band (AKA Handle With Care). From those movies alone, one could sense his love of ordinary people. That love surfaces and is manifest over and over throughout his career.” Read just a few of the many other tributes to Demme made so far, and you’ll encounter the same words over and over again: love, empathy, compassion.

Few filmmakers manage to get those qualities onscreen as consistently as Demme did, and even fewer do it at his level of technical mastery. The two video essays here examine his cinematic technique, especially as seen in one of his best-known films: 1991’s Silence of the Lambs, the second in the ongoing series featuring refined career cannibal Hannibal Lecter. The brief episode of Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting at the top of the post breaks down how Demme handles the question of who “wins” the interaction in the first conversation between Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter and Jodie Foster’s young FBI trainee Clarice Starling — two characters who enter into this and all their subsequent interactions with their own shifting motivations, goals, and sensitivities.




In this and other scenes throughout his career, Demme made strong and influential use of close-up shots, to the point where Jacob T. Swinney could dedicate a supercut to “The Jonathan Demme Close-Up.” While “most filmmakers choose to employ the close-up shot during scenes of crucial dialogue,” Swinney writes, “Demme prefers to line up his characters in the center of the frame and have them look directly into the lens of the camera.” And so “when Dr. Hannibal Lecter hisses at Agent Clarice Starling, we feel equally victimized,” or in Philadelphia “as Andrew Beckett succumbs to AIDS, we feel an overwhelming sensation of sympathy. These characters seem to be looking at us, and we therefore connect on a deeper level.”

While Demme used his signature close-ups and other emotionally charged shots in all his features, from his early days working for legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman on, he brought his humanistic style to his various documentary and concert film projects as well. “Stop Making Sense was character driven too,” writes Byrne. “Jonathan’s skill was to see the show almost as a theatrical ensemble piece, in which the characters and their quirks would be introduced to the audience, and you’d get to know the band as people, each with their distinct personalities. They became your friends, in a sense. I was too focused on the music, the staging and the lighting to see how important his focus on character was — it made the movies something different and special.”

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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.

Jonathan Demme Narrates I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!!,” a Short Film About the Counterculture Cartoon Reid Fleming

Earlier today, we sadly learned about the passing of Jonathan Demme, director of The Silence of the Lambs and Stop Making Sense. We’ll have more to say about his contributions to cinema in the morning. But, for now, I want to share a short film, narrated by Demme himself in 2015, called I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!!.  Featuring stop motion animation and interviews, the short revisits David Boswell’s 1970s counterculture cartoon, Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman. Perhaps the cartoon never ended up on your radar. But it certainly influenced a number of important creators you’re familiar with. And, happily, you can still pick up copies of Reid Fleming: World’s Toughest Milkman on Amazon or over at the official Reid Fleming web site.

Directed by Charlie Tyrell, I Thought I Told You To Shut Up!! will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.. You can also download it over at Tyrell’s vimeo page.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please 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.

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If You Could Spend Eternity with Your Ashes Pressed Into a Vinyl Record, What Album Would It Be?

In February, Ted Mills wrote about a new company–And Vinyly–which will press your ashes into a playable vinyl record when your time eventually runs out. The basic service runs $4,000, and it gets you 30 copies of a record containing your ashes. The rub is that you can’t “use copyright-protected music to fill up the 12 minutes per side, so no ‘Free Bird’ or ‘We Are the Champions,’ unfortunately.”

But it does raise the question, as I put on Twitter yesterday… If you could head into eternity pressed into a cherished album, which would you choose? This isn’t necessarily a what-record-would-you-take-to-a-deserted island scenario, taken to the nth degree. Meaning, it’s not necessarily a question of what record would you listen to endlessly, for eternity (although you could choose to make it that). Rather, the question might be: What album do you have a deep, abiding personal connection with? Which record captures your spirit? And, when thrown on the turntable, can keep you sonically in this world?

My pick, Abbey Road. “Come Together” has a bit of anti-establishment bite. “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” tap into something emotional and nostalgia-inducing for me. And, oh, that medley on Side 2! Just click play any time.

Your picks? Please add them to the comments below.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please 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.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Says This Short Film on Science in America Contains Perhaps the Most Important Words He’s Ever Spoken

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has won a reputation as a genial, yet pedantic nerd, a scientific gadfly whose point of view may nearly always be technically correct, but whose mode of delivery sometimes misses the point, like someone who explains a joke. His earnestness is endearing; it’s what makes him so relatable as a science educator. He’s wholeheartedly devoted to his subject, like his boyhood hero Carl Sagan, whose shoes Tyson did his best to fill in a remake of the classic Cosmos series. Tyson’s countrymen and women, however, have made his job a lot harder than they did in Sagan’s day, when ordinary Americans were hungry for scientific information.

The change has been decades in the making. Like Sagan, Tyson’s voice fills with awe as he contemplates the mysteries of nature and wonders of science, and with alarm as he comments on widespread American ignorance and hostility to critical inquiry and the scientific method. These attitudes have led us to a crisis point. Elected and appointed officials at the highest levels of government deny the facts of climate change and are actively gutting all efforts to combat it. The House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology mocks climate science on social media even as NASA announces that the evidence is “unequivocal.”




How did this happen? Are we rapidly returning, as Sagan warned before his death, to an age of “superstition and darkness”? Tyson has recently addressed these questions with earnestness and urgency in a short video called “Science in America,” which you can watch above, “containing,” he wrote on Facebook, “what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.” He opens with a statement that echoes Sagan’s dire predictions: “It seems to me that people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not.” The problem is not simply an academic one, but a pressingly political one: “When you have people,” says Tyson, “who don’t know much about science, standing in denial of it, and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”

One must ask if the issue solely comes down to education. We are frequently reminded of how much denial is motivated and willful when, for example, a government official begins a completely unsupported claim with, “I’m not a scientist, but….” We know that fossil fuel companies like Exxon have known the facts about climate change for forty years, and have hidden or misrepresented them. But the problem is even more widespread. Evolutionary biology, vaccines, GMOs… the amount of misinformation and “alternative fact” in the public sphere has drowned out the voices of scientists. “That’s not the country I remember growing up in,” Tyson laments.

There are plenty of good philosophical reasons for skepticism, such as those raised by David Hume or by critical theorists and historians who point out the ways in which scientific research has been distorted and misused for some very dark, inhumane purposes. Yet critiques of methodology, philosophy, and ethics only strengthen the scientific enterprise, which—as Tyson passionately explains—thrives on vigorous and informed debate. We cannot afford to confuse thoughtful deliberation and honest reflection with specious reasoning and willful ignorance.

I imagine we’ll have a good laugh at creative redeployments of some classic Tyson harangues. (“This is science! It’s not something to toy with!”) And a good laugh sometimes feels like all we can do to relieve the tension. The real danger is that many people will dismiss his message as “politicizing” science rather than defending the very basis of its existence. We must agree on the basis of scientific truth, as discoverable through reason and evidence, Tyson warns, before we can even get to the political questions over climate change, vaccines, etc. Whether Americans can still do that has become an unsettlingly open question.

via Big Think

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Carl Sagan Predicts the Decline of America: Unable to Know “What’s True,” We Will Slide, “Without Noticing, Back into Superstition & Darkness” (1995)

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Carl Sagan Issues a Chilling Warning to America in His Final Interview (1996)

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

Download 200+ Free Modern Art Books from the Guggenheim Museum

For at least half a decade now, New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has been digitizing its exhibition catalogs and other art books. Now you can find all of the publications made available so far — not just to read, but to download in PDF and ePub formats — at the Internet Archive. If you’ve visited the Guggenheim’s non-digital location on Fifth Avenue even once, you know how much effort the institution puts toward the preservation and presentation of modern art, and that comes through as much in its printed material as it does in its shows.

Among the more than 200 Guggenheim art books available on the Internet Archive, you’ll find one on a 1977 retrospective of Color Field painter Kenneth Noland, one on the ever-vivid icon-making pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and one on the existential slogans — “MONEY CREATES TASTE,” “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT,” “LACK OF CHARISMA CAN BE FATAL” — slyly, digitally inserted into the lives of thousands by Jenny Holzer. Other titles, like Expressionism, a German Intuition 1905-1920From van Gogh to Picasso, from Kandinsky to Pollock, and painter Wassily Kandinsky’s own Point and Line to Plane, go deeper into art history.

Where to start amid all these books of modern (and even some of pre-modern) art? You might consider first having a look at the books in the Internet Archive’s Guggenheim collection about the Guggenheim itself: the handbook to its collection up through 1980, for instance, or 1991’s Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection: From Picasso to Pollock, or the following year’s Guggenheim Museum A to Z, or Art of this Century: The Guggenheim Museum and its Collection from the year after that. But just as when you pay a visit to the Guggenheim itself, you shouldn’t worry too much about what order you see everything in; the important thing is to look with interest.

Explore the collection of 200+ art books and catalogues here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please 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.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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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.

Robert Pirsig Reveals the Personal Journey That Led Him to Write His Counterculture Classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

I well remember pulling Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance from my parents’ shelves at age twelve or thirteen, working my way through a few pages, and stopping in true perplexity to ask, “what is this?” The book fit no formal scheme or genre I had ever encountered before. I understood its language, but I did not know how to read it. I still don’t, though I’ve had decades to study some of Pirsig’s references and influences, from Plato to Kant to Dōgen. Is this memoir? Fiction? Philosophy? A meditation on machinery, like Henry Adams’ strange essay “The Dynamo and the Virgin”? Yes.

Pirsig’s countercultural classic, published in 1974 after five years of rejections (121 in total) was “not… a marketing man’s dream,” as the editor at his eventual publisher, William Morrow, wrote to him at the time. Nevertheless, it sold—“50,000 copies in three months,” writes the L.A. Times, “and more than 5 million in the decades since. The dense tome has been translated into at least 27 languages…. Its popularity made Pirsig ‘probably the most widely read philosopher alive,’ one British journalist wrote in 2006.’” Pirsig, who died this past Monday, only wrote one other work, the philosophical novel Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. But he will be remembered as an important, if quixotic, figure in 20th century thought.

Zen ostensibly recounts a motorcycle journey Pirsig took with his son, Chris, and two friends. They are shadowed by another character, Phaedrus, the author’s neurotic alter ego. Pirsig poured all of himself into the book: his unorthodox philosophical and spiritual journey, his struggle with schizophrenia, his close and fretful relationship to his son (who later succumbed to drug addiction and was murdered at age 22, five years after Zen came out). It is a book “filled with unanswered and, perhaps, unanswerable questions.”

The kind of deep ambiguity and uncertainty Zen explores is not easy to write about, unsurprisingly, and in the NPR interview above from 1974, Pirsig describes his struggles as a writer—the distractions and intrusions, the self-doubt and confusion. Pirsig secluded himself for much of the writing of the book, and for much of it worked a day job writing technical manuals, which explains quite a lot about its intricate levels of technical detail.

Pirsig’s descriptions of the hard-won self-discipline (and exhaustion) that the writer’s life requires will ring true for anyone who has tried to write a book. He sums up his motivation succinctly: “this was really a compulsive book. If I didn’t do it, I’d feel worse than if I did do it.” But Pirsig found he couldn’t make any progress as a writer until he gave up trying to be “in quotes, a ‘writer,’” or play the role of one anyway. “It was always a separation of my real self from the act of writing,” he says.

His process sounds like the freewriting of Kerouac’s road novel or the automatic writing of the Surrealists: “I could almost watch my hand moving on the page; there was almost no volition one way or the other, it was just happening.” What he identifies as the “sincerity” of the book’s voice helps steady readers who must trust a very unreliable narrator to guide them through a philosophy of what Pirsig calls “quality”—a metaphysical condition that underlies religions and philosophies East and West. “One can meditate,” he wrote, “on the fact that the old English roots for the Buddha and Quality, God and good, appear to be identical.” Pirsig subjected all human endeavor to the scrutiny of “quality,” including so-called “value free” science, a characterization he found dubious.

In the BBC radio interview above, you can hear Pirsig describe his personal and intellectual journey, which took him through a troubled childhood in Minnesota, a tour in the Korean War, an academic career, and eventually a central role in the “whole attempt to reform America” begun by “beatniks” and “hippies” in San Francisco. (Both words, he wrote, were “cliches and stereotypes… invented for the antitechnologists, the antisystem people.”) Urged by a university colleague to pursue the question “what is quality?,” Pirsig undertook an obsessive investigation. His willingness and courage to follow wherever it led defined the rest of his life as a writer and thinker.

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

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