How Marion Stokes, an Activist Librarian, Recorded 30 Years of TV News on 70,000 Video Tapes: It’s All Now Being Digitized and Put Online

“Noth­ing is more impor­tant than tele­vi­sion,” said J.D. Salinger (as imper­son­at­ed, that is, in an episode of Bojack Horse­man). A pas­sive, paci­fy­ing medium—“cool,” as Mar­shall McLuhan called it—TV has also long been an easy tar­get for pun­dit­ry, for many decades before the per­pe­tra­tor du jour, video games. Tele­vi­sion spread igno­rance, was “the drug of the nation,” said Michael Fran­ti, ped­dled fake heroes on “chan­nel zero,” said Pub­lic Ene­my, and would lead to an “elec­tri­cal re-trib­al­iza­tion of the West,” McLuhan pre­dict­ed (and fur­ther explained in this inter­view).

Mar­i­on Stokes set out to do more than any of the men above who made pro­nounce­ments about tele­vi­sion. She ded­i­cat­ed her life to pre­serv­ing the evi­dence, tap­ing tele­vi­sion news for over 33 years, from 1979 “until the day she died,” writes the Inter­net Archive, who now hold Stokes’ “unique 71k+ video cas­sette col­lec­tion” and intend to dig­i­tize all of it. Stokes “was a fierce­ly pri­vate African Amer­i­can social jus­tice cham­pi­on, librar­i­an, polit­i­cal rad­i­cal, TV pro­duc­er, fem­i­nist, Apple Com­put­er super-fan and col­lec­tor like few oth­ers.”

She “ques­tioned the media’s moti­va­tions and rec­og­nized the insid­i­ous inten­tion­al spread of dis­in­for­ma­tion…. Ms. Stokes was alarmed. In a pri­vate her­culean effort, she took on the chal­lenge of inde­pen­dent­ly pre­serv­ing the news record of her times in its most per­va­sive and per­sua­sive form—TV.” She also pre­served three decades of tele­vised cri­tiques of tele­vi­sion. She began mak­ing her archive at the begin­ning of the Iran Hostage Cri­sis on Novem­ber 14, 1979. “She hit record and nev­er stopped,” her son Michael Metelits says in Recorder: The Mar­i­on Stokes Project, “a new­ly released doc­u­men­tary,” reports Atlas Obscu­ra, “about [Stokes] and the archival project that became her life’s work.”

In one remark­able exam­ple of TV cri­tique, at the top, we see William Davi­don, pro­fes­sor of Physics at Haver­ford Col­lege, decry­ing tele­vi­sion for spread­ing igno­rance, social irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, and pas­sive con­sump­tion, mak­ing peo­ple unable to par­tic­i­pate in the polit­i­cal process. The round­table dis­cus­sion took place on a 1968 episode of Input. A lit­tle over a year lat­er, writes the Inter­net Archive, Davi­don “would take an action of great social con­se­quence,” break­ing into an FBI field office with sev­en oth­ers and steal­ing the evi­dence that “revealed COINTELPRO.” (They were nev­er caught, and Davidon’s role only came out posthu­mous­ly.)

Then known as Mar­i­on Metelits, Stokes co-pro­duced Input, a local Philadel­phia Sun­day morn­ing talk show, with her future hus­band John S. Stokes Jr., and both of them appear on the pro­gram above (both cred­it­ed as rep­re­sent­ing the Well­springs Ecu­meni­cal Cen­ter). The con­ver­sa­tion ranges wide­ly, with Ms. Metelits and Davi­don spirit­ed­ly defend­ing “human poten­tial” against too-rigid sys­tems of clas­si­fi­ca­tion and manip­u­la­tion. There are a few dozen more episodes of Input cur­rent­ly at the Inter­net Archive, with pan­els fea­tur­ing aca­d­e­mics, activists, and cler­gy (such as the episode explain­ing, sort of, the “Well­springs Ecu­meni­cal Cen­ter.”)

It’s a hard-hit­ting, con­tro­ver­sial show for a local broad­cast, and it gives us a detailed view of a range of both pop­u­lar and rad­i­cal posi­tions of the time, includ­ing Stokes’, which we can learn more about in the jour­nals, notes, lists, news­pa­per and mag­a­zine clip­pings, pam­phlets, leaflets, hand­bills, and more she col­lect­ed since 1960, many of which have also been dig­i­tized at the Inter­net Archive. Stokes backed her views with action. She was “sur­veilled by the gov­ern­ment for her ear­ly polit­i­cal activism,” Atlas Obscu­ra writes, and “attempt­ed to defect to Cuba” with her first hus­band Melvin Metelits. She kept her record­ing project pri­vate, “eschewed Tivo” and “nev­er sent an email in her life.”

She also made a small for­tune in Apple stock, which fund­ed her project and “the mas­sive stor­age space she required as the sole force behind it.” Stokes left us no doubt as to why she doc­u­ment­ed thir­ty years of TV news. But those doc­u­ments get to speak for themselves—or they will, at least. Stokes record­ed far more than her own pro­gram, three decades more. And the Inter­net Archive is cur­rent­ly “endeav­or­ing to help make sure” the entire col­lec­tion “is dig­i­tized and made avail­able online to every­one, for­ev­er, for free.”

If tele­vi­sion had, and maybe still has, the pow­er ascribed to it by its many astute crit­ics, then Mar­i­on Stokes’ painstak­ing archive offers an invalu­able means of under­stand­ing how we got to where we are, if not how to change course. Stokes’ col­lec­tion, and the doc­u­men­tary about her life, show “how the news was going to evolve into an addic­tion,” as Owen Gleiber­man writes at Vari­ety. The project took over her life and frac­tured her rela­tion­ships. “Even if you’re obsessed with the inac­cu­ra­cy of TV news, it has still entrapped you, like a two-way mir­ror that won’t let you see the oth­er side.” If the medi­um is the mes­sage, the oth­er side might always be more tele­vi­sion.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Mar­shall McLuhan’s The Medi­um is the Mas­sage (1967)

5 Ani­ma­tions Intro­duce the Media The­o­ry of Noam Chom­sky, Roland Barthes, Mar­shall McLuhan, Edward Said & Stu­art Hall

New Archive Makes Avail­able 800,000 Pages Doc­u­ment­ing the His­to­ry of Film, Tele­vi­sion & Radio

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

The Scandalous Painting That Helped Create Modern Art: An Introduction to Édouard Manet’s Olympia

Here in the 21st cen­tu­ry, only the most shel­tered among us could be shocked by the sight of a naked body. It would seem that the whole of human his­to­ry has at least that in com­mon with us: only cer­tain soci­eties at cer­tain times have con­sid­ered nudi­ty a force worth sup­press­ing. But then, has the prob­lem ever been nudi­ty in gen­er­al, or rather the con­text, the nature, and the impli­ca­tions of par­tic­u­lar instances of nudi­ty? It’s fair to say that Titian’s Venus of Urbino has scan­dal­ized prac­ti­cal­ly no one. Yet three cen­turies lat­er, Édouard Manet’s out­ward­ly sim­i­lar 1865 can­vas Olympia sent shock­waves through the Paris art world. Why?

The rules of the Paris Acad­e­my of Fine Arts at the time dic­tat­ed that “great art was sup­posed to con­vey a moral or intel­lec­tu­al mes­sage,” says the nar­ra­tor of Vox’s video essay on Olympia above. “All accept­able art fell into one of five cat­e­gories, ranked by their capac­i­ty to deliv­er those mes­sages.” The less­er of these were still lifes and land­scapes, in the mid­dle fell genre paint­ings, and the great­est were por­traits and his­tor­i­cal works. And “equal­ly impor­tant to what was paint­ed was how it was paint­ed,” with more points going to “idol­ized, pret­ti­fied visions of the world, smooth and beau­ti­ful with no body hair and flaw­less skin,” all paint­ed in a way “that fol­low the rules of depth and per­spec­tive, mean­ing it looks like it could exist in the real world.”

The Acad­e­my of Fine Arts would pay lit­tle regard, then, to the “stark and unnat­ur­al col­ors” of Olympia, its “rough and tex­tured” brush­strokes, and its much “flat­ter and less com­plex” look than the Renais­sance real­ism idol­ized in those days. That Manet would dare give his obvi­ous “homage” to the Venus of Urbino a title like Olympia, a com­mon nom de guerre for pros­ti­tutes in 19th-cen­tu­ry Paris, caused some seri­ous­ly ruf­fled feath­ers as well. So why did the Acad­e­my put Manet’s paint­ing on dis­play in the first place? “It prob­a­bly had some­thing to do with his grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty. You can see his influ­ence so clear­ly in what came next. He led the charge towards Mod­ernism in the late 1800s, start­ing with the Impres­sion­ists — Mon­et, Degas — who adopt­ed his pen­chant for mod­ern themes and lucent brush­strokes.”

A more 20th-cen­tu­ry read­ing of Olympia holds up the paint­ing as proof that “no one enti­ty gets to decide what art should look like.” An episode of the ArtCu­ri­ous pod­cast about Olympia goes fur­ther still, claim­ing for Manet’s sub­ject the sta­tus of a fem­i­nist icon. But even the paint­ing’s con­tem­po­rary detrac­tors saw some­thing impor­tant in it. Émile Zola at first seemed to dis­miss the work by writ­ing, “You want­ed a nude, and you chose Olympia, the first that came along.” But he also admit­ted that Olympia cap­tured some­thing more gen­uine than even the most glo­ri­ous­ly real­is­tic paint­ings could: “When our artists give us Venus­es, they cor­rect nature, they lie. Édouard Manet asked him­self why lie, why not tell the truth; he intro­duced us to Olympia, this fille of our time, whom you meet on the side­walks.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Édouard Manet Illus­trates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in a French Edi­tion Trans­lat­ed by Stephane Mal­lar­mé (1875)

A Quick Six Minute Jour­ney Through Mod­ern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Paint­ing, “The Lun­cheon on the Grass,” to Jack­son Pol­lock 1950s Drip Paint­ings

The Most Dis­turb­ing Paint­ing: A Close Look at Fran­cis­co Goya’s “Sat­urn Devour­ing His Son”

Van Gogh’s Ugli­est Mas­ter­piece: A Break Down of His Late, Great Paint­ing, The Night Café (1888)

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.

Lemony Snicket Reveals His Edward Gorey Obsession in an Upcoming Animated Documentary

Had the gloom-haunt­ed Edward Gorey found a way to have a love child with Dorothy Park­er, their issue might well have been Lemo­ny Snick­et, the pseu­do­ny­mous author of a mul­ti­vol­ume fam­i­ly chron­i­cle brought out under the gen­teel appel­la­tion A Series of Unfor­tu­nate Events

- Gre­go­ry Maguire, The New York Times

Author Daniel Han­dleraka Lemo­ny Snicket—was but a child when he for­tu­itous­ly stum­bled onto the curi­ous oeu­vre of Edward Gorey.

The lit­tle books were illus­trat­ed, hand-let­tered, and mys­te­ri­ous. They allud­ed to ter­ri­ble things befalling inno­cents in a way that made young Han­dler laugh and want more, though he shied from mak­ing such a request of his par­ents, lest the books con­sti­tute pornog­ra­phy.

(His fear strikes this writer as whol­ly reasonable—my father kept a copy of The Curi­ous Sofa: A Porno­graph­ic Work by Ogdred Wearyaka Edward Gorey—stashed in the bath­room of my child­hood home. Its per­ver­sions were many, though far from explic­it and utter­ly befud­dling to a third grade book­worm. The exceed­ing­ly eco­nom­i­cal text hint­ed at a mul­ti­tude of unfa­mil­iar taboos, and Gorey the illus­tra­tor under­stood the val­ue of a well-placed orna­men­tal urn.)

Inter­viewed above for Christo­pher Seufert’s upcom­ing fea­ture-length Gorey doc­u­men­tary, Han­dler is effu­sive about the depth of this ear­ly influ­ence:

The goth­ic set­ting. (Han­dler always fan­cied that an in-per­son meet­ing with Gorey would resem­ble the first 20 min­utes of a Ham­mer hor­ror movie.)

The dark, unwink­ing humor aris­ing from a plot as grim as that of The Hap­less Childor The Blue Aspicthe first title young Han­dler pur­chased with his own mon­ey.

An inten­tion­al­ly murky pseu­do­nym geared to ignite all man­ner of wild­ly read­er­ly spec­u­la­tion as to the author’s lifestyle and/or true iden­ti­ty. (Gorey attrib­uted var­i­ous of his works to Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, Eduard Blutig, O. Müde and the afore­men­tioned Ogdred Weary, among oth­ers.)

Even Lemo­ny Snickett’s web­site car­ries a strong whiff of Gorey.

In acknowl­edg­ment of this debt, Han­dler sent copies of the first two Snick­ett books to the reclu­sive author, along with a fan let­ter that apol­o­gized for rip­ping him off. Gorey died in April 2000, a cou­ple of weeks after the pack­age was post­ed, leav­ing Han­dler doubt­ful that it was even opened.

Han­dler namechecks oth­er artists who oper­ate in Gorey’s thrall: film­mak­ers Tim Bur­ton and Michel Gondry, musi­cians Aman­da Palmer and Trent Reznor, and nov­el­ist Neil Gaiman.

Per­haps owing to the spec­tac­u­lar pop­u­lar­i­ty of Snickett’s Series of Unfor­tu­nate Events, Gorey has late­ly become a bit more of an above-ground dis­cov­ery for young read­ers. Scholas­tic has a free Edward Gorey les­son plan, geared to grades 6–12.

More infor­ma­tion about Christo­pher Seufert’s Gorey doc­u­men­tary, with ani­ma­tions by Ben Wick­ey and the active par­tic­i­pa­tion of its sub­ject dur­ing his final four years of life, can be found here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Edward Gorey Talks About His Love Cats & More in the Ani­mat­ed Series, “Goreytelling”

Edward Gorey Illus­trates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inim­itable Goth­ic Style (1960)

The First Amer­i­can Pic­ture Book, Wan­da Gág’s Mil­lions of Cats (1928)

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.

Watch the Completely Unsafe, Vertigo-Inducing Footage of Workers Building New York’s Iconic Skyscrapers

Would any­one in their right mind sign up for a job that had a high risk of mortality/disability? Or a job where red hot met­al is being hurled direct­ly at your face? Back in the 1920s this was the lot of the men who built New York’s sky­line, the men who con­struct­ed the Chrysler Build­ing and the Empire State, giant phal­lic sym­bols of America’s bur­geon­ing wealth and pow­er.

In this short clip (remas­tered and quite decent­ly col­orized) from the Smith­son­ian Chan­nel, we get a brief glimpse of the per­ils encoun­tered dai­ly on the build­ing site. Nick­named “rough­necks,” the nar­ra­tor points out that they work with­out har­ness­es, safe­ty ropes, or hard hats. Red hot riv­ets are thrown at men on the met­al beams high­er up and they are meant to catch them with what looks like a tin fun­nel. You can see the thinnest of ropes used to lift the now-icon­ic stain­less steel art-deco eagles into place by men weary felt hats and no gloves.

The work­ers came from Europe, many who had trained on ships. Some came from Montreal’s Kah­nawake reser­va­tion. The lat­ter, known as Iron Walk­ers, were Mohawk, known for work­ing fear­less­ly at great heights.

“A lot of peo­ple think Mohawks aren’t afraid of heights; that’s not true,” Kyle Karon­hi­ak­tatie Beau­vais said in 2002. “We have as much fear as the next guy. The dif­fer­ence is that we deal with it bet­ter.”

Much of this work was doc­u­ment­ed by pho­tog­ra­ph­er Lewis Hine, who cap­tured a mix of brute strength and grav­i­ty defy­ing courage along with pri­vate moments of rest, catch­ing a smoke or tak­ing lunch. You can see many of his famous pho­tos in this clip:

The Chrysler Build­ing was com­plet­ed in 1930, and reached a height of 1,046 feet (319 m), fea­tur­ing 77 floors. It held its fame as the world’s tallest build­ing for only 11 months. In 1931 work­ers com­plet­ed the Empire State Build­ing, stand­ing at 1,454 feet (443.2 m) and hous­ing 102 floors. (That’s dinky com­pared to the cur­rent record-hold­er: Dubai’s Burj Khal­i­fa, which stands at 2,722 feet (829.8 m)).

Heads up: The Smith­son­ian Chan­nel clip has some of the worst exam­ples of YouTube com­ments among the videos we’ve high­light­ed over the year, as if peo­ple still don’t work in ter­ri­ble and unsafe con­di­tions in order to feed their fam­i­lies and pay rent. And look! Here’s a guy who walks out onto the Chrysler eagle just for fun. Don’t say we didn’t warn you:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Paris, New York & Havana Come to Life in Col­orized Films Shot Between 1890 and 1931

A Light Show on The Empire State Build­ing Gets Synced to the Dead’s Live Per­for­mance of “Touch of Grey” (6/24/2017)

Famous Archi­tects Dress as Their Famous New York City Build­ings (1931)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

Ray Harryhausen’s Creepy War of the Worlds Sketches and Stop-Motion Test Footage

Most of us know The War of the Worlds because of Orson Welles’ slight­ly-too-real­is­tic radio adap­ta­tion, first broad­cast on Hal­loween 1938. But its source mate­r­i­al, H.G. Wells’ 1898 sci­ence-fic­tion nov­el, still fires up the imag­i­na­tion. Its many adap­ta­tions since have tak­en the form of com­ic books, video games, tele­vi­sion series, and more besides. Sev­er­al films have used The War of the Worlds as their basis, includ­ing a high-pro­file one in 2005 direct­ed by Steven Spiel­berg and star­ring Tom Cruise, and more than half a cen­tu­ry before that, George Pal’s first 1953 adap­ta­tion in all its Tech­ni­col­or glo­ry.

In recent years mate­ri­als have sur­faced show­ing us the mid­cen­tu­ry War of the Worlds pic­ture that could have been, one fea­tur­ing the stop-motion crea­ture-cre­ation of Ray Har­ry­hausen.

“Well before CGI tech­nol­o­gy beamed extrater­res­tri­als onto the big screen, stop-motion ani­ma­tion mas­ter Har­ry­hausen brought to life Wells’ vision of a slimy Mar­t­ian with enor­mous bulging eyes, a slob­ber­ing beaked mouth and ‘Gor­gon groups of ten­ta­cles’ in a 16 mm test reel,” writes Den of Geek’s Eliz­a­beth Rayne.

“The result is some­thing that looks like a twist­ed mashup of a Mup­pet and an octo­pus.” Har­ry­hausen had long dreamed of bring­ing The War of the Worlds to the big screen, and any­one who has seen Har­ry­hausen’s work of the 1950s and 60s, as it appears in such films as The 7th Voy­age of Sin­bad and Jason and the Arg­onauts, knows that he was sure­ly the man for this job. He cer­tain­ly had the right spir­it: as his own words put it at the begin­ning of the test-footage clip, “ANY imag­i­na­tive crea­ture or thing can be built and ani­mat­ed con­vinc­ing­ly.”

“I actu­al­ly built a Mar­t­ian based on H.G. Wells descrip­tion,” Har­ry­hausen says in the inter­view clip above. “He described the crea­ture that came from the space ship a sort of an octo­pus-like type of crea­ture.” Har­ry­hausen’s also pre­sent­ed his vision with includ­ed sketch­es of the tri­pod invaders lay­ing waste to Amer­i­ca both urban and rur­al. “I took it all around Hol­ly­wood,” he says, but alas, it nev­er quite con­vinced those who kept the gates of the Indus­try in the 1940s.

“We could­n’t raise mon­ey. Peo­ple weren’t that inter­est­ed in sci­ence fic­tion at that time.” Times have changed; the pub­lic has long since devel­oped an unquench­able appetite for sto­ries of human beings and advanced, hos­tile space invaders locked in mor­tal com­bat. But now such a spec­ta­cle would almost cer­tain­ly be real­ized with the inten­sive use of com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed imagery, a tech­nol­o­gy impres­sive in its own way, but one that may nev­er equal the per­son­al­i­ty, phys­i­cal­i­ty, and sheer creepi­ness of the crea­tures that Ray Har­ry­hausen brought painstak­ing­ly to life, one frame at a time, all by hand.

via @41Strange

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Very First Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897)

Hor­ri­fy­ing 1906 Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: Dis­cov­er the Art of Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa

Edward Gorey Illus­trates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inim­itable Goth­ic Style (1960)

Hear the Prog-Rock Adap­ta­tion of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: The 1978 Rock Opera That Sold 15 Mil­lion Copies World­wide

Hear Orson Welles’ Icon­ic War of the Worlds Broad­cast (1938)

The Mas­cot, a Pio­neer­ing Stop Ani­ma­tion Film by Wla­dys­law Starewicz

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.

The Glorious Poster Art of the Soviet Space Program in Its Golden Age (1958–1963)

How do you sell a gov­ern­ment pro­gram that spends tens of mil­lions of dol­lars on research and devel­op­ment for space trav­el? While the aver­age tax­pay­er may love the idea of brav­ing new fron­tiers, far few­er are apt to vote for fund­ing sci­en­tif­ic research, the space program’s osten­si­ble rea­son for being.

Dur­ing the Cold War, how­ev­er, when the biggest break­throughs in space flight occurred, sell­ing the pro­gram didn’t involve sophis­ti­cat­ed meth­ods, only the broad­est themes of hero­ism, patri­o­tism, futur­ism, and, in more or less sub­tle ways, mil­i­tarism. The appeal to sci­ence always went hand-in-hand with an appeal to the sub­lime­ly aus­tere beau­ty of the heav­ens (which we’d hate to lose to the oth­er guys.)

All of these were strate­gies NASA uti­lized, and then some. In addi­tion to plant­i­ng a U.S. flag on the moon, they deliv­ered the first col­or image of Earth from space. On the ground, they enlist­ed artists like Andy Warhol, Nor­man Rock­well, and Lau­rie Ander­son and actors like Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols to sell the pro­gram.

Recent­ly, NASA has seemed to be in a reflec­tive mood, from its anti­quar­i­an prepa­ra­tions for the 50th anniver­sary of the moon land­ing to its ad cam­paign of retro posters that resem­ble not only vin­tage sci-fi book jack­ets and movie ads, but also the futur­is­tic social real­ism of their for­mer Sovi­et rivals.

There’s almost some­thing of an admis­sion in NASA’s retro posters: we may have won the “space race,” but it wasn’t win­ner take all. There were some things the Sovi­ets just did better—and when it came to mak­ing space trav­el look like the most mon­u­men­tal­ly hero­ic and excit­ing thing ever, they excelled, as you can see in this ear­ly col­lec­tion of Sovi­et space posters from 1958–1963.

There’s some­thing for, well, not every­one, but for men, women, young, old, young adults. Sci-fi geeks and mod­el builders, peo­ple cel­e­brat­ing the new year, chil­dren cel­e­brat­ing the new year, a gag­gle of young stu­dents who some­how all look just like Mary Tyler Moore. The artists are not celebri­ties, they’re fel­low work­ers who “fore­saw a Utopia in space,” writes Flash­bak.

The Com­mu­nists would bring peace and pros­per­i­ty not only to the peo­ple of Earth but also to the tech­nol­o­gy-enabled, God-free Great Beyond. The artists cre­at­ed Sovi­et Space posters, vivid, ener­gis­ing and inspir­ing visions of the rosy-fin­gered dawn of tomor­row. They’re ter­rif­ic.

They’re maybe even more ter­rif­ic when we con­sid­er that ordi­nary cit­i­zens didn’t have much say, at all, in the fund­ing and direc­tion of the U.S.S.R.’s space pro­gram. (Whether Amer­i­can cit­i­zens did is anoth­er ques­tion.) It was impor­tant that Sovi­ets know, how­ev­er, that “We will open the dis­tant worlds!” as one poster reads, and, as the six­ties teenage cig­a­rette ad on a train above pro­claims, “In the 20th cen­tu­ry, the rock­ets race to the stars, the trains are going to the lands of achieve­ments!”

The num­ber of posters here is but a smat­ter­ing of those post­ed on All about Rus­sia (here and here) and Flash­bak. Each poster has its own enchant­i­ng qual­i­ty: emu­lat­ing the pro­pa­gan­da of the 1930s; turn­ing indus­tri­al labor­ers into anony­mous tow­er­ing heroes; and reach­ing some very heavy met­al heights of bom­bast, as in the ad above, which declares, “Glo­ry to the con­querors of the uni­verse!”

One poster super­im­pos­es the beam­ing faces of four cos­mo­nauts, lined up like Kraftwerk, over a scene of four rock­ets leav­ing the earth. “Gagarin, Titov, Niko­laev, Popoviich—the mighty knights of our days.” (I’m not sure how that pun works in Russ­ian.) The Sovi­ets could also pro­claim “Glo­ry to the first woman cos­mo­naut!,” Valenti­na Tereshko­va, who became the first woman to fly in space in 1963.

The Sovi­et space pro­gram deserves plen­ty of recog­ni­tion for its many his­toric firsts, and also for the wild­ly enthu­si­as­tic opti­mism of its ad cam­paigns. They sold grand ideas about the explo­ration and, yes, con­quest of space (and “the uni­verse”) with the same verve and pop­ulist appeal as U.S. com­pa­nies sold cars, cig­a­rettes, and wash­ing machines. Glo­ry to the unsung Mad Men of the Sovi­et space poster!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sovi­et Artists Envi­sion a Com­mu­nist Utopia in Out­er Space

NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Lei­bovitz, Nor­man Rock­well & 350 Oth­er Artists to Visu­al­ly Doc­u­ment America’s Space Pro­gram

Down­load 14 Free Posters from NASA That Depict the Future of Space Trav­el in a Cap­ti­vat­ing­ly Retro Style

Watch Inter­plan­e­tary Rev­o­lu­tion (1924): The Most Bizarre Sovi­et Ani­mat­ed Pro­pa­gan­da Film You’ll Ever See

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

A Digital Animation Compares the Size of Trees: From the 3‑Inch Bonsai, to the 300-Foot Sequoia

It took about 110 days to put togeth­er. A dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion com­par­ing the size of trees, from a minia­ture 3‑inch bon­sai, to a sequoia soar­ing more than 300 feet high. Some trees are small­er than blades of grass. Oth­ers big­ger than the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty. A lot fall some­where between.

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!

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Secret Lan­guage of Trees: A Charm­ing Ani­mat­ed Les­son Explains How Trees Share Infor­ma­tion with Each Oth­er

The Social Lives of Trees: Sci­ence Reveals How Trees Mys­te­ri­ous­ly Talk to Each Oth­er, Work Togeth­er & Form Nur­tur­ing Fam­i­lies

This 392-Year-Old Bon­sai Tree Sur­vived the Hiroshi­ma Atom­ic Blast & Still Flour­ish­es Today: The Pow­er of Resilience

3,000-Year-Old Olive Tree on the Island of Crete Still Pro­duces Olives Today

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne Launch­es the “Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful” Web Site: A Com­pendi­um of News Meant to Remind Us That the World Isn’t Actu­al­ly Falling Apart

David Byrne Curates a Playlist of Great Protest Songs Writ­ten Over the Past 60 Years: Stream Them Online

Albert Camus Explains Why Hap­pi­ness Is Like Com­mit­ting a Crime—”You Should Nev­er Admit to it” (1959)

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

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.