Sci-Fi Pioneer Hugo Gernsback Predicts Telemedicine in 1925

If you’ve ever wondered why one of science fiction’s greatest honors is called the “Hugo,” meet Hugo Gernsback, one of the genre’s most important figures, a man whose work has been variously described as “dreadful,” “tawdry,” “incompetent,” “graceless,” and “a sort of animated catalogue of gadgets.” But Gernsback isn’t remembered as a writer, but as an editor, publisher (of Amazing Stories magazine), and pioneer of science fact, for it was Gernsback who first introduced the earth-shaking technology of radio to the masses in the early 20th century.

“In 1905 (just a year after emigrating to the U.S. from Germany at the age of 20),” writes Matt Novak at Smithsonian, “Gernsback designed the first home radio set and the first mail-order radio business in the world.” He would later publish the first radio magazine, then, in 1913, a magazine that came to be called Science and Invention, a place where Gernsback could print catalogues of gadgets without the bother of having to please literary critics. In these pages he shone, predicting futuristic technologies extrapolated from the cutting edge. He was understandably enthusiastic about the future of radio. Like all self-appointed futurists, his predictions were a mix of the ridiculous and the prophetic.

Case in point: Gernsback theorized in a 1925  Science and Invention article that communications technologies like radio would revolutionize medicine, in exactly the ways that they have in the 21st century, though not quite through the device Gernsback invented: the “teledactyl,” which is not a robotic dinosaur but a telemedicine platform that would allow doctors to examine, diagnose, and treat patients from a distance with robotic arms, a haptic feedback system, and “by means of a television screen.” Never mind that television didn’t exist in 1925. Sounding not a little like his contemporary Buckminster Fuller, Gernsback insisted that his device “can be built today with means available right now.”

It would require significant upgrades to radio technology before it could support the wireless internet that lets us meet with doctors on computer screens. Perhaps Gernsback wasn’t entirely wrong — technology may have allowed for some version of this in the early 20th century, if medicine had been inspired to move in a more sci-fi direction. But the focus of the medical community — after the devastation of the 1918 flu epidemic — had understandably turned toward disease cure and prevention, not distance diagnosis.

Gernsback looked fifty years ahead, to a time, he wrote, when “the busy doctor… will not be able to visit his patients as he does now. It takes too much time, and he can only, at best, see a limited number today.” Home visits did not last another fifty years, but remote medicine didn’t take their place until almost 100 years after Gernsback wrote. Indeed, the webcams that now give doctors access to patients in the pandemic only came about in 1991 for the purpose of making sure the break room in the computer science department at Cambridge had coffee.

Gernsback even anticipated advances in space medicine, which has spent the last several years building the technology he predicted in order to perform surgeries on sick and injured astronauts stuck months or years away from Earth. He would have particularly appreciated this usage, though he isn’t given credit for the idea. Gernsback also deserves credit for poking fun at himself, as he seemed to realize how hard it was for most people to take him seriously.

To non-visionaries, the technologies of the future would all seem equally ridiculous today, as in the pages of Gernsback’s satirical 1947 publication, Popular Neckanics Gagazine. Here, we find such objects as the Lamplifier, “the lamp that has EVERYTHING.” Gernsback’s love of gadgets blurred the boundaries between science fiction and fact, always with the strong suggestion that — no matter how useful or how ludicrous — if a machine could be imagined, it could be built and put to work.

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Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

Sci-Fi Author J.G. Ballard Predicts the Rise of Social Media (1977)

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts in 2001 What the World Will Look By December 31, 2100

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

17th Century Scientist Gives First Description of Alien Life: Hear Passages from Christiaan Huygens’ Cosmotheoros (1698)

Astrobiologists can now extrapolate the evolutionary characteristics of possible alien life, should it exist, given the wealth of data available on interplanetary conditions. But our ideas about aliens have drawn not from science but from what Adrian Horton at The Guardian calls “an engrossing feedback loop” of Hollywood films, comics books, and sci-fi novels. A little over three-hundred years ago — having never heard of H.G. Wells or the X-Files — Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens answered the question of what alien life might look like in his work Cosmotheoros, published after his death in 1698.

Everyone knows the names Galileo and Isaac Newton, and nearly everyone knows their major accomplishments, but we find much less familiarity with Huygens, even though his achievements “make him the greatest scientist in the period between Galileo and Newton,” notes the Public Domain Review.

Those achievements include the discovery of Saturn’s rings and its moon, Titan, the invention of the first refracting telescope, a detailed mapping of the Orion Nebula, and some highly notable advancements in mathematics. (Maybe we — English speakers, that is — find his last name hard to pronounce?)

Huygens was a revolutionary thinker. After Copernicus, it became clear to him that “our planet is just one of many,” as scholar Hugo A. van den Berg writes, “and not set apart by any special consideration other than the accidental fact that we happen to be its inhabitants.” Using the powers of observation available to him, he theorized that the inhabitants of Jupiter and Saturn (he used the term “Planetarians”) must possess “the Art of Navigation,” especially “in having so many Moons to direct their Course…. And what a troop of other things follow from this allowance? If they have Ships, they must have Sails and Anchors, Ropes, Pillies, and Rudders…”

“We may well laugh at Huygens,” van den Berg writes, “But surely in our own century, we are equally parochial in our own way. We invariably fail to imagine what we fail to imagine.” Our ideas of aliens flying spacecraft already seem quaint given multiversal and interdimensional modes of travel in science fiction. Huygens had no cultural “feedback loop.” He was making it up as he went. “In contrast to Huygens’ astronomical works, Cosmotheoros is almost entirely speculative,” notes van den Berg — though his speculations are throughout informed and guided by scientific reasoning.

To undermine the idea of Earth as special, central, and unique, “a thing that no Reason will permit,” Huygens wrote — meant posing a potential threat to “those whose Ignorance or Zeal is too great.” Therefore, he willed his brother to publish Cosmotheoros after his death so that he might avoid the fate of Galileo. Already out of favor with Louis XIV, whom Huygens had served as a government scientist, he wrote the book while back at home in The Hague, “frequently ill with depressions and fevers,” writes the Public Domain Review. What did Huygens see in his cosmic imagination of the sailing inhabitants of Jupiter and Saturn? Hear for yourself above in a reading of Huygens’ Cosmotheoros from Voices of the Past.

Huygens’ descriptions of intelligent alien life derive from his limited observations about human and animal life, and so he proposes the necessity of human-like hands and other appendages, and rules out such things as an “elephant’s proboscis.” (He is particularly fixated on hands, though some alien humanoids might also develop wings, he theorizes.) Like all alien stories to come, Huygens’ speculations, however logically he presents them, say “more about ourselves,” as Horton writes, “our fears, our anxieties, our hope, our adaptability — than any potential outside visitor.” His descriptions show that while he did not need to place Earth at the center of the cosmos, he measured the cosmos according to a very human scale.

Related Content:

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Richard Feynman: The Likelihood of Flying Saucers

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

Hear Philip K. Dick’s Famous Metz Speech: “If You Find this World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others” (1977)

A newspaper article about this speech could well be titled: AUTHOR CLAIMS TO HAVE SEEN GOD BUT CAN’T GIVE ACCOUNT OF WHAT HE SAW. — PKD

In 1977, cult writer Philip K. Dick arrived at a science fiction convention in Metz, France to deliver a speech called, “If You Find this World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others.” (Read an edited transcript here.) The audience would leave bewildered, mystified. His talk ranged widely across such topics as cosmological time, the possibility of the universe as a computer simulation, the experience of deja vu, and the oppressive regime of Richard Nixon. It would become a sort of rebus for decoding Dick’s fiction.

If the “Metz address” were only a key to the strange occurrences in novels like A Scanner Darkly, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, and The Man in the High Castle, it would be an extraordinary document for Philip K. Dick fans.

But just as Dick claimed that the events of his 1981 novel V.A.L.I.S. were real– he had actually had a visionary encounter with “God” after dental surgery in 1974 — so here he claims to have actually experienced, or remembered, multiple realities and, after said encounter, to have recognized them all as true.

I, in my stories and novels, often write about counterfeit worlds, semi-real worlds, as well as deranged private worlds inhabited, often, by just one person, while, meantime, the other characters either remain in their own worlds throughout or are somehow drawn into one of the peculiar ones. …At no time did I have a theoretical or conscious explanation for my preoccupation with these pluriform pseudoworlds, but now I think I understand. What I was sensing was the manifold or partially actualized realities lying tangent to what evidently is the most actualized one, the one that the majority of us, by consensus gentium, agree on.

“The world of Flow My Tears is an actual (or rather once actual) alternate world, and I remember it in detail. I do not know who else does. Maybe no one else does. perhaps all of you were always — have always been — here. But I was not. In novel after novel, story after story, over a twenty-five year period, I wrote repeatedly about a particular other landscape, a dreadful one. In March 1974, I understood why. …I had good reason to. My novels and stories were, without my realizing it consciously, autobiographical. It was — this return of memory – the most extraordinary experience of my life. …

The narrower subject of his speech, Dick says by way of introduction, is “orthogonal time,” or “right-angle time.” To explain this he calls up an image of parallel universes overlapping at the edges of a “lateral axis.” These blend and “come into focus,” as an entity he calls “the Programer-Reprogrammer” changes the variables, while a “counterentity” he calls the “Dark Counterplayer” tries to mess things up. Despite the use of software terms, Dick’s imagery seems to draw as much from chess, or Taoism, as computer science. The interplay of programmer/counterprogrammer is a dialectic, resulting in new syntheses. God is not an independent, self-existent being but something more akin to Atman, “the view of the oldest religion of India, and to some extent… of Spinoza and Alfred North Whitehead …. God within the universe… The Sufi saying [from Rumi] ‘The workman is invisible within the workshop’ applies here.”

We cannot see the workings of this mystical intelligence except when the illusion of seamlessness breaks down and memories of past or alternate lives intrude. These are not memories of a linear time, but of other possible present times, all existing at once just out of focus. Dystopian police states, an alternate present ruled by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan… These currently exist, Dick says, on the orthogonal line of time, only we cannot see them because the variables, and our memories, have been changed to suit the latest version of reality, a synthesis and updated improvement. However, it’s entirely possible that we’re all experiencing slightly different realities, depending on the “memories” of alternate presents leaking into our experience.

Thus, the talk’s title: not only could the world be worse, he says, but it is currently worse in the multiverse of rejected alternate worlds we can’t (or can’t quite) see. Here, at the end of his speech, Dick gets theological, and teleological, again, claiming to have seen a vision of a “parklike” world that “was not what my Christian training had prepared me for at all.” His description sounds ripped from the cover of a 70s pulp fantasy novel, complete with a naked goddess and an alien “landscape beyond a golden rectangle doorway.” He takes pains to distance his vision from the Christian garden of Eden, but his final remarks sound more like C.S. Lewis than the paranoid, drug-addled conspiracist his audience might have been prepared to meet:

The best I can do …is to play the role of prophet, of ancient prophets and such oracles as the sibyl at Delphi, and to talk of a wonderful garden world, much like that which once our ancestors are said to have inhabited — in fact, I sometimes imagine it to be exactly that same world restored, as if a false trajectory of our world will eventually be fully corrected and once more we will be where once, many thousands of years ago, we lived and were happy.

…I believe I know a great secret. When the work of restoration is completed, we will not even remember the tyrannies, the cruel barbarisms of the Earth we inhabited… the vast body of pain and grief and loss and disappointment within us will be expunged as if it had never been. I believe that process is taking place now, has always been taking place now. And, mercifully, we are already being permitted to forget that which formerly was. And perhaps in my novels and stories I have done wrong to urge you to remember.

Was Philip K. Dick out of his mind? He sounds perfectly lucid in other interviews he gave at the same time, and dismisses the notion that his ideas are the product of mental illness. Travis Diehl writes at Art Papers that Dick has come to seem more like an actual than a self-styled prophet in the decades since this interview, and his “paranoia comes to seem more and more like prescience,” foreseeing the major themes of The Matrix, Jean Baudrillard’s postmodern classic Simulacra and Simulation, and favorite philosopher of Silicon Valley Nick Bostrom.

Whatever the source of the author’s experiences, “the rupture that pushed Dick’s life toward a knowledge of other worlds — towards gnosis — was an aesthetic one: Dick’s visions appeared accompanied, or induced, by art,” and it was only by means of art that he claimed to apprehend them. “Our God is the deus absconditus: the hidden god.” We cannot know what it is, he says. But this does not exempt us from the making and remaking of the world. No one is — to use a current term of art — a non-playable character. “Concealed though the form is,” Dick says, “the latter will confront us; we are involved in it — in fact, we are instruments by which it is accomplished.”

Related Content: 

Hear VALIS, an Opera Based on Philip K. Dick’s Metaphysical Novel

Robert Crumb Illustrates Philip K. Dick’s Infamous, Hallucinatory Meeting with God (1974)

The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick: Documentary Explores the Mysterious Universe of PKD

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

How Doctor Who First Started as a Family Educational TV Program (1963)

Those who grew up with the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who watched from “behind the sofa,” a popular phrase associated with the show for the rubbery, bug-eyed monsters it held in store each week for loyal viewers. Although it may be hard for those who didn’t experience it in their formative years to understand, Doctor Who has frequently been voted the scariest TV show of all time, over grislier, big-budget series like The Walking Dead, and has done so without losing its sense of humor, a testament to the conceit of “regeneration” keeping things fresh by updating the Doctor and his companions every few years.

Space monsters, Daleks, Cybermen, and a revolving cast, however, were not part of Doctor Who’s original remit. The show began as an educational program on the BBC, and this explains many of its integral parts, which have remained throughout its first run from 1963 to 1989 and its revival from 2005 to the present. These elements include the TARDIS, companions of various ages, the Coal Hill School, and the Doctor himself, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey with interstellar technology and a dodgy memory.

We find the core premise in the show’s pilot episode and original 4-part series, An Unearthly Child, which introduced William Hartnell as the Doctor, Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter, Susan Foreman (originally named Barbara, or “Biddy”), and Jaqueline Hill and William Russell as school teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton. BBC drama head Sydney Newman had tasked writers with creating a family educational show to meet the network’s public service mandate, and came up with the idea of a science fiction show as a way to have characters visit historical periods and talk about science in an entertaining way.

Doctor Who’s early historical stories emphasize education by downplaying the programme’s fantasy with minimal science-fiction elements,” writes Tom Steward at Deletion. The idea of a time machine bigger on the inside than the outside came from Newman. Writer Anthony Coburn turned it into a police box after a note from Newman asking for a “tangible” symbol. Newman “instructed writers to ‘get across the basis of teaching of educational experience.'” When they came back with a story about Daleks, he balked: “No bug-eyed monsters,” he wrote, no alien baddies, no actors in rubber suits. This was to be a serious show about serious educational subjects. Script changes and technical challenges meant months of setback and delays.

It was difficult for some critics to take the resulting four episode arc particularly seriously. The first episode showed Barbara and Ian discovering the TARDIS in a London junkyard. Then they are all transported to the prehistoric past, where they observe (and escape) a power struggle among prehistoric cave people. (Guardian critic Mary Crozier lamented that the “wigs and furry pelts and clubs were all ludicrous.”) The show’s debut was also inauspicious: November 23, 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The BBC reran the first episode the next week and picked up another 2 million viewers.

Still, it had become clear after the first series that in order to survive, Doctor Who would have “to give the public what they wanted,” Steward writes, “rather than what was good for them.” Thus, the Daleks debuted in the second season, and by the mid-60s, historical stories were replaced with “fantasies in historical costume featuring anachronistic villains or monsters.” The show became a weekly creature feature and introduced terrifying villains like Davros, the Daleks’ creator, a cross between a Strangelove-like Nazi scientist and Star Wars’ clone-happy Emperor Palpatine (Davros came first).

The costumes may look silly in hindsight, but as childhood Who fan Charlie Jane Anders writes at io9, “those of us who are adults now didn’t have huge screen HD televisions when we were kids.” (And those of us who remember it, remember being terrified by equally goofy costuming in The Land of the Lost.) Look past the low-budget effects and Doctor Who becomes pure horror, exploring very dark territory with only a sonic screwdriver, a few friends, and a quirky sense of humor — or 13 quirky senses of humor, including Jodie Whittaker’s as the current Doctor and first woman to fill the role.

As you can see from the clips of the first episode above, Doctor Who established its weird air of existential dread from the start with Delia Derbyshire’s otherworldly theme and some avant-garde camera effects in lieu of bigger-budget spectacles. The show did not retain much from its educational beginnings aside from the key characters and the look and feel of the TARDIS. It was “seen to have failed as pedagogy,” writes Steward, but as a body of science fiction lore that continues to stay relevant, it has all sorts of lessons to teach about courage, companionship, and the value of the right tool for the right job.

Related Content:

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

Carl Sagan Tells Johnny Carson What’s Wrong with Star Wars: “They’re All White” & There’s a “Large Amount of Human Chauvinism in It” (1978)

Is Star Wars science fiction or fantasy? Different fans make different arguments, some even opting for a third way, claiming that the ever-multiplying stories of its ever-expanding fictional universe belong to neither genre. Back in 1978, the year after the release of the original Star Wars film (which no one then called “A New Hope,” let alone “Episode Four”), the question was approached by no less a popular scientific personality than Carl Sagan. It happened on national television, as the astronomer, cosmologist, writer, and television host in his own right sat opposite Johnny Carson. “The eleven-year-old in me loved them,” Sagan says in the clip above of Star WarsClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and other then-recent space-themed blockbusters. “But they could’ve made a better effort to do things right.”

Everyone remembers how Star Wars sets its stage: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” But right there, Sagan has a problem. Despite its remoteness from us, this galaxy happens also to be populated by human beings, “the result of a unique evolutionary sequence, based upon so many individually unlikely, random events on the Earth.”

So Homo sapiens couldn’t have evolved on any other planet, Carson asks, let alone one in another galaxy? “It’s extremely unlikely that there would be creatures as similar to us as the dominant ones in Star Wars.” He goes on to make a more specific critique, one publicized again in recent years as ahead of its time: “They’re all white.” That is, in the skins of most of the movie’s characters, “not even the other colors represented on the Earth are present, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.”

Carson responds, as anyone would, by bringing up Star Warscantina scene, with its rogue’s gallery of variously non-humanoid habitués. “But none of them seemed to be in charge of the galaxy,” Sagan points out. “Everybody in charge of the galaxy seemed to look like us. I thought there was a large amount of human chauvinism in it.” That no medal is bestowed upon Chewbacca, despite his heroics, Sagan declares an example of “anti-Wookiee discrimination” — with tongue in cheek, granted, but pointing up how much more interesting science fiction could be if it relied a little less on human conventions and drew a little more from scientific discoveries. Not that Star Wars is necessarily science fiction. “It was a shootout, wasn’t it?” Carson asks. “A Western in outer space.” Johnny never did hesitate to call ’em as he saw ’em.

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Blade Runner: The Pillar of Sci-Fi Cinema that Siskel, Ebert, and Studio Execs Originally Hated

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 Life & Art of Hilma Af Klint: A Short Art History Lesson on the Pioneering Abstract Artist

Like many artists whose abstractions cemented their legacy, Hilma af Klint was trained to paint portraits, botanicals, and landscapes.

The naturalist works of her early adulthood depict bourgeois, late-19th century Swedish life, and, by association, the sort of subject matter and approach that were deemed most fitting for a female artist, even in a society where women were allowed to work alongside men.

But something else was afoot with Hilma, as artist and educator Paul Priestley points out in the above episode from his Art History School series.

Her 10-year-old sister’s death from the flu may have caused her to lean into an existing interest in spiritualism, but as Iris Müller-Westermann, director of Moderna Museet Malmö told The Guardian’s Kate Kellaway, the “mathematical, scientific, musical, curious” teen was likely motivated by her own thirst for knowledge as by this family tragedy:

 You have to understand this was the age when natural sciences went beyond the visible: Heinrich Hertz discovered electromagnetic waves [1886], Wilhelm Röntgen invented the x-ray [1895]…Hilma is like Leonardo – she wanted to understand who we are as human beings in the cosmos.

Her interest in the occult did not make her an outsider. Spiritualism was considered a respectable intellectual preoccupation. Abstract painters Vasily KandinskyPiet MondrianKasimir Malevich and Frantisek Kupka were also using their art to try and get at that which the eye could not see.

All but Hilma were hailed as pioneers.

The New York Times review of Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 1986 exhibit The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, mentions some of their spiritual bona fides:

They were generated by such ventures into mysticism as Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, Eastern philosophy, and various Eastern and Western religions. Spiritual ideas were not peripheral to these artists’ lives, not something that happened to pop into their minds as they stood by their canvas. Kupka participated in seances and was a practicing medium. Kandinsky attended private fetes involved with magic, black masses and pagan rituals. Mondrian was a member of the Dutch Theosophical Society and lived briefly in the quarters of the French Theosophical Society in Paris. He said once that he ”got everything from the Secret Doctrine” of Theosophy, which was an attempt by its founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to do nothing less than read, digest and synthesize all religions. It has been known for some time how much of Mondrian’s symbolism – including the ubiquitous vertical and horizontal lines – and how much of his utopianism, was shaped by Theosophical doctrine.

Reviewer Michael Brenson devotes one sentence to Hilma, “a previously unknown Swedish artist whose somewhat mechanical abstract paintings and drawings of organic, geometrical forms were marked by Theosophy and Anthroposophy.”

Thirty-five years later, she’s receiving much more credit. As Priestley says in his video biography, Hilma, and not Kandinsky, is now hailed as the first painter to experiment with abstraction.

Would Hilma have welcomed such a distinction?

She maintained that she was but a receiving instrument for Amaliel, a “high master” from another dimension, who made contact during the séances she participated in regularly with four friends who met weekly to practice automatic drawing and writing.

Amaliel charged her with creating the artwork for the interior of a temple that was part of the high masters’ vision. The Guggenheim’s classroom materials for The Paintings for the Temple note that her friends warned Hilma against accepting this otherworldly commission, “that the intensity of this kind of spiritual engagement could drive her into madness.”

But Hilma threw herself into the assignment, producing 111 paintings during a one-and-a-half year period, claiming:

The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brushstroke.

For whatever reason, the paintings proved too much for Rudolph Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, whom she had invited to view them, paying his travel expenses in hope that he would provide a detailed analysis and interpretation of the images. Instead, he counseled her that no one would understand them, and that the only course of action would be to keep the paintings out of sight and out of mind for fifty years. To do otherwise might endanger her health.

A disappointing response that ultimately led to the paintings being socked away for an even longer period.

Good news for Kandinsky… and possibly for Steiner.

At any rate, the competition was coerced into eliminating herself, inadvertently planting the seeds for some major, if delayed art world excitement. Hilma, who died more than forty years before the L.A. County Museum show, was not able to bask in the attention on any earthly plane.

For those curious in a take that is not entirely rooted in the art world, Lightforms Art Center in Hudson, New York hosted a recent Hilma Af Klint exhibit. Their strong ties to the Anthroposophical community make for some interesting exhibit commentary.

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

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #95 Considers Joss Whedon’s The Nevers

Mark, Erica, and Brian discuss the HBO Max show out Victorian-era super-powered feminine outcasts, helmed and now abandoned by the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, etc. It’s jam packed with steampunk gadgets, fisticuffs, social injustice, and far too many characters and plot threads to keep track of. Given that the season was reduced to a half season in light of the pandemic, does it still work? Does knowing the complaints about Joss Whedon affect our consumption of the show? Is this a faux feminism where women must undergo torture to gain strength?

Here are a few articles we considered:

Hear more of this podcast at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Why Do Tech Billionaires Make for Good TV Villains? Pretty Much Pop #93 Considers “Made for Love,” et al.

The tech genius has become the go-to bad guy in recent films: They’re our modern mad scientists with all imaginable resources and science at their command, able to release dystopic technology to surveil, control, and possibly murder us. Even Lex Luthor was made into a “tech bro” in Batman v. Superman.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian discuss the HBO Max series Made for Love starring Cristin Milioti, as well as Alex Garland’s Devs, Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, and Jed Rothestein’s documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn. How does this trope work in comedy vs. serious media? How does it relate to real-life tech moguls? Can women be villains of this sort, or is a critique of toxic masculinity part of this sort of depiction?

To learn more, read what we read:

Hear more of this podcast at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.