Life Magazine Predicts in 1914 How People Would Dress in the 1950s

Though still just within living memory, 1950 now seems as if it belongs not just to the past but to a wholly bygone reality. Yet that year once stood for the future: that is to say, a time both distant enough to fire up the imagination and near enough to instill a sense of trepidation. It must have felt that way, at least, to the subscribers of Life magazine in December of 1914, when they opened an issue of that magazine dedicated in part to predicting the state of humanity 36 years hence. Its bold cover depicts a man and woman of the 1950s amusedly regarding pictures of a man and woman in 1914: the latter wear buttoned-up European street clothing, while the former have on almost nothing at all.

As rendered by illustrator Otho Cushing, the thoroughly modern 1950s female wears a kind of slip, something like a garment from ancient Greece updated by abbreviation. Her male counterpart takes his inspiration from an even earlier stage of civilization, his loincloth covering as few as possible of the abstract patterns painted or tattooed all over his body. (About his choice to top it all off with a plumed helmet, an entire PhD thesis could surely be written.)

Any credible vision of the future must draw inspiration from the past, and Cushing’s interests equipped him well for the task: 28 years later, his New York Times obituary would refer to his early specialization in depicting “handsome young men and women in Greek or modern costumes.”

Even though fashions have yet to make a return to antiquity, how many outfits on the street of any major city today would scandalize the average Life reader of 1914? Of course, the cover is essentially a gag, as is much of the ostensible prognostication inside. As circulated again not long ago in a tweet thread by Andy Machals, it foresees monarchs in the unemployment line, boys’ jobs taken by girls, women acquiring harems of men, and the near-extinction of marriage. But some predictions, like 30 miles per hour becoming a slow enough driving speed to be ticketable, have come true. Another piece imagines people of the 1950s hiring musicians to accompany them throughout each phase of the day. Few of us do that even in the 2020s, but living our digitally soundtracked lives, we may still wonder how our early 20th-century ancestors managed: “Between meals they listened to almost absolutely nothing.”

via Messy Nessy

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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.

How Kraftwerk Made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The word “seminal” does a lot of work in expressions like “seminal band/album/track, etc.” Yes, it’s an adjective denoting “majorly influential,” even “essential.” It’s also an adjective relating directly to the male reproductive system. The conceptual use of the term does not necessarily exclude women, who can perfectly well be said to “seed” artistic movements. But it does suggest that creativity is an inherently masculine act. To take a broader view, we could say that art is non-binary; it includes all of the generative principles involved in the act of creation, including gestation, birthing, and nurturing new art forms.

In this vein, we might call German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk a “seminal matrix” of musical activity, an economy of creative work led by two fathers — Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter  — who midwived a techno/electro revolution, and — indirectly — through early spin-off projects like NEU!, an experimental post-punk/New Wave revolution.

The best known of the “Krautrock” bands to emerge in the 1970s, early versions of Kraftwerk included in its ranks German producer Conny Plank (unofficially) as well as drummer Klaus Dinger, and guitarist Michael Rother, both of whom went on to play in the aforementioned NEU! and “seminal” avant-garde bands like Harmonia and La Düsseldorf.

In its early, anarchic phase, “Kraftwerk’s music neither referenced nor evoked the robotic,” writes Simon Reynolds at NPR. “They started, in the final years of the 1960s, as post-psychedelic progressives — long hair and all. (Watch their first recorded gig in 1970 here.) In 1968, Hütter and Schneider met at the Academy of Arts in Remscheid, near Düsseldorf, where they studied piano and flute, respectively. Sharing an interest in improvisation and avant-garde electronics, as well as a fondness for The Velvet Underground, the Doors and the multimedia provocations of Fluxus, they joined with three other musicians and recorded the album Tone Float under the name Organisation.”

This early avant-garde phase continued for a time, but once Dinger and Rother left and were replaced by Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos, Kraftwerk began its unlikely climb up the charts, and into the hands of remixers and DJs everywhere, with 1975’s Autobahn. “That is the point at which they went from a krautrock curio to a world-historical force,” Reynolds writes, “when the single edit of the 24-minute title track became an international hit in 1975.” The song retains some instrumental elements from the band’s previous incarnations — “twinkling guitar and wafting flute feature alongside synth pulses and drum machine.”

But the melding of man and machine was well underway. “Crucially, it was music stripped of individualized inflection and personality” — not only were Kraftwerk beyond 70s gender stereotypes, they were charting the course for the post-human before the term had any currency. “We go beyond the individual feel,” Schneider told Sounds magazine. “We are more like vehicles, a part of our mensch machine, our man-machine. Sometimes we play the music, sometimes the music plays us, sometimes… it plays.” Kraftwerk may have played German stereotypes for humor in music videos and live performances, but their detachment was no act — their approach from the late 1970’s onward was entirely the opposite of rock and roll’s self (indulgent)-expression.

Why, then, does Kraftwerk belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Just inducted this year, their presence is truly indisputable. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say, as the Hall of Fame does, that they “are the foundation upon which all synthesizer-based rock and electronic dance music is built…. Kraftwerk’s influence can be heard in the work of David Bowie and Brian Eno, the synth-pop of Depeche Mode, the electronic-rock integration of U2, the ‘robot rock’ of Daft Punk, the production techniques of Kanye West, and in countless EDM and dubstep artists.”

This is just to name a tiny sampling of the musicians influenced by the perfectionistic German foursome. The case can and has been made that for the sheer breadth of their influence, Kraftwerk is more important than even the Beatles to the history of popular music, for rather than mastering and transforming the music of the 20th century’s first half, they invented the rock and roll of the future. See many more classic Kraftwerk videos at this YouTube channel.

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Watch Kraftwerk Perform a Real-Time Duet with a German Astronaut Living on the International Space Station

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

Violinist Breaks a String While Performing Tchaikovsky in Concert, and Gracefully Recovers

Having evolved over centuries — indeed, millennia — the formal elegance and sonic beauty of stringed instruments continue to inspire their players toward ever-greater heights of virtuosity. But of course, the attainment of virtuosity itself doesn’t come easy, and whatever altitude you reach, you’ll still be dogged by some of the same problems you were as a novice. What violinist, for instance, could ever fully put out of their mind the possibility of a string’s breaking as they play, whether at home or in Carnegie Hall? Not celebrity player Ray Chen, surely, given that it’s happened to him at least twice in the past five years.

Being a Youtuber as well, Chen has turned these onstage misfortunes to his advantage. Just last week he put up “Violinist string BREAKS during Tchaikovsky,” a video that captures his latest such experience while playing with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Far from grinding to a halt, the performance continues with only a minor hitch.

After making a valiant attempt to soldier on short an E string, Chen switches to what appears to be the backup plan. Without the option of singing the blues while changing the string himself, as B.B. King did at Farm Aid, he swaps his instrument with that of the concertmaster, who passes it down the line. Unfazed, Chen continues playing right where he left off.

Chen followed a similar procedure after a string break in 2017, while playing in Brussels with the Taiwan Philharmonic. Then, as now, he uploaded the footage to his Youtube channel, where it has  racked up more than 1.6 million views. The brief clip also captures his final toss onto the floor of the spare pack of strings he’d had the good sense to place in his pocket beforehand. The accolades posted in the comments below bring to mind the story of 19th-century violinist Carl Herman Unthan. Born without arms, Unthan became a virtuoso by playing instead with his feet — which he also used to change a string that broke on him in concert. This proved astonishing enough that he’s said later to have deliberately weakened strings in order to repeat the spectacle for other audiences. Just imagine if he’d had Youtube.

via Laughing Squid

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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.

What Makes Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ a Timeless, Great Painting?

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio had many followers. He was, after all, the most revered painter in Rome before he was exiled for murder. After his own death, his work fell into a period of obscurity and might have disappeared were it not for his many imitators. Called Caravaggisti or tenebrosi (“shadowists”), those who adopted Caravaggio’s high-contrast hyperrealism, including Dutch masters like Rembrandt, produced the finest work of the Baroque period. Some of Caravaggio’s disciples were so good they produced copies of his work that could fool experts. And sometimes experts could be fooled into thinking a Caravaggio was actually the work of a copyist.

Such was the case with Caravaggio’s striking canvas, The Taking of Christ, a depiction of the New Testament story of Jesus’ arrest and betrayal by his first disciple, Peter. Commissioned by Roman nobleman Ciriaco Mattei in 1602, the painting disappeared and was thought to have been lost until 1993, when it was found hanging in a Jesuit house in Ireland. The Jesuits had thought it to be the work of Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst, a painter who acquired the Italian  nickname Gherardo delli Notti (“Gerard of the nights”) after a visit to Rome inspired him to take up Caravaggio’s dramatically lit style.

“Caravaggio’s approach to religious art was shocking and controversial in his time,” notes the video. “His work was censored, dismissed and criticized, but it would lead to an entirely new kind of Christian art.” The violent dynamism of his paintings “was matched only by his tempestuous lifestyle.” Dead at age 38, the painter left behind only around 90 paintings and drawings, and these intimately reveal the marks of the artist. “Caravaggio’s technique was as spontaneous as his temper,” notes the National Gallery. “He painted straight onto the canvas with minimal preparation.”

Such is the case in The Taking of Christ. The National Gallery of Ireland, which houses the revolutionary work, point out that “numerous pentimenti (changes of mind)” on the canvas, “now visible due to changes over time in the paint layer, are a reminder of the artist’s unconventional way of posing models in tableaux and altering details as he worked.” He also seems to have literally painted himself into the scrum: “Only the moon lights the scene. Although the man at the far right is holding a lantern, it is, in reality, an ineffective source of illumination. In that man’s features Caravaggio portrayed himself, aged 31.”

Caravaggio’s face and distinctively rapid technique show up frequently in his work, but so little was known about him for so long that scholars seemed to have a difficult time telling an original from a copy. The Taking of Christ has 12 such known copies, some believed to be by Caravaggio himself. One hung in the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Ukraine. It was later claimed that the painting was a faithful rendition by an obscure Italian painter, made at the request of Asdrubale Mattei, brother of the original painter’s owner. Caravaggio’s many imitators paid him the highest of compliments, and made certain his influence survived his untimely death.

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

Rare Book Featuring the Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune Goes Up for Auction (1975)

Denis Villeneuve’s new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune has made a decently promising start to what looks set to shape up into an epic series of films. But however many installments it finally comprises, it’s unlikely to run anywhere near as long as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version — had Jodorowsky actually made his version, that is. Previously featured here on Open Culture, that project promised to unite the talents of not just the creator of the Dune universe and the director of The Holy Mountain, but those of Mœbius, H.R. Giger, Salvador Dalí, Pink Floyd, Orson Welles, and Mick Jagger. Even David Lynch’s Dune, for all its large-scale weirdness, would surely play like My Dinner with Andre by comparison.

Alas, none of us will ever get to see Jodorowsky’s Dune, now one of the most storied of all unmade films. But one of us — one of the deep-pocketed among us, at least — now has a chance to own the book. Not Herbert’s novel: the book assembled circa 1985 as a pitching aid, meant to show studios the extensive pre-production work Jodorowsky, producer Michel Seydoux, and their collaborators had done.

“Filled with the script, storyboards, concept art, and more, the book is basically as close as anyone can get to seeing Jodorowsky’s version of Dune,” writes io9’s Germain Lussier.But, of course, the director and his team only created a handful of copies and this was decades ago. This isn’t a book you can just get on Amazon.”

But you can get it at Christie’s, on whose auction block it’s expected to go for between €25,000 and €35,000 (around USD $30,000-40,000). Reckoning that only ten to twenty copies were ever printed, the house’s listing describes the book as “an extraordinary artifact” from “a doomed project which inspired legions of film-makers and moviegoers alike.” Despite all of Hollywood ultimately passing on this enormously ambitious adaptation, “all of this was not in vain.” Jodorowsky himself claims that, though unrealized, his Dune set a precedent for “a larger-than-life science fiction movie, outside of the scientific rigor of 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Its influence, according to Christie’s, is present in 1970s films like Star Wars and Alien. Would it be too much to sense a trace of the Jodorowskyan in Villeneuve’s Dune as well?

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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.

A Fascinating 3D Animation Shows the Depths of the Ocean

Deep sea exploration and the science of oceanography began 150 years ago when British survey ship HMS Challenger set off from Portsmouth with 181 miles of rope. The Royal Society tasked the expedition, among other things, with “investigat[ing] the physical conditions of the deep sea… in regard to depth, temperature circulation, specific gravity and penetration of light.” It was the first such voyage of its kind.

To accomplish its objectives, Challenger swapped all but two of its guns for specialized equipment, including — as assistant ship’s steward Joseph Matkin described in a letter home — “thousands of small air tight bottles and little boxes about the size of Valentine boxes packed in Iron Tanks for keeping specimens in, insects, butterflies, mosses, plants, etc… a photographic room on the main deck, also a dissecting room for carving up Bears, Whales, etc.”

Findings from the four-year voyage totaled almost thirty-thousand pages when published in a report. But the Challenger’s most famous legacy may be its discovery of the Mariana Trench. The ship recorded a sounding of 4,475 fathoms (26,850 ft.) in a southern part of the trench subsequently called Challenger Deep, and now known as the deepest part of the ocean and the “lowest point on Earth.” The most recent soundings using advanced sonar have measured its depth at somewhere between 35,768 to 36,037 feet, or almost 7 miles (11 kilometers).

Challenger Deep is so deep that if Everest were submerged into its depths, the mountain’s peak would still be roughly a mile and a half underwater. In 1960, a manned crew of two descended into the trench. Dozens of remote operated vehicles (ROVs) have explored its depths since, but it wouldn’t be until 2012 that another human made the 2.5 hour descent, when Avatar and The Abyss director James Cameron financed his own expedition. Then in 2019, explorer Victor Vescoso made the journey, setting the Guinness world record for deepest manned submarine dive when he reached the Eastern Pool, a depression within Challenger Deep. Just last year, he bested the record with his mission specialist John Rost, exploring the Eastern Pool for over four hours.

Last year’s descent brings the total number of people to visit Challenger Deep to five. How can the rest of us wrap our heads around a point so deep beneath us it can swallow up Mount Everest? The beautifully detailed, 3D animation at the top of the post does a great job of conveying the relative depths of oceans, seas, and major lakes, showing undersea tunnels and shipwrecks along the way, with manmade objects like the Eiffel Tower (which marks, within a few meters, the deepest scuba dive) and Burj Khalifa placed at intervals for scale.

By the time the animation — created by MetaBallStudios’ Alvaro Gracia Montoya– submerges us fully (with booming, echoing musical accompaniment) in the Mariana Trench, we may feel that we have had a little taste of the awe that lies at the deepest ocean depths.

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

How Martin Luther King, Jr. Wrote His Momentous “I Have a Dream” Speech (1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech ranks as one of the most famous of American speeches. As Evan Puschak, the Nerdwriter, says in his video above, it’s “arguably the most important and well-known speech of the 20th century.” King’s popular vision of a peaceful, harmonious, multiracial democracy might explain why nine out of ten Americans have a positive attitude toward King now. That polling looks very different by party affiliation. Even so, many more Americans look fondly on King’s memory than supported (or now support) the racial and economic justice for which he fought. The current use of King as a whitewashed martyr figure, Michael Harriot argues, obscures the reality of “a dream yet unfulfilled,” as King once called the U.S.

Even after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington and his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize win, only about 37% of Americans approved of his message in 1966 Gallup polling, a number that dropped even lower when he came out against the Vietnam war in 1967. Approval for MLK “only started to shift after his assassination in 1968,” writes Senior Data Scientist Linley Sanders at YouGov.  King’s “Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial may be posthumously remembered as his finest hour by those who weren’t there. For thousands of people who were, his address was also a fiery summation of the major themes up to that point in dozens of speeches and sermons.

“Riddled with big difficult terms and full of rhetorical devices that are intentional and practiced,” Puschak says, the speech eloquently explained “why fully 100 years after… the Emancipation Proclamation,” Black Americans were still politically disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged. It did so through a series of dense allusions to the Emancipation Proclamation, the country’s founding documents, the song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and other artifacts of American national identity, in an attempt to “frame civil rights in the larger American mythology so that those who identify with that mythology might incorporate this struggle into that story.”

The American story has justified oppression and fear of the same people fighting for full integration into the national polity during the Civil Rights movement, a problematic irony of which King was hardly unaware. He also drew from traditions older than the U.S. founding — the humanism of Shakespeare and the prophetic voices of the Old Testament, for example. These were indeed practiced maneuvers. (King very much lived down the C he once got in a public speaking class.) But the rousing refrains in his speech’s conclusion — which gave the speech its title and spread its fame around the world — were ad-libbed.

“I started out reading the speech, and I read it down to a point… the audience response was wonderful that day” King later remembered. “And all of a sudden this thing came to me that… I’d used many times before… ‘I have a dream.'” The reference didn’t come out of nowhere, says Clarence Jones, who helped King write the speech’s text just hours before it was delivered. Jones recalled that King’s favorite gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out for the then-familiar (to her) theme:

As he was reading from the text of his prepared remarks, there came a point when Mahalia Jackson, who was sitting on the platform, said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream.”

Now I have often speculated that she had heard him talk in other places… and make reference to the dream. On June 23, 1963, in Detroit, he had made very express reference to the dream.

When Mahalia shouted to him, I was standing about 50 feet behind him… and I saw it happening in real time. He just took the text of his speech and moved it to the left side of the lectern. … And I said to somebody standing next to me: “These people don’t know it, but they’re about to go to church.”

Before celebrating a redeemed interpretation of the American dream in his extemporaneous finale, King’s speech condemned the nation’s reality as morally corrupt and illegitimate. He urged restraint among his followers through nonviolent “direct action,” but foresaw worse to come before the country could realize its potential.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

“There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights,” King continued. “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” Maybe it’s little wonder many white Americans, hearing these remarks, turned away from King’s vision of racial justice, which required reckoning with “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Ending the “unearned suffering” of Black Americans, King knew, would come at too great a cost to unearned privilege. Indeed, the FBI heard King’s words as a direct threat to the country’s historic power structure. After the “I Have Dream” speech, the Bureau seriously intensified its program to surveil, discredit, and destroy him.

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How Martin Luther King Jr. Got C’s in Public Speaking–Before Becoming a Straight-A Student & a World Class Orator

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

When Nikola Tesla Claimed to Have Invented a “Death Ray,” Capable of Destroying Enemies 250 Miles Away & Making War Obsolete

Just last week I visited Niagara Falls and beheld the noble-looking statue of Nikola Tesla installed there. It struck me as a fitting tribute to the inventor of the Death Ray. But then, its presence probably had more to do with Tesla’s having advised the builders of the falls’ power plant to use two-phase alternating current, the form of electricity of which he’s now remembered as a pioneer. And in any case, Tesla never actually invented a death ray, or at least he never demonstrated one. He did, however, claim to have been working on a system he called “teleforce,” which shot what he described as a “death beam” — rays, he insisted, would never be feasible — both “thinner than a hair” and powerful enough to “destroy anything approaching within 200 miles,” making warfare effectively obsolete.

These pronouncements attracted special media attention in the 1930s. “Hype about the weapon really took off in the run-up to World War II as Nazi Germany assembled a fearsome air force,” writes Sam Kean at the Science History Institute. “People in Tesla’s homeland, then called Yugoslavia, begged him to return home and install the rays to protect them from the Nazi menace.” But no known evidence suggests that the elderly Tesla had figured out how to actually make teleforce work.

At that point he had more pressing problems, not least the cost of the hotels in which he lived. “In 1915, his famous Wardenclyffe tower plant was sold to help pay off his $20,000 debt at the Waldorf-Astoria,” writes Mental Floss’ Stacy Conradt, and later he racked up a similarly large bill at the Governor Clinton. “He couldn’t afford the payment, so instead, Tesla offered the management something priceless: one of his inventions.”

That “invention” may have been the box examined after Tesla’s death in 1943 by physicist John G. Trump (uncle of former President Donald Trump). Left in a hotel vault, it was rumored to be “a prototype of his death ray.” Tesla had included a note, writes Kean, that “claimed the prototype inside was worth $10,000. More ominously, it said the box would detonate if opened incorrectly.” But when “the physicist steeled himself and began tearing off the brown paper,” he “must have laughed at what he saw underneath: a Wheatstone bridge, a tool for measuring electrical resistance. It was a common, mundane device — some old junk, really. It was certainly not a death ray, not even close.”

Though it must have been as powerful a disappointment as it was a relief, did that discovery prove that Tesla never invented a death ray? The U.S. government didn’t take its chances on the matter: as’s Sarah Pruitt tells it, agents “swooped in and took possession of all the property and documents from his room at the New Yorker Hotel” right after Tesla’s death. And “while the FBI originally recorded some 80 trunks among Tesla’s effects, only 60 arrived in Belgrade,” home of the Nikola Tesla Museum, nearly a decade later. The idea of death rays has long survived Tesla himself, taking on forms from the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” nuclear defense program to the military laser weapons tested in recent years. Few such technologies seem capable of ending all war, as Tesla promised. But if one ever does, we could honor his memory by referring to it, in the manner he preferred, as not a death ray but a death beam.

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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.

John Cleese Presents His 5-Step Plan for Shorter, More Productive Meetings (1976)

Let’s face it, meetings are boring at best and at worst, chaotic, volatile, and potentially violent. And let’s also face it: to get through life as functioning adults, we’re going to have to sit through one or two of them — or even one or two of them a week.

Maybe we’re the one who calls the meetings, and maybe they all feel like a waste of time. One solution is to have more informal meetings. This can be especially tempting in the age of work-from-home, when it’s impossible to know how many meeting attendees are wearing pants. Fewer rules can raise the spontaneity quotient, but allowing for the unexpected can invite disaster as well as epiphany.

On the other end of the scale, we have the formality of parliamentary rules of order, such as those introduced by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert in 1876. Robert, whose father was the first president of Morehouse College, gained a wealth of experience with unproductive meetings as he traveled around the country with the Army. One particular meeting became a defining experience, as one account has it:

While in San Francisco, the local leader of his community didn’t show up for a church meeting. Henry Robert was asked to preside over the town hall (without any prior notice). Let’s just say that on this particular evening in 1876, he did a bad job. An hour into the meeting, people were screaming and the church actually erupted into open conflict.

Sadly, this sort of thing has become almost routine at town halls and school board meetings. But it needn’t be so at the office. Nor, says John Cleese in the brief video above, do meetings need to follow the formality of parliamentary procedure.

Cleese’s rules are simpler even than the simplified Roberts or Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, an even more simplified version of Robert’s Rules. Furthermore, Cleese avoids using words like “Rules” which can be a turn-off in our egalitarian times. Instead, he presents us with a “5-Step Plan” for holding better and shorter meetings.

1. Plan — Clear your mind about the precise objectives of the meeting. Be clear why you need it and list the subjects.
2. Inform — Make sure everyone knows exactly what is being discussed, why, and what you want from the discussion. Anticipate what information and people may be needed and make sure they’re there.
3. Prepare — Prepare the logical sequence items. Prepare the time allocation to each item on the basis of its importance not its urgency.
4. Structure and Control — Take the evidence stage before the interpretation stage and that before the action stage and stop people jumping ahead or going back over ground.
5. Summarize all decision and record them straight away with the name of the person responsible for any action

Easy, right? Well, maybe not so easy in practice, but these steps can, at the very least, illuminate what’s wrong with your meetings, which may currently resemble one of Cleese’s many parodies of business culture. Nobody videophoned it in at the time, but trying to figure out who’s supposed to be doing what can still take up an afternoon. Let Cleese’s five steps bring order to the chaos.

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

Watch the Jackson 5’s First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (1969)

Who discovered the Jackson 5?

Motown founder Berry Gordy?

Empress of Soul Gladys Knight?

Diva Diana Ross?

Everyone in attendance for Amateur Night at the Apollo on August 13, 1967?

For many unsuspecting Americans, the answer may as well have been television host Ed Sullivan, who introduced the “sensational group” of five young brothers from Gary, Indiana to viewers in December 1969, two years after their Amateur Night triumph. Thirteen years earlier, a wall of sound emanating from a live in-studio audience of teenage girls told Sullivan’s home viewers that another young sensation — Elvis Presley — must be something special.

The Jackson 5 needed no such help.

While there are many close-ups of their fresh young faces, the control room wisely chose to zoom out much of the time, in appreciation of the brothers’ precision choreography.

The brightest star was the youngest, eleven-year-old Michael, taking lead vocals in purple fedora and fringed vest on a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand.”

Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon provide support for a bit of hokum that positions Michael at the center of an elementary school romance, by way of introduction to a full throated cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You”:

We toasted our love during milk break. I gave her my cookies! We fell out during fingerpainting. 

Author Carvell Wallace reflects on this moment in his 2015 New Yorker review of Steve Knopper’s biography MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson:

Halfway through, he forgets his lines and freezes, looking back at his older brothers for help. It’s an alarmingly vulnerable moment, one only possible in the era of live television. You feel bad for him. It suddenly doesn’t seem right that a kid should be made to perform live in front of an entire country. Yet he somehow finds his way back and stumbles through.

When the music starts, we see something else entirely. The first note he sings is as confident, sure, and purposeful as any adult could ever be. He transforms from nervous child at a talent show into timeless embodiment of longing. Not only does he sing exactly on key but he appears to sing from the very bottom of his heart. He stares into the camera, shakes his head, and blinks back tears in perfect imitation of a sixties soul man. And it feels, for a moment, as though there are two different beings here. One is a child—a smart kid, to be sure, and cute, but not more special than any other child. He is subject to the same laws of life—pain, age, confusion, fear—as we all are. The other being seems to be a spirit of sorts, one who knows only the truest expression of human feeling. And this spirit appears to have randomly inhabited the body of this particular mortal kid. In so doing, it has sentenced him to a lifetime of indescribable enchantment and consummate suffering.

Michael’s explosive performance of the Jackson 5’s first national single, “I Want You Back,” released just two months before their Sullivan Show appearance, gives us that “spirit” in full force.

It’s also not hard to imagine that the brothers’ thrillingly executed choreography is the result of a literally punishing rehearsal regimen, a factor of the King of Pop’s troubled legacy.

The Sullivan Show appearance ensured that there would be no stopping this train. Five months later, when the Jacksons returned to the Sullivan Show, “I Want You Back” had sold over a million copies, as had “ABC,” which they performed as a medley.

Boyhood is fleeting, making Jacksonmania a carpe diem type situation.

The period from 1969 to 1972 saw an onslaught of Jackson 5-related merch and a funky Saturday morning cartoon whose pilot tarted up the Diana Ross origin story with an escaped pet snake.

It was good while it lasted.

Related Content:

Elvis’ Three Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show: Watch History in the Making and from the Waist Up (1956)

The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

The Chorus Project Features Teenagers Performing Hits by the Kinks, David Byrne, the Jackson 5 & More

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Board Game Ideology — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #108

As board games are becoming increasingly popular with adults, we ask: What’s the relationship between a board game’s mechanics and its narrative? Does the “message” of a board game matter?

Your host Mark Linsenmayer is joined by game designer Tommy Maranges, educator Michelle Parrinello-Cason, and ex-philosopher Al Baker to talk about re-skinning games, designing player experiences, play styles, game complexity, and more.

Some of the games we mention include Puerto Rico, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Sorry, Munchkin, Sushi Go, Welcome To…, Codenames, Pandemic, Occam Horror, Terra Mystica, chess, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, Photosynthesis, Spirit Island, Escape from the Dark Castle, and Wingspan.

Some articles that fed our discussion included:

The two games Tommy created that we bring up are Secret Hitler and Inhuman Conditions.

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. 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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