All posts tagged: popular culture

The speech Jonathan Glazer could have given

The speech Jonathan Glazer could have given

(RNS) — On Oscar night on Sunday (March 10), director Jonathan Glazer, upon accepting the Academy Award for best international film for “The Zone of Interest,” chose to sharply criticize Israel, and by implication, Judaism itself. The prize was well-deserved; I wrote about the movie here. In his speech, he said that he and producer James Wilson “stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack in Gaza.” Much has been written about his words. My favorite critique comes from author Howard Jacobson, whose Booker Prize-winning novel “The Finkler Question” introduced us to a new Jewish movement — “ASHamed Jews,” who believe that “the world waits upon the finding of their consciences.” This is the speech that I wish Jonathan Glazer had given. I stand before you this evening, not only as the director of “The Zone of Interest,” and not only as an artist, and …

Take Crossword Puzzles Seriously – The Atlantic

Take Crossword Puzzles Seriously – The Atlantic

This past December, I threw a party to celebrate a major milestone in my life: the 1,000th day of my New York Times crossword-solving streak. My friends, none of them fellow cruciverbalists, poured in wearing their black-and-white best, armed with outsize praise for my presumed intelligence: How smart I must be to complete the Times puzzle every day! Their comments affirmed that the crossword—and particularly the Times one—carries a certain mystique. For 1,000 consecutive days, I had passed this bourgeois aptitude test, proving my linguistic and cultural acumen in my guests’ eyes. Since its invention in 1913, the modern American crossword puzzle has undergone something of a reputational shift, from frivolous distraction to status symbol. In reality, the crossword is many things: a site of play, a cultural forum, a daily pleasure. And, because it traffics in language—the stuff people use to form identity, signal belonging, and ostracize others—it’s also a political entity. The writer and crossword constructor Anna Shechtman knows that casting such a pastime as political might sound ridiculous. As she writes in …

Take Crossword Puzzles Seriously – The Atlantic

Take Crossword Puzzles Seriously – The Atlantic

This past December, I threw a party to celebrate a major milestone in my life: the 1,000th day of my New York Times crossword-solving streak. My friends, none of them fellow cruciverbalists, poured in wearing their black-and-white best, armed with outsize praise for my presumed intelligence: How smart I must be to complete the Times puzzle every day! Their comments affirmed that the crossword—and particularly the Times one—carries a certain mystique. For 1,000 consecutive days, I had passed this bourgeois aptitude test, proving my linguistic and cultural acumen in my guests’ eyes. Since its invention in 1913, the modern American crossword puzzle has undergone something of a reputational shift, from frivolous distraction to status symbol. In reality, the crossword is many things: a site of play, a cultural forum, a daily pleasure. And, because it traffics in language—the stuff people use to form identity, signal belonging, and ostracize others—it’s also a political entity. The writer and crossword constructor Anna Shechtman knows that casting such a pastime as political might sound ridiculous. As she writes in …

That SuperJew poster from the 1960s

That SuperJew poster from the 1960s

(RNS) — I was hanging out with some old friends, and we were reminiscing about the posters that used to hang in our adolescent rooms. There was the Grateful Dead “Live at the Fillmore” poster. There was a Janis Joplin poster. There were any number of Peter Max posters. And, of course, black light psychedelic posters, complemented by nearby lava lamps. And then, Dave asked: “Did any of you have that SuperJew poster?” Ah, yes. Smile. Sigh.  It was the summer of 1967, and Israel had just won a decisive (some would have said miraculous) victory in the Six Day War. Israel defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. For a few minutes in history, Israel was the world’s hero. Israel had refuted the image of the Jew as weakling. It might be hard for you to imagine this now, but in 1967 I was a scrawny kid. I was the favorite victim of junior high school bullies who enjoyed using antisemitic language to torment me. During one lunch period during that war, a …

Amaarae Has a Plan for Pop’s Future

Amaarae Has a Plan for Pop’s Future

This year, the 29-year-old Ghanaian American singer-songwriter Amaarae took, to use a technical term, a big swing. With a voice of feathery beauty and songs blending R&B, hip-hop, rock, and Afropop, she had already earned buzz for her 2020 debut album, The Angel You Don’t Know. On the follow-up, Fountain Baby, released this past June, she pushed the scope and detail of her music, channeling the dirty swagger of Rihanna and the global futurism of Missy Elliott. Amaarae cheekily boasted in a behind-the-scenes video that she’d soon have a “10-times platinum, worldwide hit,” adding, “I’m about to be on my Taylor Swift shit.” So when I met with her at a hotel restaurant during New York Fashion Week in September, I was unsurprised to see her looking the part of a pop star. She showed up in chunky biker boots (vintage Chanel) and a red-lettered tank top emblazoned with her own slogan: SEXY, HOT & SLIGHTLY PSYCHOTIC. That she was ambitious was obvious—but I wanted to know how ambitious. What were her career dreams? “I …

What ChatGPT Has Changed in Its First Year

What ChatGPT Has Changed in Its First Year

ChatGPT is one year old today, and it’s accomplished a lot in its first trip around the sun. The chatbot has upended or outright killed high-school and college essay writing and thoroughly scrambled the brains of academics, creating an on-campus arms race that professors have already lost. It has been used to write books, article summaries, and political content, and it has flooded online marketplaces with computer-generated slop. As we’ve gotten to know ChatGPT, we’ve noticed how malleable it is. The li’l bot loves clichés. Its underlying technology has been integrated into internet search. ChatGPT is a time waster—a toy—but also, potentially, a labor-force destroyer and a way for machines to leech the remaining humanity out of our jobs. It may even be the harbinger of an unrecognizable world and a “textpocalypse” to come. Even for a large language model with billions of parameters, trained off of perhaps terabytes of potentially questionable and opaquely scraped data … that’s quite a year. As evidenced above, my colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time …

‘Nancy’: The Comic Strip That Showed Us How We Think

‘Nancy’: The Comic Strip That Showed Us How We Think

The great cartoonist Wally Wood once observed that not reading Ernie Bushmiller’s long-running newspaper comic strip, Nancy, is harder than reading it. Its minimalism makes the strip into something like a stop sign or a middle finger—it’s just there, all of a sudden, and you may find yourself responding to it before you’re ready to do so. This suddenness is part of what makes Nancy so funny. In many ways, the strip is a series of jokes about the nature of jokes. Despite the two rambunctious kids, Nancy and Sluggo, at its center, it’s not about childhood, like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes are. And, despite its surrealism, it’s not about the silliness of life, like The Far Side is. It’s about the rules of comics, which Bushmiller made so clear that the reader can understand them at the first, most casual glance at one of his strips. A deeper look—which Nancy resists with all its might—suggests that Bushmiller’s great contribution to popular culture was the way he understood language itself. Take, for example, a …