The world is changing and sometimes it’s hard for the FAR to keep up. Video games, Coen Brothers movies, that kid from Dead Poets Society, local music scenes, pop songs, and literati wit – all of it evolving. Read these articles if you hope to still recognize any of these subjects in the wild.
Thanks to scb0212, Drunk Napoleon, and Miller for contributing this week, never change! Send articles throughout the next week to ploughmanplods [at] gmail, post articles from the past below for discussion and have a Happy Friday!
For Reverse Shot, Sam Bodrojan discusses Umurangi, a video game created by a Maori developer that revolves around capturing images in an oppressive world:
The locus around which all this play circulates is the camera, a finely tuned, expressive, rich feat of programming. […] Umurangi offers a simple fantasy: access to a simulacra of a great DSLR, the beginner kind that usually runs between $500 and $700, available in a game that only costs 25 bucks. The captured images form the player’s “truth,” so to speak—their favorite bits of graffiti, the way sunlight hits a friend’s hair, memorial candles glittering amidst forgotten alleyways. Scrolling #UmurangiGeneration on Twitter reveals a collage of hundreds of players’ loving articulations of a place. Photos from the game can have highly varied aesthetics in a way that social media and the strict software limitations on smartphone cameras so often disallow. To interact fully with this game is to see not just Faulkner’s design but also the sensibilities of every player who has ever booted it up.
Speaking of games, at The Atlantic Spencer Kornhaber looks at the enduring appeal – addiction, perhaps – of Sid Meier’s Civilization games and what they unlock about the experience of gaming:
For a game so inspired by the real world, the miracle of Civilization is total escapism: Nuking a city or burning so much coal that the sea level rises brings consequences for your populace, but not really for your own psyche. Earth’s actual history does not so much constrain players—part of the fun lies in the possibility of making Genghis Khan a dovish diplomat—as it does guide them through tricky questions. For example, as a beginner, you’re helped by having a preexisting sense that selecting a fascist government will help fortify your population for wartime while cutting off the commercial dynamism afforded by democracy. Some academics and journalists have taken issue with such gamification of humanity’s ugly history, and over the years Civ has done a good job of both addressing criticisms (later editions are not nearly as Western-centric as earlier ones) and shrugging them off. As my Montezuma dispatched evangelists to spread a feline-themed religion to Russia, I reflected on the social-studies fever dream of it all only in passing. I was mostly preoccupied with building grander houses of worship without leaving myself militarily vulnerable to more scientifically advanced rivals.
Back again at Reverse Shot, Hazem Fahmy talks about Hollywood myth, fact and identity in The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Ceasar!:
As in their comedies like Raising Arizona (1987), The Big Lebowski (1998), and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), the brothers’ signature hijinks manipulate American mythology. More specifically, Hail, Caesar! skewers the theological role the film industry has played for audiences in the perpetuation of capitalism as a kind of faith-based culture. In returning to the filmic past, from a present of major industrial and cultural shifts, the movie sheds comic light on the cyclical nature of Hollywood. Everything looks different, but how much of it truly is? It’s tempting to think of the 1950s as a cinematically distant era. However, ours too is a time in which the studio system has been threatened by a new method of exhibition that has caused the movies to get bigger and bigger. Just as they eventually conquered television in the decade after its explosion, so too are the studios attempting to bend streaming to their will today.
Scout Tafoya interviews Ethan Hawke for rogerebert.com about his past and future, and how he’s changed as an actor:
When I was first starting I really couldn’t understand a character if it wasn’t through the first-person lens. I was always trying to turn the character into a version of me. I was happy and proud to do that, it’s what I wanted to do. As time went by that got less interesting. So I started to feel more confident in playing in the third person zone. If you’re a first person actor, you don’t want to put yourself in horror films, because your imagination says I don’t want to be attacked by demons! I’d rather be the leader of the group in ‘Alive,’ I want to stand on a desk, I want to see myself in that way. But as you to divorce yourself from your own id and sit outside of it you start to see how much of who “you” are is extremely flexible. Much more flexible than you thought. It’s exciting!
At Dig Boston, Tom Nash pays tribute to a scene legend and DJ who turned thousands of people on to great local music and supported everyone, no matter how weird:
Jeff did more than tune in. He showed up. I’m not sure whether we had told him about the show or not, but he was one of the first people there that night. I walked in, and there he stood: tall, long-bearded, with a gently booming voice. He had driven from Somerville to Vermont just to see an hour or so of some oddballs thrashing around in togas with cardboard wings. After the show, the sound guy who had reverently told us Radiohead recorded The Bends on the mixing board suddenly wasn’t up for small talk. We had clearly made a mockery of all he held holy. Jeff was thrilled.
Paul Donoughue reports to ABC News about plagiarism complaints about 18-year-old pop phenomenon Olivia Rodrigo and takes the temperature of pop music borrowing in general:
The Elvis Costello track Rodrigo is accused of ripping off was itself heavily inspired by the rolling lyrical style of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, which in turn owes a lot to Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business. Often, the songs at issue for Rodrigo haters are ones where she has used the same chord structure as a different artist’s song. But […] Paramore doesn’t own the IV-I-V-VI-V progression.
And finally, AI learning has finally been applied to one of the most difficult human artistic endeavors, New Yorker cartoons:
The Neural Yorker jokes may not spark vocal laughter or a knowing smile, like real New Yorker gags do [sic], but they have their own comic effect: a feeling of self-aware ridiculousness, like looking at oneself in the mirror wearing a silly hat. Manouach and Siglidis’s project plumbs the construct of the cartoon format, forcing the medium to look inward and highlighting the subjectivity of humor. As former New Yorker editor Bob Mankoff said in the 2015 documentary Very Semi-Serious: “Cartoons either make the strange familiar or the familiar strange.”