“The problem is that death at the movies has died”

The problem is that death at the movies has died. The movie industry has corrupted one of cinema’s — if not all of fiction’s — most emotionally taxing moments into hollow formula, the kind of thing that passes in the blink of a plot point leading to a literal, if not figurative, explosive finale that takes up half the budget

Alexander Huls, “How Hollywood Killed Death”, The New York Times Magazine (20 April 2014), 44.

“In our new entertainment landscape, …the concept of the bargain bin…has been rendered obsolete”

In our new entertainment landscape, in which the dominant cultural forces are Netflix (for movies), its siblings like Hulu and HBO Go (for TV), Spotify (for music) and Amazon (for books and e-books), the concept of the bargain bin — a place where you could buy the cultural equivalent of ephemera, books and movies and music that had been judged too something to be worth full price — has been rendered obsolete.

In its place are three phenomena of the web. First, the existentially stultifying depth of the Netflix catalog and the back corridors of YouTube, places where you can encounter mysteries and marginalia so stupid and weird and amateurish that they make “Robot Monster” look like “Dr. Strangelove,” some of these delivered by the very algorithms designed to help you find “new” things to watch. Second, the phenomenon of videos spread virally, passed hand to online hand by people on Twitter and Facebook and Reddit and message boards. And third, the targeted schlock of Asylum Entertainment and its ilk, movies like “Atlantic Rim” that are whole-cloth rip-offs with deceptive titles designed to be watched inadvertently.

What’s changed, then, isn’t so much the stuff of the bargain bin, the art that rewards us with its ineptitude and obscurity. Instead, it’s the method of the discovery itself. In recent years, much of the meta-discussion over the state of the Internet has revolved around the messy word “curation,” which before the last decade or so mostly called to mind the arena of the art museum. Now it’s used when we talk about web influencers, people with followings who can single-handedly discover a video and give it life with a tweet or a blog post. It also refers to the gaggle of critics at sites like Pitchfork or Rotten Tomatoes who, in the slurry of content the Internet presents, happen to be the ones with the practical ability to carve out something resembling a quorum.

We, as in the public, are beholden to these people to some extent, because like Dante descending into hell, we need a Virgil to guide us through the terrors that are YouTube and worse (on the Internet, there’s always worse). There has been a severe hamstringing of our agency not only as consumers of art, but also as patrons. What we’ve made up for in efficiency, we’ve lost in potential, and that loss of potential — the feeling that boundaries exist on the artistic world — is immensely dissatisfying. We are becoming increasingly tethered to these algorithms and these influencers, and for a reason: What we’ve created, with the advent of almost unlimited access, is as close as the human race has ever come to the elimination of scarcity. There is still a cap on the amount of movies and TV and music out there waiting for us. But like the edges of space, it is something we’re never going to see.

Kevin Lincoln, “The Death of the Bargain Bin”, The New York Times Magazine (16 March 2014), 51.


From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance

From a military perspective, Hoth should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. Overconfident that they can evade Imperial surveillance, they hole up on unforgiving frigid terrain at the far end of the cosmos. Huddled into the lone Echo Base are all their major players: politically crucial Princess Leia; ace pilot Han Solo; and their game-changer, Luke Skywalker, who isn’t even a Jedi yet.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.

When Vader enters the Hoth System with the Imperial Fleet, he’s holding a winning hand. What follows next is a reminder of two military truths that apply in our own time and in our own galaxy: Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency.

Spencer Ackerman, “Inside the Battle of Hoth“, Wired (February 2013)

As a form of disposable entertainment, the apocalypse market is booming

As a form of disposable entertainment, the apocalypse market is booming. The question is why. The obvious answer is that these narratives tap into anxieties, conscious and otherwise, about the damage we’re doing to our species and to the planet. They allow us to safely fantasize about what might be required of us to survive.

Of course, people have been running around screaming about the end of the world for as long as we’ve been around to take notes. But in the past, the purpose of these stories was essentially prophetic. They were intended to bring man into accord with the will of God, or at least his own conscience.

The newest wave of apocalyptic visions, whether they’re intended to make us laugh or shriek, are nearly all driven by acts of sadistic violence. Rather than inspiring audiences to reckon with the sources of our potential planetary ruin, they proceed from the notion that the apocalypse will usher in an era of sanctified Darwinism: survival of the most weaponized.

There’s a deep cynicism at work here, one that stands in stark contrast to the voices of even a generation ago. And this cynicism has, I fear, become the default setting of a culture that lurches about within the shadow of its own extinction yet lacks the moral imagination to change its destiny.

Steve Almond, “‘A Culture That Lurches About Within the Shadow of Its Own Extinction'” The New York Times Magazine (29 September 2013), 48.