Category Archives: culture

October Update: California, Lampoon, Creative Commons…

Its been a while since my last post, but not for lack of things to say. Instead, my bandwidth for online activity has been consumed by two other endeavors. First, I gave the Harvard Lampoon website a complete redesign using Drupal. Its still very much a work in progress, and considering my attention span, it may stay as such for a while. But check it out, as we plan to update the content quite frequently (including comics illustrated by yours truly).

However, despite what my recent contributions to the Lampoon may seem, I am not back in Cambridge. My love affair with California is still going strong and I’ve decided to stay in Berkeley for the semester. Peace out, Puritans. Hello, beautiful hippie people.

And what have I been doing out here? Besides making lots of friends, art, and sourdough, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been hired as a Business Development Assistant for Creative Commons, the awesome organization I interned with over the summer. I blog for them a couple times a week, so that’s definitely been eating into the energy I have for this site. More to come on what else I’ve been working on there, but for now I should mention that we just launched our Annual Fall Fundraising Campaign, and along with it, a slick site redesign. Those of you already familiar with the great work CC is doing, consider making a donation!

Support CC - 2007

For the uninitiated, this video is a pretty good introduction to what Creative Commons is all about:

mystics & messiahs

A genuine first-hand religious experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!

-William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

(via Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History by Philip Jenkins. A good read if you get the chance.)

slacker boys

David Denby’s essay in this week’s New Yorker tackles the “new” romantic comedy: the “slacker-striver romance.” This pop-culture staple of my adolescence and young adulthood tells the story of hot, ambitious chick falls for a witty, going-nowhere-fast dude. As both a young female filmmaker (these movies are almost always directed by males) and someone with a thing for slacker-boys, this topic is of particular interest to me. Why am I attracted to slackers? Why are the women in these movies always so lame?

brodie bruce To my disappointment, Kevin Smith was absent from the article. If I had to blame my slacker fetish on anyone, the award would definitely go to Brody from “Mallrats,” with Daria’s Trent is a close second. The 12 year old girl inside me still gets all excited just thinking about them. What a disappointment it was to discover, a couple years later, that not every (or perhaps any) video-game nerd converses in a constant stream of humorous but insightful one-liners. Nor are they as cute as Smith would lead one to believe. At least Trent was a bit less deceptive in that department; boys with guitars do tend to be hotter than average.

trentBut its not just that I wanted to do these fictional slacker boys. While there was a definite sexual element to their appeal, more than anything I wanted to be friends with them. Its no contest: Bong rips are more fun than lip gloss. Girls got to pluck their eyebrows, guys got to tell dirty jokes. Girls did homework, guys formed bands.

lindsay weir Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” is the moment’s preeminent example of the slacker-striver rom-com. I thoroughly enjoyed “Knocked Up,” but it also upset me. Apatow is the creator of Freaks and Geeks, a show featuring one of television’s best female characters ever, in the form of a brainy girl who finds her place with a group of “burnouts”. Lindsay Weir is strong yet vulnerable, reluctantly both beautiful and badass. How could someone with the capacity to create such a nuanced and realistic teenage girl on a fucking television series make the heroine in their film so empty?

wendys Sure, for an “E! Hollywood” reporter, Knocked Up’s Allison is remarkably down to earth, but that’s kinda like saying that for fast food, Wendy’s is surprisingly nutritious. As Denby writes, Allison “has a fine fit of hormonal rage, but, like the other heroines in the slacker-striver romances, she isn’t given an idea or a snappy remark or even a sharp perception.” Come on Judd, was getting your show canceled really that bad? That from now on the best we can hope for in regards to female leads are tasty-looking, manufactured, corporate babes who are celebrated for leaving one only mildly nauseated after consumption?

knocked upSadly, things aren’t looking much better on the dude front. Its one thing for guys not to have their shit together in high school, even college. But Knocked Up’s Ben is such a loser that even I can’t build up the slightest desire for him. Is society doomed for perpetual middle school?

Maybe I should stop being so critical and just take “Knocked Up” for what most are lauding it as: a Hollywood movie that is both genuinely sweet and funny and doesn’t suck. After all, its just a movie. But there remains the issue of why, Ben aside, I’m still into slackers. And I’m gonna take a guess that I’m not the only one.

hilary clinton Why don’t we dig boys who have their act together? Is it some kind of perverse maternal urge, perhaps as a result of delayed childbearing in college girls? That coming of age in the shadow of the 90s means the slacker archetype will be forever imprinted on our libido? That Hilary Clinton is such a terrifying bitch, and that with all the pressure of school and a career and looking good, if we don’t date someone chill we’ll become one too? That ambition today is just so horribly revolting?

10 things i hate about youMaybe some better role models would help. Since the real world doesn’t seem to be too forthcoming, I turn to movies. Where is this decade’s “10 Things I Hate About You?” Directed by a man but written by two women, its characters of both genders are intelligent, unconventional, and sexy. For those of us growing up with it, it probably did for bisexuality what “Clerks” and “High Fidelity” did for slackers. 10 Things answers Denby’s plea for a romantic comedy where women “challenge the men intellectually and spiritually, rather than simply offering their bodies as a way of dragging the clods out of their adolescent stupor.” We need more of that.

[A Fine Romance, The New Yorker, July 23, 2007]

PS. Speaking of slacker boys (who really aren’t), Logan’s got a new blog and Vince got published in McSweeny’s. Sweet!

PPS. What’s with my moving to California and reading all these New York periodicals I used to (not so) secretly avoid? Might I be a tad homesick?

What’s the Matter With College?

It usually pisses me off when old[er] people, particularly from publications like the New York Times, write about what’s wrong with the kids today. But despite a couple paragraphs of smug nostalgia in the beginning, Rick Perlstein’s essay What’s the Matter with College? strikes pretty close to my own experiences and observations.

Doug Mitchell was beaming, but his face fell when I told him about my conversation the previous evening with Hamilton Morris, a New Yorker finishing up his first year of college. His parents make documentary films. He attended a high school of the arts where “they sort of let me do whatever I wanted.” He is a filmmaker, painter, photographer, an experienced professional standup comedian. His life pre-college was exceptionally fulfilling, and he expected it to remain so here at one of the nation’s great universities. Then what happened?

“I hated it from the first day,” he told me. “People here are so insanely uncreative, and they’re proud of it.” His fellow students “had to spend their entire high school experience studying for the SATs or something and didn’t really get a chance to live life or experience things.”

What’s most harrowing was Hamilton’s matter-of-fact description of a culture of enervation – “that so many people hate it with a passion and don’t leave.” I heard similar things from several bright, creative searchers on campus – the kind of people in whom I recognized my own (and Doug Mitchell’s) 19-year-old self. I sat down with a group of them at the Medici Cafe, a campus fixture for decades, and they described college as a small town they’re eager to escape. “Everyone I talk to has that kind of feeling in their bones,” Mike Yong, a Japanese literature student, insisted. “Even if they’re going into investment banking.” Someone offered the word “infantilizing.” Murmurs of assent, then the word “emasculating,” to even louder agreement. One even insisted his process of political, social and creative awakening had happened, yes, during college – but not because of college, but in spite of it.

The Times is sponsoring an essay contest for students to respond. I don’t have much to say as, sadly, I pretty much agree with everything Perlstein says. On the other hand, I don’t see this as so tragic: My generation gets to have its “political, spiritual, and creative awakening” about 4 years earlier, and it happens for free on the Internet instead of inside the gates of exclusive campuses. Unfortunately, it seems like for many of my peers this awakening will never come, but that probably was always the case.

[via NYT’s Magazine College Essay Contest]


Do we really need yet another social networking site? Of course not. (Do we even need any?) But do we want one? Maybe.

Lets review the current options:

  • Myspace
    • Pros: Band profiles & page customization
    • Cons: Broken, ugly, sketchy
  • Facebook
    • Pros: Great UI, web2.0 tricked out
    • Cons: Online identity defined by your workplace or college (not hip)
  • Tribe
    • Pros: Based around communities instead of individuals
    • Cons: Only worthwhile if the bulk of your friends attend burningman

Enter Virb. Dripping with slick & hip. Profiles for bands, artists, and non-profits. Hooks right in with flickr. Easy to customize, with a built in css editor. Best part? One click and you can remove the customization of any page.


friend me?

[via cameron]



How to share your faith with…

Jenna the Jew

Jenna does not like to be stereotyped with others from her religion, so ask a ton of questions to learn where she is coming from like:

  • Does she attend synagogue?
  • What happens at Passover?
  • Why doesn’t she offer sacrifices today?
  • How does she find forgiveness since the destruction of the temple?
  • What does she believe about the coming of Messiah?
  • How will she recognize him when he comes?

Sid the Satanist

You should always pray when witnessing to anyone, but this scenario really needs to be covered in prayer. You are attempting to rescue someone from the grips of Satan. Keep in mind that he doesn’t let go of his converts easily. Put on your spiritual armor (Ephesians 6) and prepare for a battle!

Erin the Evolutionist

Like Alisha the Agnostic, talk to Erin about the observable evidence of God that is built in to creation like how ‘fine tuned’ the universe is to support life, otherwise we wouldn’t even exist. This fine tuning simply could not have happened by accident. For example, the earth is the perfect distance from the sun. If it were just a few miles closer, we’d all burn up. A few miles further out, and we’d all freeze to death!

The web’s been born again. And oh Lord, turn up your volume, cause it gets so much better… flash design for ministries

some notable examples:


New Birth Missionary Baptist Church


K & K Mime Ministries (official site here)

I’m pretty sure that none of this is a joke.

[via voodoo knickers]

Plastic Approach

My friend & roommate, the lovely Karen Adelman, has an installation up this weekend. If you’re in or around Cambridge, you should check it out. I hear there will be tunnels.

an installation by karen adelman
in adams art space

OPEN Friday, March 9: 3-7pm
Saturday, March 10: 5-9pm
Sunday, March 11: 12-3pm

Adams Art Space is on Linden Street, but the gate is closed on the weekends so you have to enter through Adams House.

Camille Paglia on Cults

Black Mass (small)Cults and Cosmic Consciousness:
Religious Vision in the American 1960s

One of my favorite writers on one of my favorite fascinations. More than just an overview of the various cults and fringe religious/spiritual movements America has seen since the 60s, Paglia argues that Western rationalism’s insistence on ignoring “Dionysus” (religion, spirituality, nature) has left a huge void in our culture and psyche. Thus, until our intellectual and artistic leaders acknowledge and embrace humanity’s need for ritual and mystery, cults and other dubious institutions will thrive. But don’t take my weak summary as a substitute for the essay. It’s long but oh so worth it, if only because Paglia is such a damn good writer.

Hence the religious dissidence and secessionist tendencies of the 1960s were simply a new version of a long American tradition. The decade’s politics loom large partly because demonstrations, unlike inner journeys, were photographable and indeed often staged for the camera. Today’s young people learn about the sixties through a welter of video clips of JFK’s limousine in Dallas, Vietnamese firefights, and hippies draped in buckskin and love beads. Furthermore, the most fervent of the decade’s spiritual questers followed Timothy Leary’s advice to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” and removed themselves from career tracks and institutions, which they felt were too corrupt to reform. The testimony of those radical explorers of inner space has largely been lost: they ruined their minds and bodies by overrelying on drugs as a shortcut to religious illumination.

The absence of those sixties seekers from the arena of general cultural criticism can be seen in the series of unresolved controversies in the last two decades over the issue of blasphemy in art. With the triumph of avant-garde modernism by the mid-twentieth century, few ambitious young artists would dare to show religious work. Though museum collections are rich with religious masterpieces from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century, major American museums and urban art galleries ignore contemporary religious art-thus ensuring, thanks to the absence of strong practitioners, that it remains at the level of kitsch. And the art world itself has suffered: with deeper themes excised, it slid into a shallow, jokey postmodernism that reduced art to ideology and treated art works as vehicles of approved social messages.

The article is not without its flaws of course. Burningman is a glaring omission; a massive celebration of nature, sex, and art that is known for its participation by many really smart people (like the founders of google) in addition to the usual new-age types. And her solution, that universities should make the core of their education comparative religion and culture, seems a bit backwards and Apolloesque. Myths are passed down through storytelling and ritual; the classroom strikes me as an impotent setting for the cultural change Paglia calls for. I want tangible ways to channel Dionysus; active artists, thinkers, and activities to re-inject myth/spirituality/whatever-you-want-to-call-it into our culture. Some people/things who have done that for me in some way already:

  • Francesca Lia Block (author- fairy tales, paganism, magic)
  • David Lynch (filmmaker- transcendental meditation, iconic bizarreness, dreams)
  • Brian Jonestown Massacre (band- psychedelia)
  • Clifford Pickover (author- pop writing on the intersections and wonders of science, religion, consciousness, and art)
  • Rick Strassman & Alexander Shulgin (researchers- psychedelic drugs)
  • Pedro Almodovar (filmmaker- femininity, sexuality, myth, beauty, religion, sensuality)
  • Neal Stephenson (author- east/west dichotomy, collective unconsciousness, past & future, relationship between art & technology)

Who/what is on your list?