Weekend Reads: Parler, The Muppets, "Take on Me," Elektra Records, Tolkien Essays, Corporate Buzzwords

Recommended weekend reading material for November 21, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles to give you some good weekend reading material.

The creators of the Parler social network have billed it as “a neutral platform for free speech” compared to Facebook, Twitter, et al. However, it uses the exact same tactics as those it criticizes.

They insist they’ll allow anything. Then they start banning spammers. Then trolls. And, that’s the same damn thing Twitter does, and even here they’re admitting that they’re banning “leftist trolls.” In fact, over the past week or so we keep having people showing up on our article from the summer about Parler banning users it doesn’t like and screaming at us about how it’s okay because they’re just banning trolls. But, that’s the pointThat’s what Twitter is doing too. Except that Twitter isn’t complaining about ideological trolls.

Also, considering that the folks behind Parler were also behind the privacy-violating Cambridge Analytica, it seems pretty dicey that Parler requires users to offer up sensitive info like their driver’s license or passport.

Merritt Mecham finds comfort and solace in the Muppets’ delightful chaos.

Contemporary chaos may be draining, but there’s a different vein of chaos that I dearly miss: uncontrollable laughter, inappropriate glee, and late night talks that descend into a surreal madness where everything is funny. The chaos of possibility. Silliness. Nonsense. And it’s this love of chaos that early performances of The Muppets capture like lightning in a bottle. Jim Henson’s individuality and ingenuity combined with low-budget, quick-deadline circumstances to create a chemical reaction of gleeful violence, manic stupidity, and existential weirdness that is a balm to any tired, cynical soul. In a world where chaos is constantly grating at our collective sanity, the Muppets provide an antidote via nonsense of their own, using indomitable positivity to prove that there’s an optimistic flip-side to disorder.

A-ha’s “Take on Me” — one of the biggest songs of the ‘80s, with an iconic music video to boot — has a long, convoluted history.

In 1981, back before we knew that Norwegian musicians were lurking in comic books just waiting to abduct hapless readers, a-ha’s Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen recorded a song called “Miss Eerie” for their band Bridges. In 1984, having formed a-ha with vocalist Morten Harket, they’d take another stab at the track and end up creating “Take On Me,” one of the ‘80s biggest hits.

Bandcamp announces Bandcamp Live, a new service that allows musicians to sell tickets to live streaming performances.

Bandcamp Live is the next step in our effort to help our community thrive during this crazy time. Streaming will never replace the experience of in-person performances, but we believe it’s the next best thing, and will provide artists with a powerful tool to build and connect with their fans both now, and when Covid is behind us and we’re all out enjoying the magic of live music once again.

Upcoming performances include Cloud Nothings, Pedro the Lion, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

This oral history of Elektra Records — featuring comments from members of 10,000 Maniacs, Luna, Metallica, Stereolab, and They Might Be Giants — is a fascinating look at the influential record label and its effects on the music industry during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

[Bob] Krasnow built one of the most eclectic rosters in the industry, many of which would doubtless be on an indie label today, including Metallica, 10,000 Maniacs, The Cure, They Might Be Giants, Brand Nubian, The Sugarcubes, and Stereolab. He accomplished this largely through the passionate members of Elektra’s artists and repertoire (A&R) team, whose job was to scout for and develop talent that set trends, not followed them. During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, many a Gen Xer likely saw the label’s black and red logo on a good number of the records they received with their “12 CDs for a penny” shipment from Columbia House.

A collection of previously unpublished essays by J.R.R. Tolkien concerning various aspects of Middle-earth is coming next June.

Topics include Elvish immortality and reincarnation; the nature of the Valar, the god-like spirits of Middle-earth; the lands and beasts of Númenor; the geography of the kingdom of Gondor; and even who had beards.

I try not to focus too much on scandals, but the ongoing saga of Liberty University and Jerry Falwell Jr. is such a fascinating example of what happens when evangelical Christian culture gets a taste of political and social power — and the lengths that Christians will go to in order to protect that power.

While Falwell’s personal behavior and self-dealing raised alarms among some Liberty loyalists, including people close to his father, they would leave the university — sometimes in exchange for severance agreements that included non-disparagement clauses — and keep quiet about their misgivings. Like many evangelicals, they had a skepticism about the mainstream media and feared outside retaliation against the university.

“The church has a bad habit of keeping things secret. They want to keep it in house, take care of it in house. And Liberty’s the same way. It wants to suppress things and keep things quiet — and that’s what they did with Jerry,” said Mark Tinsley, a former Dean of the College of General Studies at Liberty University who left in 2017.

If you work in any sort of office environment, then chances are you’ve heard — and maybe even said — some corporate buzzwords like “efforting,” “ideate,” or “synergy.”

What much of this language has in common is a slippery, vague quality that allows users to skirt accountability and direct action: words that are so imprecise that they are essentially empty. They give people who use buzzwords an out.

I’m a proud, card-carrying member of Team Oxford Comma. If you’re not, then perhaps this example will change your mind. (Or at least give you a nice chuckle.)

From the Blog

Of all of the titles that I was particularly excited to watch on Disney+ was the ‘90s Saturday morning cartoon adaptation of the Silver Surfer (my favorite superhero). Earlier this year, I reviewed the Silver Surfer series, which proved to be as weird, melodramatic, and portentous as I’d hoped.

Granted, Silver Surfer was produced by the same network that created plenty of bizarre and unique childrens’ series based on Attack of the Killer TomatoesSwamp ThingThe TickGodzilla, and Irish mythology (among other things). But with its portentous dialog, trippy visuals, cosmos-spanning storylines, and philosophizing on topics like war, slavery, imperialism, and mass media, Silver Surfer got especially heady for a ​‘90s Saturday morning cartoon. Having finally seen the series for myself, I can’t help admiring the chutzpah of everyone involved in its production.

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