Weekend Reads: "Cyberpunk 2077," Goth Christmas Music, Libertarian vs. Bears,
Recommended weekend reading material for December 19, 2020.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
Cyberpunk 2077, one of 2020’s most anticipated video games, released earlier this month to mostly positive reviews. However, those who were more critical of the game (which contained some pretty serious bugs and glitches) were insulted and accused of impropriety, a snafu that raises questions concerning the value of reviews and criticism in today’s culture.
Of course, the far bigger issue is that a loud proportion of Cyberpunk 2077 purchasers (and indeed any other big-name game) don’t want reviews at all. They want reassurance. They paid for this game nearly two years ago, for whatever illogical reason (“I’m supporting the massive multi-million dollar company!”), for no gain, no extra content, no early access, no bonus items, and they want to know they did the right thing. And, for some, paying for a years-away game is just the start of the sort of self-imposed brainwashing that causes someone to switch from being A Person Who Pre-Ordered A Game They Want To Play to being A Fan. They’ve not only irrationally invested money, but since then have been investing their emotion. They’ve read everything they can find to read about it, hooked up to the PR drip-feed of information that comes both direct from the publisher and the compliant sites that report it all to their readers. This emotional investment mutates into a form of loyalty, a belief that they are now on the game’s side, and a slight against the game is now a slight against themselves.
Related: CD Projekt — the company behind Cyberpunk 2077 — has found itself in the middle of a PR nightmare of its own making.
Lars Gotrich writes about one of my favorite Christmas albums, Excelsis: A Dark Noël, which was released back in 1995 by goth/darkwave label Projekt Records.
A Dark Noël — released by a secular label — was pretty popular among the gothic possessors of faith. Maybe it was because Eva O — former member of Christian Death and Shadow Project, one-time musical and romantic partner to Rozz Williams — had recently converted to Christianity; she gives a rather alarming, yet touching performance of “O Silent Night,” replete with pipe organ and harp. But looking back, I think the message-board goths were moved by these surprisingly faithful interpretations. There’s nothing cynical or arch about them — the Projekt artists seem genuinely moved by these carols.
You can read my own review of Excelsis: A Dark Noël here.
Speaking of Projekt Records, March 2020’s subscriber playlist spotlights the influential label and its considerable discography.
Keeping up on all of the new music genres that seem to pop up every month can be exhausting — and it can quickly feel pedantic and pretentious when you hear people nitpicking about the differences between, say, future funk, mallsoft, and vaporwave. But Michael Donaldson argues that music genres serve an important purpose:
Genre-chasing can seem ridiculous. But, as you see, the names we use to bond music together says everything about how we listen. New genres are a commentary on the present culture. And old ones are an archeological dig. As Seth Godin said at the top of this essay, genres help us understand our “part in the chain.” That goes for the fans as well as the musicians. Genres decode the links formed through technology, platforms, fashion, and community. Embrace the genre.
He also points out some of the interesting origins of well-known genres, including bluegrass, free jazz, hip-hop, and industrial. Via Frosted Echoes.
Last week, acclaimed minimalist composer Harold Budd died due to coronavirus complications. Noted critic Simon Reynolds wrote a beautiful article celebrating Budd’s serene, heavenly music.
Although its aura is ethereal and unworldly, Budd's music is actually an exemplary form of humanly useful music. When the mundane urgencies of life, or the nonsense of our political culture, get you frazzled, which is pretty much every day these days, you can put on this music and imbibe its stillness and grace. His records are exactly the kind of music you’d play for calm and solace during a bereavement — or at a service sending someone to their final resting place. Harold Budd sounds like heaven on earth.
Famed spy novelist John le Carré died this week from pneumonia (he was 89 years old). Matthew Walther reflects on his legacy:
Le Carré wrote with an unrivaled technical facility. It is not an exaggeration to say that in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, the reader is captivated until the very last sentence, one of the cruelest in English fiction. But it was descriptive writing, his evocation of places, especially those now long vanished, and of characters that raised him above the Flemings and Ludlums. A map of pre-1997 Hong Kong could be redrawn from the pages of The Honourable Schoolboy. Despite, or perhaps because of, his bizarre equivocal relationship with his own father, he wrote with especial tenderness about parents and children.
I confess, I’ve had a volume of le Carré’s stories, including The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, sitting on my shelf for awhile now, relatively undisturbed. Methinks that should change, and soon.
As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, ‘tis the season for year-end lists. The folks at The AV Club have put together a list of the best movie scenes from 2020.
Sure, there’s inevitable overlap between a year’s great movies and its best individual scenes, which is why some of the titles appearing in this feature will show up again next week, when we count down our favorite whole films of 2020. But great scenes can come from all sorts of movies — even, say, a nattering family-friendly video game adaptation we’d otherwise prefer to forget. You’ll find that and more on the list that follows, unranked save for the selection of a single scene that we settled on as our consensus favorite of 2020.
Not all year-end lists focus on pop culture, though. For example, Nature has posted their list of the best science images of 2020.
2020 has been a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed science to the forefront and dominated lives. But the year also produced fresh images unrelated to the virus. From wafer-thin solar cells to gene-edited squid, here are the striking shots from science that caught the eye of Nature’s news and art team.
What happens when a group of idealistic libertarians take over a small New Hampshire town and remake it in their ideological image? A bear invasion, for one thing.
[T]he Free Towners spent years pursuing an aggressive program of governmental takeover and delegitimation, their appetite for litigation matched only by their enthusiasm for cutting public services. They slashed the town’s already tiny yearly budget of $1 million by 30 percent, obliged the town to fight legal test case after test case, and staged absurd, standoffish encounters with the sheriff to rack up YouTube hits. Grafton was a poor town to begin with, but with tax revenue dropping even as its population expanded, things got steadily worse. Potholes multiplied, domestic disputes proliferated, violent crime spiked, and town workers started going without heat. “Despite several promising efforts,” Hongoltz-Hetling dryly notes, “a robust Randian private sector failed to emerge to replace public services.” Instead, Grafton, “a haven for miserable people,” became a town gone “feral.” Enter the bears, stage right.
Related: An interview with Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, the author of A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear.
The world’s first website went live 30 years ago this month, courtesy of CERN’s Tim Berners-Lee.
By Christmas 1990, Sir Berners-Lee had defined the Web’s basic concepts, the html, http and URL, and he had written the first browser/editor and server software.
You can a (resurrected) version of it here. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not about cats, memes, or silly movie trivia, but rather, about the principles behind the World Wide Web project. Via The Retro.
From the Blog
I’ve long been concerned and frustrated by the increasingly religious, and even cult-ish, rhetoric in support of Donald Trump that has emerged from American Christians. And those concerns have only increased following Trump’s election loss.
Watching some of the speeches from the recent Jericho March, and the language used to describe Trump — Rod Dreher’s extensive Twitter thread is as eye-opening as it is disheartening — it’s increasingly clear that many American Christians are now placing their faith in a different gospel: the Gospel of Trump. They’re fast becoming heretics and idolaters. And what’s particularly sad is that they don’t even realize it because it’s all so wrapped up in patriotism and love of country — both of which are often touted, not just as “good” things (which they can be), but as “ultimate” things (which they are most definitely not).
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