Weekend Reads: Four Seasons Total Landscaping, The Simpsons, Christ and Pop Culture, Kendrick Lamar

Recommended weekend reading material for January 9, 2021

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material. Obviously, this week has been quite a bit more… intense than normal weeks. Anyone who thought that 2021 would be a quieter, less eventful year was probably disabused of that notion the moment they saw white supremacists and domestic terrorists invade, loot, and deface the nation’s Capitol. Oh well… there’s always 2022, right?

Olivia Nuzzi tries to find the true story behind one of the defining moments of the 2020 election: the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference.

In setting and content, the event served for some campaign officials and presidential advisers as a representation of the brokenness of Trumpworld. If it was an advance failure, well, people familiar with the inner workings of the campaign said they could’ve seen that coming. “When you hear ‘a friendly local business that’s supportive,’ that sounds great,” a senior official said. “But when you dig into the details on the ground, things are a little different.” A proper advance team, for instance, would have gone to scope things out before securing the location, taking note of nearby landmarks like the porn shop and the crematorium. “The tight shot was good, the message was delivered, but unfortunately —” the official said, trailing off.

Via Daring Fireball.


As it turns out, all of those domestic terrorists who invaded the Capitol were far more interested in getting likes on social media than anything else — because that’s what social media has trained us to do.

It is no secret that social media algorithms have reframed how we think, and how we conduct ourselves online. Through promoting certain kinds of content, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have nurtured an environment where more extreme and partisan content is elevated and travels farther. It’s a dunking world. And many of these folks have spent so much time in the dank recesses of algorithmically ranked content that their brains saw yesterday’s “revolution” as an opportunity for meme-making. I’m just owning the libs by vaping in the Capitol, what are you up to?

Via Nick Heer.


There was a time when The Simpsons, of all things, was more realistic than we probably realized. These days, however, their lifestyle really is a fantasy.

The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence that now seems out of reach for all too many Americans. I refer, of course, to the Simpsons. Homer, a high-school graduate whose union job at the nuclear-power plant required little technical skill, supported a family of five. A home, a car, food, regular doctor’s appointments, and enough left over for plenty of beer at the local bar were all attainable on a single working-class salary.

[…]

This lifestyle was not fantastical in the slightest — nothing, for example, like the ridiculously large Manhattan apartments in Friends. On the contrary, the Simpsons used to be quite ordinary — they were a lot like my Michigan working-class family in the 1990s.


David French sings the praises of Ted Lasso.

I started watching the show because I like Sudeikis, Nancy and I were looking for something new to stream, and I’d heard some buzz that it was far, far better than you had any right to expect. I’m not ashamed to say that it was not just marvelous, it had a moment that brought tears to my eyes. Ted Lasso isn’t just a fun show to stream. It’s a countercultural masterpiece.

Related: You can read my thoughts on Ted Lasso — which we loved, too — right here.


Of all of the year-end coverage that emerges at the, um, end of the year, I always look forward to Christ and Pop Culture’s the most (and not just because I’m on the staff). Instead of doing our usual “25 Favorite Things” from the previous year, we’ve posted lists of our favorites from film, TV, and music and podcasts. (I wrote about the “Bandcamp Friday” events in that last one).

Because nothing is the same, our team decided to forego our usual ranked list of 25 artifacts for this past year. Instead, each writer submitted items from 2020 that managed to break through the dark days and deliver a bit of goodness. Stop by each day this week to see the roundup for the pop culture categories of film, TV, music & podcasts, books & games, and happenings & people. We hope these provide a bit of hope and a few new artifacts to enjoy.

Related: Christ and Pop Culture’s most read articles from 2020. I particularly enjoyed the K. B. Hoyle article on the controversy surrounding Netflix’s Cuties.


The ongoing push to make Dungeons & Dragons more diverse and less reliant on racial stereotypes (see: half-orcs) is proving difficult.

For people who love D&D but want it to change, promises to look at the alignment system and rework “evil races” often feel like one step forward and two steps back. The issue is complicated and fraught. It’s tied into a history of racial stereotypes and nerd power fantasies. But the conversions are happening, and the change is often led by the community. “I think more thought needs to be put into how we communicate the behavior of monsters, ‘races,’ and more,” Kwan says. “Belief systems and cultures are complex, as are the behavior of creatures in nature! While I welcome the effort that Wizards is making, I think it’s also important for them to introduce new ways of characterizing the entities that players encounter in their stories.”


More than three years have passed since Kendrick Lamar’s last album, 2017’s DAMN., and Clover Hope wonders what’s next for the celebrated rapper.

For a rapper whose music takes on the challenge of depicting various states of transition, whether internal or external, this moment has the potential to again make for rich material. It would be a fool’s errand to try to predict what Lamar might think of next, conceptually speaking, with a new president and many chances for restitution ahead, which may or may not come. Rap fans would be smart to let him simmer. In the meantime, all that’s certain is that an artist like Kendrick grows restless in waiting.


Long before he was Poe Dameron in the Star Wars movies, Oscar Isaac was pursuing a different career: playing in ska bands.

Over the last couple weeks, footage has emerged of the Guatemalan-American star playing in various ska bands throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, years before he would portray Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. One of the groups was called The Blinking Underdogs, and as one Twitter user pointed out, they had the opportunity to open for Green Day back in the day.

Some of the Isaac’s other ska bands included The Worms, Closet Heterosexuals, and Petrified Frogs.


From the Blog

I reviewed Charles L. Harness’ classic sci-fi debut novel, The Paradox Men.

My first attempt to read Charles L. Harness’ The Paradox Men occurred back in high school. I picked the book off the library shelf because the title sounded cool and the cover proclaimed it a classic of modern science fiction. Suffice to say, the novel went completely over my head. Something about it stuck with me for decades, however, and I’d occasionally try to find it at my favorite used bookstore or look it up on the internet.

Reading it now, decades later, I’m not surprised that The Paradox Men left me equal parts confused and fascinated — and not just because its prose and style of writing hearken back to an earlier era of science fiction. Harness’ debut novel is quite heady in places.

And in case you missed it, these are my favorite songs of 2020.

I would argue that now, more than ever, is when we need beauty and truth in our lives. That’s not to say that music should be mere escapism, although I’d argue that sometimes it can be healthy to find some escape every now and then, if only to get recharged and reoriented. But in a year packed with so much ugliness, hatred, division, selfishness, and injustice, a little beauty can go a long way in reminding us of deeper truths. That, and sometimes we just need a catchy melody, slick riff, or solid beat to help us get through the day.


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