Weekend Reads: Defining Alternative Rock, "Avatar: The Last Airbender," "One Piece," Introverts, Mary Poppins

Recommended weekend reading material for March 27, 2021.

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

Jennifer Otter Bickerdike offers up a “completely opinionated guide” to defining alternative rock.

In the purest sense, alternative rock is that which cannot easily fit into any other genre that is being played on huge radio stations, usually but not always on an independent label, usually but not always a subculture or set of values shared by fans. If you saw someone wearing a Replacements or Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt circa 1987, you knew pretty much instantly there were mutual musical tastes, but more importantly, that you belonged to the same tribe, holding a world view that only those who liked these bands seemed to be able to tap into.

I, too, remember a time when “alternative rock” meant something as a genre, or perhaps more accurately, a “meta-genre.” In hindsight, it really was a rather pointless descriptor beyond simply describing music that you didn’t hear on the radio (except for maybe that one really cool station that didn’t last too long). But back then, that was enough.

I hate to keep harping on the WandaVision finale, especially now that we’ve all moved on to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Emily VanDerWerff’s piece on our need for justice in fiction.

Wanda is a fictional character. By definition, she cannot face actual justice. But increasingly, we struggle to talk about fictional characters within the fictional contexts they exist in. We debate the military strategies of Game of Thrones characters and argue about the morality and political positions of all sorts of superheroes.

Yet these characters are all created, and they exist in universes that are constructed. Within those universes, the storytellers who create these stories are, functionally, gods. When we say we want Wanda Maximoff to face justice, I think what we’re really saying is that we want the storytellers to show us they know what justice would be, even if she doesn’t face it.

If you missed it, here are my thoughts on the morality of the WandaVision finale.

Nick Cialini writes about the moral imagination behind Avatar: The Last Airbender’s approach to violence and pacifism.

To put a very fine point on it, Aang makes himself vulnerable to complete annihilation to defeat evil without killing another human being. Evil is defeated without the shedding of blood, but not without risk. It is not some cheap bargain, but an exercise of moral imagination that is decisive, brings justice, demands action, and requires selfless vulnerability.

We’re big fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender here at Opus HQ. Back in 2010, I wrote this lengthy piece exploring the series’ wonderful mythology and world-building.

We’ve all resorted to various techniques to get through the pandemic. For Javier Reyes, it was watching the One Piece anime series that kept him sane.

[G]eneral escapism is a bit of an oversimplification as to why One Piece connected with me so deeply. The series primarily focuses a heavy amount on camaraderie, which is impactful given that it’s the antithesis of what quarantine living has allotted. But also, rather surprisingly, it’s something I found to have an interesting political subtext about the government and corruption, which feels especially cathartic given the social unrest issues that 2020 did such a remarkable job at reminding us that, indeed, still exists.

In his review of Netflix’s A Week Away, Matt Zoller Seitz considers its quality as a “Christian” movie.

This isn’t an unwatchable movie, just an underachieving and forgettable one, and somehow that’s more irritating than a disastrous swing for the fences would’ve been. Innocuous and nearly conflict-free films like this are not, in fact, more Christian than a theology and/or morality-infused feature like “The Tree of Life,” “A Hidden Life,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Bad Lieutenant,” “Silence,” “Resurrection,” “Diary of a Country Priest,” “Jungle Fever” or “The Apostle,” to name but a few landmarks; they’re just more slick, orderly, and safe. They’re long ads reassuring people that the product they already own is perfect in every way.

The last year, with its quarantines and limitations on social gatherings, has been an interesting one for us introverts.

With great news on the vaccine front — the Biden administration recently announced that there should be enough doses for every adult American by the end of May — there’s a palpable feeling that life may soon return to normal. The last year has compelled introverts to think more deeply about their social lives — and though it’s not certain their disposition will change as the world inches toward reopening — some have at least considered making changes once that moment happens. It wasn’t the case for everyone, but some respondents concluded that they would like to be more chatty, while others want to focus on striking more of a healthy balance between social time and alone time.

On a related note, introverts (and perhaps even some extroverts) may be feeling acutely “alonely” when they don’t get enough time to themselves. (Which may be unavoidable if you and your family are stuck together in the same house for extended periods of time due to, say, a global pandemic.)

Aloneliness is the mirror image of loneliness, and it’s the feeling that my partner and I are trying to stave off when we pretend the other doesn’t exist for a few hours a day. If loneliness comes about when there’s a discrepancy between the amount of quality time you want to spend with other people and how much you actually get, being alonely is a mismatch between the amount of quality time you would like to spend all by yourself, and how much you’re actually able to do so.

A group of designers in Thailand have envisioned furniture that’s expressly designed for people with visual impairments.

The colors pop out to the vision-impaired to compensate for their loss in vision contrast. Also, a specially-designed outline system is developed to provide the furniture with shape and identifies the function to its user. Combined with color-contrast design, the design system brings what was barely visible back into full vision.

As a web designer, I should note that they based their palette on the W3C’s 7:1 contrast ratio, which is designed to ensure that websites are readable to as many people as possible.

I’ve been fascinated and impressed by Medium on a technical level ever since it launched. However, there’s always been some confusion about what it is, exactly. Is it a blogging platform? A journalism tool? It doesn’t help that the platform pivots every few years.

In a blog post, billionaire Medium founder Ev Williams announced the latest pivot for the nearly nine-year old company. Just over two years into an effort to create a subscription-based bundle of publications committed to high-quality original journalism — and in the immediate aftermath of a bruising labor battle that had seen its workers fall one vote short of forming a union — Williams offered buyouts to all of its roughly 75 editorial employees.

Via Frosted Echoes, who raises some good questions about Medium’s direction and viability.

Though it’s a nonsense word, there’s quite a convoluted history behind Mary Poppins’ “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Shortly after “Mary Poppins” took the world by storm, two other songwriters, Gloria Parker and Barney Young, took Disney’s music publishing house to court. Parker and Young claimed that “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” violated their copyright. No, they hadn’t written a song that sounded like that one. They had, however, written a song called “Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus” back in 1949.

From the Blog

I’m very much an introvert, so the Buzzfeed article on the pandemic’s effect on my kind was particularly fascinating. I do feel that being an introverted homebody has helped me weather the pandemic better than some, but I certainly won’t deny that it’s been tough at times.

I’ve come to realize that one of the most difficult things for me in this pandemic — acquiring toilet paper aside — is that I’m no longer able to easily compartmentalize the different aspects of my life. I miss being able to leave my house and drive to work, and leave home stuff behind. Likewise, I miss being able to leave the office and work stuff behind, and re-enter home life. I didn’t realize how much I relied on having different “life modes” that I could switch between until all of those modes were smashed together, and the boundaries between them erased.

I wrote that three weeks into working from home. If I knew then what I know now — that I would spend the next 12 months working from home, seeing very few people, rarely going out, playing D&D virtually, etc. — what sort of blog post would I have written then?

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