Weekend Reads (Jan 1): “Blazing Saddles,” Betty White, Web3, My Favorite Songs of 2021
Recommended weekend reading material for January 1, 2022.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
It’s been said that a movie like Mel Brooks’ classic anti-racism comedy Blazing Saddles could never be made today. But what, exactly, does that mean?
Despite decades of messaging to that effect, Hollywood has never been quite as woke as its enemies say it is. There have been movies about war and patriotism and police heroism since the dawn of the Hollywood studio system. And as we enter the Oscar season and the annual series of arguments about which movies are and aren’t “problematic,” keep in mind — those movies, woke and unwoke alike, were all made, and put up for honors in the first place.
The Polygon staff has published their list of the best movie action scenes in 2021.
The year has been filled with ambitious, energetic, and exciting action films — indies and blockbusters alike — some of which contain scenes that will stay with you for a long time. Here is a list of 10 of the most accomplished, daring, or impressive action scenes of the year in alphabetical order, which you can check out right now on various streaming and VOD platforms.
I’ve only seen a couple of movies on Polygon’s list — such as Tran Quoc Bao’s The Paper Tigers (read my review) — so I clearly have some catching up to do. I think I’ll start with the Fable movies on Netflix.
If anything, the shock of A Clockwork Orange has only metastasized in the fifty years since its troubled release, when it was widely condemned for its ultraviolence and graphic, non-consensual in-out/in-out. Time has confirmed its excess as only a reflection of who we are when we don’t pretend to be what we are not. It maintains its power because of its nihilism.
The Matrix didn’t so successfully penetrate the zeitgeist because it had a single, secret message. It’s a rich, multifaceted text about how badly we are being failed by modern society and what we might do to fix it by coming together as an enormous coalition of people working toward a common goal. It keeps avoiding simple reductions because it’s a slippery target, never about just one thing. In another 30 years, when our robot successors view it as a tale about our overwhelming cruelty and decadence, I hope they recognize that, too.
If you really look at it, the legacy of The Matrix isn’t that we’ve all woken up to the truth. It’s that increasing numbers of people don’t take reality at face value anymore. I’m not suggesting that The Matrix, in 1999, caused this to happen. But it channeled the shift, in America and maybe the world, from reality-based thinking to a mindset where reality has become the enemy because it can no longer be trusted. I’ll leave it to critics to debate the pros and cons of The Matrix Resurrections, but what’s clear about the third Matrix sequel is how yesterday’s news it all feels. It’s running on fumes of nostalgic paranoia.
Too often, religious Jews are oddities whose strange practices serve as convenient plot devices. What makes Amnon remarkable, however, is that he is not remarkable. None of the characters in Firefly comment on his faith, because it is entirely unexceptional to them. In this universe, 500 years into the distant future, Jews are not a curiosity or a plot point or an endangered species, but simply a normal everyday presence.
Comedy icon Betty White, known for her roles in classic TV series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, died earlier this week at the age of 99.
The Guinness Book of World Records in 2013 said she held the record for longest TV career for an entertainer (female). “I think the reason for the longevity is that several generations have gotten to know me over the years, so I’ve become sort of part of the family,” she told Larry King in 2010.
Tributes have begun pouring in from the likes of President Joe Biden, LeVar Burton, Marlee Matlin, Ryan Reynolds, and Dionne Warwick.
One album that I’m really looking forward to in 2022 is From the Womb of the Morning, the Dew of Your Youth Will Be Yours, the new album from Ronnie Martin (of Joy Electric fame). In a recent interview, Martin explains the impetus behind the album.
I had an idea to write a series of albums based on wisdom literature from the Bible. All the song titles come from Psalms and Ecclesiastes, because they include some really beautiful poetry. I also love abstract poetry, and I love abstract lyrics. So it was taking something from wisdom literature and creating an abstract from it. I wanted to ground it in Scripture, but interpret it in a way that leaned more into the poetic side. I didn't want to make a praise record. I wanted to take some of that lyrical beauty from wisdom literature and create something new from it.
I reviewed the album’s epic first single back in November.
NPR’s Lars Gotrich posted several year-end music reviews and commentaries, and they’re all worth checking out. He wrote about his favorite fingerstyle guitar albums and his favorite metal albums, and shared a couple of year-end lists that cover a wide range of genres, from hip-hop and black metal to ambient jazz and Christian indie.
Several well-known works are entering the public domain in 2022, including A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope, and Franz Kafka’s The Castle.
Due to differing copyright laws around the world, there is no one single public domain — and here we focus on three of the most prominent. Newly entering the public domain in 2022 will be: works by people who died in 1951, for countries with a copyright term of “life plus 70 years” (e.g. UK, Russia, most of EU and South America); works by people who died in 1971, for countries with a term of “life plus 50 years” (e.g. Canada, New Zealand, and most of Africa and Asia); and works published in 1926 (and all pre-1923 sound recordings), for the United States.
France will begin blocking some of the world’s biggest porn sites unless they can verify that all of their users are at least 18 years old, and Great Britain may soon enact something similar.
The council said the sites’ current tactic of simply asking users to fill out a check-box stating they are over 18 is not satisfactory and that they are breaking the law by failing to introduce better controls.
If effective verification is not implemented, the council said it would ask a judge to block the sites.
The sites are arguing that the requested verification techniques, such as providing personal information like a bank account, could threaten user privacy.
On the one hand, I’m all for protecting user privacy, especially when it comes to things like financial information. On the other hand, I’m not going to shed a tear when porn sites are held to higher levels of accountability on account of their content.
Stephen Diehl is not a fan of cryptocurrencies, blockchains, and the whole “web3” phenomena. And when I say he’s not a fan, I really do mean it.
At its core web3 is a vapid marketing campaign that attempts to reframe the public’s negative associations of crypto assets into a false narrative about disruption of legacy tech company hegemony. It is a distraction in the pursuit of selling more coins and continuing the gravy train of evading securities regulation. We see this manifest in the circularity in which the crypto and web3 movement talks about itself. It’s not about solving real consumer problems. The only problem to be solved by web3 is how to post-hoc rationalize its own existence.
Each year when December 31 arrives, there’s a collective lament over the speed of time. The complaints seem a bit louder in this pandemic era, since many of the usual markers that help us keep time have been postponed from one season to the next or cancelled completely. Again. Although many pop culture markers have fallen prey, creators have continued to offer their works, sustaining us with glimmers of hope and windows into other dimensions.
I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved with Christ and Pop Culture, and I’m very excited about the plans we have for 2022.
And finally, Jason Kottke shared 18 things that kept him going in 2021, such as Wes Anderson, a mountain biking app, COVID vaccines, and the Premier League.
From the Blog
It’s finally here (though Opus subscribers got a sneak peak): my favorite songs of 2021, featuring Daygraves, Deafheaven, Japanese Breakfast, Low, Lycia, Angel Olsen, and many more.
For me, music provides, if not an escape, then a method for coping with, and making sense of, the ever-encroaching madness and darkness by offering glimpses of truth and beauty that help put things back into a proper context. Some of these songs were joyous, some were contemplative and pensive, and some were filled with rage. Whatever the case, they all provided me with much-needed comfort over the last 12 months — and I’m sure that I’ll continue returning to them in the months and years to come.
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