Weekend Reads: Rock & Roll's Passing, Music's Hidden Costs, Streaming Services, Wong Kar-Wai

Recommended weekend reading material for October 3, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles. I hope they provide you with some good weekend reading material.

After participating in Rolling Stone’s recent “500 Greatest Albums,” Stephen Thomas Erlewine has come to the conclusion that rock & roll’s time is passing away.

[A] lot of the change is due to the simple act of time marching forward. Nevermind, the highest-charting rock record (unless Abbey Road counts, which it could), celebrates its thirtieth anniversary next year, the same year the Strokes’ Is This It (114) and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (225) will turn twenty. If you have an expansive definition of rock, one encompassing everything from indie to Americana, it’s last robust year was 2013, when Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City (328), Arctic Monkeys’ AM (346), and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern (458) all were released. Far from being at the center of culture, rock is in the rearview and receding.

On a related note, Nevermind is almost three decades old?! Ugh… I think I just felt my hip give out.

Music often feels like a (necessary) escape from the world, but there are real hidden costs to CDs, vinyl, and even streaming services like Spotify.

Listening to music on the Internet feels clean, efficient, environmentally virtuous. Instead of accumulating heaps of vinyl or plastic, we unpocket our sleek devices and pluck tunes from the ether. Music has, it seems, been freed from the grubby realm of things. Kyle Devine, in his recent book, “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” thoroughly dismantles that seductive illusion. Like everything we do on the Internet, streaming and downloading music requires a steady surge of energy. Devine writes, “The environmental cost of music is now greater than at any time during recorded music’s previous eras.”

Everyone knows about Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. But there are many, many more streaming services out there, for all kinds of niche interests and audiences.

Since they aren’t trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, these boutique streaming services can offer carefully curated selections that cater to the special interests of their viewers. But because these services also tend to fly under the radar, it's not always easy to know what’s out there. So we've put together a rundown of some of our favorites.

One of my favorite streaming services is Hoopla, which I get for free with my library card. (Check with your local public library for availability.) Hoopla’s selection isn’t huge, but it does feature some gems, like the entire Sleepy Eyes of Death series of samurai films.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been one of our favorite TV shows ever since it began in 2013. But given the current controversies surrounding policing and racial injustice in America, does a cop show that’s also a comedy still make sense?

“It’s a different world now,” [Joe Lo Truglio] continues. “And we need to honor the fact that it’s a comedy, that we do want to entertain, but we also don’t want to seem tone-deaf. And so those conversations had a lot to do with, how can we make these characters grow — which has always been a strength of the show — in a way that also addresses these issues that are growing outside the show?”

This won’t be the first time that Brooklyn Nine-Nine has addressed such issues. For example, the season four episode titled “Moo Moo” dealt with racial profiling.

Some of the writers at Love Thy Nerd have written about their favorite (and not so favorite) pop culture depictions of people of faith. For example, there’s Anna Volovodov from The Expanse:

She thinks deeply about how her faith intersects with science and politics. When she is mocked for her faith, she responds with grace and thoughtfulness. She sees the universe as a place of awe and wonder, and has a thirst for knowledge. She responds to hate with love. She speaks words of hope to broken people and she wins their loyalty and affection as a result.

For what it’s worth, my favorite person of faith in pop culture is probably Father John Patrick Francis Mulcahy from M*A*S*H.

This story about eBay’s inept attempts to silence critics through various intimidation methods (e.g., sending them live spiders and a box of cockroaches) sounds like a Coen Brothers movie.

This account is based on court documents and dozens of interviews with people who followed the stalking scandal closely, including six who worked in Global Security and Resilience. The scheme they describe was both completely malevolent and remarkably inept — full of daft assumptions on the part of eBay about a plot that did not exist. It stands as a warning about how easily tech companies can feel aggrieved, and the mayhem that can ensue when they do. And it vividly shows how the internet makes people crazy, often without them ever realizing it.

Spoiler alert: The rich executives who ordered the intimidation get off scot-free with fat bonuses and cushy new jobs while the rank and file employees take the fall. Via 1440.

If you’re worried you might trigger the “grandfather paradox” — or any other paradox, for that matter — should you ever travel back in time, some recent research suggests that you can probably relax.

“Agents could have free choice to make any action they wanted and no paradox would arise because the events just adjust themselves to remain consistent,” said Germain Tobar, an honors undergraduate student at the University of Queensland (UQ) who co-authored the study with physicist Fabio Costa, in a call.

It’s always nice to have one less thing to worry about.

Not sure how you’ll survive the upcoming winter, especially during a pandemic? Perhaps you should try thinking like a Norwegian.

During the darkest periods of the polar night, Tromsø only receives two to three hours of indirect sunlight, shining into the sky from below the horizon. Yet its inhabitants do not show the kind of wintertime depression you might expect of a city cast in darkness. One study by May Trude Johnsen at the University of Tromsø found that the citizens’ wellbeing barely changed across the year. Their sleep was a bit more disturbed without the daily rhythm of the rising and setting sun, but they reported no increase in mental distress during the winter.

As someone whose church was deeply affected by a leader’s sin and manipulation, I really appreciate Christianity Today’s statement explaining why they report bad news about respected ministry leaders — even after their death.

Sin’s devastation persists long after a ministry leader dies. Should we ask victims to carry the burden, trauma, and shame of their experiences alone in the dark? No. Neither a ministry leader’s good deeds nor his death should silence his victims. And people who sin need the grace that comes with the light. Death precludes the opportunity for a sinner’s repentance, but not the opportunity for a victim’s restoration and freedom.

My friend Alan Noble has written an excellent piece about the “epistemological chaos” that Donald Trump’s presidency represents for his Christian and conservative supporters.

Why is it that Trump supporters overlooked such a long and distinguished record of lies and conspiracy theories? Some reasoned that, if the media and the Democrats won’t be honest, we need someone to wield the power of unrestrained propaganda for our benefit, to save America and protect our freedoms. Others hoped to contain Trump’s influence. Sure, he’s going to lie about the size of his inauguration crowd, but what does it really matter, so long as he is improving the economy and defending religious liberty?

These epistemological concerns are even more pressing now that Trump himself has contracted COVID-19 along with a growing number of his associates. If there was ever a time when Trump’s administration needs to be completely honest and transparent with the public, it would be now.

From the Blog

Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece, In the Mood for Love, celebrated its 20th anniversary this week. It’s one of my favorite films, so I wrote something to celebrate the occasion.

Visually, In the Mood for Love is a feast for the eyes thanks to cinematographers Christopher Doyle (who left part way through the film’s production) and Mark Lee Ping Bin. Movies are rarely as luxurious as In the Mood for Love, and its rich, sumptuous palette is yet another way the film gives voice to the pair’s repressed desire and longing. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s incredible wardrobe, from Leung’s snappy suits to Cheung’s exquisite cheongsam dresses. And don’t even get me started on its soundtrack.)

In the Mood for Love has since been restored in 4K; this version will be shown in limited theatrical screenings around the world.

Guitar photo by Frame Harirak.

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