Weekend Reads: Sufjan Stevens' Anger, "Cuties," Dragon Movies, Gundam, White Jesus

Recommended weekend reading material for September 26, 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.

For his new album, The Ascension — which was released yesterday — Sufjan Stevens found himself tapping into a new emotion: anger.

I think I felt an obligation as an artist to be hopeful and generous and kind-spirited. I can engage in sorrow and self-pity and sadness, but anger was never my calling. But this time I think I just needed to embrace it. I felt like I had no choice. So, I did.

You can order The Ascension via Bandcamp.

K.B. Hoyle has written one of the best takes on the Cuties controversy that I’ve read to date.

We are all guilty, and — I think — that’s largely why a movie like this goes off like a bomb in a year primed for one powder keg after another. Cuties isn’t the product of a perverse Hollywood bent on corrupting our children, and it’s certainly not evidence of a child-trafficking cabal run by celebrity pedophiles. As grotesque as that would be, the truth is far more grotesque because it is far more normal than that. It is the product of perverse people who are perverse consumers who drive a capitalistic structure to give us what we want. We are a culture not only tolerant of sexualized minors; we are addicted to the sexualization of minors. And it’s much easier to rage about the hypothetical pedophile in the shadows than it is to examine the shadowy corners of our own hearts and what our entertainment consumption choices have created.

If you hate that a movie like Cuties exists, then maybe you should ask yourself if you’ve helped create the world that compelled somebody to make a movie like Cuties in the first place.

MIDI may seem like something that only music geeks need to think about, but Michael Morgan argues that the technology raises some epistemic questions.

[W]e could probably all list a ready handful of people who made a career as a singer when perhaps they only played one on TV with plenty of help from autotune. With the help of MIDI, a weak, off-key voice can be dialed in rich and sweet. Throw in a good dance number, and you can cover a multitude of pitchiness in a singer… What I’m saying is, by translating sound to code, MIDI is a pretty significant tributary to a larger stream of innovations that make it more difficult to distinguish between what’s true, what’s embellished, and what’s outright false.

When I see an article praising Bandcamp and its efforts to ensure that musicians get paid for their music, then you better believe that I’m going to link to it.

Born in Oakland with profits in part from the sale of an email start-up company, Bandcamp has thrived during a moment when the challenges facing musicians couldn’t be greater. Starved of road money and feeling abused or ignored by major services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and YouTube that pay fractions of a penny per spin, artists have flocked to Bandcamp and fans have followed. Launched as a digital music site, it has since become a merchandising powerhouse, connecting listeners with vinyl, CDs, cassettes and T-shirts.

A Canadian professor has been running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for nearly four decades.

Above all else, the game has allowed him to serve his initial purpose: To spend time with his friends. “One of the greatest successes of my game has been the fact that it has fulfilled its ultimate objective, which is keeping my friend group together,” says Wardhaugh. “I knew early on that if I was able to create a game that was good enough, that they would keep coming. And that they would play with me, no matter where I was.” That game is hopefully set to continue for many more decades to come.

Speaking of dragons, here’s a retrospective for Reign of Fire, the greatest post-apocalyptic dragon movie ever made.

With the tagline “Fight fire with fire,” the dragon apocalypse blockbuster Reign of Fire crashed and burned at the box-office in the summer of 2002. Once it hit home entertainment, the metamorphosis from flop to beloved cult film was almost instantaneous. Over the next two decades of cable reruns, the movie rose from the ashes to a loyal fandom. io9 spoke to the director and screenwriter about its surprise legacy and how this wild idea became an even wilder film.

For what it’s worth, I can’t wait to watch Reign of Fire with my kids when they’re all old enough.

We’re one step closer to the anime future that my high school self always dreamed about: Japan has created an honest-to-goodness Gundam, and it’s the world’s largest robot.

Inspired by the fictional Japanese robot of the same name — which has appeared in over 50 TV series and movies since 1979, as well as many manga comics and video games — this Gundam features a staggering 24 degrees of freedom. That means the robot can pick up its legs to walk, bend its knees, turn its head, and contort its fingers to mime hand signals.

Via 1440. Hopefully once the Gundam’s complete, work can begin on a fully transformable Valkyrie from Macross. Related: Back in 2016, I compiled a list of my favorite mecha from the Macross franchise.

Jesus Christ was a first-century Jew. So why is He now usually portrayed as a white European? Part of the problem stems from His depiction in the Bible (or lack thereof).

The historical Jesus likely had the brown eyes and skin of other first-century Jews from Galilee, a region in biblical Israel. But no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like. There are no known images of Jesus from his lifetime, and while the Old Testament Kings Saul and David are explicitly called tall and handsome in the Bible, there is little indication of Jesus’ appearance in the Old or New Testaments.

Growing up in the Midwest, I knew that obviously, Jesus never actually looked like any of the pictures that hung in my church. But I thought they were largely innocuous. I never gave much thought as to why those ahistorical images could be problematic, or that the history of Jesus portraits is much more complicated.

After seeing how other evangelicals have responded to protests, Black Lives Matter, and other causes, D.L. Mayfield can no longer consider herself an evangelical Christian.

Surrounded on all sides by people with arms raised high, eyes closed, joy and certainty shining on the faces of the true believers, it hit me: We read the same Bible, and we all call ourselves Christians. But we are not singing to the same God. I could no longer pretend otherwise.

I lost my religion that day, in that crowd of worshippers.

I don’t know whether I still consider myself an evangelical or not, but I completely understand Mayfield’s sentiment here. The extent to which the American Church has identified itself with, and championed, Trump and right-wing politics has been one of the great disappointments of my adult life.

From the Blog

Jóhann Jóhannsson was best known for his critically acclaimed modern classical albums and movie scores. But his final creative work before his death in 2018 was the movie Last and First Men, an adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s influential 1930 sci-fi novel.

[C]alling Jóhannsson’s Last and First Men a ​“movie adaptation” feels like something of a misnomer. A better description might be part visual tone poem, part architectural survey, and part existential treatise on human nature and our species’ insignificance in the vastness of the cosmos — and a testament to the loyalty of Jóhannsson’s friends.

Related: Everything I’ve ever written about Jóhannsson, including several album reviews.

Sufjan Stevens photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty.

This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, sneak previews, and podcasts. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.