A digest version this week as we head out of town for the holiday weekend. May the Fourth be with you:
1. The NY Times Magazine brought us Heather Havrilesky’s brilliant “794 Ways in Which BuzzFeed Reminds Us of Impending Death”. It may not inspire immediate feelings of patriotism, but what do you expect:
American pop culture leaves little room for mixed feelings, thereby inciting mixed feelings every step of the way. No wonder filmmakers and TV producers like Steven Spielberg and Matthew Weiner have inserted the ambient glee of Saturday-morning cartoons and radio D.J.s gasping over sunny weather in order to conjure foreboding and suspense. The hopeful words of wisdom inscribed on a tea bag take on the weight of an omen; the funeral dirge and the bubbly pop anthem eventually start to sound like the same song.
BuzzFeed offers a transfixing cultural snapshot of our times because of its pure distillation of this American urge: the manic-cheeriness-at-gunpoint feeling that saturates our culture… Wisdom, in our modern world, may boil down to recognizing that LOL and fail and trashy and omg don’t actually represent different categories of human experience.
2. Speaking of Buzzfeed, those who enjoyed the “Renewed Mind” video earlier this week will find more of the same in the list of “The Top 5 Jaw-Dropping Christian Videos in the Universe.” I’m pretty sure we’ve posted this one before, but I suspect you won’t blame us for double-dipping:
3. Beliebers take note! The Vulture gave us the utterly fascinating “Justin Bieber: A Case Study in Growing Up Cosseted and Feral” which ends with some surprising thoughts on forgiveness. On the way there, though, writer Vanessa Grigoriadis drops a paragraph for the ages. Or rather, for the age (if not the day):
Bieber is an essential player, and beneficiary, of the low-culture fixation of the moment: whether child stars, those entitled, overpaid—yet also tragic and pitiful—figures can make it across the wobbly bridge to adulthood without falling in the choppy waters below. This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism. You can call it whatever you want—the collective ethos of a nation of Puritans trying to assuage sexual anxiety; a secular society combating a fear of death by torturing a cast of teenage voodoo dolls; or, at the least, a coded language communicating parental discomfort with our own children’s growing up—but you can’t deny that it’s a totally bizarre obsession, one that could happen only in the youth-obsessed, fame-hungry, prudish and pornish land of America.
4. On a related note, The Philosopher’s Mail dished on “Your desire to be famous – and the problems it will bring you”. Preach it:
What is common to all dreams of fame is that being known to strangers emerges as a solution to a hurt. It presents itself as the answer to a deep need to be appreciated, and treated decently by other people. And yet fame cannot accomplish what is asked of it. It does have advantages, which are evident. But it also introduces a new set of very serious disadvantages, which the modern world refuses to view as structural rather than incidental.
Fame makes people more, not less, vulnerable, because it throws them open to unlimited judgement. Everyone is wounded by a cruel assessment of their character or merit. But the famous have an added challenge in store. The assessments will come in from legions of people who would never dare to say to their faces what they can now express from the safety of the newspaper office or screen. We know from our own lives that a nasty remark can take a day or two to process.
5. In music, this week saw the re-release of The Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies (1997), a real unsung–and uncannily cruciform–masterpiece of American music. You may remember them from such posts as “The Greatest Lutheran Bar Band Ever.” Anyway, PopMatters put up an appreciation that does the record justice, along with the two that followed it. Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson know what I’m talking about:
All-time worst performance of a patriotic standard by a major hitmaker? That’s right–Mike Love and our beloved Beach Boys have you, er, covered.
6. On the international front, do yourself a favor and read Matthew Milliner’s travelogue for First Things on “Not So Secular Sweden.” I found it to be both encouraging and touching, especially the ending.
7. What else? The Atlantic reports that “People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts”. And the Toast delivered some quality literary humor with “Ayn Rand’s Harry Potter” and “Every French Novel Ever”.
8. Finally, German speakers will find an amazing sermon illustration in this clip from the The Crown Prince mini-series. According to Habsburg tradition, corpses could not be laid to rest in the royal crypt until the priest on hand assents “to knowing” the person knocking at the mausoleum door. In this clip, the cryptkeeper refuses to acknowledge any of the many titles crown prince Rudolf held. Only when the answer to “Who goes there?” comes back “Rudolf, a poor sinner” does he let the body in. Powerful: