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Published: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

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When Playboy Made It Big

Sat, 18 Mar 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Playboy magazine used to be the contraband men of all ages hid in their sock drawers. Now it might as well be another pair of socks. It's hard to get excited by a nudie magazine anymore—especially one without any nudes. Since March 2016, Playboy no longer features naked ladies, which is kind of like Hershey's still selling almonds without the chocolate. But props where props are due: It's unlikely we would be as blasé as we are today about sex, porn, and even women's lib if it weren't for Hugh Hefner and his crazy 1953 creation. Hef was a frustrated cartoonist at the time, working in the Esquire subscription department because that was the closest he could get to the world of publishing. When his request for a $5 a week raise got turned down, he decided to strike out on his own. Somehow he pulled together $10,000 and prepared to launch a racy new magazine: Stag. Fortunately for him, the name was already taken. So instead he called it Playboy. The first edition featured a centerfold (a word we wouldn't even have without him!) dubbed "Sweetheart of the Month." In the very next issue, the sweetheart was rechristened a "Playmate." As the author Julie Keller has mused, "There is a vast ideological gap between the words." There sure is. The former harkened back to Mary Pickford, courtship, a-settin' on the velveteen settee. The latter is someone you play with. It's fun, but it's not forever. Thus began the smashing of taboos. The genius of Playboy was not that it published naked young ladies. There were other ways to get your grubby paws on those pictures even then. As Time noted in a cover story on Hefner at the height of his career—1972, when his magazine was selling 7 million copies a month—"He took the old-fashioned, shame-thumbed girlie magazine, stripped off the plain wrapper, added gloss, class and culture." As its subscriber base grew, so did Playboy's reputation as a purveyor of taste. It showcased some of the best writers around: Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates. Its interviews were so candid and surprising that they often made news, as when Jimmy Carter admitted that he had "lusted in his heart" or Martin Luther King Jr. told interviewer Alex Haley about the first time he experienced racism. So, yes, you really could read Playboy just for the articles. Then again, you could read The New York Review of Books for the same thing. Did you? The writing not only provided gentlemen with an excuse to subscribe, it helped change the entire perception of nonmarital sex, from dark, dirty doings with prostitutes to a sophisticated pastime men pursued with willing women of their own class. This, of course, required willing women. And that required a revolution. Hefner himself has said he was a feminist before it was cool. Exactly how feminist is a question for the gender studies classes. Sure, he "objectified" women's bodies. But he also supported birth control (he had to), premarital sex (ditto), and sexual pleasure for both partners (why not?). He got behind the Equal Rights Amendment, and he clearly believed in women in the workforce—he hired hundreds of them to be bunnies. Ironically, one thing he did not seem to like was real, earthy sexiness. Peter Bloch, a former editor at Penthouse, recalls getting Playboy every month, "opening it up with great anticipation and always being disappointed. Because the girls were very cute, but they were photoshopped and in weird poses. Any woman I saw walking down the street seemed more sexy." It's possible that's because Hefner wasn't really selling sex. He was selling lifestyle. The women were simply part of a modern man's lair, along with a wet bar and a hi-fi. That's why Hef made sure all the advertising was aspirational. Howard Lederer, then the magazine's ad director, told Time in 1972: "We create a euphoria and we want nothing to spoil it. We don't want a reader to suddenly come on an ad that says he has bad breath. We don't want him to be reminded of the fact, though it may be true, that he is going bald." Martin Pazzani was a brand manager at Smirnoff Vodka[...]

The Solutions Are Sitting Around a Campfire, Not In Congress

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:15:00 -0500

"Our Miserable 21st Century" is the headline on a recent piece in Commentary, not to mention a pretty good summation of the general mood these days. Economic malaise, an opioid crisis, climate change, spiking crime rates in major cities, a political atmosphere that's about as chummy as a prison riot... Nobody should dismiss these grim signs of impending societal collapse, or the many others that, while equally important, have not yet received sufficient attention. (I refer of course to the use of "concerning" as an adjective—as in "The president's behavior is very concerning"—along with the appalling, yet apparently proliferating, belief that "to include" is a suitable replacement for "including." It isn't.) At the same time, it is possible to make too much of our current troubles. A little perspective is in order. One way to regain that perspective is to spend a few minutes on, which tracks the generally meliorating conditions of human existence over the short, medium, and long term. It is filled with data showing how much better things today are than they once were: Hundreds of millions of people have climbed out of poverty. Literacy rates are rising, the gender wage gap is shrinking, child mortality is falling. Air travel is both cheaper and far less dangerous, food is more plentiful, malaria deaths have plunged, and on and on. If your learning style is more experiential than data-driven, then you might try spending a few days with a Cub Scout pack. Few things are as likely to restore your confidence that everything is basically OK. To begin with, you will not hear word one about President Trump. That in itself is a blessing. Because no matter how you feel about Trump, the topic is guaranteed to enrage: Either you are enraged by what the president is doing, or you are enraged by all the people who are enraged by it. The man must be the country's No. 1 salesman for hypertension medication. You also won't see any strife over identity politics. Eight-year-old boys don't care if you're an immigrant or black or white or Asian or Muslim or evangelical. They just don't. As comic Denis Leary once put it, "Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a 2-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps. End of list." And you won't see any class divisions. One boy's family might live in a trailer park. Another's might live on Park Avenue. Nobody cares. What they care about is making sure their Pinewood Derby cars come in right at the regulation weight limit of 5.0 ounces, so they will overcome the forces of inertia and friction and get rolling down the track more quickly. This is a matter of intense focus and concern (though it is emphatically not "concerning")—especially to the parents, some of whom have devoted far more time than any grown person should finding ways to add a marginal amount of velocity to a block of pine sitting on four plastic wheels. The parents also spent untold hours sitting around dinner tables planning Cub Scout events, and more untold hours at those events, to keep the momentum going in an organization that exists for the simple, old-fashioned purpose of teaching kids how to be better people: better students, better stewards, better children to their parents, better citizens of their communities. And to keep that momentum going they've gone on campouts where they stood in the cold rain eating scorched eggs and raw bacon around a campfire with a ridiculously high smoke-to-BTU ratio, complaining about all the sleep they didn't get thanks to lying on a bed of jagged rocks. Some of them, if they were Boy Scouts, share stories about how different camping was when they were coming up. None of this fancy high-tech gear, microfiber jackets with water-beading technology and headlamps brighter than an airport runway. Back then you had a smelly wool coat and a flashlight that weighed six pounds and emitted a glow so faint it wouldn't impress a lightning bug. There weren't any bathroom facilities, you had to use the outhouse—or dig your own latrine. Then there was t[...]

When Play Drives Progress

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 06:00:00 -0500

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson, Riverhead Books, 322 pages, $30 At the 1996 Republican convention, Newt Gingrich gave what the editors of The Weekly Standard condemned as "the worst and most embarrassing speech of his career." Pulling Olympic gold medalist Kent Steffes up on stage, the speaker of the House and leader of the Republican Revolution sang the praises of the unplanned creativity that had produced…beach volleyball. "There's a whole new world of opportunity opening up that didn't exist 30 or 50 years ago—and no bureaucrat would have invented it," he said. "That's what freedom is all about." Yikes. Newt obviously didn't get the memo. Conservatives weren't supposed to celebrate beach volleyball. They were supposed to be serious, to praise hard work, self-restraint, and small-town virtues—"God, family, honor, duty, country," as nominee Bob Dole said in his convention speech. Not fun in the sun. Or anything else spontaneous and creative, especially if it came out of California. "Locating the spirit of American freedom in Olympic beach volleyball," the Standard said, was completely off-message. (Never mind that the convention crowd cheered.) I highlighted this strange political moment in my book The Future and Its Enemies, published two years later, because it captured an important clash of worldviews. On one side were those who celebrated entrepreneurship, spontaneity, innovation, and the market's ability to produce new pleasures. On the other were those who believed that prosperity flowed from diligence, thrift, and self-denial, and worried that too much fun threatened to destroy culture, markets, government, and all things good and true. The latter view, particularly dear to neoconservatives, I dubbed the "repression theory of progress." Best articulated in Daniel Bell's The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, which built on Max Weber's idea of the Protestant ethic, the repression theory predicted that consumer culture's emphasis on "play, fun, display, and pleasure" would ultimately undermine the whole system. Capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. Steven Johnson does not buy the repression theory of progress. Nor does he accept its counterpart on the left, where technology and markets equal oppression and drudgery. A man of the center-left, he is a classic dynamist: a genuine liberal who appreciates the power of inventions and institutions that emerge from the bottom up. In Wonderland, Johnson, whose previous works include How We Got to Now (the basis for a PBS series) and Where Good Ideas Come From, explores the playful sources of innovation. "When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze," he writes, "they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes." Johnson is not a theorist. He never attempts to define play or to clarify why he highlights some experiences designed to delight or amaze rather than others. (Why so little on sports in a chapter on games? Why so down on the automobile? Why spices rather than, say, dyes and pigments? In a resolutely global and multicultural work, why so little on China?) He doesn't separate playful forms of consumption from playful forms of production, nor does he try to explain why some types of play lead to bigger things while others are simply ephemeral fun. He mines the scholarly literature efficiently but superficially, telling enjoyable stories without worrying about debates over, say, exactly when and how Indian cotton prints spread through the West. Wonderland isn't building new intellectual infrastructure or trying to explain w[...]

A Quarter of Transgender People Report Restroom Confrontations

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 12:35:00 -0500

Public policy on how and where to accommodate transgender people ballooned into a national debate this year and may well have contributed to the defeat of incumbent North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory put it all on the line defending HB2, the state law that both requires transgender people in public schools and government buildings to use the restrooms and facilities of the gender on their birth certificates and forbids cities within the state from passing their own accommodation regulations. But this debate, while taking up plenty of media real estate and undoubtedly at least influencing some voting choices, has been notable for how much of it is based on emotion and fear and not facts and data. The results of a new poll of transgender Americans put together by the National Center for Transgender Equality aims to give a better sense of what these people actually experience in the world. The survey of 27,715 was organized in 2015, greatly expanding on the 6,400 transgender people surveyed in 2011. Since bathrooms seem to be the point of conflict at the moment, it's worth noting that 24 percent of transgender people say their presence in a restroom has been questioned or challenged in the last year and 12 percent say they were verbally harassed there. Outside the bathrooms, 46 percent say they were verbally harassed in the past year. As for the rest of their lives, close to a third of transgender people said they've been homeless at some point of their lives and close to a third say they're currently living in poverty. A full 40 percent of transgender people say they've attempted suicide in their lives—seven percent say they've tried in just the past year. But a comparison between the polling from 2011 and 2015 shows signs of improvement in some areas. The comparisons aren't perfect because the questions are a bit different. But in 2011, 26 percent reported losing their job because of being transgender. In 2015, and given a much larger sample size, only 13 percent reported losing their job. The number is cut in half. They didn't focus on just bathrooms in 2011 (because it hadn't become a thing yet), but 53 percent reported being harassed in areas of public accommodations then. That's still a larger percentage than the general harassment (46 percent) reported in the new poll. But some issues—particularly mental health and family acceptance—haven't changed that much. The high rate of suicide attempts is unchanged, though logically it will take years for that number to shift if the poll is asking over a lifetime as opposed to the previous year. A higher percentage of transgender people (23 percent) report facing housing discrimination in the more recent poll than the older one (19 percent). Though again the questions aren't apples to apples. Another 11 percent in the previous poll also reported getting evicted because of their transgender identity. The most recent poll results can be viewed here and the numbers from the 2011 poll are here. What should the average (likely non-trans) libertarian or liberty-minded reader take away from this? Maybe a better sense of why there's such a push to use government regulations to fix some of these issues but also some knowledge that culture is showing signs of becoming friendlier to trans people even in just a short time frame. It's important when attempting to make the argument that additional government intervention in business and private spaces isn't needed or justified—and brings about harm to individuals' right to freedom of association—to be able to show alternative ways that culture is getting better for transgender people. Though many of these numbers are improved, they are still remarkably high. It's also a good reason why it's important to support transgender people's right to their self-identity vis-à-vis their relationship with the government. When both sides in this struggle are lumping private and government regulations together, it is really important to highlight[...]

LGBT Lives Are Better Than Ever, Yet The Culture War Grows Louder

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500

My public reaction (on Twitter) when I saw BuzzFeed's strange, now-viral piece about a couple of HGTV hosts going to a church whose pastor doesn't support gay marriage was to wonder if the media outlet was going to write a similar piece about every single Catholic in America or just the famous ones. Whatever the stated intent for running a story about the church attendance of some C-list home improvement show hosts (they do well in cable ratings, anyway), the subtext is clearly intended for us to look askance at Chip and Joanna Gaines for belonging to a church whose pastor preaches against gay marriage. The weirdest part of the piece is that it's entirely speculative. The Gaineses didn't respond to requests for comment, so it's a piece that cannot even tell the reader whether the Gaineses themselves support or oppose gay marriage. Robby Soave noted this morning a couple of media outlets like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan running with the story. There's also been a much larger blitz of responses that are critical of the BuzzFeed piece. Here's some critical analysis over at the Washington Post from an engaged gay man who worries that the digital media environment under the Donald Trump administration is going to end up as "four agonizing, tedious years of 'gotcha' non-stories like this one." There is some possible good news here amid the media feeding frenzy surrounding the story: At the time that I'm writing this, a host of outlets have written about and linked to the BuzzFeed story. But I haven't seen a peep at the major blogs or media outlets (such as The Advocate) that specifically cater to LGBT readers. I may have missed a blog link somewhere given the size of the internet, but this "controversy" doesn't seem to be a focus of sites that are narrowly focused on LGBT lives and issues. Why is this good news? Because it's a sign that the people who are actually affected by cultural attitudes toward gay marriage recognition understand where the battles truly are (to the extent that there are any battles left). Whatever the Gaineses and their retrograde preacher believe about gay marriage is not relevant to whether the practice will continue. There is no indication that any of these people in this story have influence to alter the state of legal recognition (or any interest in doing so). There is a lot of focus at LGBT sites about who will be serving the Trump administration and fears about what they may do. Trump actively courted LGBT voters, which is remarkable on its own for a representative of the Republican Party. Let's not forget that the Republican Party's opposition to gay issues hasn't been just a plank in the platform—it's also historically been an issue to campaign with, something largely absent from this year's race. Trump nevertheless did terribly with gay voters, according to exit polls. But while Trump doesn't seem to personally have much opposition to the LGBT agenda, the same cannot be said for the people he's selecting for his administration, and that's where all the power will be. I've noted previously fear over Trump's selection of Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services, given his record of opposition on gay issues. Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for secretary of education, didn't just oppose legal recognition of gay marriage; she actually bankrolled ballot initiatives to block it. Her family has significant connections to organizations that have done everything they could to halt the legal normalization of same-sex relationships, and it's worth analyzing how that might affect what she does in Trump's cabinet. So having said that, what I'm seeing from pieces like this bizarre one from BuzzFeed, and from things like a gay politician's attempt to promote a boycott of a beer company owner for supporting Trump, is an inability to accept a norm that we live side-by-side in a world with significant ideological diversity, and an inability to place an emphasis on policy-making over si[...]

Media Attacks on HGTV’s Gaines Family and Victoria’s Secret Might Make You Welcome Trump’s Apocalypse

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 08:15:00 -0500

(image) We are the architects of our own suffering. A writer for Cosmopolitan is claiming that Victoria's Secret has engaged in "racist" cultural appropriation because the company recently featured Asian-inspired lingerie in its fashion show.

The post's title states the matter plainly: "Why Can't Victoria's Secret Stop Designing Racist Lingerie?" asks Helin Jung. (The answer is obvious: because it's not doing so in first place.)

In the esteemed view of a progressive women's magazine, it's racist to let a Nepalese woman design South Asian-inspired jewelry for Victoria's Secret models to wear on the runaway.

"Don't let yourself be hoodwinked by Victoria's Secret's brazen attempt to re-label what is clearly cultural appropriation by turning it into a celebration of 'culture,'" writes Jung. "The brand and its creative leads shamelessly cherry-picked imagery, breaking apart aesthetic references from wherever they wanted and stitching them back together again. They're telling us it's worldliness. It's not, it's a hack job."

If this is racism—if racism means, essentially, recognizing and incorporating the inherent beauty of other cultures—what word would Cosmopolitan use to describe Victoria's Secret if the company only featured designs that were 100 percent Eurocentric? Reasonable people might conclude that Cosmo is getting things exactly backward: Victoria's Secret has engaged in racial inclusivity, rather than racism.

Meanwhile, HGTV is facing criticism from BuzzFeed because the stars of one of its biggest shows—Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper—are members of an anti-gay church. The article did not say whether the Gaines are anti-gay themselves, or whether Fixer Upper actually discriminates against gays (it has never featured a gay couple, although other HGTV shows do so routinely), because its author simply doesn't know. The views of the Gaines' pastor are, remarkably, the only evidence.

Oh, Jezebel and—you guessed it—Cosmopolitan eagerly piled on. Reminder: We don't actually know if Chip and Joanna are anti-gay, so this is sort of a premature public-shaming.

People have every right to boycott television personalities for being anti-gay, though we might expect the journalism outlets accusing them of such to actually confirm it first.

Occasionally, there are reasons to be grateful that President Donald Trump's apocalypse is only 50 days away. No doubt the smug sanctimony of media figures who casually labelled everyone a racist, sexist bigot—sometimes for good reason, other times not so much—had something to do with Trump's election in the first place.

A Day Trip to Dearborn, Michigan, Helps Puts Election Results in Perspective

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 16:00:00 -0500

For some quick perspective on topics that are flaring in the aftermath of the presidential election—American manufacturing, bigotry, the difference between coastal elite America and flyover country, the environment—one can do a lot worse than a quick day trip to Dearborn, Michigan. The Henry Ford museum offers tours of Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge factory, which now makes the Ford F-150 pickup truck, the best-selling vehicle in America. An introductory video describes the plant as "the most famous manufacturing facility ever constructed," a place where, back in the 20th century, Henry Ford pioneered and perfected both the moving assembly line and vertically integrated production, and where the workforce was once 100,000 strong. Today, the plant runs nearly round-the-clock, seven days a week, but it employs closer to 6,000 people. Fewer workers can be more productive in part because they are assisted by robot arms and mechanical bolt-fasteners made by Fanuc and Kawasaki, which are based in Japan, by Leoni AG, which is a German company, and by Atlas Copco, which is headquartered in Sweden. Even American manufacturing, in other words, relies heavily on foreign trade. For all his business genius, Henry Ford was a bigot whose newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, peddled vicious anti-Semitism and reprinted the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"; Hitler honored him in 1938 with the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. Visit the Henry Ford museum today, though, and you will find within it one of the most inspiring exhibits anywhere devoted to civil rights. Its centerpiece is the actual Montgomery, Alabama, bus that Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of. As President Obama was fond of quoting Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Compared to, say, a Toyota Prius or a Chevy Volt, the Ford F-150 isn't exactly what you might describe as a low-environmental impact vehicle. But a $2 billion overhaul of the Rouge plant in 1999 means that a site where prosperity was once synonymous with pollution now features an apple orchard, beehives, mallard ducks, a "green roof," photovoltaic cells, skylights, and cisterns that recycle rainwater. Tour guides explain that many of these features reduce energy costs and were driven not by government mandates but by economic efficiency incentives. It's something to consider amid the anxiety about the effect a Trump administration will have on the environment. On the day I arrived in Detroit, midweek, rental cars were so scarce, because of "unusually high demand," that the daily prices were more than my airfare from Boston. Someone else on the shuttle bus to the rental car lot asked the driver what was happening in town. A big convention? A college football game? It turned out to be the opening day of deer hunting season with regular firearms. That explanation was so far outside the realm of what I had expected that I laughed aloud at the realization that I wasn't in Boston anymore. It wasn't so clear if I was laughing at myself or at the hunters; what is clear is that college-educated journalists like me spent too much time this election cycle laughing at Trump voters and their regions of the country, and not enough time listening to them. When I finally was able to get a car, it was a tinny Ford Fiesta that had been flatly rejected by the previous group of travelers as too small for their needs. The car's existence was in some ways a consequence of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards imposed, directly or indirectly, by Washington as a way of balancing out the effects of all those F-150 trucks. Will the rest of America eventually converge with the coasts? The Henry Ford's Rosa Parks bus and the robots and honeybees at the F-150 factory on the Rouge River suggest that perhaps Michigan isn't as far from Massachusetts as stereotypes or election results suggest. But regional and cultural [...]

King Dork Speaks! Frank Portman on High School, Individualism, and the War on Free Speech

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 15:05:00 -0400

(image) Forget what you've heard, kids.

Life "doesn't get better" when you graduate high school, says Frank Portman, one of the great chroniclers of adolescent angst and alienation over the past 30 years. Or, as he titles a recent song, "High school is the penalty for transgressions yet to be specified." Still, he's not completely downbeat: "You get better at navigating it, or fighting it off."

Portman is a novelist (King Dork, Andromeda Klein) and musician (The Mr T Experience) whose latest project is a soundtrack for the new paperback edition of his third novel, King Dork Approximately. Writing a soundtrack for his book is an attempt to recapture a uniquely intense and focused multimedia experience that the California native fears has gone missing in an age of information overload. (You can buy the book and download the album immediately here or get the book and a download code at

Like his earlier literary offerings, King Dork Approximately drew rave reviews for its honest, urgent, and wickedly funny take on the big and small ways that our high-school years mark us for the rest of our lives.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Portman talks about his literary inspirations (including Philip K. Dick) and musical heroes (Pete Townshend of the Who and Ray Davies of The Kinks), and whether the world is getting more tolerant of oddballs and weirdos or increasingly more repressive of kids and adults who think and act differently. As a musician who made his bones in the post-punk world of the Bay Area before becoming a best-selling writer, Portman brings an absolutely perspective on contemporary American cultural and political life.

Produced by Ian Keyser.

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Does Bob Dylan Have a Politics and if Yes, What the Hell Are They?

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:06:00 -0400

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.

Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.

If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?

Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.

Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.

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Subscribe to our audio podcast at iTunes.

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Bob Dylan's Never-Ending Tour of The Self

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:00:00 -0400

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan (let that sink in for a bit) has been on "a never ending tour" since 1988. For nearly 30 years, the man behind "Like a Rolling Stone," "All Along the Watch Tower," "Tangled Up in Blue," and dozens of other classic tunes has stayed on the road, playing concerts all over the planet.

Nick Gillespie is joined by his Reason colleague Brian Doherty and The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell to talk the influence and meaning of Dylan, who has resisted all political and cultural categorization. What are the politics of Bob Dylan (which is different than Bob Dylan's politics), who made his early bones by writing protest songs but also claimed kinship to Lee Harvey Oswald? Admired for his authenticity, Dylan is a cultural escape artist who has regularly changed his persona and style and alienated his most-loyal fans by going electric, disappearing from view, becoming a born-again Christian, and more.

If Dylan is the "Shakespeare of our time," what does he for an encore now that he has joined the ranks of Eugene O'Neill, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison as a Nobelist?

Each participant also names his favorite Dylan record and defends his choice.

Click below to listen. About 40 minutes. Produced by Ian Keyser.

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Don't miss a single Reason podcast or video!

Subscribe to our audio podcast at iTunes.

Subscribe to our video podcast at iTunes.

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Disney Pulls Moana Costume, Apologizes for Cultural Appropriation, Saddens Children

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 14:20:00 -0400

(image) Little boys will no longer be able to dress up as the banished demigod Maui—a character in Disney's latest film, Moana—thanks to all the people (some of them Polynesian) who complained about cultural appropriation.

Screenshots of the offending costume are available here. Disney is pulling it from shelves, and has apologized in a press release.

"The team behind Moana has taken great care to respect the cultures of the Pacific Islands that inspired the film, and we regret that the Maui costume has offended some," the company said in a statement, according to Entertainment Weekly. "We sincerely apologize and are pulling the costume from our website and store."

Disney has been criticized for not having a diverse enough roster of characters and films—too many rail-thin white princesses—and Moana is an attempt to address that. But Disney's filmmakers are damned if they do, damned if they don't. When Disney uses merchandise and costumes to make a minority culture accessible to non-minority children, the studio gets accused of cultural appropriation. When it sticks to stuff for white audiences, it's accused of racism. When Disney's protagonists are good-looking and thin, it's accused of promoting unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards. When it includes a plus size protagonist, it's accused of fat-shaming Polynesians.

People are free to work themselves into a frenzy over whatever they want, of course, but taking Halloween costume options away from kids who are expressing an interest in other cultures is such a weird hill to die on.

Watch Elton John's Immensely Moving 9/11 Version of "Rocket Man"

Sun, 11 Sep 2016 12:41:00 -0400

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I published an essay in Reason titled "Why Art Failed Us After 9/11." My basic argument was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were ultimately so senseless and pointless that they mostly escaped our capacity to come to terms with them. A number of prominent artists, musicians, and writers—I focus on Bruce Springsteen and Don DeLillo at length—tried to process the attacks and failed, largely because they refused to inhabit the actual scene of the crime. Ground Zero, it seemed, was the one place no one could figuratively stay near because the mound of flesh, bone, and rubble was just too much to bear. At the same time, there were artists who I thought rose to the occasion, especially in terms of offering comfort in the aftermath of the attacks. From the essay: Two consciously artistic gestures stand out, one of them ephemeral and the other highly praised. In December 2001, Elton John performed a "Live by Request" concert on the A&E cable channel, in which fans could call in and ask the one-time Captain Fantastic to perform their favorite tunes. Like McCartney, Young, and Springsteen, John has seen far better days, both as an artist and as a seller of merchandise. No act dominated the '70s charts like Sir Elton, that rare pop star whose commercial success was surpassed only by his interest in pushing the envelope musically. Since that long-ago heyday, he has survived a sham marriage, cut-out bins full of regrettable albums, hair plugs gone bad, multiple addictions and near-bankruptcies, the almost total loss of one of the most memorable voices in rock, and worse. He soldiers on, touring well past middle age, fat, bald, off-key, and generally happy. A woman called in to John's concert and explained that her husband was a first responder who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. She said that his favorite song was John's 1972 hit "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)." There John was at the piano looking uncomfortably from the side like Marlon Brando tickling the ivories in The Island of Dr. Moreau, wheezing his way through a song that all of us had heard a million times before, including unintentional and intentional parody versions by the likes of William Shatner, Chris Elliott, and Stewie from Family Guy. The song's scant lyrics can be charitably described as sub-literate ("Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids…and there's no one there to raise them if you did") yet in John's croaky reading they managed to capture a profound sense of isolation, fear, and loss eerily resonant with the moment: "I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife/It's lonely out in space/On such a timeless flight/…Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone." John was sweating profusely, his voice cracking on virtually every note, high and low. The song hushed the crowd, giving all who heard it four minutes of intense communion with the dead. I've searched for that particular performance online but haven't been able to locate it. The other brilliant meditation on 9/11 suffered no such fate. The 2008 documentary Man on Wire is readily available for sale online and can be streamed at sites such as Netflix and Amazon. The deserving winner of an Academy Award, James Marsh's film retells the story of the French aerialist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 strung a cable between the Twin Towers and spent the better part of an hour performing 1,300 feet above a sparse but rapidly growing audience in lower Manhattan before being taken into custody. No moving footage of the actual performance remains, so the narrative is told through period stills, newsreels, interviews, and dramatic reconstructions. As with 9/11, we know how the story ends, yet the tension t[...]

HBO's Great Sunday Night Lineup Is a Tribute To Economic Freedom

Sun, 28 Aug 2016 17:30:00 -0400

Don't even think about bothering me between 9 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. tonight. I'll be parked on my couch, staying up way too late watching HBO's great Sunday night lineup: The Night Of, Ballers, Vice Principals, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. These shows perfectly capture why the premium cable channel remains about the last redoubt of "appointment television" in a world of endlessly proliferating on-demand options. Years after shows such as Oz, Sex & the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and other programs set new standards for TV, HBO still manages to produce politically, culturally, and sexually charged content that makes us want to drop whatever we're doing and watch on a network's schedule rather than our own. The main reason for this is one of the least-appreciated: Because you pay for it, HBO is free to engage issues and perspectives that other cable channels shy away from out of fear of alienating advertisers, viewers, and government or industry buttinskies. No matter how racy or edgy, say, Comedy Central, FX, TBS, or Cartoon Network's Adult Swim can get (which is plenty, thank god), they're all still bounded by appeals to common decency if not necessarily appeals to the lowest common denominator. Something tells me that Mike Lindell, the ubiquitous-on-cable inventor of My Pillow, doesn't want his spots to be bookended by the profanity, nudity, and seriously adult situations Girls serves up on a regular basis. The broadcast networks might be freer than ever from governmental content regulation, but they still lag far behind even basic cable in terms of serving up shows that actually cater to adult sensibilities without flinching. Charging a cover means that HBO's shows can use adult language and situations not simply to titillate but to reflect how we actually live, talk, and think in the 21st century—and whatever century Game of Thrones is set in. Real Time with Bill Maher sets the standard for political gabfests not simply because he routinely pulls in guests from all over the political spectrum but because you can freely curse on the show. Seriously, how can anybody with half a brain discuss the 2016 election without going full Tourette's sooner or later? (Disclosure: Matt Welch and I appear on the show.) But HBO's expressive freedom consists of much more than blue language and nude scenes. Back in the 1980s, HBO's awful anthology show The Hitchhiker defined the appeal of premium cable. Each half-hour episode revolved around not just a terrible, Twilight Zone-style plot twist but a single strategically bared breast. Indeed, the real dramatic tension was when and to what ridiculous lengths the producers would go to provide a pretext for a flash of skin. That was then. The police procedural The Night Of, which closes out its eight-episode season on Sunday, plumbs the intersection of race, class, and law with a grit and unsettling violence that is seen nowhere else on small screen. Starting off as a shaggy-dog story involving a Pakistani-American college kid boosting his father's cab and picking up a seeming dream girl, the first episode ends with a night of drug-fueled sex, murder, and arrests. As the plot unfolds, we navigate a world that is filled with overlapping and contradictory ethnic enmities, well-intentioned but blinkered law enforcement, and less and less moral clarity. Ballers is superficially a bawdy dramedy about a former football star turned financial manager (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) whose ambition is outstripped by his talents. True to its locker-room roots, there's more than a little rough talk but there's also a frank and compelling tension between typically white agents and black clients. It's also one of the few shows that talks[...]

'Blue-Eyed Soul' Singer Daryl Hall To Critics of Cultural Appropriation: 'STFU'

Mon, 16 May 2016 08:55:00 -0400

Daryl Hall is the taller, more visible half of Hall & Oates, one of the best-selling musical duos of all time who, despite being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, never quite got the sort of critical love that many other inductees have generated. Hall and John Oates met while attending Temple University in Philadelphia, a city known not just for hosting American Bandstand for decades but for a rich musical lineage that includes classical singers (Mario Lanza, Marian Anderson), teen idols (Fabian, Frankie Avalon), and a version of soul that became known as "the Philadelphia Sound" (The Stylistics, Harold Melvin & the Blue Noes). The city also gave rise to what became known as "blue-eyed soul," an homage to a mix of influences but especially to the black soul music that was "the Phiiadelphia Sound." Since 2007, Hall has also produced an online concert show called "Live From Daryl's House," where Hall hosts a singer or band at his Colorado residence/living space at an upstate New York venue. It's an interesting scene and recent guests have included acs such as Cheap Trick, Wyclef Jean, Ben Folds, and Aaron Neville (for a full list of appearances, go here). In a new interview, Salon asked Daryl Hall how he, the great "blue-eyed soul" master, would respond to charges of "cultural appopriation" in terms of his music. The answer is...interesting (Salon questions in bold): One of the current debates is over “cultural appropriation” – The idea that white people should not appropriate the culture of ethnic and racial minorities. I know that you don’t like the term “blue eyed soul.” Have you followed this conversation?  Are you trying to say that I don’t own the style of music that I grew up with and sing? I grew up with this music. It is not about being black or white. That is the most naïve attitude I’ve ever heard in my life. That is so far in the past, I hope, for everyone’s sake. It isn’t even an issue to discuss. The music that you listened to when you grew up is your music. It has nothing to do with “cultural appropriation.”  I agree with you entirely, because…  I’m glad that you do, because anyone who says that should shut the fuck up.  Well, this entire critique is coming back… I’m sorry to hear it. Who is making these critiques? Who do they write for? What are their credentials to give an opinion like that? Who are they?  Much of it is academic.  Well, then they should go back to school. Academia? Now, there’s a hotbed of idiocy.  Anyone who knows about music, about culture in general, understands that everything is much more natural. Everything is a mixture.  We live in America. That’s our entire culture. Our culture is a blend. It isn’t split up into groups. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool – worse than a fool – a dangerous fool. Whole thing here. As we've noted previously, essentially all culture activity, from music to yoga, is an act of appropriation (speaking of the yoga that's practiced today in North America, it's a Western creation). Hall's defense of his musical practice is starkly refreshing, even as it slides into anti-intellectualism. It's worth making a distinction that goes unspoken in the Salon interview: Different types of cultural appropriation have different moral weights. When the appropriation serves to create continuity or openly acknowlege and celebrate influence and adaptation, it's all to the good. When it seeks simply to fetishize or conceal the influence of (almost inevitably) marginalized or vanquished groups, not so much. Like it or hate it, Hall's music is certainly in the former group and his discography extends well be[...]

Cuba Gets Connected

Sun, 15 May 2016 06:00:00 -0400

"For you, the Internet is like water," our tour guide told us as we barreled through Havana's storied La Rampa neighborhood after a night out. "For us, it is like caviar." She motioned out the bus window where packs of happy-looking Cuban youths were clustered together around the magic blue-green glow coming from their iPhones, the light piercing through the man-made darkness of yet another local power outage. Like the open presence of Miami tourists and the American flag over the nearby U.S. embassy, civilian Internet access in Cuba is an absurdly recent phenomenon. Only last year did the omnipresent government open a few dozen wireless shops where Cubans can buy access to the information superhighway for the dear price of $2 an hour, roughly 8 percent of the average monthly salary. And yet there were more people standing in line outside one Internet store I saw in downtown Havana than there were customers inside a large supermarket across the street. Of course, there's little incentive to throng a market selling only one kind of cheese. Raul Castro's communist dictatorship does its level worst to keep the virtual experience as comparatively miserable as Havana's crumbling bricks-and-mortar reality, but corralling the Internet is like tackling water from a fire hose. The government tries to herd most consumers into a state-controlled intranet (complete with its own top-down knockoff of Wikipedia), but the desire for access to Skype and other video links to relatives in the States is just too strong in a country where few have phones that can make international calls. Airbnb is already becoming a major force in Havana tourism and real estate, as the government shruggingly acknowledges it has no money or competence to build the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the sharp increase in much-needed tourists. The joint liberalizations of Cubans finally being allowed to buy and sell property and Americans finally being allowed to send money back to relatives left behind have combined to create some startlingly handsome home and business renovation projects. Now those ubiquitous '50s American cars don't have to be held together with rubber bands and scrap metal; Uncle Roberto in Miami can send real parts. Most intriguing of all are the mysterious paquetes semanal ("weekly packets"), small storage drives containing American, Cuban, and international movies, television, and sports that are spread around by "data mules" and sold on the cheap. Nobody seems to know who came up with or executes the idea, or what role the government plays (in a country that still has a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on every block, it's hard to believe that the packets are spread in successful defiance of the police state), but the results provide a welcome relief to the artificial cultural and informational starvation that the Castro brothers have cruelly inflicted on this country since 1959. To a degree not fully appreciated by Americans not of Cuban extraction, Havana was the dominant commercial and cultural capital of not just the Caribbean, upon which the landmass of Cuba sits like a cocked revolutionary beret, but also the Gulf of Mexico, toward which the city's fine natural deep-water harbor faces. From its founding in the early 1500s all the way through the mid-20th century it was Havana, not Miami (or even the culturally similar melting-pot port city of New Orleans), that most influenced the broader region's music, literature, sports, and trade. Port towns don't just derive a fringe benefit from international exchange, they subsist on it like oxygen. By choking off the Cuban economy through the disaster of state ownership, centrally planning trade r[...]