In a new installment of “media Diet” here we’re sharing some of what we’ve been consuming across the cultural landscape. These are books, podcasts, TV shows, movies, music, and print that have kept us entertained and inspired in our free time while stuck at home during the COVID pandemic.
First up, some reading. We’ve been dipping in and out of a couple of books that are worth savoring. “Curationism” by David Balzer is a look at how the meaning of the term “curate” has changed over the years. The word seems to have taken on more widespread, general over-usage among marketers, brands, and influencers in a way that far transcends the term’s art-world roots. Even before the art world fixed the word into an idea of a professional role and practice, the word’s origins go back even further.
Like a lot of language, the source of a word’s meaning can be starkly different than its modern meaning. Part of what makes “Curationism” a compelling read is that it reveals a facet of the art world’s inside workings that’s not usually visible to the general public who consume art by visiting museums, art fairs and galleries. In the end it also helps explains how what we see as significant in contemporary art — and the idea of art itself — is shaped and defined by the curator. This is a MUST read for anyone interested in contemporary art.
The other book is “Memoirs and Misinformation” by Jim Carrey (yes, THAT Jim Carrey, the screen actor) and Dana Vachon. It’s fiction… kinda, mostly… with Carrey’s semi-autobiographical personal experiences and amped-up absurdist scenarios intertwined such that it’s hard to detect what’s really real, what’s merely plausible and what’s not. And it’s a wild tale from the point of view of a mega celebrity coming to grips with his own insecurities and the psychological obstacle course of high-wattage fame. This isn’t top-shelf lit. At times the storytelling spirals out of control in a narrative stream of consciousness, carelessly and breathlessly careening from one story turn to the next. But it’s an entertaining read in its high-speed tear through La La Land, L.A.’s moneyed, celebrity-led entertainment industry and its culture. It’s a place where things that may seem absurd and ridiculous anywhere else on earth, are normalized, nakedly planted into the daily landscape to the point where the inane and remarkable starts to become the mundane.
We’ve also been digging into some back issues of Apartamento magazine, especially their 10th Anniversary issue from 2017, which features an interview with, and an essay from, Japanese photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki. He’s the photographer who produced the coffee-table book “Tokyo Style” in the mid-1990s, an influential Japanese photography book that unsparingly opened many people’s eyes to the unglamorous, cramped ways young, creative Japanese urbanites really decorate and inhabit their tiny homes and apartments. (We’ve recently been re-visiting our copy of “Tokyo Style,” too.) In many ways, Apartamento magazine’s entire approach to plainly documenting peoples homes — warts and all — is pre-figured by Tsuzuki’s book. Anyway, we’re huge fans of Apartamento and have been avidly reading it since its first issue.
We also recently finished Lee Goldberg’s novel “Lost Hills,” which is a compelling and thoroughly engaging mystery-thriller in the vein of a solid summer beach-read. The book is made more interesting and kind of creepy by the fact that, though it is fiction, the locales in the books are very real and very specific to us, with some of the action taking place literally on our neighbor’s property near L.A.
Again, we’ve been late to another hot Netflix TV series. We just started watching The Crown, now in its fourth season and we’re HOOKED. While we may be late to the party, we’ve got a ton of episodic bing-watching to look forward to. Yay! The Crown is exceptionally produced. The show follows the intrigues and events of the senior British royal family and the U.K.’s political leaders from the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s marriage and ascension to the throne in the the 1950s right up through the Prime Minister Thatcher era and media spectacle of Princess Di and Prince Charles’s slow-burn marital implosion. The show is exquisite, riveting, intro-skipping storytelling. At the center of the story is the Queen herself. Some controversy has recently erupted regarding the accuracy of the show in depicting historical events. Regardless of how right or wrong it gets the facts, the show is compelling TV viewing of the highest order.
We have a toddler in our lives now and that has shaped how we spend our time (or lack thereof) and what we watch. A byproduct is we’ve been watching some animated educational videos designed for very small children. One is “Super Jo Jo.” The other is “Coco Melon.” We’ve been watching these shows with our two-year old kid and have found them entertaining and fun in a way we couldn’t imagine we would as adults. The shows are exceedingly well-produced. The computer-generated animation in “Super Jo Jo” especially is beautiful to look at.
And speaking of animation, we’ve been revisiting some anime classics from the godfather of modern Japanese animated film Hayao Miyazaki. In the past couple of weeks we’ve re-watched “Kiki’s Delivery Service” three times. As much as we enjoy this flick, we’re not anime obsessives. Again, it comes down to having a small child while stuck at home during pandemic. It’s a film we can watch together as a small family. But the film is not strictly-speaking, “just a kid’s movie.”
Like many of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli animated feature films “Kiki’s Delivery Service” explores themes of nature, transcendence, self-discovery and spirituality. The movie has at its center a young girl on a journey (also a regular feature of Miyazaki’s movies), a broom-riding witch who as part of tradition leaves her family for a year to apprentice on her own and hone her magical power in a strange, new town far away. Here the setting is a pastiche of a small European city by the sea, part of an otherwise normal-human world where flying witches, while uncommon, are not so much a shock but an accepted part of the world.
We’ve also been watching a lot of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which has been produced out of Colbert’s home since the start of the COVID pandemic social-distancing era. We usually only watch the show’s monologue and re-worked humor segments, including the “Quarantine-while” bit. Colbert is a laugh riot. His relentless, critical comedic takes on Donald Trump are as hilarious as they are eviscerating of the U.S. President’s stunning incompetence, mendacity and general amorality.
We listen to a ton of podcasts each week, which we won’t enumerate here. But one we started listening to recently is Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonald’s (WHTPAM). The podcast started as a lark by its host and creator, Brian Thompson, as a one-off satire of the conventions of popular podcasts. It started as an inside joke. Over a couple of years the podcast resonated with an audience and Thompson is now nearly 200 episodes into his show, which is about exactly what the name of it suggests. Thompson wants to know why McDonalds attempt over two decades ago to introduce a pizza menu offering at its restaurants failed. Thompson was a fan of McDonald’s pizza. But few other consumers were and McDonald’s pizza never caught on in the face of well-established competition from the likes of Pizza Hut and Domino’s. McDonald’s pizza was killed and has shown no sign of ever coming back.
WHTPAM’s appeal is that it’s hilarious in a specific peak-podcasting kind of way. Thompson’s podcaster persona is a naive investigative reporter whose manner of reportage sounds like an overgrown middle-school kid earnestly reading a carefully written book report in class. Meanwhile he continues to deliciously skewer some of the tropes of well-known podcasts even right down to the way he reads copy for his sponsors ads and the musicals intros and outros. Thompson’s character is also an author who has penned the very real book “How to Be an Investigative Reporter,“ which is a deadpan extension of the podcast’s humorous conceit.
We also highly recommend Reply All, and 99% Invisible, which we’ve been listening to for a long time now and never tire of. Reply All takes deep dives into internet culture with a sense of fun and humor, at times going down quirky investigative rabbit holes in the search of answers to weird little mysteries. It’s a lot of laughs and oddly informative. 99% Invisible is quite the opposite in tone and style from Reply All. Its focus is architecture and designs and all kinds of fascinating related aspects that we may have never thought of. The production is polished, and its host, Roman Mars, has a manner that is unhurried and relaxed.
We also started adding a few new tunes by new artists to our music playlists. We’re entranced by the songs of Lomelda (a.k.a., musician Hannah Read). Start with her tune “Hannah Sun,” a bittersweet and ultimately uplifting minimalist song, just Hannah Read’s vocals, guitar, synths, and some light drums that start quiet and slow and then build to a crescendo. What’s this song about? We have no idea, but we love the lyrics. The song is like a balm for a sore wound. Another new band we’re liking is Clairo (album art pictured above) and their song “Bags,” which is a more indie-rocking mid-tempo song that reveals romantic insecurities and spiritually takes off from where “Hannah Sun” left off. We’re still listening to a lot of Borns, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Run the Jewels, Ty Segall, Allah-Las, Tame Impala, and Travis Scott (“Sicko Mode” never gets old for us).
See more of our favorite music picks on Global Graphica’s Spotify playlist or via the player below!