Category Archives: Culture

Two Cultural Phenomena

                                     

Each August staff and volunteers begin to construct Black Rock City, a temporary city located in the hostile and haunting Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada. Every September nearly seventy thousand people occupy the city for Burning Man, an event that creates the sixth-largest population center in Nevada. By mid-September, the infrastructure that supported the community is fully dismantled, and by October the land on which the city lay is scrubbed of evidence of its existence. For nearly a decade Carolyn L. White has employed archaeological methods to analyze the various aspects of life and community in and around Burning Man and Black Rock City. With a syncretic approach, this work in active-site archaeology provides both a theoretical basis and a practical demonstration of the potential of this new field to reexamine the most fundamental conceptions in the social sciences. Ms. White talks with Norman B about her scholarly and fascinating book, The Archaeology of Burning Man – The Rise and Fall of Black Rock City.

Carolyn L. White is a professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“How could a quintessential British TV sitcom, reimagined for an American audience become a massive success and a cultural phenomenon?” Rolling Stone senior writer, Andy Greene was expecting the question. In his explorative book, The Office – The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, Greene takes readers behind the scenes of their favorite moments and characters. He gives the true inside story behind the entire show, from its origins on the BBC through its impressive nine-season run in America. Andy explains how NBC wanted to pull the plug after just six episodes and the failed attempt to bring in James Gandolfini as the new boss after Steve Carell left. He also agrees the incredible, genre-redefining show created by the family-like team, took a quirky British import with dicey prospects and turned it into a primetime giant with true historical and cultural significance.

Show #366

How To Enjoy Social Distancing

No matter who you are, where you live or how much money you thought you had at the beginning of this past week, the fact is, we are all now living in uncertain times. Is this the same feeling of uncertainty my parents suffered at the beginning and throughout World War Two? Can we equate this pandemic with anything we may have endured before? The rows of empty shelves at the supermarkets, the stockpiling of food and, yes, toilet-paper is bizarre and disturbing. Restaurants, bars, and almost all businesses are closed, streets are empty of people and rush-hour traffic has dwindled to mostly UberEats deliveries. “Weird!” “Unbelievable!” “Crazy!” Are just some of the descriptive words you hear repeatedly in any given conversation. And, a new vocabulary has stormed our everyday dialogue. “Coronavirus” may be slightly amusing if you choose to believe Mexican beer is associated with a plague from China.  “COVID-19” is just plain scary. Forget the initials, what does the “19” mean? Then, there are two words that you never thought you’d hear together, “Social Distancing”. Talk about a wacky contradiction. “Social distancing? It’s a bit millennial-biased!” Exclaimed my friend MS who also believes, “Good music stopped being made around 1977!” I will admit to feeling a little awkward when I first uttered, “social distancing”. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and yes, it does come across as a bit affected. Yet, here we are letting each other know we are doing it, we are “social distancing”. Now what? To help answer that bewildering question, we called upon some of our favorite guests who also happen to have exceptionally creative minds to share their thoughts on how to enjoy social distancing.

Film and media critic, Bob Ross, jaded as he sometimes pretends to be, always enthuses over his favorite movies. With a new book on the way, Demagogue For President – The Rhetorical Genius Of Donald Trump, Dr. Jennifer Mercieca turns away from politics to talk about baking while social distancing. The dry-humor of comedian, writer, musician, Dave Hill is unavoidable as he gives his sage advice on social distancing. While, best-selling author, Mark Haskell Smith offers pertinent tips for social distancing, plus enthusiastically raves about must-read books. Crosswords are Adrienne Raphel’s passion, her fascinating book, Thinking Inside The Box – Adventures With Crosswords And The Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them was published just a couple of days ago, unavoidably in time for social distancing.

 

Show #365

A Conversation With Harry Stafford

There is something assuringly honest about Harry Stafford’s demeanor. He says without a hint of self-consciousness that he likes to get up on stage and put on a show and if that means dressing the part, then so be it, he’ll gladly do his best. Which goes a long way to explain why the one-time spiky-haired goth rocker now prefers to wear a conservative business suit with a white shirt and tie to perform in. Harry reckons if people pay good money to come to see you, then they deserve a show, not some bloke shambling on in boring jeans and a t-shirt. It all works because Stafford’s new album, Gothic Urban Blues presents melancholy look backward without being old-fashioned. It’s a collection that could have easily been released ten, twenty or maybe thirty years ago, yet the suggestion that this is a carefully crafted homage to nostalgia is shattered by the crisp production and Stafford’s almost languid but up-to-the-moment lyrics. Gothic Urban Blues can be played all the way through without stopping or one track at a time, it’s one of those albums that works perfectly either way. Which is a lot like chatting with Harry. He gives thoughtful, well-considered answers with a treasure trove of insights and details that could persuade you that your sixty-minute conversation was really just ten minutes. He’s an affable chap is Harry Stafford, the ups and downs of the music biz may have given him cause to be cynical but he manages to keep that persona well hidden. Instead, he recounts the early days as founder, guitarist, and vocalist of post-punk gothic rockers Inca Babies as fondly as he chats about his latest venture. Stafford decided to release untamed solo material that echoes his love of blues piano and barroom ballads. The idea he says was to leave his noisy electric guitar behind – abandoning everything he held and cherished – to make some new music with a piano and a head full of ideas. His band is now called Guitar Shaped Hammers to reflect this cohesion of musical unity – with more guitars from Vincent O’Brien, and an additional layered sonic blast from Nick Brown (The Membranes). With intense percussion from Rob Haynes and a truly masterful trumpet contribution from jazz supremo Kevin Davy, the result is very much the soundtrack of a basement radio station stumbling across a new genre they’ve tagged Gothic Urban Blues

LEM Vol 172

Shakespeare In A Divided America

Often in writing a promotional piece for an upcoming show, we attempt to come up with a clever alternative to the title of a book as a headline. James Shapiro’s new book is so incredibly good, so perfect we could not even try to better the title for our header, Shakespeare In A Divided America. The subtitle, What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past And Future explains where Mr. Shapiro is going to take us. Yet, what you don’t know from the title and subtitle is the amazing adventure you are about to embark on from the very first page. Shapiro, with impeccable style and elegant wit delivers a rich and surprising argument for how William Shakespeare’s plays continue to command center stage in American discourse and debate, as they have for well over two centuries. Shakespeare In A Divided America is a story of conservatives and liberals, presidents and activists, students, writers, actors, lawyers, and soldiers who have all turned to the Bard’s works when wrestling with our political fault lines: race, gender, sexuality, violence, immigration, and free speech. With masterful research and narrative skills Shakespear scholar, James Shapiro traces how 400-year-old tragedies and comedies have been invoked and at times weaponized at pivotal moments in US history. Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams’s disgust with Desdemona’s interracial marriage to Othello to Abraham Lincoln’s and his assassin John Wilkes Booth’s competing obsessions with the plays, to the early 20th century when The Tempest became an inflection point on anxieties over immigration, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations of Kiss Me, Kate and the 1998 film Shakespeare In Love. Shapiro’s narrative culminates with a chapter on the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated. In this chapter and throughout the book, Shapiro reminds us of the critical role the theater has always played as a meeting-place of classes, voices, and the backgrounds of American life. James Shapiro has written an exceptional book and true to form, he is a wonderful guest.

Show #364 V2

Pandemics And Human Evolution

“If the Corona Virus doesn’t change the way we behave – we are idiots!” The uncompromising words of Augustin Fuentes, professor of anthropology. Pandemics have been decisive markers in over ten thousand years of evolution and human behavior has changed in response explains professor Fuentes. Our future after the coronavirus pandemic will change, but Augustin suggests we should take a positive approach. After all, the resourcefulness of humans, technology and most importantly, our use of social media should be exciting. We will probably find new ways to interact with each other. How we go about and conduct our daily lives may change forever. Yet, in the here and now, the anthropology professor warns that we must heed the health risks and warnings. Our immediate response to implementing a workable national healthcare system in the United States is imperative. And, yes after a number of weeks of self-quarantine, we should expect in about a year, a boom in the birthrate.

Agustin Fuentes, trained in Zoology and Anthropology, is the Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His books include, Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being (Foundational Questions in Science); The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional; Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature. Agustin is a frequent guest on Life Elsewhere.

       

Show #364

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