Inside the world’s largest collection of ‘Jerry Maguire’ VHS tapes

I missed this short film from Vice when it was first released in February, but am glad I finally found it. It’s a look inside the effort by Everything Is Terrible to not only amass the largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes, but also their desire to build a permanent pyramid in the Nevada dessert that will serve as a tribute to these “Jerry’s.”

On the one hand, there are probably better things for one to devote one’s time to than anything Maguire VHS-tape-related. On the other hand, this project gives me so much joy with its randomness that I kind of want these guys to succeed.

A podcast recap of ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

The season (series?) finale of Twin Peaks: The Return is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic works I’ve ever seen on television. Overall, I found this season to be inspiring and maddening in almost equal measure, but I was grateful for the unpredictable ride.

I was also glad to be able to recap the show with my frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson. Listen to our thoughts on the season below:

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Honest Trailer for ‘Kong: Skull Island’

I was stunned by this Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island, which features the participation of the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It’s rare to see a director be so blunt and relentless about criticizing his own film, but Vogt-Roberts deftly shows that he still has the self-awareness to recognize his own film’s weaknesses.

In retrospect, I now understand why most directors don’t do this kind of thing. With film being such a collaborative medium, there are many people who could interpret commentary like this as throwing them under a bus: screenwriters, actors, editors, (heck even the studio itself) etc. I’m sure Roberts is on good terms with all, but it just feels like the risk is large for misinterpretation.

That said, this is an extraordinary work of self-examination, taking place on the massive stage of an insanely popular YouTube channel. Kudos to Vogt-Roberts for putting the magnifying glass on himself.

Seeing ‘Hamilton’

Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton” debuted in New York years ago, but when I saw it at the Pantages theater in Los Angeles last night, I have to admit that it affected me in ways I could not have anticipated. The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, with people of color playing nearly all the central roles, takes on a special significance in our current times. Seeing people of color advocating and dying for the founding principles of this country — it was all very moving, especially in an age where the President and the majority of the white-dominated political party in power refuse to unequivocally denounce actual Nazis. 

This country always had greatness, but even at its founding, it’s greatness was predicated on a group of people who were willing to stand up for what was right, even when that meant deep sacrifice. I feel like history is again calling us to do the right thing, and not throw away our shot.

Anyway, “Hamilton” is an amazing experience and you should consider making major life sacrifices to see it.

The John Denver-aissance

On a recent episode of the Slashfilmcast, we discussed the odd fact that a ton of 2017 films happened to use John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Over at Vulture, Karen Han has written a piece that explores why:

Amy Abrams, one of the managers of Denver’s estate, confirmed in an interview with Vulture that there’s been an uptick in “meaningful feature film requests” for Denver’s music in the last few years, in part because those who loved Denver’s music as kids are now adults able make those requests. “John Denver’s songs were iconic to a generation, and have been passed down in the public consciousness,” said Abrams. “It also helps that a lot of directors, producers, actors, editors, and music supervisors grew up fans and are now in powerful positions to sync the music they love.”

Abrams also attributed the uptick to the estate’s partnership with Kobalt (they were brought on in 2014, replacing BMG, and also represent artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), in addition to making licensing a priority with their new team. To secure the rights to a Denver song, Abrams explained, the filmmakers must submit scene briefs. If they aren’t clear enough as to how the music will be used and further questions don’t clear the matter up, Denver’s children and their business managers are consulted as well. What’s most important, said Abrams, is that they remain in line with Denver’s ideals: He’s remembered as a philanthropist and humanitarian as much as he is a musician, and much of the content on his official web page is devoted to his messages of peace and compassion.

It’s a great song, but it really does feel like we’ve reached Peak Denver this year.

From ‘Ocean’s 11’ to ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘Logan Lucky’: Why happy endings aren’t enough for heist films anymore

[This article contains SPOILERS for Baby Driver, Ocean’s 11, and Logan Lucky]

The ending of Steven Sodberbergh’s Ocean’s 11 is one of the most iconic heist movie endings of all time. Having successfully pulled off one of the most elaborate casino heists ever, Daniel Ocean’s associates stand at the Bellagio fountain and watch the water show together set to an orchestral version of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” reflecting on the depth of their achievements. They go off on their own separate ways, presumably to enjoy the winnings they’ve obtained.

I thought about this ending a lot when I saw Logan Lucky yesterday, which is out in theaters almost 16 years after the release of Ocean’s 11. Both feature a male mastermind with a complicated love life who assembles a team of people to steal a huge sum of money from a large location with a complex security system. In both movies, the protagonists encounter events that are seemingly setbacks, but that we later learn were part of the plan all along. In other words, they’re both fairly conventional heist films.

With one major difference.

Just as Logan Lucky was hitting the 90-minute mark or so and wrapping up its main heist plot, the film introduces two new characters — FBI agents played by Hillary Swank and Macon Blair. For an additional 15-20 minutes, the film chronicles the FBI’s attempt to find who was responsible for the speedway heist. When the FBI ultimately fails, that’s when we get that happy ending we’ve been looking for: All the members of Logan’s crew drinking and enjoying life at the Duck Tape bar. The final shot of the film reveals Swank’s character is also at the bar, presumably having put all the pieces of the puzzle together and about to create some real trouble for the Logan brothers.

I found this ending to be curious. First of all, I thought Swank’s performance was an…interesting choice? She plays her investigative agent very much like a cartoon character, devoid of any emotion and unrelentingly stern.

But beyond that, it felt similar in a lot of ways to the ending of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. In that movie, the protagonist Baby has seemingly escaped town with the love of his life, Debora, only to be apprehended by police at a roadblock. In a rapid fire montage that follows, we see the trial that occurs in the wake of the film’s events. Many of the side characters we’ve seen in the film testify on Baby’s behalf. He’s eventually released, presumably not too long after he was imprisoned, and he and Debora get the chance to drive off into the sunset.

Both Baby Driver and Logan Lucky feature something I don’t recall seeing too often at the end of heist films: a glimpse at how the legal process would play out in the wake of each film’s extraordinary events. Why complicate the film in this way? Why add on a few minutes of runtime (or in the case of Logan Lucky, what amounts to a rushed third act) simply to tell us something that viewers might not even care about? I have a few theories.

I believe that filmgoers in general have gotten too smart about how society actually functions. In a world of smartphones and ubiquitous surveillance, we know that one simply can’t create a ton of havoc in downtown Atlanta or steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Charlotte Speedway without either being caught or experiencing some form of consequences.

In both films, the function of the legal process basically allows us to feel good about the actions of the protagonists by communicating to us that these people got off (almost) scot-free. Yes, Baby had to serve time, and yes, Hillary Swank might be ready to re-open her investigation. But the crimes of the film have been largely resolved in the eyes of our country’s legal system.

Of course, Logan Lucky and Baby Driver aren’t the first movies to have people experience the consequences of their actions. Just look at the opening minute of this Ocean’s 12 teaser trailer:

The only other idea I’ll posit about why these movies ended this way is that, in our new interconnected age, perhaps society has gotten more communal. Actions no longer take place in a vacuum — everyone acutely understands how we’re all connected and how kindness can actually affect people in the longer term (just think of how the witness testimony in Baby Driver is all about the character’s good nature).

Maybe seeing someone abscond with millions of other people’s money with zero consequences — regardless of noble intentions, regardless of if the money is insured — is no longer something we can feel 100% good about. If that’s the case (BIG if), I actually think that’s a step in the right direction for us.

A scientific analysis of Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do”

Taylor Swift’s music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” dropped last night, and has already racked up 19 million YouTube views. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the video is bold, arresting and features some genuinely interesting visual ideas.

But if you’re like me, you don’t closely keep up with Swift’s online feuds or her career goings-on. Thus, I found Chris Rosen’s analysis of the video at EW to be extremely handy in putting together WTF is actually happening in the video:

Jon Brion’s score for ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life recently. While I’m excited at what lies ahead, I’m wistful for what has been left behind. To quote Don Draper, “‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” I have a lot of nostalgia lately.

One of the ways I’ve been coping is by listening to Jon Brion’s score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With its plaintive piano melodies and synth-y backdrops, it makes for perfect listening as you’re reflecting on the past.

Here are a few of my favorite tracks:

Only downside? The tracks are extremely short and, mirroring many of the scenes in the film, often feel like they end with no warning. Nevertheless, they still provide my day with sublime moments of beauty.

“If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen”

Seven years ago, I was riveted by the drama of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, who battled with NBC for control of The Tonight Show. Bright Sun Films has created a great video essay that summarizes all the major events:

It was the month we took sides in a conflict between high-profile celebrity millionaires. Conan’s goodbye speech still gets me; despite the fact that he and his crew received $45 million to leave The Tonight Show, I was moved by the tragedy of this person dreaming about attaining a goal for over two decades, having it in his hands, only to watch it slip from his grasp.

What happened to Mic?

Mic recently announced they’d be doing massive layoffs and restructuring to focus on video. Over at The Outline, Adrianne Jeffries has an extensive piece on where Mic went wrong:

The leadership was excited about elevating underrepresented communities, but employees said that Mic had become a content factory. The site had “no plan” for a Trump win on election night, multiple former employees told me, and improvised by pulling queer people and people of color out of the newsroom, putting them in front of a camera, and having them talk about how they felt. In another instance, a former staffer told me about how Horowitz, who served as editor in chief of the site until mid-2015 and is now editor at large, once interrupted a reporter pitching a video about a woman building rooftop gardens in New Orleans: “‘But, is she black? Is she black?’” the former staffer recalled Horowitz asking, “as if the story would be less impactful had the woman doing the work been white or Hispanic or Martian.” When the site was pushing into original comedy, Altchek told multiple staffers that he wanted to make “the next Chappelle Show, except it’s hosted by a trans woman of color.” Multiple former employees brought up the time Altchek introduced a video about the feminist #FreeTheNipple movement at a large staff gathering with a joke implying that the video still would have been excellent even if it hadn’t included boobs: “Titties aside,” he said, it was a great piece.

The company had a way larger problem than simply its monetization efforts: a management team that was fundamentally out of sync with the culture that was burgeoning at their own company.

How do you say sorry online?

Christopher Mele at The New York Times is doing a good job chronicling the foibles of the digital age. This week, he wrote up an insightful piece on how to give someone condolences online. Short answer? Don’t let that be where your sympathies end:

April Masini, who writes about relationships and etiquette for her website Ask April, said in an email that offering sympathy via social media can fall short. Many people post comments primarily to be seen publicly expressing condolences, she said, and comforting the bereaved becomes a secondary goal.

If you do leave a message on a grieving person’s Facebook profile, be sure to follow up with a phone call, or maybe a note or card in the mail, experts said. You want your condolences to be personal and direct, so taking time to treat the grieving party to coffee or to send them a personal note means more than a quick “I’m sorry for your loss” via Facebook message or text.

Also, only offer condolences on social media if the person has posted the death and personally publicized it, said Michelle P. Maidenberg, the president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a group therapy center in Harrison, N.Y. The last thing you want is to force your grieving friend into an unwanted public conversation about the death.

Auditioning for Magic Castle

I’m really enjoying how /Film editor-in-chief Peter Sciretta is carving his way through life these days. Check out his piece on how he auditioned for LA’s Magic Castle:

As happy as this experience has made me, I’m very regretful of not trying out for the Magic Castle earlier. I feel embarrassed and dumb. It really sucks that I let fear own my decisions. If I hadn’t, who knows? I may have had seven years of fun in the Castle as a member at this point. Who knows what I missed in that time.

I’m not a motivational speech kinda guy, but I hope anyone reading this takes something away from this experience. Sure, you might not be into magic or have interest in joining The Magic Castle. But I’m sure you have things in your life that you have pushed off or away because of your fears and anxieties. Maybe there is a woman (or man) you want to ask out, but are afraid to make a move. Maybe you have always wanted to try taking an improv comedy class, but didn’t want to deal with the possible failure in front of a crowd. Maybe it’s something much simpler. Whatever the case, don’t let your fears get the best of your possible happiness. Don’t be in regret years later. Go, do it.

See also: Peter’s forbidden journey.

What happened to Armond White

Stephen Kearse has written a great profile on film critic Armond White over at Hazlitt:

What tarnishes White’s appeal is how calcified his expertise has become. No longer even nominally engaged with larger discourses, he writes with an embittered detachment, scoffing at an anonymous conglomerate of lesser writers and thinkers. White was always adversarial, but in his old columns, his rivals were named: Stanley Crouch, Greg Tate, Robert Christgau, Ann Powers—virtually anyone who ever wrote for the Village Voice. His tone was just as sardonic as it is now, but there was an air of community to all these callouts, a sense that he, and all critics, were participating in a grand commitment to art that necessitated disagreement and dialogue. White’s current reviews have no sense of any conversations beyond the ones in his own head. “Hollywood movies have become television at just the point when media shills are spreading the fake news that we’re experiencing a ‘new golden age’ of TV,” he writes emptily in his review of Baywatch, the shills, the movies, and the television shows unnamed. “Kong: Skull Island and Contemporary Color coexist because Millennial culture is at odds with itself,” he writes of those two movies, citing a mysterious conflict within a demographic group that no one can accurately define. Critics are expected to make loaded comparisons and to use their own inclinations as a wellspring for new perspectives, but since his expulsion from the NYFCC, White’s oppositional writing style has struggled. He brings the gusto of his past work, but he writes against criticism that doesn’t actually appear to exist, the silliest resistance. […]

Ultimately, the world doesn’t need Armond White, but it’s a shame that he’s slipped away. He wasn’t initially a contrarian or a hack or a troll; he was a gay black man with the audacity to demand that movies not be condescending and escapist and patronizing to the people that loved them, that needed them. He believed in black art and art in general and fought, sometimes pettily, sometimes harshly, for it to be appreciated seriously. He sneered at goofy shit like consensus and Tomatometers and Stanley Crouch because they had nothing to do with criticism. Criticism was arguments, confrontation, politics, enlightenment, resistance. But that’s who he was, back when he had colleagues, back when he listened, back when the NYFCC was accountable to him, and he to it, back when he was a journalist and not a blowhard. Now he’s just a joke. And even worse, he’s the most unfunny kind: the kind that used to rock you to your core, but now just confounds you, broken synapses firing into the void.

This profile links to an interview I conducted with White after the NYFCC controversy. I was honored to have the opportunity to have White on the Slashfilm podcast multiple times, including our review of Inception (and its After Dark), our review of 12 Years a Slave, and our review of Real Steel.

We always got lots of flak for every one of these appearances. Here’s one example of such criticism, emailed in by one of our listeners after the 12 Years a Slave episode:

Armond White is a troll and I really did not enjoy listening to him on the latest episode of the podcast. Not only is he a troll, but a classic troll. When confronted with any of your arguments against his points, he almost always deflected the question and either changed the subject or nit picked at your question/choice of words.

Another tactic that grew wearisome was his referencing older films that he can assume you have not seen and therefore remain unable to engaged him in a conversation about. And calling Steve McQueen’s film an “art thing?” It’s just juvenile.

Also, by his definition, any film that shows characters to struggle or to face tough odds would be considered “tourture porn.” I wonder if he would consider All is Lost to be “tourture porn?”

When I was younger, folks like Armond used to infuriate me. “Who dares besmirch the perfect RottenTomatoes score of Toy Story 3! Clearly not someone who had any good taste!” my logic went.

But as I grew older, I started appreciating folks like Armond White more and more. In a sea of “yes,” he dared to be a “no.” What drove him? Was it just the desire to be a troll or did he legitimately buy what he was selling?

Ultimately the reason I invited White on the podcast was because I wanted to see if there was any “there” there. And for awhile, I believed in the purity of Armond White’s motives. When he insisted that he could break down a Michael Bay film and a Christopher Nolan film frame by frame and prove that Bay had better visual storytelling acumen than Nolan, I didn’t necessarily believe it but I believed that he believed it.

In a piece after the NYFCC controversy, Owen Glieberman explained his thoughts on Armond White in a way that matched how mine evolved:

Does Armond White simply have his own idiosyncratic opinions? Or is he a contrarian, a bomb thrower who’s deliberately out to rile people up? I would say that both are true, but for most people the contrarian label sums him up, and you often can’t tell where the fearless free-thinker leaves off and the bullying, didactic iconoclast begins. And that’s the problem with Armond’s criticism. He writes like he’s the last honest man in America, but contrarianism, by definition, isn’t completely honest. It’s self-hype, designed to provoke a reaction. I truly do believe that Armond White comes to the vast majority of his opinions honestly. He’s a gay African-American fundamentalist-Christian aesthete, and if that doesn’t make him an individual, I don’t know what would. But it seems to me that Armond, over the years, has become so invested in the idea of how different his gaze is from everyone else’s that he has turned individuality into a species of megalomania. The subtext of too many of Armond’s reviews is: Only I see the truth! And it’s that need to be the only truth-teller in the room that, too often, seems to be driving him. A lot of great critics have anger — it was there in Kael, and in Lester Bangs — but Armond’s blistering attacks reflect not just anger but rage. That’s a dangerous place to write from.

In other words, from the outside, White seemed as though he believed in his own hype. And that’s a shame because it clouded a lot of his legitimately interesting and provocative opinions.

All that said, when I look back on my conversations with White, I feel nothing but gratitude. Here was a man whose opinions were admired by some, hated by thousands of internet fanboys, but who nonetheless kept fighting for a truth he believed in. And even though White seems to despise internet fan blogs like Slashfilm.com, he generously spent time sharing his opinions with me and with our audience.

I’ll never know why he agreed to appear on the show. When I asked him about why he was willing to return to the podcast, he just seemed to cherish the spirit of our show’s open conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to chat with White again but for now, that’s how I’ll choose to remember him.

The New York Times’ disastrous piece on bubble tea

Earlier today, The New York Times published an article about bubble tea with the following headline:

Why was this article so widely critiqued by Asian folks? Because it describes bubble tea as some kind of exotic, bizarre delicacy that’s only now about to break into the mainstream. In fact, I personally have been drinking bubble tea from urban shops for over a decade.

And beyond the timing of bubble tea’s emergence, any Asian kid who’s ever brought in their lunch to school cafeteria intimately understands what it’s like to have their food described this way. It’s the language of those who fear and don’t understand what’s different. It’s language that tries to separate and divide. Ultimately, it’s language that’s beneath the stature of The New York Times.

As Splinter News points out, the article has been revised multiple times since its publication. The editors removed phrasing that described bubble tea as an “exotic concoction” and something that “washed ashore in the United States a few years back.”

The Times even published a separate mea culpa piece, in which they acknowledge their mistakes:

The reader complaints have merit. In retrospect, we wish we had approached the topic differently (if at all). There may be a story in the expansion of bubble tea businesses in the United States, but there is no denying the drink has been around for quite a while. And we regret the impression left by some of the original language in the article, which we have revised in light of the concerns.

We thank our readers for sharing their views.

I don’t know how many of our problems a diverse newsroom can solve, but I’m pretty sure any Asian editor could’ve singlehandedly prevented this entire backlash.

Why so many publications are “pivoting to video”

This morning, we learned that Mic is laying off 25 staffers and pivoting to video. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing happened recently to MTV News, Vocativ, and many, many other publications.

So why are so many publications pivoting to video? Where is the demand for this video coming from? And why do the results of these pivots often fail to inspire confidence?

For some guidance, I’d recommend checking out this Twitter thread by Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. I’ve embedded the first tweet and recommend that you follow Josh on Twitter. For the sake of readability, I’ve included the full text of his comments below.

With the news that yet another publication is “laying off staff to pivot to video”, I wanted to return to what is driving these moves. You may know me as a writer or pontificator. But what I know best is running digital media sites. No site is “pivoting to video” because of audience demand. Not even close. They are pivoting to video because the industry is in the midst of a monetization crisis.

Expectations for digital ad revenue were unrealistic. There was already an excess number of publications relative to ads. And then coming into that already difficult situation, the platform monopolies started scooping all the money. Most of the money invested in these sites did not anticipate this set of circumstances. That was a mistake because most but not all were visible years ago. In this difficult environment, there appears to be one pot of money available: ads on video. And there’s one potential source of audience: viral videos driven by social media platforms like Facebook. Facebook also wants access to the video ad pot of money.

So the investments were made on the flawed predictions. The money that was supposed to be there is not there. And the video money bucket is the only available option.

Now, my personal take is that the video money bucket is largely a mirage. Everything up to this point is a dead certainty. My prediction about the video money bucket is a prediction. Not certain. But my best guess. The point is that from a financial point of view the “pivot to video” makes sense in this context. It’s usually not presented very honestly because it’s presented as the amazingness of video which everyone is going to love. Really it is at best indifferent to consumers of news. But it’s still worth understanding what’s driving it. The real key is that the financial models are driving in a direction that has zero to do with readers. That won’t end well. Again, no publisher is “pivoting to video” because of anything to do with reader/audience demand. Not in the news and political news space. Not even close.

This is needless to say a disaster for a lot of journalists. And I expect more of it. I am happy and grateful to be able to say that nothing like this is in the offing at TPM. That is because we saw of this coming a few years ago and shifted our business model accordingly. We are putting our resources not into video nonsense but rather new content that will increase the value of our membership program.

The key issue, though, as I see it is that the business model too many of the pubs are premised on is flawed and it is in addition to being flawed it is (if not collapsing) then rapidly deteriorating and very importantly out of sync with audience interest and demand. Again, that won’t end well.

Let me end by thanking our audience. We have a dedicated audience which allows us to with any triumphal spirit. I say it simply to explain to people outside industry, the business side of the industry, why it’s happening.

Platforms like Facebook control the vast majority of ad money, and editorial content is following the money, even if the money is not necessarily aligned with the public interest or even reader’s interests.

What’s fascinating is how every single publication has gone through this has presented this as some kind of audience-centric decision in service of innovative storytelling. In reality, publications like Mic are subject to the whims of Facebook’s algorithm.

A different way to approach a controversial podcast episode

Nicholas Quah’s latest entry in his “Hot Pod” newsletter addresses Radiolab’s recent decision to pull a controversial episode:

[The episode’s lack of context] was an unambiguously explosive mistake for Radiolab to make, but I’m further perturbed by the team’s decision to take down the segment completely as a response to the pushback. In an environment where taking back something is every bit as political — and politically charged — as putting something out in the first place, this may well be a case where Radiolab’s effort to limit its contribution to a damaging situation is one that fuels it even further.

There may be some value to following in the footsteps of This American Life, when that team faced a retraction in 2012 with “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” which turned out to be the work of fabrication. You can still easily find the original radio story online, most prominently in the Internet Archive, and This American Life keeps the original episode’s transcript hosted on its website. There, the move was to re-report and re-contextualize, and to produce an entirely new episode around the correction. That move remains, to my mind, the gold standard to fixing an error in judgment in any form for two reasons: it does not shirk from ownership over the mistake, and it repurposes the breakdown into an even more valuable opportunity to more aggressively contain the damage while delivering a sense of justice where it can. That said, there are some potentially meaningful differences: most notably, where This American Life’s retraction was spurred by errors of fact, Radiolab’s segment removal was spurred by errors of framing. That’s a big difference that might not change very much about the proposed solution, but it’s a difference to consider nonetheless.

A great, nuanced take on this topic. The only thing I’d add is that perhaps one reason Radiolab didn’t take the This American Life approach is that errors in tone are much more challenging to explain than errors in fact. Certainly I’d imagine they are more difficult to fashion an entirely new episode out of.

[Full disclosure: I am name-checked in the article as a “prolific podcaster.” I’ll take it as a compliment!]

‘Charlottesville: Race and Terror’ by Vice News

Incredible reporting by Vice News that captures the intensity and horror of this past weekend’s events.

I think many folks I know were hoping Charlottesville would trigger some kind of turning point in the national psyche — an incident that would finally wake people up to the level of resistance necessary to stand up to the hate.

I don’t know if that’s coming. In fact, I suspect that we haven’t seen the end of these divisive figures, who are now more emboldened than ever. As one of the Neo-Nazi interview subjects in the documentary explains:

We’re starting to unveil a little bit of our power level. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Stephen Colbert interviews Anthony Scaramucci

I don’t know what Anthony Scaramucci was anticipating when he first booked this Late Show interview with Stephen Colbert, but I can’t imagine it was this. For nearly 15 minutes, Colbert relentlessly presses Scaramucci on questions he’s clearly uncomfortable to be answering, such as whether or not Steve Bannon is a white supremacist and what’s it really like working in this “dumpster fire” of an administration.

Colbert provides almost no quarter, even refusing an attempt by Scaramucci to turn Colbert into a “character witness.” It’s a stunning interview that puts to use intimidation tactics the likes of which The Mooch himself would probably have employed in a different situation.

Vulture names “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts

I’m honored that Vulture recently chose “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts:

Dave Chen is a prolific publisher of podcasts about film and TV going back years, perhaps most prominently as the co-host of the Slashfilmcast. Here, he partners with frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson, with whom he’s also done recap pods for Westworld and Twin Peaks. Chen is an interesting recapper, more technically driven in his approach than others, which pairs nicely with Joanna Robinson, who is one of the more prominent, engaging, and prolific Thrones recappers on the internet.

You can listen to our recaps of this season here.

Radiolab removes its ‘Truth Trolls’ episode from podcast feed

WNYC’s Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts of all time. For years, the show has informed me, delighted me, and astonished me. I have even gone to see their live show in Seattle twice. But this week, they failed their listeners in a spectacular way.

Over the past few weeks, the show has been doing an extended meditation on truth, starting with a rather frightening episode about that new video technology that lets you make anyone say whatever you want them to. This exploration culminated this week with the release of a now-removed episode called “Truth Trolls.”

“Truth Trolls” documents the trials and tribulations of Shia LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” art project. From that project’s official website:

Commencing at 9am on January 20, 2017, the day of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, the public is invited to deliver the words “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” into a camera mounted on a wall outside the Museum of the Moving Image, New York, repeating the phrase as many times, and for as long as they wish.

Open to all, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the participatory performance will be live-streamed continuously for four years, or the duration of the presidency. In this way, the mantra “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” acts as a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community.

Of course, in today’s political environment, no good deed goes unpunished. Through multiple locations and permutations, trolls from online forums were able to locate the art installation and basically lay waste to it. “Truth Trolls” tracks one particularly inventive attempt to do so, in which online commenters used forensic evidence to track down the location of a “He Will Not Divide Us” flag being live-streamed.

On Saturday, Radiolab’s creator/producer Jad Abumrad announced that they would be pulling the episode. Abumrad made a post on Radiolab’s blog explaining the takedown:

Radiolab has decided to take down our episode called “Truth Trolls.” Some listeners called us out saying that in telling the capture the flag story in the way that we did, we essentially condoned some pretty despicable ideology and behavior. To all the listeners who felt that way, and to everyone else, please know that we hear you and that we take these criticisms to heart. I feel awful that the things we said could be interpreted that way. That’s on us. It was certainly not our intention, and we apologize.

I’ve listened to the episode and I agree with Abumrad’s decision. In fact, the episode never should have run in the first place.

“Truth Trolls” was almost a self-parody in how it attempted to apply Radiolab’s form of awestruck investigative journalism to a loaded political situation. The hosts portrayed the online trolls in an almost heroic fashion, and described their pursuit of truth (in this case, the truth of where the flag was located) as “comforting.”

Hearing the show’s hosts chuckle and banter light-heartedly when you’re talking about how sound waves work is one thing — it’s quite another when they’re talking about one of the most toxic forms of politics that’s out there right now.

Obviously, many other folks felt this way:

One of the commenters on Radiolab’s website purports to be Luke Turner, a creator behind the “He will not divide us” project:

This is truly abhorrent and irresponsible reporting from Radiolab, describing white supremacist vandalism and harassment here as “a really encouraging story” and “comforting.”

As the artists behind this project, we have been targeted incessantly, received death threats, been subjected to extreme racist, antisemitic, homophobic and misogynist abuse and harassment from these far-right groups.

Because of a political movement that received great support from the likes of those featured in “Truth Trolls,” lives have been ruined. And we’re at the end of a weekend where people have died trying to stand up against the nationalism and hatred that’s slowly sweeping the country.

I don’t think one bad episode can erase a decade’s worth of goodwill that Radiolab has built up. But it definitely made me question what exactly they were thinking when they ran this episode in a way that evinced almost no understanding of the broader implications of the subject matter.