Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 21 2014 1:34 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Tomato Soup

The glowing scarlet tomato soup of my youth served mainly as a dipping sauce for grilled cheese, and that’s the way it should be. The Campbell’s variety, paired with white bread and American cheese, was my introduction to comfort food. It was also the first meal I learned how to “cook” myself, speckling my mother’s kitchen with red splotches and burnt breadcrumbs. It was and always will be a perfect childhood meal.

Glad we got that out of the way. Any adult who has recently reached for a can opener to make tomato soup can attest to the inevitable disappointment that results. The tinny puree slides out of the can and doesn’t improve no matter how long you let it bubble on the stove. It has the mouthfeel of tomato-juice concentrate, dull and processed beyond recognition. When I prepared a can I found tucked into my family’s pantry one recent holiday, I felt betrayed—never have warm, comforting memories conspired so cruelly to mislead me. The soup tasted like diluted runoff liquid from chopped tomatoes, and we won’t speak of the smell.   

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Aug. 21 2014 12:58 PM

Hear Lauryn Hill’s Painfully Prescient Song for Ferguson

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri that has followed the shooting death of Michael Brown is now well into its second week, with seemingly no end in sight, and several prominent figures in hip-hop are beginning to speak up (after BuzzFeed criticized those in the genre for not doing enough). Last weekend, J. Cole visited Ferguson after releasing a powerful tribute song to Brown, “Be Free.” Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike offered some insight on the situation in an op-ed for Billboard and in an interview on CNN. T.I., too, released a sobering new song about violence in America. Now, rap icon Lauryn Hill has lent her voice to the mix by releasing a “sketch” recording of a song called “Black Rage.”

Aug. 21 2014 11:10 AM

The 10 Simpsons Episodes You Need to DVR

FXX’s #EverySimpsonsEver marathon has begun, and you are probably at work. But don’t worry: The earliest episodes are not as good as the show would later become. The real trouble for fans who want to relive the show’s glory days begins Friday night, when some of the finest installments of the series start to air at ungodly hours. What to do?

Sleep like a normal person and DVR these 10 episodes, each of which will air between 2 and 5 a.m. Eastern time. If there’s one you personally can’t miss airing a little earlier or a little later in the day, arrange your schedule accordingly. But these hard-to-catch episodes should not be missed—especially since, as we noted previously, FXX will be airing their full, original versions, before switching to the syndication cuts post-marathon.

For arguing (and other) purposes, the full schedule of the marathon can be found here.

“Stark Raving Dad,” airing Aug. 22, 3:30 a.m.
Michael Jackson’s guest spot is the most fascinating celebrity cameo in the history of the show: Credited as John Jay Smith for contractual reasons, he plays a mentally disturbed man named Leon Kompowsky who believes he’s Michael Jackson—but Jackson only provided Kompowsky’s speaking voice; his singing was done by Kip Lennon. (Supposedly Jackson intended this as a joke on his brothers, somehow.)

“When Flanders Failed,” airing Aug. 22, 4:30 a.m.
The story of Flanders’ Leftorium, with a fun B plot about Bart’s karate lessons and “The Touch of Death,” is not quite as strong as some of the later episodes on this list, but it’s a good early Flanders episode—and a lovely example of the emotional sweetness of the first few years of The Simpsons.

“Krusty Gets Kancelled,” airing Aug. 23, 2:00 a.m.
On Saturday night, FXX will be airing the strongest stretch in the history of the show, and one approach would be simply to stay up all night on Saturday. Either that or make sure there’s plenty of room on your DVR for the next several episodes on this list, starting with this celebrity-crammed Krusty episode.

“Cape Feare,” Aug. 23, 3:00 a.m.
Possibly the single best Sideshow Bob episode, with some of Kelsey Grammer’s finest voice work and classic, rake-based slapstick.

“Homer Goes to College,” Aug. 23, 3:30 a.m.
“I am so smart! S-M-R-T … I mean, S-M-A-R-T!” Sing that tune to yourself as you set your DVR to record this Animal House homage, the last episode with a script credited solely to Conan O’Brien.

“Rosebud,” Aug. 23, 4:00 a.m.
How many people under the age of 40 were introduced to Citizen Kane by The Simpsons? The tale of Bobo the stuffed bear complicates the villainy of Mr. Burns while paying worthy tribute to Orson Welles’ masterpiece. Plus: the Ramones.

“Treehouse of Horror IV,” Aug. 23, 4:30 a.m.
Best Halloween episode? A strong case can be made. “The Devil and Homer Simpson” segment is particularly good, but “Terror at 5 ½ Feet” and “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” are also terrific.

“Bart Sells His Soul,” Aug. 24, 3:30 a.m.
Best Simpsons episode period? Probably. And it includes what has been rightly recognized as Bart’s best line: “I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.”

“Lisa the Vegetarian,” Aug. 24, 4:00 a.m.
Second-best Simpsons episode? Quite possibly. And one of Lisa’s finest half-hours, with excellent Apu airtime and a great guest spot by Paul McCartney.

“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson,” Aug. 25, 3:00 a.m.
A fine episode in its own right, made moderately mythical after it was pulled from syndication following the Sept. 11 attacks. Watch the (full!) episode again, revel in the jokes, and reclaim this one from the conspiracy-minded lunatics.

Aug. 20 2014 8:14 PM

Watch Nick Offerman Read Some of Reddit’s Funniest Shower Thoughts

It’s hard to tell where Nick Offerman ends and Ron Swanson begins, but it’s inarguable that both the comedian and his Parks and Recreation alter-ego have a knack for kooky aphorism. That ability has been put to excellent use in a new Mashable video, which has Offerman read some of Reddit’s shower thoughts in all his gruff, manly, deadpan glory.

Aug. 20 2014 5:45 PM

Woo Hoo! The Simpsons Marathon Will Air Scenes That Were Cut in Syndication.

As Simpsons superfans know, Simpsons reruns that you can watch at various hours of the day and night in TV markets around the country are, in most cases, not the full, original episodes: They are typically shortened for syndication. The fan-run Simpsons Archive even maintains a guide to all the scenes that have been cut in syndication for episodes from Seasons 1 through 20.

As the Archive explains in its handy FAQ, episodes are shortened so that the stations airing the reruns can squeeze in more commercials.

But to the delight, presumably, of Simpsons fans everywhere, the much-ballyhooed FXX marathon of#EverySimpsonsEver will air the original, uncut versions of the episodes.

Aug. 20 2014 5:03 PM

Stream Four Great New Songs From Ariana Grande

In case it wasn’t already established from Ariana Grande’s hugely popular debut album, she’s a pop megastar in the making. Grande is set to release her follow-up to Yours Truly next week, and we’ve already heard a few of its tracks: her summer smash “Problem” and her Zedd collaboration “Break Free”—currently both in the top 10—and most recently, her soulful Big Sean duet, “Best Mistake.” So far, she’s three for three and, today, MTV has previewed four more new songs from the album that include some of her best work to date.

The first, “Love Me Harder,” which features Canadian singer The Weeknd, is a sizzling track (another co-produced by Max Martin) that sees Grande command her lover in a smoldering tone to do better if he wants to stay with her. The Weeknd steps in to plead that she knew what she was getting into before teasing her with a bit of his typically sensual shtick— “Can you feel the pressure between your hips?/ I’ll make you feel like the first time”—in terms that reflect the album’s reportedly more mature direction. After some back and forth, Grande has the final word: “I’m gonna leave.”

Aug. 20 2014 3:27 PM

Action Bronson’s “Easy Rider” Might Be the Rap Video of the Year

You’d be hard-pressed to find a rap video in 2014 with as much attention to detail, keen-eyed location scouting, and cinematic sweep as Action Bronson’s new video for “Easy Rider.” A tip of the hat, then, to director Tom Gould for taking Action Bronson’s guitar-fueled single, the first from his forthcoming album Mr. Wonderful, and giving it the wonderfully ridiculous video it both needs and deserves.

Inspired by the movie of the same name, “Easy Rider” imagines the Queens rapper as a desert rebel on a quest to rescue his missing guitar, and unfolds complete with a Road House-esque bar brawl, a benevolent Native American on a horse, and an acid trip thrown in for good measure. And in case riffing on Easy Rider wasn’t enough, the video (like the song) finds time to pay homage to “November Rain,” too:

Aug. 20 2014 1:35 PM

Germany’s Latest Export Is Fifty Shades of Gross

The film Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete), which opens in select American theaters on Sept. 5, may be the most obscene non-pornographic movie the Germans have ever made—an impressive feat for a country that boasts the oeuvre of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was as famous for full-frontal male nudity (often his own) as he was for his biting characterizations of the Federal Republic. But even the risqué The Marriage of Maria Braun is basically The Sound of Music compared to Wetlands, an adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s mega-bestselling book of the same name, which I like to call Fifty Shades of Gross.

In a recent course about sexuality in German literature, I taught an excerpt of Wetlands, the book tour for which involved Roche selling out massive circus tents. But the book is so graphic that, even though my students were all over 18, I had them sign a release before I’d even hand it out. I don’t think I have ever had a class so eager to receive an assignment.

Aug. 20 2014 12:25 PM

Nicki Minaj’s New Video Is a Celebration of Her Butt

Early on, Nicki Minaj made it evident that she’d never shy away from flaunting her larger-than-life posterior. Again and again, we’ve seen her shake, twerk, wiggle, gyrate, and otherwise move her ass in ways most people didn’t know were physically possible—most recently, even causing controversy at the mere sight of it on the artwork for her “Baby Got Back”-sampling new single, She responded to that controversy with a smart series of Instagram photos that pointed out the hypocrisy in the kinds of backsides society considers “acceptable”—those of Chrissy Teigen, Kate Upton, and so on—while hers, apparently, isn’t.

With the video for “Anaconda,” released at midnight, Nicki’s made it clear for the umpteenth time that the only opinion about her body she’s concerned with is her own.

Aug. 20 2014 11:14 AM

With the Unrest in Ferguson, Masters of Sex Has Become Surprisingly Topical

On Sunday, for the eighth consecutive night since the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, there was chaos and confusion in Ferguson, Missouri: Tear gas billowing in the streets, police officers threatening journalists, protesters fleeing to safety. Meanwhile, Showtime was airing “Blackbird,” the most recent episode of its period drama Masters of Sex. And, surprisingly, the show about two sexologists offered some historical context for what’s happening in Ferguson now.

The show is set in St. Louis at the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. It features a mostly white cast, with Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan starring as the real-life researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, and for most of its first season the show paid little attention to race. But toward the season’s end, Masters’ pregnant wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald) collapsed in the arms of her black plumber, whom she’d enlisted to give her dance lessons. After rushing to the hospital, the doctor asked her to have her “boy” wait outside. “He’s my … handyman,” was all she could offer in reply. In the season finale, she went into labor and was taken to the nearest hospital, which happened to be Buell Green, the one that serves St. Louis’ black community. “I can’t be here!” she protested.

In this second season, race has gradually come to the fore.