Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Sept. 25 2017 9:57 AM

John Oliver Protests Corporate Consolidation by Blowing Up Your Cable Box

Small business is the backbone of the American economy, a maxim politicians utter so frequently that Last Week Tonight can build a 16-panel grid of congresspeople uttering it in perfect unision. But for all that we love to venerate the idea of disruptive entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop stores, the truth is that small business is getting smaller as lax enforcement of antitrust laws allows fewer and fewer companies to be more and more dominant. As John Oliver points out in the main segment on this week’s show, the rate of small-business creation has actually been “steadily falling since the 1970s.” Where there were 10 major airlines in the U.S. just 17 years ago, now over 80 percent of airplane travel is controlled by just four companies. The perennial argument in favor of corporate mergers is that they will allow increased efficiencies and lower prices for consumers, but the lack of competition among airlines has allowed add-on fees like the ones for checking a bag to skyrocket—airlines now take in $4.2 billion a year in ancillary revenues, up tenfold from a decade ago—and minimizes the effect of seemingly catastrophic events like the one where a United passenger had his teeth knocked out while being dragged off an overbooked flight. It’s hard to #boycottUnited when no one else flies to the place you need to go. Perhaps, as Oliver suggests, they should just change their slogan to “You want to fuckin’ rollerblade to Houston? Shut up and get in.”

It’s not just airlines, of course. Oliver runs down the depressing number of examples of industries where you have little to no choice, from eyeware to healthcare. Even when you think you’re buying a small-business product, you may effectively be doing business with a corporate front: Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox, and the Potemkin microbrew Goose Island is owned by Anheuser-Busch.

One of the worst offenders, Oliver points out, is the telecom industry—such as, to pick an example, HBO’s parent company, Time Warner, which is currently seeking to merge with AT&T. That, Oliver nervously admits, might make this story “a little dangerous for us to do—although that’s presuming AT&T executives can get their shitty service working long enough to see it.”

To further illustrate his point, Oliver takes aim at a tangible, highly odious example of the consolidation of cable-industry consolidation: the cable box through which you’re probably watching his show (unless, of course, you have the good taste to get all your late-night clips from Slate). It is, in all likelihood, a piece of crap, a power-sucking space hog loaded with outdated, bug-ridden software that could allow your home network to be hijacked by hackers without you ever knowing about it. But what are you going to do? Even if you’re lucky enough to have a (small) choice of local cable providers, they’re all using minor modifications on the same device, charging outrageous monthly rental fees with no option for you to outright buy a superior box of your own.

Oliver, recently awarded Emmy or no, can’t fix the problem of lousy cable boxes. But he can provide his viewers with the highly cathartic image of one being blown up, and replay the footage just so we can savor it once more. Let’s all follow suit, and then switch to HBO Now.

Sept. 25 2017 8:04 AM

What the 19 Movies to Receive an F From CinemaScore Have in Common

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Last weekend, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! divided critics, audiences, and Jennifer Lawrence’s diaphragm. But in the process, it also joined one of the most select clubs in Hollywood: the list of movies that have earned an F from CinemaScore.

For those of you not in the habit of following the industry response to films, CinemaScore is a company that exit polls moviegoers’ opinions on opening night. It’s been around since 1979, and according to research analyst Harold Mintz, it’s been storing its data since 1986—or 30-plus years of audiences reacting to movies. Like grade-school or the signs you see in restaurant windows, CinemaScore’s grades range from A+ to F; an example of a recent film to earn the coveted A+ rating is Girls Trip, with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Leap! delivering solid As. If you want to put Mother!’s achievement in perspective, none of the other movies currently listed on the CinemaScore home page have less than a B- score; it’s a significant enough event that Paramount felt the need to respond.

How select is that company? Vulture asked Mintz just how many films have received Fs since ’86. His answer was 19; here’s the complete list, published in full for the first time:

Alone in the Dark
The Box
Bug
Darkness
The Devil Inside
Disaster Movie
Doctor T and the Women
Eye of the Beholder
Fear Dot Com
I Know Who Killed Me
In the Cut
Killing Them Softly
Lost Souls
Lucky Numbers
Mother
Silent House
Solaris
The Wicker Man
Wolf Creek

“CinemaScore has an algorithm,” Mintz explains. “A long time ago, we tweaked and analyzed until we came up with what we thought to be the absolute right system. Obviously I can’t share that. That’s the McDonald’s secret sauce,” he laughs. “But if you have 100 ballots, even if you divided it evenly, and had 20 As, 20 Bs, 20 Cs, 20 Ds, 20 Fs—in school, that’s a C. In our curve, it’s a lot worse; a B in school is more equivalent to a C in our terms. When you start getting Bs with CinemaScore, it affects the algorithm and curve a lot harder than it does in school. If you have 20 percent Cs, 20 percent Ds, 20 percent Fs—imagine how bad that is.”

A+s are plentiful compared to Fs, Mintz says—they average about two a year, versus the 19 Fs in 31 years (though both are extremely rare). But all genres are not treated equally by respondents. It’s pretty obvious that, of the movies to receive Fs, horror is disproportionately present. In the year of Split, Get Out, and It, that might seem strange; horror is practically keeping the box office afloat, particularly in the realm of films that cost less than nine figures.

“Until the last year or two, a great score for a horror film would be a B-, even when they’re good. There were no As until The Conjuring [an A-] came out,” Mintz says. “Get Out got an A-, and did very well box-office-wise. The trend is changing a little bit. For the longest time, most horror films were Cs and lower. An F in a horror film is equivalent to a B- in a comedy. There’s no science to that, exactly.”

Sept. 25 2017 7:33 AM

The Single Most Genius Thing You Can Do to a Ripe Tomato

This post originally appeared in Genius Recipes on Food52.

There are heaps of inarguably perfect ways to eat a ripe tomato—on plain-jane sandwich bread with a cushy swipe of mayo, blistered hot and fast in a skillet till the skins peel back and the oil swirls with juice, cherry babies squished behind your sealed lips.

But the one way to make a tomato taste its most tomatoey, to become a fully actualized, out-loud version of itself, is to very verrrry slowly remove that which isn’t tomato. And the part that isn’t pulling its weight as tomato is the 94% of it that’s water.

Sept. 24 2017 11:55 PM

Here Is the Trailer for a Movie Called Maze Runner: The Death Cure

There is a movie called Maze Runner: The Death Cure, and here is its trailer. The name of the movie, which appears in the trailer and will presumably appear on marquees, billboards, and in the film’s opening titles, is, again, Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Maze Runner: The Death Cure will be in theaters on Jan. 26, 2018, which means that in less than a year, people will be walking up to ticket counters and saying, aloud, “Two tickets for Maze Runner: The Death Cure, please!” Not since 1996’s Darkman III: Die Darkman Die has a film’s title been so delightful to read or to say—and that was just direct-to-video!

Maze Runner: The Death Cure was directed by Wes Ball, who also directed Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Screenwriter (and Maze Runner veteran) T.S. Nowlin adapted James Dashner’s slightly less wonderfully-titled novel The Death Cure, the final entry in the Maze Runner trilogy, for the film. Judging from the trailer, Maze Runner: The Death Cure will involve not only the maze running characteristic of earlier Maze Runner movies, but also, perhaps, the search for a cure for death—a “Death Cure,” if you will. It’s also possible that the movie revolves around a cure by death, like the water cure, or even a cure invented by Death, like the Keeley Cure. Any of these three possibilities would be perfectly acceptable, as long as the title remains Maze Runner: The Death Cure. “It stops when we find a cure!” Kaya Scodelario says to Dylan O’Brien at one point in the trailer. “There is no cure!” he replies. Maybe there isn’t. But as the trailer makes clear, there is a movie called Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

Sept. 24 2017 10:55 PM

Jennifer Lopez Donates $1 Million to Hurricane Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico

Jennifer Lopez has made a $1 million personal donation to relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which is facing a massive humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricane Maria, Deadline reports. The singer and actress appeared earlier Sunday at a press conference in New York with Governor Andrew Cuomo, actress and activist Rosie Perez, baseball player Seth Lugo, and a variety of union leaders and politicians to speak in support of relief efforts in Puerto Rico:

Sept. 24 2017 7:11 PM

Netflix’s Stephen King Adaptation 1922 Promises Viewers a Taste of the Glamorous Jazz Age!

The Roaring Twenties! The words alone are enough to inspire most people break out the ol’ raccoon coat and start doing the Charleston—so imagine how excited we are at the prospect of a trip to America’s most glamorous decade, led by none other than Stephen King! Writer-director Zak Hilditch has turned King’s novella 1922 into a feature-length movie, and, judging from the trailer, it has more Jazz Age eye candy packed into each and every frame than any film since Midnight in Paris.

Molly Parker stars as a small-town flapper with big-city dreams, while Thomas Jane plays Scott to her Zelda, as their marriage is tested by the social and political changes that were sweeping the nation: women voters, prohibition, “talkies,” automobiles, the rise of mass media, and of course, the invention of a little cocktail called the “Hanky-Panky” at the Savoy Hotel in London. In the aftermath of World War I, all the old norms and boundaries seemed to have vanished: Practically the only thing that wasn’t allowed was listening to Vaughn Monroe’s 1944 recording of “The Very Thought of You,” which is heavily featured in 1922’s trailer, because not even the most liberated flappers and philosophers were emboldened enough to break the laws of time and space. The song wasn’t even written until 1934, when it was most famously recorded by Ray Noble and his Orchestra, with Al Bowlly on vocals.

Which is presumably what it’s doing in the trailer in the first place, because that same year, Noble and Bowlly also recorded “Midnight, the Stars and You,” which fellow Stephen King adapter Stanley Kubrick used to great effect at the end of The Shining. (In that film, Bowlly’s voice was meant to evoke a party at the Overlook on July 4, 1921, so if the makers of 1922 had ponied up for the original recording, their soundtrack choice would be a little less of an anachronism than Kubrick’s.) “The Very Thought of You” topped out at #6 on the charts in 1934, which means using Monroe’s version is the chronological equivalent of taking the #6 hit of 2007 (“Before He Cheats,” by Carrie Underwood), finding a recording from about a decade later (the 2015 a cappella version in Pitch Perfect 2, for instance), and then putting it in the trailer for a movie called 1995. In other words, the trailer’s soundtrack is the perfect embodiment of the footloose and fancy-free spirit that defined the Jazz Age. So take the Duesenberg to your favorite speakeasy, stock up on bathtub gin, and get ready to party like it’s, well, not so much a specific year, but old-timey days, you know?

Sept. 23 2017 11:28 PM

In the Wake of Trump’s NFL Tweets, Stevie Wonder Took a Knee Before Performing

President Trump’s plan to bully black athletes into shutting up about systemic racism ran into another snag on Saturday night when beloved musician Stevie Wonder—full disclosure, Mr. Slate is a fan—took a knee before performing at the Global Citizen Festival in New York, Deadline reports. Although Wonder did not directly address the president’s flurry of tweets arguing that football players who don’t stand during the national anthem should lose what he called the “privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,” Wonder’s gesture unmistakably evoked Colin Kaepernick. And his plea that the audience “interrupt hate, stand down bigotry, condemn sexism, and find love for all of our global brothers and sisters every day,” reads like a direct rebuke of the president. “Tonight, I’m taking a knee for America,” Wonder told the crowd, as his son Kwame helped him to one knee.

But one knee wasn’t enough for Wonder, who then upped the ante by dropping to both knees and praying for “our planet, our future, our leaders of the world, and our globe.” “I wanted to say that prayer before I serve you my musical meal,” Wonder added, before singing a medley that included “Higher Ground.” Speaking of higher ground, President Trump seems to have taken it, at least for now: rather than pick a fight with Stevie Wonder, he returned to Twitter rather pointedly focused on his presidential duties:

Signed, sealed, delivered, we’re doomed!

Sept. 23 2017 10:01 PM

Soul Singer Charles Bradley Has Died at 68

Charles Bradley, the soul singer whose career took off at the late age of 62, died Saturday of cancer at the age of 68, Rolling Stone reports.

Although Bradley was always interested in music—he saw James Brown at the Apollo at an impressionable age—his path to success was a long and complicated one. A native of Florida, Bradley moved to Brooklyn at eight, ran away from home at the age of 14, and lived all over the country working at a variety of odd jobs—the oddest was probably a ten-year stint as a cook at a mental hospital in Maine—before returning to Brooklyn in 1996 to reunite with his estranged mother. In New York, by then already in his late 40s, he began performing as a James Brown impersonator under the name “Black Velvet,” which led to his discovery by Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth. But although he began releasing songs on Daptone in 2002, No Time for Dreaming, his debut LP, didn’t come out until 2011. The album, which felt like a long-lost classic soul record from the 1960s or 1970s right down to the cover art, was a hit, and Bradley’s late-in-life success and retro sound were the subject of a feature-length documentary by Poull Brien, Charles Bradley: Soul of America.

Touring followed—Bradley was as electrifying on stage as he was in the studio—as did two more albums, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes. In the fall of 2016, Bradley cancelled the remaining dates of his tour in support of Changes when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Although the cancer was successfully treated and Bradley returned to touring, it returned in early September, this time metastasized in his liver. He died in Brooklyn surrounded by his family, friends, and members of the various backing bands he performed with over the course of his career. In 2011, he told NPR what No Time for Dreaming meant to him:

I’m gonna say it’s all right to dream, but work at it—make it come to reality. It took 62 years for somebody to find me, but I thank God. Some people never get found.

Sept. 23 2017 6:54 PM

The Trailer for Happy Death Day Fails to Make the Case That Death Day Is a Particularly Happy Occasion

The international trailer for Happy Death Day has arrived, and it seems like the marketing department at Universal is really emphasizing the “Death Day” aspects of director Christopher Landon’s upcoming film, perhaps to the detriment of the “Happy” parts. If you get the nagging feeling you’ve seen the trailer before, there’s a reason: the premise is straight from Groundhog Day, down to the annoying song on the clock radio (50 Cent instead of Sonny & Cher) that wakes up the film’s protagonist (Jessica Rothe instead of Bill Murray) as she relives the same day over and over again.

But Happy Death Day differs from Groundhog Day in much the same way Death Day differs from Groundhog Day: Rothe is a college student forced to relive the day of her own death at the hands of a mad killer. Which is something you might also get the nagging feeling you’ve seen before—Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow, etc.—but translating the concept into the slasher genre instead of science fiction makes all the difference. The time loop means Rothe gets to be both the Final Girl and the killer’s first victim, and the interplay between slasher movie conventions and the film’s structure looks very promising, if oddly familiar.

And there’s something to be said for a creepy, memorable horror movie villain, and on that score, it looks like Happy Death Day delivers. The killer’s “Demented Baby with One Tooth Right in the Center of its Mouth” mask might not be a Michael-Myers-level piece of costume design, but it’s still plenty frightening, especially if you’ve been hearing strange noises in the apartment since you pressed play on the trailer, which you really do think you’ve seen before, and even now, writing about it, you can almost make out the cheerful blue eyes of the killer’s mask, reflected in the laptop screen, standing right behind you, and the second you turn around …

Sept. 22 2017 6:58 PM

Rick and Morty Creator Dan Harmon “Loathes” the Show’s Sexist Viewers  

Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon has blasted his show’s sexist fans in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, calling their behavior “disgusting.”

It seems a number of the animated comedy’s biggest fans are fragile of masculinity: Incensed by the show's recent decision to employ a gender-balanced writing team, these trolls have taken it upon themselves to harass, threaten, and dox its female writers for daring to encroach upon their white-male-nerd territory.

Harmon is livid that they think they are acting on his show’s behalf. “These knobs, that want to protect the content they think they own—and somehow combine that with their need to be proud of something they have, which is often only their race or gender.” Harmon, who is white and male himself, says he finds the fans offensive, members of “a testosterone-based subculture patting themselves on the back.”

Rick and Morty’s sexist following is no secret. Vox critic Todd VanDerWerff tweeted that these toxic fans are part of why he doesn’t write about the show more often, even though he loves it.

David Sims of the Atlantic retweeted VanDerWerff, adding that it was the most problematic fan community he’d ever seen.

In the EW interview, Harmon pointed out that having bad people watch your show is part and parcel of having a popular show. “If you’re lucky enough to make a show that is really good that people like, that means some bad people are going to like it too,” he said.

But while sexist trolls don't represent the majority of Rick and Morty's fan base, it's not actually normal for "really good" shows to have a misogynistic following that is this vocal and this revolting. There is something about geek culture that seems to attract and accept this kind of sexism and harrassment, from Gamergaters to the man-children who drove Leslie Jones from Twitter. Harmon's condemnation is only one step in a much larger battle against the insidious misogyny within online nerd culture.

As VanDerWerff added:

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