Slate's Culture Blog

Nov. 24 2014 4:02 PM

The Bogus Academic Journal Racket Is Officially Out of Control

Academic publishing is a strange phenomenon, one that normal people—who might assume, for instance, that people generally get paid for doing what they do professionally—often misunderstand. Back in graduate school, I met for tea one day with an old friend from New York, and mentioned my stress about completing some exacting revisions on what would end up as my first journal article. “Publish or perish, you know?” He frowned. “I hear that all the time,” he said, “but I don’t get it. What does this article do for you? Like, will you get paid so much when it comes out that you can support yourself?” I spit out my tea.

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Nov. 24 2014 3:25 PM

Is Beyoncé the Future of Digital Cinema?

This month, two major events in the history of cinema occurred. On Nov. 5, Christopher Nolan released Interstellar, a space epic he shot on endangered Kodak film stocks, crafted to take full advantage of the possibilities of the IMAX theater experience, and presented to the world with great fanfare as a return to classical filmmaking. And on Friday night, Beyoncé released “7/11,” a music video she seemingly shot on her iPhone, crafted to take full advantage of the interactive possibilities of Twitter, Vine, and Tumblr, and presented to the world while it wasn’t paying attention.

Nolan’s visually breathtaking magnum opus may be a call-to-arms, but “7/11,” for all of its GIF-ready practical effects and tossed-off, on-the-run craftsmanship, feels a bit like a revolution. Interstellar may have resurrected the arts of a different age, but it also feels like it’s addressing the audience of a different age. Queen Bey, on the other hand, knows her subjects well. She’s made a joyful, living, shareable piece of digital art that’s fully of its moment, and I wonder if it’s not a little more awe-inspiring.

Nov. 24 2014 3:06 PM

Follow the Bouncing Ball From The Great Escape to The West Wing and Beyond

To hear Richard Schiff, the actor who played Toby on The West Wingtell it, one day he went to Aaron Sorkin and said, “Hey, if we ever do an episode where Toby is trying to figure something out that’s fairly important, I have this image of him sitting in the office bouncing a ball. I think we should do an ode to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.”

That is, apparently, a common impulse. From The Simpsons to House to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and beyond, the baseball bounced by “the Cooler King” has since bounced its way into more movies and TV shows than you may realize. And if these abundant examples are any indication, it’ll probably keep bouncing for the foreseeable future.

Nov. 24 2014 1:46 PM

At Last, Vegetarians Can Truly Give Thanks

In 2012, Dan Pashman, the creator and host of The Sporkful podcast and blog, unveiled a vegetarian Thanksgiving centerpiece the likes of which the world had never seen before: the “Veggieducken.” Pashman wrote about the Veggieducken for Brow Beat, and his explanation and instructions are reprinted below.

Close your eyes and picture Thanksgiving. What do you see? Most of you no doubt envision a glorious repast, laid out across a large dining table, bowls and trays overflowing with a cornucopia of culinary goodness. And in the center of the table sits a large, plump, gleaming, golden turkey. A halo of candles surrounds the bird, as supple wisps of steam rise from its bosom.

Of course this isn’t what everyone pictures. Others likely see some dessicated fowl fiasco, a bottle of whiskey, and their unbearable uncle Herb.

But still others picture no turkey at all. These people are called vegetarians.

Nov. 24 2014 1:19 PM

The Strange Intimacy of Serial

My wife Heather and I are both avid listeners of Serial, the public radio podcast that reinvestigates a 1999 murder in Woodlawn, Maryland—just a few miles from Baltimore, where, as it happens, we live. A couple of weeks ago Heather had to take a medical licensing exam at an office park in Woodlawn itself, and as we drove out we realized we were passing through the show’s geography. Our car suddenly became very grave. “So this is it,” I said as we went through Leakin Park, where the victim’s body had been discovered, and I realized my voice sounded solemn, a little church-y. We had our eyes out—everything seemed like it could be tinged with significance—the basic sociocultural advertising of the place, the size of the high school, and the dimensions of its roads (which figure in the murder). How shady was it, how safe, how diverse? I mean, ridiculous, right? What a couple of big-eyed yuppie weirdos. But of course this put us not so far from the style of the show’s producer, narrator, and star, Sarah Koenig, who plays herself as a kind of amiable, obsessed doofus who troops through Woodlawn, a place she doesn’t really know, looking for truths about the place and its inhabitants that the natives might have missed, in the hopes that she might right a wrong.

Something has bothered me a little bit about this pose ever since last week’s episode. Since then, two high-profile critiques (one by Jay Caspian Kang, at the Awl, and another, somewhat less compelling, by Julie Carrie Wong at BuzzFeed) have made different versions of the same argument: that Koenig, a white reporter documenting a case whose key actors were all not-white and that requires her to understand the dynamics of minority and immigrant culture, succumbed to her own privilege. I disagree with the racial aspect: Maybe there is some minor cultural mischaracterization, but so minor that it feels inevitable, and Koenig really does go out of her way to try to understand honestly what being the kid of immigrants meant to the principals, in a way that the cops and prosecutors never really seemed to. Major points for trying, is my opinion. But it does seem to me that Kang and Wong are right to raise privilege as a problem. Not racial privilege, exactly, but the more basic privilege that a nonfiction storyteller enjoys, to aestheticize real life, to wonder why all the details don’t fit, to say what makes sense and what doesn’t—the privilege, most of all, to explain to the world what these people were like.

Nov. 24 2014 12:24 PM

Stream Beyoncé’s BEYONCÉ: Platinum Edition

On Friday night, Beyoncé once again surprised the world with a DIY-style video for “7/11,” one of the two new songs off the reissue of her 2013 self-titled album. You can now stream BEYONCÉ: Platinum Edition in full, including all 14 of the previously released songs from the original album (now on Spotify for the first time). In addition to those songs, the reissue features “Ring Off,” a touching tribute to her mother’s resilience following her 2011 divorce—Tina Knowles even appears in an uplifting spoken word outro.

Nov. 24 2014 10:55 AM

John Oliver Calls Out the Hypocrisy of Turkey Pardoning

Last Week Tonight won’t be back until February, but this hiatus couldn’t stop John Oliver from taking on the weird—and, in many ways, hypocritical—tradition of the president’s annual turkey pardon.

What should Americans do instead? Oliver has offered a couple alternatives.

Nov. 24 2014 9:34 AM

Get Your Panem Name With This Hunger Games Name Generator

When The Hunger Games movie came out in 2012, it ushered in the Era of Jennifer Lawrence and helped demonstrate how to turn a hugely popular, but often very dark, YA series into a well-received box-office hit. It also gave Vulture the opportunity to put together a Hunger Games Name Generator, on account of the franchise's offbeat, distinctive characters' names. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I opens this weekend, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back the name generator—with new and improved names. If you don't like the name you get on your first try, keep clicking; it'll be different every time. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Nov. 23 2014 3:10 PM

Spoiler Special: Mockingjay Part 1

On the Spoiler Special podcast, Slate critics discuss movies, the occasional TV show, and, once in a blue moon, another podcast, in full, spoiler-filled detail. Below, Slate movie critic Dana Stevens and TV critic Willa Paskin discuss The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, the latest film installment of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian fantasy. How does it compare with the other films? Is it actually good, or does Jennifer Lawrence merely redeem it with her steely performance? And was the abrupt ending earned, or just an arbitrary decision?

Nov. 23 2014 2:43 PM

The Stunning 9/11 Conspiracy Behind Anna Kendrick’s Pitch Perfect

On face, there isn’t much overlap between Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick’s hit a cappella comedy, and Room 237, the 2013 documentary detailing kooky fan theories about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But “Pitch Perfect 237,” a short but vital video by YouTube user CookStProductions, combines the themes of both films to show that Kendrick is an “expressionist genius,” a low-key auteur whose masterpiece, Pitch Perfect, is underneath its feel-good façade a parable “about, and in protest against, 9/11.”

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