Slate's Culture Blog

Nov. 25 2014 9:08 AM

Everything You Need to Know About Thanksgiving Cocktails

What was the first Thanksgiving cocktail?

A recipe for the Thanksgiving Cocktail entered culinary history on Nov. 18, 1914, but it involved no liquid more potent than oyster liquor. Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery gave that name to an appetizer of parboiled oysters. Sounds good, but I consider oyster bisque a brighter option.

But what should I make to drink at Thanksgiving?
Facing a crowd, a savvy host contemplates punch. David Wondrich suggests U.S.S. Richmond Punch, named for a sloop, as the historically correct hooch to honor the Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863. A batch of Sangaree would also evoke ye olden buzz.

Not my scene. I want a cocktail.

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Nov. 24 2014 8:36 PM

The Many Motifs of the Coen Brothers’ Films

If you were to watch every movie the Coen brothers have made, you’d encounter an oeuvre of startling depth, vision, and complexity. The directors make films that feel thematically consistent, despite huge differences in genre and subject matter. Grant Pichla is the latest to tackle the directors’ work, and his lively video essay teases out some of the more subtle virtues of their films.

Nov. 24 2014 4:40 PM

SNL’s New Thanksgiving Jam Captures the Joy of Straight Chillin’ at Your Parents’ House

Saturday Night Live’s latest music video has already been shared far and wide, and deservedly so: “Back Home Ballers” is a hilarious, accurate, and ultimately sweet tribute to the joys of returning to your parents’ house for Thanksgiving: A fully stocked fridge, free wifi, and easy access to a washing machine. Those aren’t the only perks of going home for the holidays, of course—there are also tacos on demand, Crest White Strips, and, if your mom is like Leslie Jones’ mom, “bowls, bowls, all type of bowls.”

And awkward conversations with your neighbor Jean. You may recognize Jean from the last “Your Girls” video, “(Do It On My) Twin Bed,” which also paid tribute to returning to one’s childhood home for the winter holidays. Given SNL’s wealth of musically talented, goofily game female cast members this season, let’s hope these videos become a long-running holiday tradition.

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.

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.