Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 29 2014 5:55 PM

Forrest Gander, Beyoncé Poet, Explains His Poem “Bey the Light”

I love poetry. But presented with a poetic “remix” of Beyoncé statements (even one done by acclaimed poet and translator Forrest Gander) alongside a photo-spread of Beyoncé looking gorgeous and ferocious in wild outfits, I am likely to just look at the pictures. Sorry, muse.

That said! CR Fashion Book has decided to accompany its Issue Five cover story on Beyoncé with a loosely rhyming poem called “Bey the Light.” Forrest Gander, a Pulitzer Prize finalist known for his experimentalism and ecological focus—he has degrees in geology—has collected spontaneous wisdom from the lips of Beyoncé and arranged it into 13 three-line stanzas, or tercets. (There is a three-ness going on in this poem that to me evokes both Beyoncé’s divine mystery and her much-scrutinized family life.) I talked to Gander on the phone on Friday to ask how the poem came about.

First thing to note is that Beyoncé did not actually write these stanzas.

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Aug. 29 2014 4:55 PM

Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” Gets a Gilbert Gottfried Remix

Because it’s the Friday before a long weekend, and because he was in our studio yesterday, and because Mike Pesca had him read these lyrics, here’s a version of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” with vocals by Gilbert Gottfried.

Aug. 29 2014 3:50 PM

Why Is Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” No. 1?

Before we talk about the shimmying pop tsunami that overtook Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart this week—let’s call it Hurricane Taylor—it might help to ponder, briefly, another perky superstorm that first made landfall on the charts four decades ago. So here’s a quick quiz about a certain ’70s–’80s megastar:

1. What was Olivia Newton-John’s first Top 10 hit on a U.S. chart?
2. Which chart was it?
3. What Grammy award did she win with this song?

Give up?

Aug. 29 2014 1:44 PM

The Highs and Lows of the 2014 Summer Movie Season

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

It’s time to put another summer movie season behind us, and for many in Hollywood, September is arriving none too soon: Several big-budget spectaculars underperformed this summer, and the box office was the weakest it’s been in years. Still, if you looked beyond those would-be blockbusters, there were plenty of gems to go see, and they deserve their end-of-summer due, too. Here, then, are the moments and movies that Vulture considered the summer season’s finest … and the lowlights we had to muddle through to get to them.

Aug. 29 2014 12:15 PM

Shall I Compare a Pop Song to a Shakespearean Sonnet?

Shakespeare’s works are frequently cast in modern form, but Erik Didriksen, the man behind the Tumblr “Pop Sonnets,” has reversed this formula, rewinding the clock on current pop songs to render them in the form of Shakespearean sonnets.

Aug. 29 2014 11:26 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Clafoutis

“Doing clafoutis wrong?” you may think, “But I’ve never done it at all!” And that’s your first mistake. If you want to bake a crowd-pleasing fruit dessert without going to the trouble of rolling out a piecrust, you likely have relied on the familiar fallbacks of cobbler, crisp, or crumble. But there’s another easy option you ought to fold into your repertoire, which is delectable, versatile, and far simpler to make than it may sound: Clafoutis (kla-foo-TEE), a tender custard studded with juicy fruits and raisins, with a handful of flour thrown in (gluten-free works just fine) to lend it a little heft and billow.

When I first ate clafoutis, in a French farm kitchen in the 1970s, I didn’t know what it was called. The mother of the house, while whipping up dinners for us children and the farm hands, would de-pit a heap of tart plums or ripe apricots, whisk together some cream, sugar, flour, and a few saffron-yolked eggs from the henhouse, throw it all together in a buttered tart pan, and half an hour later—voilà—the clafoutis appeared on the table, warm, golden, bejeweled with molten fruit and dusted with powdered sugar. Many years later, in my own kitchen, I tried to re-create the dessert I remembered, but I always put in too much flour, producing a cakey treat that, good as it was, was not the dessert I loved as a child.

Aug. 28 2014 9:00 PM

Welcome to Sweden vs. Real-Life Sweden: Panther Lady Edition

Welcome to Sweden is NBC’s summer sitcom starring Greg Poehler (Amy’s brother) as a Midwestern accountant named Bruce who moves to Sweden to be with his girlfriend Emma (Josephine Bornebusch). My wife Kristine, who was born and raised in Sweden, and I thought it would be fun to watch the show and see how well it matched our own cultural experiences.

In Wednesday’s episode, Emma’s uncle is unable to talk to a woman he has a crush on and he needs Bruce’s help to woo her. Apparently, this represents the stereotype of Swedish men being super-shy.


“Bruce is supposed to show the awkward uncle how to do it, because Americans are straightforward, no nonsense, ‘Hi I like you, let’s go out to dinner,’ ” Kristine explains, whereas Swedes are less direct and it’s more difficult to read their intentions. “That’s my scientific study of men.” Kristine has a story about the shyness of Swedish men that she thinks illustrates the point. A Swedish friend of hers didn’t want to ask a woman for her phone number, so he waited for her to leave and asked her friends for it.

On the first of Thursday night’s episodes, the second to last of the season, Bruce returns to America by himself after having a falling out with Emma. In the opening scene, a waiter confuses Bruce for a European because his clothes look “very European.” (He is wearing a burgundy scoop-neck tee under an unbuttoned pink shirt with skinny jeans and what look like Converse-style sneakers. His clothes do look Swedish, Kristine agrees.) After it’s made clear that he’s American, the waiter then assumes the clothes mean that Bruce is gay, and so he hits on him. “These are clothes I bought at H & M, and they’re super-straight,” Bruce says. This is the second time the show has made this observation/joke—that gay men and European men dress similarly—and I still have to “Ask a Homo” about whether it’s OK or not.

Back in Sweden, Emma’s mom has left her father and is having a mid-life crisis. So she dresses like a 20-year-old, drags Emma to a bar for a girl’s night, and tries to flirt with uninterested younger Swedish guys who are trying to watch a game. Emma points out that she’s acting like one of the Golden Girls, and this yields my favorite cultural nugget of the entire series. In Sweden, Golden Girls was called “Pantertanter,” which translates roughly to Panther Ladies. “Yes, that’s the name of the show, why is that funny?” Kristine wonders. “What do you want the name of the show to be? ‘Golden Girls’? That doesn’t mean anything.” It is funny because Swedes had a word for cougars before the concept was popularized in the U.S., and it is the same as the word for the series Golden Girls.

In the season finale, Emma’s mother’s mid-life crisis continues, and at one point she brings her husband to tears. “Swedish women can be mean,” Kristine says matter-of-factly. “Because they say it like it is. That’s how they do it. Maybe American women sugarcoat things?”

The season ends with Bruce returning to Sweden to reconcile with Emma and give his ode to the country. He loves “lagom,” the Swedish concept of moderation. And he loves saying “Hej Hej!” And he loves Jantelagen, a concept that I had never heard of before and needed Kristine to explain. “It’s the law that says you shouldn’t think you’re the shit,” she says. “You can look it up. It’s a law.” This is essentially right. The direct translation of the word is “Law of Jante,” which really means nothing in English; it is an entirely Scandinavian idea. The New York Times defined Jantelagen as the concept “that the culture within Scandinavian countries discourages people from promoting their own achievements over those of others.” So, basically, what Kristine said.

Aug. 28 2014 4:45 PM

Hear the Smashing Pumpkins Remix by Diddy That Was Finally Released After 16 Years

In 1998, there were few musicals acts bigger in their respective genres than the Smashing Pumpkins and Diddy—then known as Puff Daddy. And as Jay Z and Linkin Park—and, many years before, Run DMC and Aerosmith, among others—have proven, these are two genres that mesh surprisingly well. So it sort of made sense when MTV reported, way back then, that Puff Daddy had remixed two songs from the Smashing Pumpkins’ fourth album, Adore.

Aug. 28 2014 4:04 PM

Watch the Trailer for Jon Stewart’s Directorial Debut

Jon Stewart wasn’t looking to direct a movie, he says, but when Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was arrested just days after appearing on The Daily Show, Stewart became involved in the story that would lead to his directorial debut. Rosewater, adapted by Stewart from Bahari’s memoir, Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, tells the story of the journalist’s arrest, interrogation, and four-month imprisonment while covering the 2009 Iranian elections.

The Daily Show segment in which Bahari appeared before his arrest, “Persians of Interest,” was used by interrogators as evidence of his alleged “media espionage.” While Bahari doesn’t blame Stewart for the ordeal, he maintains that Stewart likely “felt personally invested in the story because his name came up in a dark interrogation room in a prison in Iran.” He appeared on The Daily Show after his release and, before getting into a more serious discussion, the two engaged in a lighthearted banter. Bahari jokingly wished to retract his permission for Stewart to run the initial interview, and Stewart offered, “Well, they say comedy is imprisonment plus time.”

Aug. 28 2014 3:52 PM

Is Arby’s Meat Mountain a Mountain of Lies? A Skeptic Investigates.

On Monday, the Washington Post published an in-depth article about Arby’s business fortunes and marketing strategies, accompanied by a much shorter article about Arby’s Meat Mountain, an off-menu sandwich that contains eight types of meat—chicken tenders, roast turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, Angus steak, roast beef, and bacon. Can you guess which story was more popular? The Meat Mountain story went bona-fide viral, garnering salivating coverage everywhere from Time and Business Insider to CNBC and Fox News.

The story of the Meat Mountain as it’s been told in the media thus far has been that it was a grassroots phenomenon—that it went viral all on its own. As Christopher Fuller, Arby’s vice president of brand and corporate communications, told the Post, Arby’s had started displaying a poster featuring a stack of every single meat they serve, and “People started coming in and asking, ‘Can I have that?’” But I was skeptical. Had Arby’s customers really clamored for the Meat Mountain of their own volition? Or had Arby’s headquarters engineered the story to get the low-cost marketing that comes with hundreds of thousands of social media likes and shares?

I decided to dig a little deeper into the Meat Mountain, to mine its mysteries and secrets.