Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

March 2 2015 9:42 AM

John Oliver Created a Summer Blockbuster to Make You Care About Our Infrastructure

John Oliver is a virtuoso at making entertaining and enlightening television out of our most unsexy issues—judicial election, predatory lending, student debt—and this week he took on the granddaddy of unsexy issues: our very poor infrastructure.

How will Oliver make you care about this issue, which almost everyone agrees on but almost no one is doing anything about? As Oliver notes, “every summer [at the movies], people flock to see our infrastructure threatened by terrorists or aliens, but we should care just as much when it’s under threat from the inevitable passage of time.” So Oliver brought together Ed Norton, Vincent D’Onofrio, and other movie stars to make a trailer for an action blockbuster that’s all about the United States’ D+ infrastructure. He also manages to slip in a pretty good Bill Cosby joke along the way.

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March 2 2015 8:32 AM

Did Amazon Sink the Queen of Online Erotica?

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Jaid Black, the “queen of steam,” isn’t feeling well, so she’s dispatched Christian, a muscular, handsome 40-something, to greet me at the front door of her West Hollywood home. It’s tempting to refer to Christian as a manservant, because a beefcake butler whose modeling bio boasts of a knack for finding G-spots would fit tidily into this story (and he does ask if we need anything), but in fact, he’s an aspiring actor and personal trainer to A-list talent agent Kevin Huvane. He’s also a friend of Black’s who’s willing to fetch the chocolate-caramel creamer for her coffee. 

Black, 43, whose real name is Tina Engler, sits outside on this sunny day in November near a half-filled pool with a fountain that recycles murky water, a casualty of the state’s epic drought. An author and the founder of Ellora’s Cave, a digital-first publishing company that specializes in women’s erotic literature, she rises from the table to greet me wearing a Jimi Hendrix tee and black lounge pants, her dirty-blonde hair arranged in cornrows with electric-blue extensions. An orange-and-white tabby extends his regards as well. “Henry,” snaps Engler, as the cat jumps onto the table beside me, “she does not want your butthole in her face.”

March 1 2015 6:15 PM

The Women of SNL Embrace Sara Bareilles and Say What They Want to Say

Fifty Shades of Grey star and new ISIS recruit Dakota Johnson hosted SNL on Saturday, and the best sketch of the night saw her and the cast’s women eschew social niceties to engage in some hilarious, much-needed truth-telling.

The reason for this bold rejection of propriety? Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” the ubiquitous anthem that entreats listeners to say what they want to say.

March 1 2015 4:02 PM

Carly Rae Jepsen Returns With a Song That Is Somehow More Catchy Than “Call Me Maybe”

It’s been three years since Carly Rae Jepsen colonized the pop charts—and the Internet, and America, and the hearts of everyone alive—with “Call Me Maybe,” her soaring ode to meet-cute romance. But for those who thought Jepsen had abandoned her mission to craft the poppiest of pop songs, fear not: Her new single, “I Really Like You,” is 3½ minutes of unflinching bubblegum glee.

By my count, Jepsen says “really” 67 times in this song, and every iteration is insanely catchy. If you are into nuanced lyricism, this is not for you; if you are into ’80s pop and sky-high choruses, this is your new favorite song.

March 1 2015 2:00 PM

Dakota Johnson Joins ISIS in This Divisive SNL Sketch

Whatever your opinion of Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s fair to say that Dakota Johnson’s playful naiveté and quiet, bristling intelligence often transcended the campy badness that defined most of the movie. The actress put that faux-innocent persona to good use while hosting SNL this week, especially in a short, controversial sketch that saw her play the departing daughter of Taran Killam.

The bit starts as a saccharine spoof of a Toyota Camry commercial, but it becomes clear that Johnson isn’t leaving for college when a truck pulls up mounted with machine guns and a militant Kyle Mooney. But don’t worry! As Johnson notes, “it’s just ISIS.”

Feb. 28 2015 4:27 PM

How George Lois, ’60s Ad Man and Art Director, May Be the Real-Life Don Draper

Forget D.B. Cooper—for a real-life equivalent of Mad Men’s Don Draper, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more fitting than legendary art director George Lois. In the ’60s, Lois oversaw dozens of landmark ad campaigns and magazine covers, and the above Vice profile does a stellar job of explicating his legacy.

Feb. 28 2015 1:45 PM

Kanye West Is at His Best in This European TV Performance of “Only One”  

Given the brash pyrotechnics of his “All Day” debut, it’s clear Kanye West’s new album won’t entirely consist of sensitive, confessional ballads like “Only One.” But if, like me, you find the rapper’s vulnerable-songwriter mode particularly intriguing, West’s recent performance on Norwegian-Swedish talk show Skavlan is a must-watch.

Feb. 28 2015 9:32 AM

Who Was the Better Tocqueville? Karl Ove Knausgaard, Bernard-Henri Lévy, or Stephen Fry?

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

When the newly revamped New York Times Magazine asked the famously prolix (but personally reticent) Karl Ove Knausgaard, the author of a 3,500-page confessional six-book series called My Struggle, to undertake a road trip through Canada and the U.S., it enlisted him in a noble tradition: the foreign writer grappling with America via that most American of journeys, the road trip. How does his long and divisive report, part one of which will appear in this Sunday’s print issue, compare to those of his predecessors? Below, we compare and contrast.

Feb. 27 2015 6:52 PM

How Do You Play The Originalist?

Last month, veteran Washington actor Edward Gero sat in on the Supreme Court’s oral arguments, a notepad on his lap. He watched the nine Justices enter the courtroom from behind velvet drapes shortly after 10 a.m. But Gero had his eyes trained on one person in particular: Antonin Scalia. He examined the justice’s expansive gestures and tics and took diligent notes: “Fidgety, heavy brows, blowing through his lips, finger in his mouth, awaits—then pounces from the chair, swings around—launches his questions, his upper body very active, right hand always moving.” Watching Scalia’s every move, Gero was slowly learning how to be him.

Feb. 27 2015 6:22 PM

Remembering Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock, One of History’s Greatest TV Characters

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Leonard Nimoy, who died today at 83, had a long, prodigious career as an actor, writer, and director. Despite all his other achievements, he will always be known as Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer of Star Trek’s Enterprise, and that’s what I want to focus on here, because the pointy-eared Starfleet officer was one of the great characters in TV history. He was killed off and then resuscitated, not just officially (in the second and third Star Trek films, then in J.J. Abrams reboots, where he appears as young Spock’s grizzled future self) but symbolically, in the form of new Trek characters who at times seemed like prismatic shards of Spock, and who all grappled with feelings of otherness (Geordi La Forge, Worf, Data, Seven of Nine). 

From fairly early in the show’s run, Nimoy seemed to realize the symbolic power invested in Spock, and perhaps to mistrust or fear it. “The network, and a good many fans, would have been happy if the show had been called ‘The Mr. Spock Hour,’” confessed Star Trek writer David Gerrold in his book The Trouble With Tribbles. As a professional who prided himself on his versatility, he resisted being identified too strongly with a single role—it’s the main reason he went on to play Paris, the “master of disguise,” on Mission: Impossible from 1969–71—and it was a long time before he entirely made peace with the legacy he’d done so much to shape.

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