Slate's Culture Blog

July 31 2014 12:20 PM

A Brief History of Fake Blood

When it comes to adaptations of Carrie, the blood literally comes in buckets. For the newest version, director Kimberly Peirce was determined to get the climactic drop of pig’s blood just right. As she described it in a recent New York Times Magazine profile, she tried three-gallon, four-gallon, and five-gallon buckets, and she tried a three-foot drop, a four-foot drop, and a five-foot drop. Trying all these different configurations required take after take after take. When she asked Brian De Palma, director of the classical original Carrie (1976), how many takes it took him, he apparently replied, “What do you mean? We did one.”

Movie gore has come a long way since the first Carrie. What pumps through our veins hasn’t changed a drop, but what goes in those buckets has been reformulated again and again.

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July 31 2014 10:57 AM

Questlove: Remembering Richard Nichols, The Roots’ Longtime Manager and Mentor

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

How can you make any sense of a life ending? Richard Nichols, who managed the Roots since the beginning, since before the beginning, passed away on July 17 after a long battle with leukemia (CMML). Rich was 55. Our culture calls for certain forms of expression in the wake of an event like this: We’re supposed to compose a declaration of devotion to the departed, offer testimony regarding his lasting importance, make a simple statement of the sadness that has settled over us all. There is no declaration or testimony big enough to fill the life of Rich. But there is a simple statement, and this is it: There is only one Richard Nichols. I know what ya’ll are thinking: "There is only one of each of us." But it's truer than true in this case.

Rich was our manager, but that's only a vague way of describing what he did. I first met Rich when I was a teenager in Philadelphia, when the band that would become the Roots started crystallizing around me and Tariq Trotter. Rich came to the show with a friend of his. Rich’s reputation preceded him, sort of: He was the DJ for a cutting-edge experimental jazz show on WRTI, the Temple University radio station; when Tariq and I were coming back from parties or concerts late at night, we would flip on the radio and listen to Rich’s show.

The night Rich came to see us, he didn’t seem especially impressed. We were playing with a replacement bassist, and he didn't get the kind of thrill he expected. He scowled at us, I'm pretty sure. But then he had us out to his studio in Bensalem and we recorded a pair of songs, “Anti-Circle” and “Pass the Popcorn.” That time, something about us clicked with something in him. He was driving Tariq home and Tariq told him straight out that he should manage us. That was all it took.

July 31 2014 9:33 AM

Fruit Seller Proves That Germans Really Do Have a Sense of Humor

There’s an old idea that Germans have no sense of humor, but it’s a myth. Germans have a great sense of humor. It’s just quite barbed. Take, for instance, Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, with its murdering protagonist and organized panhandling racket: Dark, violent and depressing, yes, but also meant to be hilarious. “My business is too hard,” laments beggar ringleader Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, “for my business is arousing human sympathy.”

The way you tell a joke in Germany, I say to my students, is to recite a tragic or infuriating fact about the world, and then grimace slightly. That’s an exaggeration, of course (something Germans do not find funny in the least, especially about themselves), but the kernel of truth in it is this: German humor often draws attention to real problems by making very dark jokes that bring those problems to life. In Threepenny Opera’s case, that problem was the unregulated capitalism of 19th-century London (“Food is the first thing/ Morals follow on”). In the case of the cheeky fruit seller from Baden named Susanne, pictured above, the problem is … our largely unregulated online retail economy, personified by the behemoth Amazon, which enjoys a very strong German presence.

This week, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung posted the picture on its Facebook page, and it quickly began to go viral in the Fatherland. It shows Susanne smirking ever so slightly (the German version of flashing a full-toothed grin and a double thumbs-up), over handmade signs that proclaim:

July 31 2014 9:03 AM

The Latest DNC Fundraising Strategy: Emojis

The Obama campaign was famous for the amount of testing it put into the subject lines of the emails it sent to supporters. But recently the Democratic National Committee has been trying out a new tactic:

July 31 2014 8:32 AM

The New York Times Food Section Will Finally Be Called “Food”

On Wednesday, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet sent out a staff memo about changes to the newspaper’s food section. Baquet’s note began with some very peculiar instructions:

Take the Dining section. Add the new NYT Cooking site and app. Mix the ingredients together—a vast menu of easy-to-search recipes, restaurant and wine reviews, food and restaurant news—and you have a great buffet of offerings for Times readers. That is why we are combining the two enterprises in a new department bearing the name it had in the days of Craig Claiborne: Food.
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Hold it right there. The “ingredients” include a “menu”? And isn’t a buffet, by definition, a bunch of discrete ingredients, rather than a bunch of ingredients mixed together?

Setting Baquet’s mixed metaphor aside, it turns out that the Times food shakeup isn’t much of a shakeup at all. Yes, all of the Times’ food-related coverage—including its newly released, well-received Cooking site—will now comprise one multimedia section, headed by former restaurant critic Sam Sifton. But the Times’ food coverage won’t change much. “The section front for Dining will be rebranded as Food, and will deliver articles devoted to cooking, restaurants, wine and spirits, and of course to general food news,” writes Baquet. Cooking, restaurants, wine and spirits, and general food news are what the Dining section already covers. From a reader’s perspective, it looks like the new name will be the most noticeable result of the editorial reorganization.

And a fine new name it is. The New York Times food section has had the word “Dining” in its name since 1997, and it’s long been an ill-suited title. For one thing, almost no normal middle-class American uses “dining” as a verb in everyday conversation. (“Do you want to dine in or out tonight?” sounds like a line of dialogue from The Great Gatsby.) For another, “dining” connotes ritual, conviviality, social interaction. The Times certainly covers these aspects of breaking bread—Pete Wells’ restaurant reviews, for instance, often touch on service, ambience, and clientele. But like the food culture at large, the Times Dining section has taken increasing interest in ingredients and their provenance, their preparation, and their popularity. It’s the food itself, and not the conventions by which we consume it, that primarily interests modern foodies.

The New York Times food section name change isn’t a big practical change, but it is an important symbolic shift. Dining is dead. Long live Food.

July 30 2014 9:36 PM

Chance the Rapper Has Made the Arthur Theme Song a Rousing, Soulful Anthem

Chance the Rapper has been keeping a lovely number in his back pocket during recent performances: a cover of the Arthur theme song. To repeat: Chance the Rapper has been covering the theme song for a beloved PBS series, which was adapted from a beloved book series, which features everyone's favorite aardvark and his ragtag crew. Now he’s gone into the studio and given the track a produced polish, with Wyclef Jean and Jessie Ware joining the fun for good measure.

July 30 2014 3:35 PM

New Trailer for Interstellar Finally Takes Us Through the Wormhole

The marketing for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar has thus far been remarkably restrained—coy, even. We’ve known for over a year now that the movie would follow its heroes through a wormhole to distant reaches of space, but the marketing for the movie, which will finally come out in November, has taken its time in getting to the intergalactic fireworks factory.

That changes somewhat with the new trailer, which finally shows us life on the other side of the wormhole, where an astronaut (Matthew McConaughey) and the rest of his crew (played by Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley, among others) are seeking a way to save Earth.

July 30 2014 11:56 AM

McDonald’s Should Bring Its Tofu McNuggets to the USA

As my colleague Alison Griswold noted Tuesday, McDonald’s Japan has introduced a new product: tofu nuggets. In the wake of the scandalous revelation that a Chinese supplier has been selling McDonald’s expired meat, it’s tempting to see Tofu Shinjo Nuggets as the fast food chain’s attempt to distance itself from animal products until the tempest dies down. The Christian Science Monitor’s headline about the tofu nuggets suggested just that: “Tofu McNuggets? McDonald’s Japan goes vegetarian amid expired meat scare.”

But as it turns out, the tofu nuggets aren’t vegetarian—they contain minced fish along with tofu and vegetables. They are, however, a great idea, expired meat scandal or no expired meat scandal, and one that McDonald’s should import to its home country.

July 30 2014 11:16 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Pea Soup

If you are not blessed with a suitable outdoor space, hosting a dinner party at the height of summer can be a sticky proposition. I do not mean to suggest you are a messy cook; rather, it is the heat and humidity shellacking one’s skin with sweat that concern me. Given that in certain climes this unpleasantness can form within seconds after you’ve left the immediate vicinity of the air conditioner, the thought of firing up a few burners—God forbid the oven—inside the house can be enough to induce the social equivalent of aestivation.

But what a shame that would be! I am here to tell you that it is possible to offer your friends an indoor summer dinner party without it turning into a sweat lodge. The trick is to avoid heat-based cooking as much as possible, and instead opt for recipes that serve the season’s bounty with as little processing as possible—creative capreses and citrusy ceviches come to mind, as do salty cold meats and bright grain salads. Most of these require no flame, and others—like, say, a spice-crusted pork loin roast—can be cooked the day before (in the dead of night, if you like), allowing plenty of time for the heat to dissipate. For my money, though, the only way to start a summer meal on the right, comfortingly cool foot is with a cold soup.

July 30 2014 8:03 AM

Watch a Supercut of Samuel L. Jackson Saying His Favorite Word

By now it’s common knowledge that Samuel L. Jackson’s favorite curse word is the mother of them all. In fact, it’s his favorite word, period, and one he’s infamously spelled more than 150 different ways in his tweets. But Jackson’s obsession with “motherfucker” goes beyond just a fondness for the expletive: Last year, he revealed that repeating the word actually helps him overcome a stutter he’s had since childhood. The word has since become synonymous with Jackson’s characters—most memorably, in Pulp Fiction (“I’m a mushroom-cloud-laying motherfucker, motherfucker!”) and Snakes on a Plane (do I even need to quote it?).

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