Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Aug. 21 2017 6:25 PM

Kesha’s Empowering Comeback Album Rainbow Debuts at No. 1

Here’s some good news: Kesha’s empowering comeback album Rainbow will debut at No. 1 on this week’s Billboard 200 Albums chart.

Rainbow is Kesha’s first album in almost five years, three of which she spent attempting to free herself from a contract with her ex-producer and alleged abuser Dr. Luke. Courts repeatedly rejected her pleas to be released from the contract, despite the fact it prevented the artist formerly known as Ke$ha from making solo music with anyone other than a man whom she alleges sexually and emotionally abused her.

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With Dr. Luke finally fired from CEO of his label earlier this year, Kesha is back, first with the last month’s emotional single, “Praying,” and now with Rainbow. Fans have missed her—as well as taking the Billboard 200 top spot (for the first time since her 2010 debut, Animal) Kesha has just had the second biggest week for a female artist this year, coming in just behind the opening week of Katy Perry’s Witness (and unlike Witness, Rainbow has received mostly positive critical reception).

Kesha shared her gratitude with fans on Instagram, writing, “at a loss for words. thank you. thank you. thank you. there were many days that my music was simply a coping tool, for my emotions. PLEASE GOD i hope anyone reading this knows that they also have the power to turn emotion into art and reach the world.”

As Kesha sings in the stripped-back opening track, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Kesha has dealt with her fair share of bastards, but with the success of Rainbow, she has a triumph that’s all her own.

Aug. 21 2017 1:45 PM

Game of Thrones Suspends Disbelief Beyond the Wall

In this new episode of Slate’s weekly Game of Thrones podcast, the Slatesters recap the penultimate episode of the seventh season, “Beyond the Wall.” Our critics discuss Sansa and Arya’s complicated relationship and all the improbable events that occurred as Jon Snow and his ragtag team came head-to-head with the Night King and his wights.

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Aug. 21 2017 1:09 PM

No Eclipse Glasses? No Problem. All You Really Need to Watch Is Your iPhone.

No cereal boxes at work? Don’t want to put a colander on your head?

Since it’s 2017, this is all you really need to do:

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1. Take out your iPhone.
2. Put it in selfie mode.
3. Pretend you’re taking a selfie with the eclipse.
4. Enjoy the eclipse.

But will this damage my iPhone?

According to both Apple and NASA (PDF), it won’t.

But will looking at the screen damage my eyesight?

It’s true that, as with any other reflective surface, you should be careful to avoid reflecting the light from the eclipse directly into your eyes. That said, according to NASA, you should be fine as long as you don’t look too long—think seconds, not minutes. (Even if you were to look directly at the eclipse, a quick peek wouldn’t actually hurt you.)

In other words, as with any event, you probably shouldn’t spend the whole time looking at your phone.

Aug. 21 2017 12:47 PM

Frank Castle Speaks Softly and Carries a Big Hammer in the First Trailer for The Punisher

In true Marvel fashion, The Defenders had a post-credits Easter egg that you might have missed if you weren’t waiting for it: the first trailer for The Punisher. The first look at the upcoming Netflix series is as dark and gritty as you might expect for a show about the character, cutting between scenes from Frank Castle’s past and shots of him hammering his insignia into a concrete floor. “Memories: They never hurt me. The past is more than memories. It’s the devil you sold your soul to,” he warns in voiceover. “He’s coming. He’s coming to collect.”

While Punisher did not in fact appear in The Defenders, the character as played by Jon Bernthal was one of the best parts of Daredevil’s rocky second season, as his readiness to kill, motivated by the death of his family, made him a good foil for the devoutly Catholic superhero. This time, Bernthal will take center stage in Marvel’s The Punisher, with Ben Barnes costarring as Castle’s best friend from his military days, Billy Russo (a.k.a. Jigsaw), and Deborah Ann Woll reprising her role as Karen Page.

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Netflix is still playing coy about The Punisher’s release date, but it will be sometime in 2017.

Aug. 21 2017 11:19 AM

John Oliver Gives You Something Else to Worry About This Week: Radioactive Alligators

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, it’s time to start getting concerned about radioactive alligators—at least according to John Oliver. On Sunday, the Last Week Tonight host broke down America’s nuclear waste problem: Even though one out of three Americans lives within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, no one can seem to agree on where waste from those plants should be permanently stored.

Oliver blames the lack of a plan for nuclear storage on the rush to develop weapons during World War II, when we built what can only be compared to “a home with no toilets.” Since our nuclear waste has nowhere to go, for years it was just dumped into the oceans, where it sometimes drifted perilously close to shore, and there was even a genuine inquiry into whether we could just send the waste into outer space. Thankfully, that idea was abandoned, given the devastating consequences of a rocket loaded with radioactive waste blowing up before making it out of the atmosphere.

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There remains the problem, though, of where we should put our nuclear waste. As early as 1957, scientists were already calling for a permanent storage facility on land, but plans to house the nation’s nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada, were met with opposition from the state, so waste has largely been left wherever it was created, with frightening results. Leaks at the Savannah River Site have led to actual radioactive alligators with clever names like Dioxinator instead of Oliver’s more appropriate “Ahhhh Holy Shit a Fucking Radioactive Alligator.” Meanwhile, residents of north St. Louis County, Missouri, where waste from the Manhattan Project has been stored near a creek, have experienced incredibly high cancer rates. “To continue the toilet metaphor,” said Oliver, “we’ve basically been shitting in bags, leaving them all over the house, and praying that they don’t leak.”

Nuclear power plants are all over the country, which makes even the slightest chance of a Fukushima-like accident even more worrisome. “We’ve already waited way too long to resolve this issue, and we are dancing with trouble here,” said Oliver. “So if anyone says the government can just continue to wait, they are, much like a house with no toilet, absolutely full of shit.”

Aug. 21 2017 7:33 AM

A Tribute to the Truly Bungled Release of Tulip Fever

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Has there ever been a film as enjoyably cursed as Tulip Fever? A period romance about a painter and his married muse who try to play the tulip market, Tulip Fever at least had an auspicious debut: Dreamworks optioned the 2000 novel by Deborah Moggach at the proof stage, long before it would become a best seller, and some of the biggest names in Hollywood flirted with adapting it. Four years later, Tulip Fever nearly got off the ground with Jude Law and Keira Knightley starring and Shakespeare in Love director John Madden at the helm, but shortly after planting 12,000 tulip bulbs at the start of production, the British government closed a critical tax loophole that blew up the budget, closed down the film, and left all those poor little tulips to wither.

Call it the Tulip Fever cycle: Every time this movie is ready to bloom, someone comes along to sow the crop with salt. It took nearly a decade more for a director and cast to finally stick, but in 2013, producer Harvey Weinstein and director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) set Dane DeHaan and Alicia Vikander to play the movie’s leads. In the middle of 2014, they filmed it, and by the end of that year, they had a cut ready.

Aug. 21 2017 5:45 AM

The Emmys Must Bring Back the Best Part of Their Old Telecasts: The Late-Night Writers’ B-Roll

Last year’s Emmys telecast wasn’t bad. In fact, considering how a lot of these awards shows go, it was even pretty good. It was funny, it was inclusive, and the voters’ choices of winners showed good taste. But something was still missing. That something was what has arguably been the most consistently and genuinely funny Emmys bit for the past decade or so: the B-roll that announces the nominees for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series.

If you’re not familiar, this B-roll basically announces the names for all of the nominated writers of each variety show (in Emmy-speak, “variety show” translates to “late-night show” with a few exceptions) but announces them in the form of a short comedy bit. Some of these bits were phoned-in—most of Letterman’s from the latter 2000s were a bit self-consciously lazy in the Lettermanian mode—but a lot of them, particularly Conan’s, were bursts of absurdism that were refreshing from a show that tends to really put the broad in broadcast.

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Recall, for example, when the team from Da Ali G Show announced its writers' names using pictures of a variety of men reaching climax.

Or when Stephen Colbert had each of his Colbert Report writers cause him physical harm.

Or when Conan inserted himself into a hilariously exaggerated Jolie-Pitt family photo.

Or when Jon Stewart's Daily Show zinged the stupidest David Blaine stunt ever.

As a whole package, these B-rolls also demonstrated a playful competitiveness between the nominated shows and staffs—providing a metanarrative of comedy one-up-manship that we all got to enjoy. Yes, given that they put the writers’ rooms on display, they’re partly sad reminders that so many of these writing staffs were and still are overwhelmingly white and male, but even then, the results were often too good to hate. (Well, actually, most of Bill Maher’s were pretty douchey, but that’s just what you get for nominating Bill Maher, something the Emmys didn't do this year, at least in the writing category.)

These B-roll mini-sketches have featured pretty consistently for at least the past 15 years, and there’s no real explanation for their absence from last year’s show. Sure, the Best Variety Writing category wasn’t presented at the prime-time Emmys telecast. Instead, it was relegated to the second of the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards shows that aired that same weekend. But even when the Best Variety Writing award was presented at the Primetime Creative Arts show in 2010, the shows submitted B-roll:

Last year’s ceremony, by contrast, just had the nominees’ names called out over a sad, GIF-like title card.

So what gives, Television Academy? The award for Best Variety Writing will be featured on the Primetime Emmy show this year, so let’s hope that we’re treated to some sweet, sweet B-roll so we can gain some kind of respite between the painfully canned presenter bits and the “In Memoriam” segment’s inevitable reprisal of “Hallelujah.”

Aug. 21 2017 5:14 AM

This Week’s Game of Thrones Featured Violence on Many Sides, on Many Sides

Spoilers for Game of Thrones follow. As you know, I was scheduled to write about some of the great things that happened on Game of Thrones Sunday night. And we will talk about Arya and Sansa, very much so, in a little while. But I thought I should put out a comment as to what’s going on north of the wall.

We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding on a rock in the middle of a frozen lake near Eastwatch, where Jon Snow, several other less important but still basically good characters, and a bunch of nameless, soon-to-be-killed redshirts are surrounded by thousands of shambling, howling zombies led by the demonic Night King, whose horned head and piercing blue eyes spell death for nearly all who behold him. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. On many sides.

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Update, Aug. 21, 2017: As I said on Monday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place on Game of Thrones. Wight supremacy is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including Night Kings, White Walkers, skeleton army men, skeleton navy men, skeleton coast guards, and that undead giant a few episodes back.

Another Update, Aug. 21, 2017: I will tell you something. I watched Sunday night’s episode closely—much more closely than you people watched it. And you have a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. The Night King’s undead army came charging by the thousands, tearing any living thing they could get their decaying hands on into tiny, bloody scraps before resurrecting them into a new life of eternal service to the forces of evil. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side to this. You also had a motley band of charming rogues traveling north of the wall on an extraordinary rendition mission without a permit, and they were very, very violent. I think there’s blame on both sides.

Yet Another Update, Aug. 21, 2017: To be clear, I do not endorse the actions of the Night King, and I reject his message of hatred, murder, ice spear attacks, and forced zombification.

Update? You Bet! Aug. 21, 2017: You know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people—and I’m not talking about the White Walkers, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in the Night King’s zombie army of undead warriors other than zombies and undead warriors. You had some very fine people on both sides. And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

Let’s Just Call This a Correction Instead of an Update, Then, Aug. 21, 2017: This article originally misstated that there were some very fine people in the Night King’s army. There were not. It also claimed that some members of the army of the undead were not themselves undead. While this may technically be true of the White Walkers, it is a distinction without a difference. Finally, it mistakenly implied that meaningful comparisons may be drawn between the statements of President Donald J. Trump and fictional characters fighting over a fictional throne on a television program that contains dragons and zombies and wizards. They may not.

This Had Better Be the Last Update, Aug. 21, 2017: Infrastructure week was an enormous success!

Aug. 20 2017 11:33 PM

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: The Night King

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Noooooo!

HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 7, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie.

Brogan: Hi, Jamelle. Thanks for joining me to discuss “Beyond the Wall.”

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What an episode this was! There were loads of new developments here, but I am, as I have been for a while, tempted to suggest Jon is the worst: This time for a plan that left him nearly frozen to death and ended with one of Daenerys’ reptilian children turned into a zombie dragon. Somehow, though, in an episode full of pulse-pounding action, we were also confronted with loads of political and familial scheming. But we also had a scene where the Hound—an increasingly heroic character—fails to save some of his fellow adventurers because he is, apparently, scared of fire, a moment of hesitation that arguably leads to Thoros of Myr’s death. Is our old friend Sandor Clegane the worst?

Bouie: I think I have to disagree on both counts! My immediate sense is that it’s Arya Stark—unwilling and unable to understand her sister and apparently willing to murder her—who is the worst, although her terribleness doesn't seem, like Jon's, to jeopardize the survival of Westerosi civilization.

Brogan: True. For all Arya has been through, for all the rage that she’s acted out, she’s still motivated by literally infantile sibling rivalries. The people I watched with argued that she could have cleared everything up by just explaining that she’d seen Littlefinger plotting to hide the note. But it’s clear that Arya was motivated by her deep anger at her fancy-schmancy sister, to the extent that she likely wouldn’t have even listened to reason if someone had laid Littlefinger’s whole plot out for her.

But, let’s be honest, Sansa also played a part in that drama! She angrily sends Brienne, a woman sworn to protect both sisters, to King’s Landing in her stead, possibly dooming this noble knight in the process. If we’re going to go after Arya, can we really ignore her older sister?

Bouie: I don't think we can ignore Sansa here. She also seems to be acting out, jettisoning every lesson she's learned over the last few seasons to stew in her indecision. But that's understandable. Arya doesn't seem to have any interest in even trying to grok her sister or the larger circumstances at work. It's maddening! Especially since a simple conversation could probably clear all of this up.

With all of that said, I am willing to go with Jon being this week’s worst. The plan to kidnap a wight and bring it to King's Landing turned out more disastrous than I could imagine.

Brogan: Arya and Sansa are still playing at the politics of Summer and Fall, acting as if personal grievances and familial history are what really matter. Jon, meanwhile, knows what lurks beyond the wall, and he still makes some comically terrible decisions, starting with his ill-planned misadventure. But here’s the thing, that stupid plan actually seems to have worked, at least thus far: After Jon’s pals throw an extreme-rendition hood on a revivified corpse in the early going, they haul it with them until the end.

Maybe it’s actually Daenerys who’s the worst, for bringing all three dragons when she probably could have gotten away with one. Now, thanks to that terrible choice, we have a nigh-unkillable flying zombie in the service of the Night King.

Bouie: Do we think the zombie dragon breathes ice?

Brogan: I mean, it is a song of ice and fire …

Bouie: Hah, yeah. Fair point!

I think Daenerys made a fair decision in bringing all three dragons. For my part, the blame for that fiasco still goes to Jon, especially since we don't know if the wight will actually convince the extremely skeptical Cersei.

Brogan: I think there’s a fair chance that she’s just going to blow this off. Assuming they really can transport the damn thing south, is she really going to do anything other than continue to manipulate everyone involved?

To be honest, for the first time, I have the sense that the white walkers could end up on top when this is all over. Maybe it’s the Night King who’s the worst, for playing his own cards exactly right. Everyone else is scheming, but he’s the one dude who actually knows how the game is played.

Bouie: Honestly, I can completely sign on to that.

Brogan: At least he didn’t take out Drogon. But in an episode where I was genuinely expecting Tormund to bite it, I can’t believe he actually killed off one of the dragons. Night King …

Bouie: You are officially the Worst Person in Westeros. Or, at least, Westeros-adjacent.

Aug. 20 2017 10:03 PM

Dick Gregory, Pioneering Comedian and Activist, Has Died at 84

Comedian and activist Dick Gregory died Saturday at the age of 84, the New York Times reports. In the early 1960s, Gregory was one of the first black comedians to break out of the so-called Chitlin Circuit of black clubs in the South and achieve fame and success in white clubs before turning from comedy to activism, becoming an important voice in the civil rights struggle. He remained primarily a political activist until his death, participating in marches and hunger strikes for causes ranging from the Vietnam War to prison reform.

Gregory was born in St. Louis in 1932. Raised by his mother, he was a track star in high school and college before leaving school in 1954 to join the Army. In 1956, he moved to Chicago, getting by on a variety of odd jobs while playing small clubs at night. His break came in 1960, when he filled in for Irwin Corey at the Chicago Playboy Club, winning over a room full of white Southerners and impressing Hugh Hefner so much he booked him for the next three weeks.

Gregory’s comedy career took off from there. Between 1960 and 1964, he released seven comedy albums, did The Tonight Show (he insisted Jack Paar let him sit down for a chat after his act, a privilege not usually afforded to black acts), and commanded high booking fees even as his humor became more pointed. In early interviews, he downplayed the political aspects of his act, telling one interviewer that “Humor can no more find the solution to race problems than it can cure cancer.” Which didn’t mean he didn’t use it to draw attention to race—one of his jokes went, “You know the definition of a Southern moderate? That’s a cat that’ll lynch you from a low tree.”

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