Why are we hiding from the memory of World War I?

Why is the Great War missing from American movie theaters? The void stems in part from how the U.S. preserved the war in contemporaneous media. But a greater part, perhaps, has to do with how the conflict reflects on the U.S. as a nation.

“Why Do So Few Hollywood Movies Take Place During WWI?”

Artists would be doing Americans a service by telling these stories again. Ernest Hemingway called those who came of age during the Great War “the Lost Generation”—not because they have been forgotten, but because they felt adrift after the social, spiritual, and historical rupture they’d endured. Today, for every brilliant leap forward in technology, a new and brutal development seems to announce itself. In the hands of groups like the Islamic State, media itself has been made a weapon of terror; innovation, as it did during WWI, harms as much as it helps. In the 1920s, the Lost Generation sought relief in decadence and meaning in fascism; they also tried to recapture in art the humanity that failed them during the war. We’re both the inheritors of this period and, perhaps, the prologue to a similar cultural moment. One hundred years later, we might see our way clearly to alternatives the more we sit with our relevant past.

Pacific Standard, June 27, 2017

When does advertising become public art?

“Sculptures collect meaning because the circumstances around them change.”

“Where’s the Boundary Between Public Art and Advertising?”

Whether as process or product, public art and advertising don’t overlap completely, or totally comfortably. Advertising often aims for clarity, convincing or entertaining the audience in order to create a specific external action, whether it’s buying Doritos or shifting your loyalty toward Airbnb. (“Our job as advertisers is to entertain and to get our audience to play with us and interact with us,” Johnson says.) Public art hopes to inform its audience about an environment, to reveal context for spaces and spur internal discovery. It wants to help viewers feel smart or contemplative or proud of where they live. Professionals from both disciplines told CityLab that their own specialty, as opposed to the other, was about creating a shared experience, about participating in the physical world and pondering an idea. Both highlighted their field’s “authentic voice” and agreed that artists and agency clients alike relinquish control of a message once the public engages with a work.

CityLab, May 15, 2017

How are databases keeping you from getting care?

There’s no worse time to find a psychiatrist than when you really need a psychiatrist.

“Why It’s Such a Struggle to Find an In-Network Therapist”

I called about a dozen practices and nearly gave up before I found even one that fit my needs.

This wasn’t my depression telling me I wasn’t worth the trouble, or even an unusual problem overall. And it doesn’t stem from skullduggery, as one weary doctor who suspected companies padded their networks told me. In fact, the insurance industry and regulators are knee-deep in a multi-front struggle to do something very simple: keep their provider databases up to date.

No one could ever accuse the American health care system of elegance, but it’s almost impressive how frustrating and costly this issue can get for everyone involved.

Tonic, Dec. 5, 2016

Who determines what your accent is?

“[My new accent] is a mixture of most of the languages I can understand or am trying to learn,” Lohan explained to the Daily Mail a few days later. She says she’s learning or is fluent in a total of six languages, including Turkish, French, and Russian.

“Why Lindsay Lohan’s Accent Change Is Actually Not That Weird”

It’s more important than you might think, sociologically, to get an accent right. Humans are social animals, after all, and having the right accent says you’re one of the gang. This is why xenophobes get so bent out of shape over immigrants’ speech. It’s also why we judge people who seem to be performing their accent, such as politicians who suddenly develop a folksy twang or celebrities who affect posh European mannerisms.

When we develop our first accents (usually by imprinting on our earliest caregivers), we’re trying to fit in as a matter of group identification, and it’s truly not unusual for this to change over time depending on whom we’re with. “There is a general tendency in language to approximate the localities or the social networks that you want to be a part of,” Dr. Tagliamonte says, “and if those social networks are diverse and you pick and choose from the various different ones, your performative accent, the one you use when you’re in an interview or when you’re not with your friends and family, may very well be a mix.”

Refinery29, Nov. 3, 2016

Why are clowns bad?

“We stand with our safety officers who call for an end to the traumatization of individuals and communities. Anyone making a threat of violence should be arrested, whether this person is wearing a mask or not. This clearly is not the act of a professional clown.”

“Why Clowns Are a Particular Kind of Scary”

Part of it is that our brains simply don’t know how to process clowns. Earlier this year, the first-ever psychological study of creepiness found that unpredictability is one of its main components. And this makes perfect sense when applied to clowns: A clown may present as jolly and fun, but we can’t predict his behavior — or whether we’ll be his next target. (Anyone who’s been to the circus and knows the particular terror of being pulled from the audience to participate knows this is true, even of “nice” clowns.)

According to Benjamin Radford, author of Bad Clowns and research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we actually have clowns all wrong from the start. “People who aren’t really familiar with the cultural history of the clown think, ‘Oh wow, Stephen King made this thing evil,’” he says. “No, you were mistaken for thinking it was good!”

Refinery29, Oct. 26, 2016

Who really owns Captain America?

Superhero comics live for these pull-the-rug-out moments, but this twist struck many as particularly galling, even anti-Semitic.

“Say It Ain’t So: Captain America Is a… Hydra Agent?!”

Marvel believes Captain America: Steve Rogers explores terror recruitment, flawed heroes and homegrown fascism. The single issue available lacks the context of later developments, and this isn’t even the first time the character has “been a Nazi.” Nuance doesn’t move units like outrage, though (nor will it upstage your chief rival). However this story resolves, it’s a shame Marvel has prioritized a gamble on the cleverness of its writers over the intelligence and experiences of the reader. Those writers appear to believe that in the end, all unplanned distress is a justifiable cost.

Tablet, May 31, 2016

Where is home, and can you carry it?

Chicago opened up who I could be. You can move forward without leaving the things you love behind.

“A Pilgrim in Chicagoland”

Coney Island was neat, but I missed Lake Michigan. I couldn’t find the right burger, the right beer, the right pizza. At MoMA and the Met, I mourned my lapsed Art Institute membership. Even when my beloved Improvised Shakespeare Company played in Manhattan, their shows were twice as expensive and half the length.

Going cold turkey on Chicago wasn’t working. Moving back wasn’t in the works, either. But I finally let myself visit last month. Even the distant glimpse of the Sears (yes, Sears) Tower from the O’Hare tarmac made me tear up. Being in my city—where the announcements on the trains sounded right and where the owner of my regular Chinese restaurant hugged me tight when I walked back through the door—was so restorative. Still, a fundamental problem remained: I paid rent in New York now. I had to leave once my week was up.

The solution was half ingenuity, half hoarding instinct. In the grand tradition of Supermarket Sweep, I filled my cart.

CityLab, April 18, 2016 • Art by Hiroshi Ariyama

Who was America’s longest-reigning emperor?

Americans are famously testy about submitting to unelected rulers. But for a period in the 19th century, San Francisco boasted its own emperor. Residents are so proud of him, in fact, that he remains a symbol of the city even to this day.

“Retrobituaries: Emperor Norton, San Francisco’s Most Beloved 19th-Century Eccentric”

In some ways, Norton’s proclamations were an early example of what we now call clickbait. While he continued to issue some proclamations (more on those below), editors would also write their own, knowing it would sell more papers. Theaters and restaurants reserved prime seats for Norton, knowing that his presence or endorsement would attract visitors. As early as the 1850s, he began appearing as a character in comic operas, novels and cartoons. Mark Twain, who worked as a reporter at the San Francisco Daily Morning Call at the time, reportedly found in him inspiration for “the king” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Wherever Norton appeared, audiences eagerly followed. The 1870 census lists his occupation as “emperor.”

Mental Floss, April 8, 2016

Who are Uncle Sam’s parents?

The first illustrated American Uncle Sam isn’t even the hero of his own cartoon. Here’s a look at our national personification, his strange history, and his even stranger family tree.

“9 Things You Might Not Know About Uncle Sam”

Before Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan, it was Columbia who embodied the young nation. Inspired by classical Roman imagery and derived from the sailor Christopher Columbus’s name, she appeared throughout art, architecture, and media of the 18th and 19th centuries as a warrior, a guardian, and an innocent girl. She was the American Britannia, and “Hail, Columbia!” was an unofficial national anthem. The colonial black poet Phillis Wheatley even sent George Washington an inspirational poem about the figure. Columbia gave her name to the 1893 World’s Fair, widely known as the Columbian Exposition. Yet her popularity fell as Uncle Sam’s rose, and by World War I she was eclipsed by her sister: Lady Liberty.

Mental Floss, March 13, 2016

Why can’t anyone make room on the train?

Your solution to unclogging bottlenecks is simple, though it requires overcoming the very instincts that lead us to block passageways in the first place.

“Why Do Passengers Insist on Crowding Around Subway Doors?”

Wener believes that some transit systems condition riders to be territorial about their spots. When the doors close too quickly, passengers “feel defensive, [thinking] ‘Am I going to get out in time?’” he says. Rider anxiety—and huddling around the doors—could be alleviated through something as simple as clearer countdowns to doors closing. Other researchers have suggested asymmetric doors, to stagger crowding, or open gangway cars, which are popular outside the United States. Any of these solutions, Wener says, reduce stress by removing ambiguity in favor of reliability.

CityLab, Feb. 17, 2016

How does one get to Macondo?

“If I hadn’t written [the book], I wouldn’t have read it,” García Márquez told the Atlantic in 1973. “I don’t read bestsellers.”

“9 Magical Facts About ‘100 Years of Solitude'”

García Márquez had his own conception of magical realism and where it came from (more on that later), but sometimes what he thought was imagination turned out to be something real. Early in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a plague of insomnia afflicts Macondo. Villagers begin forgetting the words for things and concepts; protagonist José Arcadio Buendía even meticulously labels everyday objects around town. This cognitive impairment was actually described in medical literature for the first time in 1975, eight years after the book’s initial release. It’s called semantic dementia, and García Márquez accurately describes the effects of certain kinds of degeneration in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes.

Mental Floss, Jan. 22, 2016

Who really started the French Revolution?

While Cagliostro may have preferred to obtain immortality the simple, old-fashioned way—not dying—little about the man was ever that straightforward.

“Retrobituaries: Occultist, Charlatan, Adventurer—Who Was Count Cagliostro?”

That same year, Cagliostro married Lorenza Feliciani, who preferred to be called Serafina. As it turned out, she also had a gift for scamming people, and the pair became trusted partners in a number of confidence tricks throughout their lives. Some claim that the couple left Rome because they attracted the attention of the Inquisition. Either way, they continued Cagliostro’s earlier travels, performing séances and selling elixirs. In Paris, Cagliostro was welcomed with open arms and supposedly recommended as Benjamin Franklin’s personal physician. In Russia, Catherine the Great wrote scathing verse about their charlatanry. It was in London, however, on April 12, 1776, that Cagliostro was initiated as a Freemason, which began his period of greatest notoriety.

Mental Floss, Jan. 21, 2016