Arts & Culture
July 26, 2016 | by Eileen Townsend
If you’ve ever taken I-81 north through Virginia, you’ve passed the town of Natural Bridge, in Rockbridge County—home to a ninety-foot limestone arch that extends over a gorge, a geological anomaly probably formed by an ancient underground river. Natural Bridge is an anachronism from the Route 66 era of highway travel, a place where you can pay twenty dollars to look at a rock, eat a rock-themed lunch, and then buy a shot glass illustrated with a picture of that same rock. As any respectable tourist trap must, the town hosts a constellation of other attractions: a petting zoo, a dinosaur/Civil War theme park, and the Natural Bridge Wax Museum (now closed, and former home to a ghoulish Obama tribute). Best of all is the featherlight, faux prehistoric monument known as Foamhenge.
As its name suggests, Foamhenge is a one-to-one scale replica of Stonehenge, made of foam. It is identical to the original, save the flecked gray paint, the accompanying statue of a deadhead-ish Merlin, and the fact that it was erected several millennia later. For the past twelve years, the henge has been the most public of Natural Bridge’s draws, garnering a steady stream of visitors and enough press to be mentioned in the same breath as the area’s actual ancient rocks. Its creator, an artist named Mark Cline, calls it his “foam-nomenon”: the unlikely culmination of his career as a sculptor of roadside attractions. Read More »
July 11, 2016 | by Lee Lockwood
Late in 1959, the photojournalist Lee Lockwood flew to Cuba to witness the end of Batista’s regime. After a long search, he found Fidel Castro, who had only just seized power. The two had an immediate rapport, and in successive trips over the next decade, Lockwood found that Castro granted him unprecedented access to the island; in 1965, he sat for a marathon seven-day interview. First published in 1967, Lockwood’s portrait of Castro stands as arguably the most penetrating document that exists of the man. Lockwood died in 2010; this month, in light of the new course in U.S. relations with Cuba and the paucity of historical context, Taschen is reissuing his interviews in Castro’s Cuba: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Cuba 1959–1969, including hundreds of photographs, many of them previously unpublished. The excerpt below covers Castro’s opinions on literature, arts, and culture in Cuba.
Is there any attempt to exert control over the production of art in Cuba? For example, in literature?
All manifestations of art have different characteristics. For example, movies are different from painting. Movies are a modern industry requiring a lot of resources. It is not the same thing to make a film as it is to paint a picture or write a book. But if you ask whether there is control—no. Read More »
July 7, 2016 | by Charles Curkin
The rise of the spoiler alert.
In all forms of media, the spoiler alert has barreled into common usage. It has become necessary because we’re living in an age when information is diffused at such a violent pace. With the privilege of speed comes great sensitivity.
We no longer read books or watch TV shows and movies for their gestalt; art is now only as powerful as the emotions it exploits. It’s a tragic state of affairs, but it’s likely to get even worse. It’s now within reason to get litigious over spoiling. The blogger “Reality Steve” Carbone, whose website has a section dedicated to reality-show spoilers, has been sued not once but twice for ruining certain seasons of ABC’s The Bachelor and its equally insipid sister show, The Bachelorette. Read More »
June 2, 2016 | by Scott Beauchamp
How the perspective of war stories has shifted—from gods to guns.
My memories of war are fractured: faces disappear like smoke while literal plumes of smoke, their specific shapes and forms, linger on vividly for years. I remember the mesh netting, concrete, and dust smell of tower guard, but the events of entire months are completely gone. I remember the sound of a kid’s voice, but not anything he actually said. I guess that’s what Tim O’Brien meant when he wrote about Vietnam, “What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning or end.”
Memories of people, too complex to carry through the years, fall apart. It’s easier to find purchase on memories of objects. The weapon I was assigned on my first deployment to Iraq was an M249 SAW, or what we would colloquially and inaccurately refer to as the “Squad Assault Weapon.” I remember the way it felt to disassemble—the slight give of the heat-shield assembly, its tiny metal pincers clinging to the barrel. I remember the sound of the feed tray snapping shut on a belt of ammunition. And I remember the tiny rust deposits on the legs of my weapon’s bipod, which would never go away, no matter how hard I scrubbed with CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, and Protectant oil). I remember my SAW’s voice and the things it said. Read More »
May 26, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
I read that a Burger King franchise in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna, serving Cokes and fries to visitors as they sweat it out, and my first thought was: I want to go there. I don’t mean “go” in the sense of an ironic pilgrimage, the way some people go to Dollywood or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. This is a more disturbing impulse. Even if I recognize the sauna for what it is—a cynical ploy by a multinational corporation to hijack a local tradition, down to the inclusion of BK-branded robes and towels—I have an ingrained affinity for Burger King that resists rational argument. I could hurl a brick through the window of their corporate headquarters, but I know I’d only end up wanting a Whopper as the cops handcuffed me.
I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in years, but I’ve accepted that the Whopper is my madeleine. I guess this makes BK—the world’s second largest fast-food hamburger chain, an amoral monolith helping to drive up the obesity rate by plying a misinformed, increasingly impoverished public with processed foodstuffs—something like my Combray. As sad as it sounds, to sink my teeth through that sesame-seed bun is to activate long-dormant memories of … the sesame-seed buns of my childhood. Read More »
May 25, 2016 | by Tony Tulathimutte
Who gets to name an author’s book?
When I was readying my first novel for publication, it struck me that writers have far more control over what’s in their books than what’s on them—the cover art, blurbs, jacket copy, but especially the title, where the author’s concerns overlap with marketing ones. Deciding on a name for your life’s work is hard enough; the prospect of changing it at the eleventh hour is like naming your newborn, then hearing the obstetrician say, But wouldn’t Sandra look amazing on the certificate? It took a nine-month war of attrition to secure the original title of my book, Private Citizens.
The history of writers fighting for their book titles is extensive and bloody; so powerful is the publisher’s veto that not even Toni Morrison, fresh off her Nobel win, got to keep her preferred title for Paradise, which was War. (For her most recent book, God Help the Child, she favored The Wrath of Children.) Who knows why George Orwell’s editor thought Nineteen Eighty-Four was more commercially viable than The Last Man in Europe, or why the industry’s gerund fetish turned Helen Simpson’s Hey Yeah Right Get a Life into the insipid Getting a Life? Read More »