I See You in Your Car, and Other News


On the Shelf

Photo: Mike Mandel, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery.


  • What’s your most embarrassing hobby? Me, I like to take tens of thousands of dollars of photography equipment to a nice, busy intersection—Times Square at rush hour, say—and take intimate close-ups of people in their cars. I know it sounds creepy now, but it didn’t used to be, I promise. The photographer Mike Mandel, for instance, used to do it all the time. But he was nineteen, and he grew up in simpler times, when not everyone with a camera was presumed to be a pervert. In the Los Angeles of the seventies, as he explained to Hattie Crisell, people were more inclined to mug for the camera, though some of them were spooked by it, too: “He saw the automobile as an American icon and a home in itself, where people would spend hours of their time. Walking to an intersection half a block from his house, he began to take candid photographs of drivers. He used a wide-angle lens, which required him to stand close to the cars. ‘It wasn’t like I was looking at them from a distance—I wanted them to respond to me in some way,’ he explains. And respond they did: the images show couples grinning at him, children scowling, and one lady flipping a manicured finger. ‘I think today there might have been a lot more paranoia about being surveilled or something, but in those days it was maybe a more naïve time. For the most part, people thought it was kind of funny, and responded in a jovial way, and I had a lot of fun doing it.’ ”
  • Quick, name one thing that Louise Erdrich will never, ever write about. I bet you said Long Range Acoustic Devices, as any sane person would. But wouldn’t you know it—sign of the times—that’s exactly the topic she’s chosen for a new essay: “The LRAD, or Long Range Acoustic Device, was first used in 2009 to control protesters at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Since then, it has been purchased by more than sixty countries to disperse demonstrators. Originally developed to deter pirates at sea, it has been notoriously used by Japanese whaling fleets against Sea Shepherd Conservation boats and helicopters. The military-grade device can project voice messages and eardrum rupturing ‘alarm tones’ over a distance of two miles or more via a thirty- to sixty-degree beam … LRAD’s effect on people is devastating. But in a moving act of cultural transformation, the art collective Postcommodity is using LRAD in a radically different manner. The innocuous-looking gray LRAD speakers are installed in Athens, Greece, and the more softly pitched acoustical beam is directed at the archeological site of Aristotle’s Lyceum. Here, LRAD is used to speak to the origins of Western civilization, not in weaponized tones, but in the language of the human spirit … People who have been subjected to LRAD report its haunting effect. Sounds traveling via the directed beam create phantom speakers. A voice, for instance, seems to emerge from an invisible person right in front of you. The LRAD sound beam ‘gets in your head.’ For one hundred days in Aristotle’s Lyceum, ghosts are speaking to ghosts. Restless contemporary spirits are interrogating the dead. Instead of broadcasting military orders, the art installation’s LRAD broadcasts questions.”

  • I’ve been throwing around the phrase late capitalism since I was an undergraduate and had to buy a used copy of Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism for my course work. What is late capitalism, you ask? Beats me. But it has a nice ring to it, which is why, as Annie Lowrey notes, it’s caught on in a big way, despite its ambiguity: “A German economist named Werner Sombart seems to have been the first to use it around the turn of the twentieth century, with a Marxist theorist and activist named Ernest Mandel popularizing it a half-century later. For Mandel, ‘late capitalism’ denoted the economic period that started with the end of World War II and ended in the early 1970s, a time that saw the rise of multinational corporations, mass communication, and international finance. [William Clare] Roberts said that the term’s current usage departs somewhat from its original meaning. ‘It’s not this sense that things are getting so bad that the revolution is going to come,’ he told me, ‘but rather that we see the ligaments of the international system that socialists will be able to seize and use’ … Nobody I spoke with seemed to care, Jameson included, and the phrase has always had a certain malleability anyway. Sombart’s late capitalism differed from Mandel’s differed from Adorno’s differed from Jameson’s. ‘Late capitalism’ often seems more like ‘the latest in capitalism,’ [Mike] Konczal quipped.”
  • Cara Giaimo has been to Edward Gorey’s home and witnessed the mountains of stuff: “Over the course of his life, the artist gathered, and kept, everything from tarot cards to trilobites to particularly interesting cheese graters … Gorey was the kind of guy who, despite preferring a different brand, owned a full set of Red Rose Tea figurines. His backyard was full of stray cats, and his office was full of orbs—‘the ballroom,’ he called it … Any one of the dozen or so wooden potato mashers he kept might not seem inspiring—but arranged properly, they’re positively arresting, like a gathering of cult elders. Same with the salt and pepper shakers, which, in Gorey’s hands, form a patina-covered city … Gorey also recorded every episode of his favorite television shows—Star Trek: The Next GenerationThe X-FilesBuffy the Vampire Slayer.”
  • I found what I aver to be the strangest entry in Jonathan Demme’s catalog—“A Family Tree,” a one-off sitcom he directed for PBS in 1987. It stars Rosanna Arquette as a naive wannabe astronaut and David Byrne as a cigar-chomping asshole brother-in-law, and it is powerfully bizarre: “ ‘A Family Tree’ is set in a tilted, theme-park America, populated by stores like the ‘twenty-four-hour, all-night World of Pies.’ The nation it depicts isn’t a melting pot or a bastion of family values but a noxious cauldron of clashing agendas, where even under one roof people can only pretend to get along … Just when you’re prepared to write it off, the show drops in some oblique insight on family life—the way a household can lend order or chaos to one’s appetites and desires; the mannered dance of admission and suppression that lets someone ‘fit in.’ A stray line of Mrs. Fletcher’s exposes the fault lines of inclusion and exclusion that run beneath every dining room: ‘We only have seven matching chairs. I wanted to get eight, like normal people, but your father said seven was enough. Now look what happened!’ ”