The Silicon Valley Cult Wants to Eat Your Brain, and Other News


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  • Liberal-arts majors: no matter how bad things get, how valueless your diploma seems to be, or how limited your employment opportunities are, never forget that you can always just pack it in and become a tech bro. It’s true: Silicon Valley, the utopia of our time, will always be there, waiting to suck the marrow from your bones in an exchange for a six-figure salary and an “office culture” that boasts free microbrews (and rampant sexism). So don’t get depressed—just join the baddies! In a new review of Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie—a book that argues for more liberal-arts values in the tech industry—Tom Slee sees merely another effort to get humanities types to drink the Palo Alto Kool-Aid: “Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie (fuzzy being a Stanford nickname for humanities and social science students) is a clarion call for you to join the world of digital disruption, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The author contends that Silicon Valley needs you if it is to fulfill the next stage of its disruptive vision: your creativity and your skills of ‘critical thinking, logical argumentation, and complex problem solving’ will make for better technology; your insights into our public institutions and what makes us human will guide technology to build a better world … But there is a critical failure at the heart of The Fuzzy and the Techie: in his eagerness to portray fuzzies doing well by doing good in the technology industry, Hartley too readily accepts Silicon Valley’s flattering self-descriptions of its values and vision for the world. The positivity of entrepreneurship does not sit comfortably with the skeptical outlook that the liberal arts nurture, and Hartley fully embraces entrepreneurship.”
  • Today’s arts conservators, Jacoba Urist writes, face an unprecedented variety of materials and media—the burden of preserving a piece of art has never been more fraught: “It’s difficult to imagine bologna portraits transcending millennia like a classical marble bust or centuries like a Rembrandt. Getting a sculpture made of deli meat to survive the decade could even be a stretch … Today’s art world is filled with artists using seemingly banal, yet wacky household itemsfrom a miniature Algerian town made of couscous to a huge Styrofoam cup cloudelaborate, significant work that challenges not only what art is, but how exactly, future generations will be able to experience it … These artists are using products that are meant to decompose rapidly by design. For this segment of twenty-first-century art, museums are consciously conserving art as it’s created. Now, scientists must invent ways to preserve the most tenuous of materials, rather than simply restoring pieces to their original—or most authentic—luster.”

  • Jesse McCarthy on Percival Everett, who’s interviewed in our new Summer issue: “Neglect is a fate all experimental writers risk, but if they happen to be black it can seem almost impossible to avoid. Everett always intended to chart his own course. He picked the novel up where Ishmael Reed had taken it, but pivoted away from Reed’s zaniness toward a prismatic allegorical realism, a constant reinvention of form designed to grapple with the vertiginous ends of America’s violent and often contradictory racial, economic, geographic, and sexual epistemologies … Everett’s prose may not have the ionized finish prized by fellow icons of postmodernism and metafiction like Don DeLillo or Tom McCarthy. But he possesses something crucial that neither of them do: an extraordinarily deft capacity for rendering human foibles without contempt—getting characters on the page that are painfully recognizable and yet free of pathology, never reduced to being mere pawns in an overarching authorial conspiracy.”
  • Hazel Cills on gore girls, a thriving subculture of women who apply special-effects makeup to themselves on Instagram: “Gory special effects makeup blogging defies everything makeup is ‘supposed’ to offer women, and what women are ‘supposed’ to want from makeup, on Instagram and elsewhere in 2017. These artists don’t insist on precision or ease for viewers, and looking perfectly feminine or presentable is never the universal goal. In an industry that increasingly demands young women be ‘well’—which so often means conventionally pretty, gooey, laboriously clean inside and out—it is refreshing that there is a parallel Instagram universe where girls are using makeup to make themselves look purposefully un, perhaps even half dead … An exceptional age makeup look doesn’t translate to Instagram, where users will just scroll over an image of what they might think is actually an elderly person. The looks that use cheap items like toilet paper and latex and are covered in blood (which makes it easy to disguise mistakes) tend to get the most likes. ‘People want it to be achievable for them,’ Jones says. ‘It’s always frustrated me, but the looks that are more DIY get more hits.’ ”
  • A new documentary by Bill Morrison, Dawson City: Frozen Time, looks at the trove of film reels that were unearthed from a pit in Dawson City, a small town in the Yukon. Richard Brody writes, “Morrison looks at the surviving films and reconstructs the extraordinary arcs of political and cultural history that are latent in them … [The] hunger for entertainment, and for the new medium, accounts for the extraordinary diversity of the material in the Dawson City rediscoveries—not just dramas but newsreels, travelogues, and even scientific and ethnographic films turn up among the recovered reels. Morrison tells the strange story of how the reels ended up there. The remote region didn’t get films until years after their release; as a result, distributors didn’t want to pay for the return of those films, which had exhausted their commercial life. Dawson City exhibitors sought to store the films, but the highly flammable nitrate reels occasionally combusted spontaneously (Morrison documents the horrific and deadly history of film-centered fires, with their victims among the viewing public, as well as their ravages of studios belonging to Thomas Edison and Alice Guy-Blaché). As a result, many films were dumped in the river, others were burned in a huge bonfire, and those that remained were buried deep below the surface of the earth in a permafrost pit.”