Does all of the sex and nudity in Netflix’s Altered Carbon undermine the series’ themes? “In Altered Carbon that sexuality points toward the instrumentalization of the human body — sexuality as pure salesmanship, pure pleasure, purely meaningless. But for us? Well, it can signal something different, especially in visual media, where sexual depictions are more charged than they are in written fiction. Gratuitous nudity can signal base titillation, sexism, and even more insidious forms of dehumanization.”
As a genre, dystopia has lost much of its bite. “Once an ambitious medium of social and political criticism, dystopia has been reduced to a buzzword that can be slapped onto anything to sound engaged. The word has not yet become totally meaningless — it still evokes a certain dread, and great dystopian art is still being made. But there’s too much of it. We already know there are endless reasons to be afraid, that no one acting alone can change the future. We are overloading on dystopia.”
In light of the Olympics, Gina Dalfonzo considers the narratives being pushed on young female skaters. “I’ve seen this play out again and again: Audiences enjoy watching a polished female skater execute her program with poise and grace, but when a gutsy, gritty lady takes the ice to a rock song or a pop anthem, we suddenly decide that all the other women are nothing but dull ‘pretty princess’ types… Similarly, when a female skater gives carefully worded answers to journalists’ questions, she’s boring; when she speaks her mind, she’s bratty. It’s almost as if a girl can’t win, no matter which path she chooses and which narrative gets imposed on her.”
Authenticity may be a good quality to have, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. “[M]any evangelicals who would criticize a Super Soul Sunday brand of ‘your truth’ have ended up operating with as flexible and relative a concept of truth as those they criticize. When truth or morality is dependent largely on ‘authenticity,’ it doesn’t matter if Trump’s claims are disproven. His language was ‘down to earth’ and that’s all that matters. He must be right because he’s so ‘genuine.’ ”
If you thought fake news was bad, brace yourself for an information apocalypse. “For Ovadya… the shock and ongoing anxiety over Russian Facebook ads and Twitter bots pales in comparison to the greater threat: Technologies that can be used to enhance and distort what is real are evolving faster than our ability to understand and control or mitigate it. The stakes are high and the possible consequences more disastrous than foreign meddling in an election.”
Meanwhile, over on YouTube, reality is being distorted. “Tufekci, the sociologist who several months ago warned about the impact YouTube may have had on the election, tells me YouTube’s recommendation system has probably figured out that edgy and hateful content is engaging. ‘This is a bit like an autopilot cafeteria in a school that has figured out children have sweet teeth, and also like fatty and salty foods,’ she says. ‘So you make a line offering such food, automatically loading the next plate as soon as the bag of chips or candy in front of the young person has been consumed.’ ”
The Alamo Drafthouse is an awesome place to see movies but it has a terrible history of minimizing sexual harassment. “Former employees, customers who began visiting the theater when it opened in 1997, and members of the chain’s ‘family’ of favored guests who attended the private, invite-only 20th anniversary celebration the theater held this past spring all came forward to express serious concerns about the Alamo Drafthouse’s history of minimizing or ignoring sexual harassment and sexual abuse by the company’s employees, customers, and partners.”
M.G. Siegler: Movie theaters are dying because they mostly suck. “People may be more willing to pay $1 for a shit experience in the age of paying $10 to $15, but at the end of the day, it’s still a shit experience. It’s already begging to be replaced and the convenience of viewing at home is right there. The night out at a movie palace has been replaced by going to an uncomfortable, largely empty room with a screen that is hopefully slightly larger than the one you have at home.”
Bandcamp had another great year in 2017, especially compared to the rest of the music industry. “Digital album sales were up 16%, tracks 33%, and merch 36%. Growth in physical sales was led by vinyl (up 54%), CDs (up 18%), and cassettes (up 41%). Revenue from the 3,500 independent labels on Bandcamp grew 73%, and more than 600,000 artists have now sold something through the site… Meanwhile, standalone music streaming companies continued to lose money in 2017, and industry-wide record sales continued to decline: in the U.S., digital album sales dropped 20%, tracks were down 23%, and physical sales fell 20%.”
Russell D. Moore explores C.S. Lewis’ influence on Neil Gaiman. “The connection between C. S. Lewis and Neil Gaiman isn’t as obvious as Gaiman’s imaginative debt to, say, Ray Bradbury. After all, Lewis is best remembered as a committed Christian apologist, while Gaiman is decidedly, well, not. But Gaiman is not anti-Lewis, like, say, Phillip Pullman, whose Golden Compass books set out to dethrone Aslan with a bleak, atheistic universe. Gaiman’s relationship to Lewis is more complicated.”
The Internet Monk rails against masturbatory worship music. “These songs have become a style unto themselves. When we talk about ‘worship music’ now, we are not only talking about music that is used for a particular purpose, we are referencing music that is all the same style and substance! And its design is singularly programmatic as well: it is meant to stimulate a certain emotional response in individuals and crowds. As a former worship leader in evangelical congregations, it is remarkable to me how utterly formulaic this music has become.”
Attempts to secularize Lent miss the whole point. “Lent’s broadening popularity raises a wider question. What does a period of fasting and penitence mean in an increasingly secular world? In a culture that increasingly prizes positivity and hope, what is the purpose of a period that mandates self-denial and despair?” Also, here’s an in-depth primer on this widely misunderstood Christian observance.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.