Weekend Reads: Larry Norman, Geek Nostalgia, Easter & Paganism, Rachael Denhollander, Facebook’s Woes & more

Also: Black Panther, the Silver Surfer, Chris Rock’s Netflix special, the web’s building blocks, back to blogging, and the benefits of social media sharing.
Larry Norman
Larry Norman

Ryan Vlastelica reviews a new bio about Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman. “Larry Norman was perhaps the most complex figure in 20th-century American music. He was a mess of contradictions, a singer with a message who grew more contradictory the more he tried to keep his message pure. He struggled quite visibly, grappling both with his own personal failings and with a movement that he helped start but which leapt beyond his control, mutating into something he hated and which had world-changing implications.”

Zaron Burnett III on Black Panther, fathers, lies, and Trump. “The problem is how we conflate what we believe, what we feel and what we know to be true. We treat truth in emotional terms. T’Chaka wanted his lie to be true, so he told it to his son. What was the result? His son was ill-prepared for the reality of the world, and was ultimately blindsided by his cousin. When a man rejects facts in favor of his feelings, not only does he endanger his wellbeing, he endangers the whole world.”

Ready Player One - Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One

Miles Klee wants geek nostalgia to die. “That commodification of nostalgia — its deployment as marketing tool — isn’t merely a sign of lazy, calcified thinking in an aging, dangerously out-of-touch industry. It also misunderstands the purpose and mechanism of memory. We’ve gone from Proust savoring his madeleines to Hollywood execs enforcing a continuous recollection of their most profitable output, telling us what to keep and treasure when we’ve never had trouble sifting through these artifacts ourselves.”

Speaking of geek nostalgia, Charles Pulliam-Moore reflects on the ’90s Silver Surfer cartoon. “The Silver Surfer was woefully underserved in 2007’s Fantastic Four sequel, but it’s in the Silver Surfer TV show that you can see a pretty solid blueprint for a rebooted film franchise built around the character. The Silver Surfer is at his very best when he’s smack-dab in the middle of a big story that has real stakes and consequences that can’t be undone. He’s a harbinger of death known throughout the galaxy, but he’s also a brainwashed son who loves and respects his adopted father’s worldview.”

Easter Eggs
Look at those cute pagan eggs

Contrary to what you might’ve heard, Easter is not a pagan holiday. “What we do know is that the earliest explicit reference to the Christian Pesach feast comes from an A.D. 150 sermon by Melito, bishop of Sardis — in which he alludes to Easter as a well-established tradition — while Anglo-Saxons didn’t start converting to Christianity until almost A.D. 600. So, if Easter did coincide with an Anglo-Saxon feast to a goddess no one’s ever heard of — well, I mean, coincidences happen. There are only so many days in the year, you guys.”

My latest Christ and Pop Culture piece compares Rachael Denhollander and America’s evangelical leaders. “If you’d like to see a clear representation of the Gospel of Christ, then I humbly suggest you do not look to the leaders of American evangelical Christianity, to men like Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, Jr., or Franklin Graham. These men have sold their credibility and authority, not to mention their witness, as a result of their shameless pandering to Donald Trump, and their willingness to explain away all of his gross and obvious moral failings.” Denhollander was the first woman to publicly speak out against Larry Nassar, who abused hundreds of young women and girls as a doctor for the USA gymnastics team.

Tamborine - Chris Rock
Chris Rock

Chris Rock’s Tamborine stand-up special on Netflix is hard to watch, and Tim Grierson’s review explains why. “[H]is signature men-are-dogs/women-are-bitches joke, which was always iffy, feels particularly tiresome on Tamborine. Instead of doing personal inventory, he whines and blames… No doubt the two-year divorce process was draining, emotionally and financially, but Tamborine’s so-called candor seems to embolden Rock to position himself as the victim. For the first time in his career, however, it’s hard to take Rock’s side — his grievances about commitment and divorce feel like the laments of an entitled guy who’s learned nothing.”

Anil Dash lists the missing building blocks of the web. “At a time when millions are losing trust in the the web’s biggest sites, it’s worth revisiting the idea that the web was supposed to be made out of countless little sites. Here’s a look at the neglected technologies that were supposed to make it possible.” It really is difficult, if not impossible, to overstate how important something like “View Source” has been to the web’s promulgation.

Facebook App Icon
You probably used this app within the last 10 minutes

M.G. Siegler argues that Facebook has lost the plot. “With each day, it seems as if the company that runs services that billions of people use daily is slipping further and further away from reality. They may have famously bought into virtual reality for a few billion dollars, but they probably didn’t need to. They’ve seemingly perfected their own, in house. And so I’d implore them to wake up and read the headlines.”

François Chollet points out that Facebook’s recent privacy breach becomes even scarier when you consider their research into artificial intelligence. “In short, Facebook can simultaneously measure everything about us, and control the information we consume. When you have access to both perception and action, you’re looking at an AI problem. You can start establishing an optimization loop for human behavior… A loop in which you observe the current state of your targets and keep tuning what information you feed them, until you start observing the opinions and behaviors you wanted to see.”

Laptop Keyboard B&W
Hard at work on the ol’ blog (Sergey Zolkin)

In light of issues surrounding centralized social media services like Facebook and Twitter, maybe it’s time to go back to individual blogs. “[T]he salad days of blog to reflect, tweet to connect’ are gone. Long gone. Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like blog to write, tweet to fight.’ Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic — not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.”

Alexis Madrigal questions the benefits of sharing content on social media. “Social-media platforms don’t have to be organized around shareability. Instagram, for instance, doesn’t allow links, except a single one in each user’s profile. This dampens self-promotion and slows down the spread of information from the rest of the internet on the platform. It doesn’t have native reposting tools, either. And it is, by pretty much all accounts, a nicer place to spend time online.”