Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the origin of Baby Shark, Martin Scorsese on Superhero movies, TikTok’s censorship problems, rappers and the Trump name, Twitter’s Saudi Arabia spies, and more.

Baby Shark is a mega viral YouTube video, an unstoppable earworm, a top 40 hit, a Eurodance smash, a decades old campfire song, and the center of an international copyright dispute. In this episode from the podcast Decoder Ring, we explore the strange history of the song, what makes it so catchy, and who it really belongs to today.

Another way of putting it would be that they are everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not. When I watch a movie by any of those filmmakers, I know I’m going to see something absolutely new and be taken to unexpected and maybe even unnameable areas of experience. My sense of what is possible in telling stories with moving images and sounds is going to be expanded.

So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.

The tape, recorded in 1975, was found by Judith A. Peraino, a Cornell music professor, who said she stumbled across it two years ago at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh while researching a book about Warhol in the ’70s.

The tape, featuring Reed singing alone with his guitar, documents Reed sketching out new songs, using phrases from Warhol’s “Philosophy” book as raw material for lyrics. One song, for example, draws out variations on the phrase “so what” — “one of my favorite things to say,” Warhol wrote — as a dismissive gesture. Warhol’s takes on fame, sex and the business of art each get a song; drag queens get two.

The charges, unveiled Wednesday in San Francisco, came a day after the arrest of one of the former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who is alleged to have spied on the accounts of three users — including one whose posts discussed the inner workings of the Saudi leadership — on behalf of the government in Riyadh.

Abouammo is also charged with falsifying an invoice to obstruct an FBI investigation.

The second former Twitter employee — Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen — was accused of accessing the personal information of more than 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 on behalf of Saudi Arabia. One of those accounts belonged to a prominent dissident, Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist who advocated for free expression in the Arab world.

And in case you think this doesn’t impact you, this thread is chilling:

TikTok says its U.S. operation doesn’t censor political content or take instructions from its parent company, the Chinese tech giant ByteDance. Company leaders extol the app as a platform free of the contentious content that has come to characterize its online competitors, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. ByteDance said no moderators for TikTok’s U.S. platform are based in China.

But former U.S. employees said moderators based in Beijing had the final call on whether flagged videos were approved. The former employees said their attempts to persuade Chinese teams not to block or penalize certain videos were routinely ignored, out of caution about the Chinese government’s restrictions and previous penalties on other ByteDance apps.

Last year, Earl Sweatshirt sounded far less invigorated about life in our brave new world. “I’ve been spending more money than I’m making,” he rapped on “Veins,” steering syllables around the lump in his throat. “Stuck in Trump Land watching subtlety decaying.”

These stand as the most poignant rap lyrics written about Trump. They account for the collective cost of living in a democracy led by a man who has made public life feel loud and hateful, a place where everyone’s attention has been frayed and dulled. If rap music serves as an ode to existence in all of its intricacy, Earl was living in a purgatory that had lost its detail.

Trump used to be a detail in most rap songs. Now his presence can feel as vast as reality itself. But on “Veins,” Earl doesn’t dwell on it. He lets the line float away like a passing thought. Everything decays, nothing is permanent. Rap music changes with a changing world. Trump expects the world to change for him. One will outlive the other.

Somewhere early on in “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art, 1972-1985,” the large — and important — new historical survey exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, it occurred to me that something unexpected happened while we weren’t paying much attention. Without fanfare or warning, P&D no longer looks like a bizarre defilement, breach or disruption of anything at all.

Instead, P&D now just looks like art. Some of it is superlative, some is not; but to dismiss it wholesale is plainly an error in judgment.

The erudite seriousness of the endeavor, which has been there all along, has risen to the surface of the playful, imaginative, often flamboyant paintings and, occasionally, sculptures and documented performances. That the work no longer appears frivolous or out of place is certainly not an indication of the stature the movement now occupies in the history of recent art. P&D holds no such illustrious place.

In fact, MOCA’s is the first full accounting of the movement undertaken by a major museum. It is something of a return to what made the place major in the first place — an institutional willingness to do the big, thematic historical surveys from which others shy away. MOCA has done it for Minimalism, feminist art, Conceptual art and performance; add P&D to the impressive list.

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

Denial has a profound psychological impact on direct survivors of collective violence as well as on their descendants and fellow group members.

First, it affects psychological well-being. Studies among refugees and former political prisoners show a link between perceived lack of societal recognition of the violence and injustice they suffered and increased post-traumatic stress symptoms. Interviews among survivors of the Armenian Genocide found that survivors responded with strong negative affect, including rage, to Turkish denial of the genocide. And across four experiments, Jewish and Armenian Americans expressed increased negative affect, such as sadness, anger, or feeling depressed, after reading about denial by the perpetrator group, compared to acknowledgment or a control condition.

Like any other artistic medium, the tendencies of technology manifest on the finished work. Programs like Adobe Illustrator have many shortcuts to help illustrators automate the production of geometric forms, color palettes, and other effects. A trained eye will recognize stock tools and preprogrammed brushes, like the oft-used Kyle Webster brushes in Photoshop.

Most editorial illustrators today prefer working on the computer for the sake of efficiency. “Working in Adobe Illustrator allows me to change sizes, move pieces, thus giving me a great deal of flexibility when it comes to editorial work,” explains Meyer. “This allows me to quickly and easily make changes in order to get the piece right.”

Digital illustrations are also easier to animate. Time Out, Bloomberg Businessweek, The New Yorker, and Elle are among the growing list of publications experimenting with animation and augmented reality as a bonus for digital subscribers. David Hockney’s beguiling iPad sketches featured in The New Yorker are early examples of this innovation.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

comments (0)