"This mortality thing is bad news," declared Madeline Gins, the poet and philosopher, to the New York Times in 2010. It’s a bold statement, and Gins offered it for the obituary of her husband, the artist Arakawa. Together they spent decades collaborating on mind-bending architectural projects. Their spatial experiments, both speculative and realized (which Gins continued until her own passing in 2014), sought to oppose death in alignment with a concept of their own invention: “reversible destiny.”
According to Irene Sunwoo and Tiffany Lambert, the curators of a new show of Arakawa and Gins’ work – “Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient” – reversible destiny is as surreal as it sounds. It can be defined most simply as “arguing for the transformative capacity of architecture to empower humans to resist their own deaths.” The exhibition, which opens today at Columbia GSAPP’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, features previously unpublished material with a focus on the duo’s preparatory hand drawings from the '80s. Sunwoo explains that this is a time when Arakawa and Gins’ “energies converged in the realm of architecture.” While the works included seem to exist in a sci-fi universe of their own, the logic of that world is somehow sound; Arakawa and Gins were both interested in the body and biology, how people move through and perceive space, and these creations seem to say don’t be too comfortable, get knocked off-kilter, and see your surroundings afresh. (In the case of the duo’s later works that came to physical fruition, like this public park in Japan, you might literally get knocked off of your feet.)
Is there anything to this idea of reversible destiny? Can the very walls around you stall your inevitable demise? We recently spoke to Sunwoo, who’s an architectural historian, and came away with three points of departure for Newest York readers – an introductory guide to reversible destiny, if you will. We invite you to start here with the knowledge that there’s much more to explore, even within this precise slice of Arakawa and Gins’ body of work.
1. Reaching Your Own Reversible Destiny
"It's possible to imagine a new relationship between the body and architectural space other than what we have been accustomed to for centuries or millennia," Sunwoo says. "By creating those new relationships and experiences, we have the potential to have different psychological, perceptual, biological, and emotional responses and experiences, which could totally change the direction of our lives – our mortality in that sense. It's not a biological process where time is reversed – it's not a Benjamin Button situation – it's much more conceptual than that, and spiritual I would say as well. But I think the important takeaway is that there is this belief that there is a different type of life possible and that architectural space can somehow make that realized."
"I think [play] was always central [to Arakawa and Gins’ work], even looking back at their paintings and poetry. A lot of Arakawa’s paintings are these puzzles or mind games, using language and stripped-down imagery; it wasn't pictorial necessarily, but these visual and semiotic puzzles. And then with Madeline's writing – and I'm by no means an expert on the literary side of things – it’s in the layout of some of her poems, the way that punctuation is used. For example, I found a letter where she as apologizing to someone for the delay in getting back to them and she had spelled out delay with a 'D' and several hyphens, an 'E' and several hyphens, an 'L' and several hyphens, and so on and so forth. So in images and language, play was always there. In spaces it's happened as well, because there's a delight that happens when you are thrown off balance just a little bit; it's this element of surprise that I think goes back to the concept of reversible destiny to use triggers that make you see your environment and yourself in different ways. [In my experience of their physical works,] your body really is forced to function in a different way, so much so that sometimes you have to grip onto the walls to keep yourself from falling down. Your body is constantly active, and your mind too – that was part of the intent, I think.”
3. A New View
“The essence of [reversible destiny is] a sense of empowerment over your own state of being in the world and understanding all of your intellectual, physical, psychological, and social capacities – and to shake things up so that life doesn't seem like a one-way path. It's much more dimensional than that and can go in any direction possible; that was the message that I was getting from it, and I would subscribe to that. It is really so centered on the individual and the body and its own capacity, rather than just accepting all of your surroundings and conditions. I think it's a call to wake people up."
“Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient” is on view at Columbia GSAPP’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery from March 30, 2018 through June 16, 2018.
I don’t remember how I found her, or what mysterious force led me into this corner of YouTube, but I do remember the first etiquette video of Gloria Starr’s that I watched. It was about afternoon tea. The video begins with Starr seated before a cluttered dining table—in front of her is an array of teapots and cups in varying shapes and sizes. To her left, filling half the screen, is an absurdly large floral arrangement. Starr, wearing a black dress bedazzled with gold and silver beads, stiffly addresses the camera: “Gloria Starr here. Our session today is on afternoon tea. I set out a beautiful display, and in preparation for a lovely party, I’m wearing a goddess gown from my adventures in other cultures.”
Starr, as I would later come to learn, describes herself as an “international etiquette, manners, and social graces coach.” According to her website, she has worked with members of royal families and Fortune 500 companies across the globe for over three decades. On her YouTube channel—a virtual finishing school of sorts—she posts homemade lessons on all matters of etiquette and presentation. There are hundreds of them, each more surreal than the last: Gloria Starr on how to eat pasta; Gloria Star on how to accessorize; Gloria Starr on how to pay a compliment. Some videos are humorous, such as the one on grocery store etiquette. Others are quite spooky, such as this one, in which she sits in a low-lit room before a ghostly candle-lit dinnerscape, explaining the intricacies of a formal table setting. After watching a few Starr videos in succession, the lo-fi production values, the cool intonation of her voice, and her gentle, if confusing, decrees (“When you use your napkin, it’s dab dab, never rub rub”) take on an almost hypnotic quality. But despite her occasionally, well, wack (and often outmoded) advice, Starr’s ultimate message is aspirational in nature: it is about being the best version of yourself. She believes in the promise of each of us. “You are a living, human treasure,” one video begins. Words to live by!
By way of introduction, below are five videos I thought might be particularly relevant to the Newest York miniblog reader. Enjoy?
1. Walking and Talking
We spend a lot of time doing both of these things in New York. In this video, Starr explains how to handle both gracefully. Men: NO walking with your hands in your pockets.
2. Cubicle Etiquette
Very relatable for many of us office-goers. In this video, Starr instructs on how to “maintain your dignity” in the workplace. Big takeaways: bring minimal (if any) personal objects into the office, no personal phone calls, and NO loud talking.
3. Cell Phone Etiquette
A lot of people in New York would do well to watch this video. Starr believes in raising your hand to your mouth when speaking on the phone in public, that way your words stay only between you and your caller.
4. Business Card Exchange
New Yorkers love to network. Here, Starr instructs on the proper way to give and receive business cards. The most important takeaway: NEVER put a business card that’s just been handed to you in your pocket or bag while the person is still in front of you. Hold it in one hand until you part ways.
5. Making an entrance
No matter what you’re walking into—be it the club or the boardroom—it should be an opportunity to make a memorable first impression. Starr recommends pausing for impact.
It’s my final blog post of the month and I’m writing about the final episode of Blossom. I hope that isn’t too on the nose. Season 5, Episode 22, Goodbye.
The series begins and ends with Blossom’s video diaries. The conceit of Blossom’s video diary crops up regularly throughout the five seasons culminating in this last episode of Blossom, a show creator’s wet dream. Demonstrating perfect foresight, the video diary trope is so executed so well that they can cut right to the first episode and show us, in the same frame, young Blossom. Even Holden Caulfield is mentioned in her final speech. You may remember from my first review that HC was the initial inspiration for the character of Blossom, originally conceived as a young man.
The meat of this episode is centered on some drama surrounding Blossom’s dad Nick’s desire to sell the house. At this point, her brother Joey is engaged, Nick is seriously involved with a new woman (and they’re pregnant!), and her brother Anthony has started a life of his own. (Also, her best friend Six is now hot and working at a fried chicken restaurant.) It’s only Blossom who isn’t quite ready for change. She’s going to be starting college in 1-2 years, according to what they say in this episode, which makes this whole plot line feel very much in service of closure for the series. Why wouldn’t Nick just wait?
The scene where Nick tells Blossom that he is going to sell the house is highly choreographed. He delivers the news, feigns beginning to butter his toast, and then gets up to grab the salt and pepper shakers from the bar. Blossom then stands too, facing him. Why? Why must you sell the house? A bigger question is, Who? Who reveals something like that to their sentimental teen daughter and expects that they’ll be excited about it, as Nick does?
When her father suggests that selling the house will be a clean break with their old memories, Blossom retorts, “This isn’t a break, it’s an amputation.” And that isn’t the only amputation we witness in the span of this episode. The episode ends with what we presume is Blossom’s last video. In it we see another amputation, the separation of Blossom and Mayim.
As Blossom talks about the lessons she learned along the way, the timeline becomes a point of inquiry. When we first met Blossom, she’d experienced no event that would precipitate her video journal. And the move doesn’t demand an end to Blossom’s video diary. The timeline here, again, is transparently in service of the show, so much so that it borders on breaking the fourth wall. The question becomes: are these reflections about Blossom’s life, or are they more like Mayim’s reflections on her experience with the show?
The lessons learned are, without further ado:
- First, always leave them laughing. For obvious reasons, this one feels like it comes from Mayim herself with regards to her acting style. It’s also appropriately introduced separately from the rest of the bunch.
- One should never be where one does not belong. That’s attributed to Bob Dylan and feels very cultural supremacist to me but okay, there must be a meaning I’m not getting.
- Always keep your area clean. Just think, suggests Blossom, how clean the world would be if we all did this. This focus on personal responsibility points towards her Mayim’s later bogus feminism.
- Try jiggling the handle. I need to rewind many times to hear to hear this one. Following her own advice, she leaves us laughing. But it is also confusing. Muddled, but funny: the legacy of Blossom.
I’ve mourned the loss of some inconsequential internet ephemera this month. Sweet things, curiously hollow ones, and all without a doubt insignificant. No matter how insignificant, I can’t help but feel sad when I discover that content I’d expected would last forever has passed on. Even if I know that much of it was designed to last for only a short while, the feeling persists. Yet for every deleted tweet and Vine that I wish was still accessible, there is a Snapchat that I wish had disappeared as intended. This brings me to my final point of this month and maybe ever—if Snapchat is supposed to be about living in the moment, why can I still watch DJ Khaled lost at sea?
On December 14th, 2015, months into his motivational, unofficial Snapchat residency, music producer and radio personality DJ Khaled jet skied to Rick Ross’s house in the afternoon and then got lost in the water in the dark of night with only his phone flash and unflappable demeanor to guide him. Despite his precarious situation, he documented the trip on Snapchat in impressively earnest detail, captioning each snap with the pray emoji, an inspirational message, or a genuine plea for someone who knows him to call his partner Zay Zee and tell her he was lost at sea on his jet ski. More than two years later, you can watch the whole thing on Youtube, although, to be perfectly clear, I think that is wrong.
Vine is (was!) an app that you could put six-second videos on for what I imagined would be forever. In the days since its demise (January 17, 2017), Vine’s website has become a supposedly searchable archive of Vines, but I’ve tried and failed to find a specific Vine at least… two times, which seems like the appropriate number of times to try such a thing before abandoning my efforts completely. This is all to say, call me crazy, but sometimes YouTube is the best way to watch a Vine. YouTube, however, is a stupid way to watch a Snap. Snapchat’s whole reason for existing (for now!), I thought, was as a platform where you can broadcast photos and videos just once, or for up to 24 hours if it’s a Story. “Delete is our default 👻” it says on the Snapchat support page, which I like to think is a place to find the truth. So I don’t think we should be allowed to watch Snaps in perpetuity on Youtube.
If you search the stunning combination of words “Kylie Jenner snapchat instagram” you will find a Kylie Jenner Snapchat Instagram account (duh!) that posits to be “the #1 source of ALL Kylie Jenner Snapchats [sic] and MORE! 👑” which I find bizarre because wouldn’t Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat be the number one source of all Kylie Jenner Snaps? As an avid user of Instagram stories, a direct descendant-slash-rip-off of Snapchat where videos live for only 24 hours in your Instagram feed, I find that I don’t want my stories to live on forever without my consent. The fleetingness gives me freedom to be more unhinged than I might be in a permanent post, to ask for help whether it’s genuine or in jest. If I was lost at sea and had documented it in a story, I would want my lost-at-sea-ness to be lost at sea. Or is that just me? Someone call Zay Zee and tell her we’re lost in 2015.
In an era of endless screens—phone screens, computer screens, street screens, TV screens, this screen—patience is no longer a virtue. I don’t have to wait anymore to watch anything that already exists: I type a few keys, fill out a captcha or two, and it’s there for me, served on a screen. This sensation makes seasons, anthologies, and episodes of TV more fleeting. TV shows no longer come on. They’re put on.
When I was a kid, I had two options to watch Dragon Ball: I could either wait for it to play on Toonami, Cartoon Network’s afternoon anime program that we nerds rushed home after school to watch; or go out to Coconuts, the now-defunct music and movies store, and physically buy the season or set of episodes I wanted to watch with the little allowance I had. Following the chronology of episodes was something I had to seek out. Because it didn’t matter if I was caught up with what Goku was doing, or not—unless I had a VHS to pop in, whatever was playing on TV that day was what I was watching. It wasn’t up to me.
And to all the purists out there, I’m talking about the original Dragon Ball; the story of a young boy with a monkey tail named Goku, who would later learn that he A) had superhuman strength; and B) wasn’t human at all. (But that’s revealed in Dragon Ball Z, which the show naturally transitions into). Designed in the beautifully sharp Japanese animation of the late 1980s, Dragon Ball follows the always virtuous Goku as he meets new friends, trains to fight a bunch of bad guys, and continuously tries to locate the seven Dragon Balls, which, if collected, spawn a dragon that grants one wish. (The bad guys, of course, want them, too.) He also has a cloud at his command that he, and anyone else pure of heart, can ride on.
Recently, I faced this sort of stupid, modern quandary: what should I watch?
I’ve never had any interest in rewatching shows of my youth—definitely not streaming CatDog anytime soon—but Dragon Ball, as someone entering their late twenties, stood out to me. It seemed like something fun to do: dive back into an adventure that was very much my own at one point in my life. And now it was widely accessible: all five “sagas,” all 153 20-minute-long episodes, all available to watch at my leisure. It was like having my inner child meet Netflix.
I could return to this universe I once loved, one filled with so many characters, it makes Game of Thrones look like a mini-series, episodes-long fight sequences that somehow feel shorter now, and a steady stream of more content to look forward to in the form of Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, the TV movies, and Dragon Ball Super, which is still on. I can watch it the way I always wanted to as a kid, but never could: endlessly and without pause.
And now, onto Cowboy Bebop.
I landed in ’98 – landed in midtown by way of Jersey Transit, and I didn’t like it. It was the gray town I expected, screaming soot into my eyes, bending my neck, leaning me against a payphone as my dad scalped our tickets to Disney on ICE because the buses stopped running before intermission.
Some ten years later, I got into NYU and still couldn’t feel anything for the place. It was never me to be blah about something so big, but I was blah, and when my dad wagged the acceptance letter at me as I was making my bed, I told him to relax.
I watched 27 Dresses and googled through it: “Map of Manhattan” “What is Greenwich village?” “Brooklyn”... Then, in the film’s last scene, the shit sister character reconciles with her ex-fiance and explains that she is broke, making necklaces, and living in Williamsburg. I was FLOORED. What is this bimbo doing in Colonial Williamsburg? What is her business there? She’s become a craftworker? An artisan? They’re not going to explain this? I kept googling.
I laid around the living room when my sister watched Gossip Girl. Hated that. Hated that world of interiors – characters going from dim backseats direct into lobbies with just an establishing shot to give me some air.
I watched Sybil which actually did get me feeling very excited for that Big Apple architecture, baby! A lot of walk-ups in that movie.
Then I watched the movie, a movie meant to be so glamorous, so aspirational and so personal (or so it seemed, for my idea was to study journalism): The Devil Wears Prada.
There’s never been a bigger comedown. It was hopeless. Is there any stirring, any movement in this shiny town that isn’t a dog eating another dog? Is there any story that doesn’t glorify pessimism? Even if the ending seems positive?
I’ve just rewatched it, and my 18-year-old reservations are even more shrill. This Andy Sachs, a fresh Northwestern graduate, has come to New York with a live-in boyfriend, two close friends, and a smile you want to wipe clean off when she says things like, “I need to get to Magnolia Bakery before it closes.”
She’s a girl scout, she’s the high school friend (my high school friend) who visits to complain about allll the walking. She needs teaching, needs to be Pygmalion-ed out of her previous life. It’s satisfying to see Anne Hathaway turn quick, learn some street smarts, lose some weight. But she shows us New York stage-side, waiting by the curtain with a wet wipe. Sure, this is because she has a shitty job, but Andy Sachs would never make the most of this place. She’s certainly not enjoying herself. Nor was she enjoying herself before her reinvention.
So she isn’t willing to sacrifice her morals for the superficial fashion industry, and finally remembers her roots, becoming a reporter for some New York daily. This is the resolution. This girl could not stomach her own success over a vile colleague’s and judged Miranda Priestly’s survivalist maneuvers to remain Editor-in-Chief – a choice to minimally screw over a loyal art director (who still had his job to keep), to provide for her twins as a single mom and to save face.
Rising to the occasion has never looked so much like a fall from grace. Her integrity's been sullied. The audience is meant to be sure of it. There’s no fraction of the multiverse where Andy is still here in the concrete jungle (something I imagine she says to her Boston neighbors, describing her stint in New York), writing and exploring. Why? Because she saw her growth as toxic and practicality as dishonest. She learns to prioritize herself; she finds something to admire in the strong Miranda Priestly, she nearly meets an important editor at the cost of missing her boyfriend’s birthday, but decides, in the end, to protect her innocence. More than innocent, she wants to be consistent.
She can’t stand when friends joke that she’s “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Hey Andy, if you want to drink the Kool-Aid, because you might like the Kool-Aid, and it’s fresher than the water you’ve got, then go on and drink the Kool-Aid! Never mind your college-era friends who reject the Kool-Aid.
Andy sips the Kool-Aid. She returns to the version of herself that her closest friends are most comfy with. She even resumes her college relationship. She reminds me of my first experience of New York City: the 1945 Tom & Jerry cartoon, Mouse in Manhattan. In it, Jerry puts on a boat hat and leaves Tom a note, “This country life is getting me down…”
He takes the train and is instantly astonished at the height of the place. But the lesson is instant, and it’s repeated: don’t you dare enjoy this.
Smiling at the Grand Central ceilings, Jerry gets his ass stuck in gum; riding a breezy bottle cap through street puddles, Jerry is eaten by a sewer; riding the train of lady’s gown, Jerry is dragged through grates. Then, figure skating with an attractive doll, Jerry gets lodged in a champagne bottle which pops him into the New York sky, due east where clotheslines flag over steel trash cans. Jerry parachutes in, using a wilted sock. He lands, he sneezes, he rouses the yellow eyes of the alley – revealing a wiry, vicious cat.
Jerry starts running, he crashes into a jewelry display and is pursued by gunfire, he runs and he runs and he runs all the way back to Tom, rips the note and hangs a sign that says “Home Sweet Home” over his hole.
A new exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image highlights the ingenuity and optimism of the past ten years of video game design.
If you were to ask me about the history of video games last week, I would have begun with Atari, touched on the delightfully artful CD-ROM works of Theresa Duncan (who I admittedly admired more as a style icon than as a videogame designer), and ended with The Sims 3. I would have assumed having fun was a big part of playing video games. And I would have had no concept of the huge distinction between mainstream games (what you find at GameStop) and the rich, teeming world of independent and experimental games (what you will not find at GameStop). But then I went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria and visited the highly enlightening, deeply corrective new exhibit called “A Decade of Game Design.”
The exhibition, which opened on Friday, presents work from eight influential game developers from the past decade, all of whom are working outside the mainstream gaming industry. I was first shocked to see how un-game-like many of the works were. Take, for example, Hunger in LA, developed in 2011 by Nonny de la Peña. The “immersive journalism” piece uses virtual reality to recreate a real-world event that took place at a food bank in Los Angeles, in which one man suffers a seizure and another bolts to the front of the line and steals provisions. In Hunger, you can move around the pandemonium and interact with other people on the scene, all the while hearing audio of the actual event, which was recorded live in August of 2010. The experience is meant to shed light on the hunger and food insecurity many in this country face. I found it moving – especially how it managed to convey people’s sheer desperation.
The other games on view touch on no less weighty themes, including mortality, enlightenment, gender transitioning, masturbation, the history of the gaze, and even the nature of gaming itself. Having fun really isn’t the point – or rather, fun is relative. Because intellectual enrichment can be fun, right? “Unmanned meditates on the banality of contemporary warfare,” reads the riveting description for Paolo Pedercini, Jim Munroe, and Jesse Stile’s 2012 game. In it, the player assumes the role of a soldier controlling an unmanned attack aircraft by day, and by night returns to suburban life. By showing us another type of warfare and its proximity to domestic life, Unmanned cleverly subverts traditional (and popular) military video games. “Are you having fun?” I asked a girl playing it this weekend, who looked to be about 12. “No,” she said, matter-of-factly. But she seemed deeply absorbed.
It was hard, for me, to look back at this decade of impressive work (roughly 2007 – 2017), and not consider the Obama era – a time when so much of American life was taken for granted. As others have argued before me, the relative peace and stability of the Obama years afforded artists the permission to look inward. Though not all the designers in the exhibition are American, most of the games are deeply personal, and interrogate questions of faith, identity, existence, and empathy. Considering the dire political times we’ve found ourselves in stateside – where so many of our basic rights are under siege, so much of our collective energy must be put towards resisting the state, and environmental catastrophe seems all but inevitable – the space to question these things does seem a bit luxurious, though no less pressing.
What will the next ten years of video game design look like, or the next two years and eleven months under an oppressive demagogue? Maybe we will see a return to fantasy and escapism. Maybe games will take a violent or dystopian turn, preparing us for the future to come. Or perhaps virtual worlds altogether richer, more complex, more unexpected, and more limitless will appear, showing us a better way to live in this physical one.
“A Decade of Game Design” is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image through June 17, 2018.
It’s Thursday night and I’m locked out of my apartment. I was heading home to write my Blossom review but instead find myself exiled at the bar. Hello, Lobo!! That’s the name of the bar-restaurant where I end up, my confidence boosted by the two mezcal cocktails I had at my office happy hour.
I explain to the bartender and a waiter idling near my seat that I'm locked out and that I’m writing reviews of Blossom. The bartender does a great Joey Lawrence “whoa.” I’m sitting next to a woman that watched Blossom in her youth. They all seem to know Blossom first hand, even if they haven't thought about the show (or Mayim) in years. None of them are familiar with what Mayim is up to now.
I tell them about Mayim’s content factory and her problematic feminism. The waiter brings up Scott Baio and his recent controversy. All of our cultural memories are so different. I remember Scott from VH1 reality shows. He was always only a dirtbag to me.
I want to dig into something in a later season of Blossom so I download the Hulu app and play “Paris: Part IV” right there. When I finally do get home, I fall asleep watching Parts I, II, and III. The premise of these episodes is that Blossom and her brothers are seeking contact with their mom, who left the family sometime between the Pilot of Blossom and Episode 1. She’s living in Paris, working as a singer in a club.
Honestly WTF. These episodes are so insane. While Blossom discovers her sexuality with a young French man and navigates her complicated relationship with her mother, her two brothers are running around town with the HEAD of a DEAD MAN in a SUITCASE being CHASED by THE MAN IN THE HAT and a mysterious woman.
The brothers are in Bolivia, calling their father from a shady bar, asking to borrow money. To no one’s surprise, the Bolivians present in the episode are depicted unfairly. The real climax comes as the brothers (somehow back in France?) are running to the top of the Eiffel Tower, chased by both the man in the hat and the mysterious woman who both want the suitcase with the head.
The terror of the boys’ experience comes in the form of scenes in the action genre, completely uncharacteristic to Blossom, full of scary foreigners, blow darts and chase scenes. Blossom’s terror comes in the dual forms of the realization that her mother will never live up to her imagined ideal and the death of her sexual naivete. This terror, of course, is never coded as such but is instead dramatized through conversations full of disappointed sighs.
There’s no laugh track in these episodes, so even the jokes that should work fall a little flat. I laugh at Blossom’s jokes alone.
Before she was best known for being THE pop star in a feud with the ACLU, Taylor Swift had a mostly innocent and very popular Instagram persona. She posted photos of her cats Olivia Benson and Meredith Grey, her extravagant Fourth of July parties, and, obvi, her all-star ragtag celeb "Bad Blood" squad. Then in August 2017, she deleted everything she'd ever posted. Swift's Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr were all wiped clean in a marketing ploy/"Dark Taylor" rebrand just in time for her November 2017 album Reputation. But in establishing her blank slate, she left a gaping hole.
In October 2014, I was not a Taylor fan and then 1989 dropped and I was. It was so fun! Every teen and teen-wannabe I followed on Tumblr was into her, it felt like, and her brand of femininity was one that my predominantly male coworkers glommed onto more so than they did with Kim K Hollywood, a phone game that had been released that summer which I had been hiding in the bathroom to play during work hours. I followed Swift on Instagram, fascinated and then eventually annoyed by her sheer ability to have anyone–even TV stars twice her age–join her sociopathic friend group. Yet, for all the posts I remember enjoying, I don’t remember many specific photos, only a general filter palette and good-girl social vibe. I search on Twitter, type "Taylor Swift 2014" into Google, and, painfully, dive into my own Tumblr archives to find any evidence. She dressed as a Pegacorn for Halloween in 2014, I find, and yeah, I reblogged it, I also find.
It's not about the photo, but the absence of them, the empty listicles comprised of image descriptions that read like alt text for the visually impaired, the Fourth of July party recaps where you can see photos posted by everyone in the squad except Taylor herself and the sterile "This photo or video has been removed from Instagram" placeholder box. Some publications’ placeholders are uglier or sloppier and some don’t have one at all, as if the page doesn't know what to do without a working link. E! Online's embeds are the most interesting to me, as they literally disappear in front of your eyes, transforming from a box into nothing, which is fitting, I suppose. Taylor wanted to be “excluded from the narrative,” didn’t she? She wanted “the old Taylor [to not] come to the phone right now...because she’s dead?”
What now that they disappeared? Is the answer to that really just, “Stop spending time looking at E! Online articles from 2014?” Maybe! Or is it “Look at them more, and get lost in the emptiness lol?” A cursory glance at her underwhelming “Bad Taylor” 2018 IG presence has me learning towards the latter.
TV shows that attempt to portray life in New York City generally take two routes: they’re either about the city or about living here.
Seinfeld falls into the former camp: a show about nothing that could only be set in New York. The fact of George working for a never-seen George Steinbrenner, that episode about the long wait at a Chinese restaurant – these feel like place settings for four nihilists who could only exist here, who are absurd to imagine anywhere else. (This is why, perhaps, the show’s trip to California was only two episodes long.) Girls, on the other hand, is the opposite: it’s a show that tried desperately to pin down who or what a particular generation is, using life in one city as a lense to make sense of Hannah and her friends’ self-aware struggles. (Which is why the trip to Bushwick in Season 1 was less about Bushwick than about the plotlines colliding there.)
Recently, I’ve been watching and loving HBO’s short-lived Bored to Death because it feels like a bit of both: New York City is both its motive and motivation. For context, the show ran for three seasons (2009 to 2011) and starred Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis. (And like Girls, Seinfeld, and most TV shows that exist, the cast is all white and predominantly cis.) It is essentially a stoner crime noir: Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames, a struggling writer living, drinking and smoking in Brooklyn, who shares a name with the show’s creator and starts doubling as a private investigator on a whim. Ames solves crimes throughout various cityscapes à la Raymond Chandler, but if The Big Sleep met 2009 New York, a city stuck between its pre-financial crisis glitz and its gentrification in the years ahead. Danson (George) is his bachelor magazine editor, while Galifianakis (Ray) is his brooding best friend.
In one episode, Ames cracks a case by drinking a lot of vodka at a Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach. Another episode, guest-starring the great Patton Oswalt and Jim Norton, is titled “The Gowanus Canal has Gonorrhea!” (which it actually did, at the time). Over the course of the first season, George and Ray catch the detective fever too, becoming Ames’ bumbling sidekicks all the while reeling from heartbreak, a high, and a white wine buzz. The show started just before the Brooklyn brand became gag-worthy, so the shots of Grand Army Plaza, the Coney Island boardwalk, and the beautiful brownstone streets don’t feel forced, nor does the multitude of cameos.
In mostly harmless ways, Bored to Death makes fun of the media world, the quickly-gentrifying Brooklyn world, the annoying single white guy world, and other worlds that exist here pushed up against the others, all without taking itself too seriously – much like the city itself, on its best days. There’s an ongoing gag in the show where characters trip over baby strollers entering and leaving any token Park Slope cafe. It’s a stupid, effortless joke. But because it happens often – and really, without explanation – you laugh.
ANDREA LEE CHRISTENSEN
I don’t want to brag, but I used to be pretty big on the internet. I had my grubby paws everywhere – Fanfiction.net, Club Penguin, Xanga, you name it. But I had yet to conquer the biggest prize of them all, the crème de la crème: acquiring a Cybunny on Neopets. My Neopets login told you straightaway how aspirational I was – a social climber even at age 11: “Melea_Cybunny.” I knew that eventually, that cyborg rabbit was bound to be mine.
The trouble, you see, is that they only released a few Cybunnies at a time – unlike the plentiful masses of my other, unspecial pets. Shoyrus? A dime a dozen. Meercas? I spit on Meercas. It was harder to get a Cybunny than it was to convince your mom to buy you the same Juicy Couture tracksuit that Anna had gotten for her half birthday. I imagined the day I finally got a Cybunny would be the day my forehead acne cleared, and I would emerge from puberty reborn as a gleaming starlet who could finally stop wearing bangs. I was pretty much the second girl in my fifth grade class to get her period (poor Eunice Chen, forever known to us as the first to shed the shell of girlhood – gone so soon), and it was already awkward enough that I was sprouting boobs and sweating through my burgundy ballet leotard so that everyone laughed at my pit stains from the comfort of their young, unsweating bodies.
But on the internet, I could be anyone. The only trace of my real-life mediocrity was the fact that my poor pets were so decidedly mundane. I didn’t even have enough Neopoints to buy my stupid Shoyru a faerie paint brush so he could have faerie wings instead of the dumb dragon wings he was born with. I sighed with jealousy at the accounts whose decked out Neopets were not only painted the most exclusive colors (using the much-coveted Christmas paintbrush, for one), but had enough coin to paint their pets’ Petpets. If that wasn’t a status symbol, I don’t know what is.
But my short-lived dream of Neopian fame came crashing down one unanticipated afternoon when my ex-best friend (don’t ask) Kassandra came over and brought with her some dreaded news: it was already too late for me. While I had been lusting after limited edition pets, the world had moved on. Now, apparently, it was “all about Maplestory” – who’s on it, and what level they’ve reached. Little old me, not even level zero, had been left in the dust. Neopets was officially dead to my fifth grade class. On to Maplestory, and with it the elusive freedom of not having to check the dreaded “over 13” box the Neopets forum required. Not that I had even summoned the courage to do that yet, but everyone knew that was where Christina from P.E. had met her boyfriend who lived in another school district. Besides, I just felt like I wasn’t ready to tackle the whole “boy” thing. Enraged, ashamed, I logged off as quickly as I could and downloaded Maplestory. As for my Cybunny dreams? Thrown away in an instant, only surviving in distant memories of a forgotten time, a forgotten place – oh, Neopia, the promised land. I don’t know what to tell you, or the Cybunny I never had. I guess I grew up. I had middle school to think about.
Even as Dr. John sang, “Ain't no good reason for getting all depressed,” in my ear while I fired up another episode of Blossom, searching for something to write this review about, I couldn’t shake the feeling. Even when he said, “Buy up your pad and pencil,” my call to action, I was still feeling discouraged. This week, I started watching Season 2 of Blossom for the first time. I fell asleep during the first two episodes but here it was… Episode 3… The Joint!
My interest is piqued. I haven’t smoked weed in a long time. Early last year, I would get stoned every night and watch vintage sitcoms, not coincidentally. I love(d) weed but it was driving me further into my depression. I was even more depressed then than I am now as I fire up this episode of Blossom.
Blossom, played by Mayim Bialik, and her best friend Six have somehow got their hands on a joint. The episode starts with Blossom holding the joint between them outside of her house, then hiding it, preparing to go in and not rouse any suspicion from her family. Really, what would be more interesting to see is how they got the joint. (I guess that’s the plot of Superbad.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the writers room for this one. I must’ve been pretty knocked out those first two episodes because I’m totally surprised when Blossom’s grandfather, Buzz, is waiting for her inside the house.
Blossom and Six retreat to her room to decide what to do with the joint. “Not everyone who smokes a joint becomes a drug addict,” thoughtfully says Six. “Sometimes, they become Supreme Court justices.” I don’t get the joke. I don’t get a lot of jokes in this episode. Including when the family ends up watching Midnight Express, which gives Blossom anxiety because she’s the drug smuggler in this episode. (I caught on quickly enough.)
One thing I love about Blossom is the way watching movies factors into the plot. Someone, sometimes the whole family, will start a movie then the show will cut to the last lines of the film, or its closing music. Reactions to the film set off the next chapter in the plot. It’s just funny, mostly... the way they fake the sounds from the movie.
OMG! Blossom loses the joint in the couch while they’re watching the movie. Her dad, Nick, smells it and does something no long-haired musician who lived through the 60’s has ever done when faced with weed–he looks disappointed. Blossom sees that he has found it from the stairs, a major device in the plot of Blossom, as she sees a lot of drama that she shouldn’t be privy to from the stairs. Not unlike my childhood, really. It’s a nice touch. Anyway, it’s clear that Anthony, Blossom’s recovering addict brother, is going to be blamed for this.
Suspicion is cast first onto Anthony, then onto Buzz. This makes for an excruciating scene where Nick comes into his room and realizes he’s walked in on a sexual encounter that Buzz is having with a “67-year-old woman” who is made out to seem completely disgusting. “She looked like a raisin before she got in the bath,” Buzz remarks to a lot of canned laughter and hooting. Next, suspicion is cast onto the middle brother, Joey – he is a dumb high schooler after all – and then, finally, onto Blossom. What’s made clear throughout these scenes is that even if a responsible adult once smoked weed, they don’t anymore or they only did it once and hated it.
It’s Anthony who first confronts Blossom about if the joint is hers, who responds, “I have glaucoma,” completely deadpan. I love when she’s like this. Anthony proceeds to give her a lecture about what may have been in the joint. The list includes crack, dust, and also “anything.”
It turns out, for some reason, that Blossom’s brother Joey has also lost a joint in the house which he admits to their father in front of Blossom. They are both *almost* subjected to a speech from Nick which starts, “When I was your age…” But he holds back and asks Anthony, the subject-matter expert in this case, to give the lecture instead. He starts, “When I was your age…”
We’re all left with this heavy-handed assuredness that the episode was not, in fact, a lecture, but a normal episode of Blossom.
And I’m left to do some research on how the Mayim (present day) feels about pot. I find myself back where I started, thinking about weed and depression.
Without ever being exposed to Mayim’s views on weed, I had a hunch that there would be content waiting for me on Gronk, oh, sorry, Gork, err, Grok Nation, the “online community” Mayim founded in 2015. While she’s open about the subject and approaches it candidly, she’s really giving me the same vibe that this Very Special Episode of Blossom did. Weed is okay, she says, it has medicinal purposes, but it shouldn’t be used by young people whose brains are developing. (Remember, Mayim is a real-life neuroscientist.) But like, okay, that’s fair but pedantic. Mayim and Blossom, the show, would both like me to believe that these are not lectures. That they aren’t just telling me “No.”
Grok Nation’s content for 4/20(/2016, a different time) is a video of Mayim interviewing her mother about weed. Mayim’s mom seems to be covering for the fact that she’s actually a stoner. She insists she doesn’t smoke but her knowledge of CBD oil and edibles betrays her. The video ends on an interesting note. Mayim appears to be advocating for the use of marijuana to treat anxiety and depression. Her mom is more cautious. “I don’t want people, especially elderly people, thinking they can just mask their emotional pain and depression by smoking marijuana.” “Don’t be masking it.” “Peace,” she adds as the video wraps.
Mayim’s mother, a counterpoint to the absent mother of Blossom in the series, actually seems pretty interesting. And don’t sue me but I kind of agree with her about not using weed to mask your emotional pain and depression. Mayim seems to have inherited more of her opinions from the trifecta (now quadfecta!) of men who, episode after episode, teach Blossom lessons about how to be a young woman.
I think I’m depressed as I write my review this week because I’m starting to see how Blossom begat Mayim. My theory from last week that there might be some salvation in watching young Mayim work through teenage foils doesn’t hold up. Watching Blossom is more like watching Mayim develop into the adult version of her character, only slightly unconventional, sterilized to appease the TV viewers, appeasing some universal father.
See you next week.
Ty Dolla $ign, a $elf-de$cribed "real fucking music nerd pyscho," collaborates. He's worked with Kanye, Lil Wayne, and Charli XCX, to name an extremely select few, and recently with John Mayer, a dream collab he's spoken of for years in interviews you can (2013) still (2015) find (2016) online (2017). I learned of his love for Mayer, however, through one perfect tweet you can't find: an image of Ty with YG (another Ty collaborator) and their daughters, all four dressed in all white, Ty sitting on a white amp, playing a white guitar. But wait for the caption! "Fathers be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do..." it reads, quoting John Mayer's Grammy award-winning single "Daughters." Recently, I went to share this tweet and found it survives only through broken-link RTs and fans tweeting the image with their own comments. One can see the caption, it seems, or the image, but not together. Panicked, I rushed to look for Dolla $ign’s Thai ice cream content. Gone, too.
NYC's first Thai-inspired ice cream roll store 10Below opened in 2015. "Bubble tea is so over," Forbes reported the following year. "The cool new trend in Asian sweets is Thai rolled ice cream." Apart from the racially sensitive generalization, I find this report inaccurate, and NYC-style rolled ice cream unremarkable, personally.
What's most intriguing about rolled ice cream is the spectacle of its preparation. After a customer orders, they watch an ice cream artist pour custard onto a frozen slab and use metal spatulas resembling paint scrapers to mix in fruit, candy, or cookies. Then the artist rolls the ice cream, packing those rolls into a cup covered in toppings of the customer’s choice. It's made for Instagram and costs around six to ten USD. Ever the penny pincher, I order myself the cheapest cup, which of course is the least grammable. My cup is worthless.
Dolla $ign can afford the grammable cups. Sometime around October 2017, he began to post them in stories and tweets. The distance between then and now, plus the sheer insignificance of this activity, the food, and the posts about it, clouds my memory. I can’t remember if he went to other spots or just 10Below, nor do I remember how frequently he went. In my mind, it’s all the time. All that's saved on my phone is three screenshots. At the time, I posted at least three on my own Instagram story, updating my followers as if it were breaking news. I RT'd all his rolled ice cream tweets to keep people in the know. At least one friend listened. When his verse in “Work From Home,” his song with Fifth Harmony, played at my friends’ wedding reception, she turned to me and asked, “Is this the ice cream guy?” At the time, I answered yes but now, I feel unsure.
It’s not just the ice cream and John Mayer ephemera he’s deleted, but they’re the ones I remember and miss. While none of his stories (impermanent) or tweets (deleted) remain, their existence is confirmed to me by the weirdest of witnesses, like fan accounts for Fifth Harmony's Lauren Jauregui, Ty Dolla $ign's girlfriend, whom he met on the set of the “Work From Home” video. One tweet I found includes a video of Jauregui from Dolla $ign’s Instagram story. The tweet is interested in Jauregui’s presence on Dolla $ign’s account, and what it might mean. I’m just looking for the rolls.
Jenny Nelson is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on The Hairpin, Funny or Die, and Splitsider. She is also co-host of a live monthly comedy and lecture series called The Simple Show in Ridgewood, Queens.
Gaming the “system” feels especially good in a city built upon what seems like layers and layers of systems. Like when you find an apartment without a broker, or enter in different emails to get that first-time discounted Seamless offer every time. Or win HQ.
MoviePass feels like one of those shortcuts, something too good to be true until it is: $9.95 a month to watch as many movies as your cold, calculating heart desires, at (most of) the great movie theaters New York has to offer: IFC, the Angelika, Nitehawk, any AMC, any Regal… I could go on. And all you have to do is check in on the app when you’re at the theater, and swipe a card, like being on your phone and spending money aren’t things you expected to do anyway. For comparison, that’s at or around the price of a small popcorn and soda pop, and nearly half of what I paid to see Blade Runner 2049 in Union Square a few months back. It was a time before MoviePass—a time when all seemed bleak in my movie-going life.
But I’ve been liberated from the despair that accompanied paying more than $15 every time I wanted to see a movie. I live now in a make-believe land free of price tags, where anything is possible—at least until this insane business idea goes the way of cryptocurrency. The new Jumanji with The Rock? That superhero movie you can’t remember the name of right now? The next Fifty Shades of Grey with an even more erotic name and movie poster than the last one? Sure, why not? Who cares? Last month, I spent six hours in the theaters, binge-watching Oscar nominations like I was A.O. Scott, just because I could. Here’s something you don’t hear often: it doesn’t matter.
Sure, you have to actually go to the theater to buy tickets and can only reserve seats for a showing that same day, which means you probably won’t use this magic card to attend midnight premieres (Sorry, Star Wars fans, but you’ve got to put in the work for The Force). And sure, the app’s interface looks like it was designed on Microsoft Paint. And sure, the only way this business might stay afloat is by selling our data en masse to greedy studios who want to know anything and everything you do at all times. But show me someone who doesn’t.
If my calculations are correct (and this is pretty easy math), I’ve watched $75 worth of movies (five so far), but have only paid $20. And tonight I’ll hit $90. Because when I’m done here—and I’m nearly there, I promise—I’m going to see The Post at 7:20 on a weeknight. Without any real price barrier, movies become something you can just do; a nice, easy insertion into your routine, so much so that my girlfriend and I recently carefully smuggled our dinner into a 7:30 showing of Lady Bird.
Put simply, seeing a movie in New York is fucking expensive. And MoviePass isn’t. In fact, seeing just one movie effectively earns you money, if you’re one of the poor schlubs who is still shelling out their hard-earned cash to see a film reel projected on a screen in front of you at least once a month. Think of it as the Amazon Prime of the movies, but an Amazon Prime that isn’t destroying everything in its path—yet.
I finally saw Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which although set in Manhattan was filmed in London due to Kubrick’s fear of flying. According to Vanity Fair, the highly meticulous native New Yorker “sent a designer to New York to measure the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.” He constructed New York with the control and precision of a man wielding dollhouse-tweezers, but designed it to make you squint – at the Hotel Jason, for instance, which has the same iconic iron canopy as The Washington Square Hotel but is plopped in a different neighborhood, at identical deli awnings, and even at the sidewalks which feel too wide and too lonely. A friend of mine called Kubrick’s New York “a wax museum.”
This is a town where subways don’t exist, sex workers stand along MacDougal, and street toughs shove you with their elbows: “I got dumps that are bigger than you!”
As for the plot, well, the well-to-do Doctor Bill (Tom Cruise) is getting some air, having a real think around the city. It’s the march of the preoccupied – a march that’s marched by hundreds daily, pacing in detachment, alone in the clouds. Bill focuses on his feet and is wholly contained in his peacoat, except when he claps his hands at the passing of an ugly thought. His wife has confessed a sexual fantasy and he’s walking it off, turning corners, meandering repetitive lanes, his mind repeating the facts of her fantasy.
These scenes, many of which were shot using a treadmill, took weeks to film. They present New York as an conspiring backdrop, a false exit and relief, an escalation of a personal crisis. Poor Doctor Bill, adultery on the brain, doesn’t look up except to see a steamy make-out. Traffic lights accommodate his clean, straight walk except to allow the introduction of a sex worker named Domino. This is the treacherous city that panders to singular manias – one that every New Yorker occasionally occupies.
Everything moves together, and towards the same point. Even the newspaper Bill haphazardly purchases has the headline “Lucky to be Alive” and reports the death of the former Miss New York – the death at the center of Bill’s big mess. Everyone seems to be in on something. Maybe it’s Christmas? The same string of rainbow bulbs light every room. Outside, the ground’s wet but I don’t remember it raining.
Between two strolls and before crashing an elite orgy, Bill carries his anonymity as power, invisibility as invincibility, and feels mighty on account of the bills in his wallet. I’ve never seen a Bill so bewitched with what money can do. Cash is his magic trick: he opens up a costume-rental past business hours, pays Domino for services never rendered, insists that everyone “keeps the change,” and rips a hundred dollar bill in half to keep a cab waiting for him. “Let the meter run,” he says.
He feels too smooth, our guy, and New York City, the great vindicator, notices his hubris and punishes him spectacularly. Still feeling very clever for conning his way into a mansion-sex-party, Bill is publicly shamed, unmasked, and sent away. The next day, his investigation into the orgy is fumbling, actually stupid. He rushes through town, this time with real purpose, but finds his every move anticipated, worthless. Bill – in a stew, unzipped and at large, confusion and fear ascendant where arrogance once reigned – finally returns home, wakes his wife (Nicole Kidman), and sobs a confession into her lap. The cardboard New York streets are happy for a break.
In the constant battle for your visual attention, the screens of Times Square have few equals. Featuring ever-shifting vivid advertisements and streaming breaking news, they contribute to the creation of a frenetic environment—one where a naked cowboy or a demanding Elmo, seeking money in exchange for a photo, is somehow normal. The bright lights of Times Square might even be what give the transit hub and tourist trap its unique… character? (If you’re cringing right now, you’re not alone.) But floors above the hubbub, in the corner of a gallery tucked in an office building, a work of art is giving those screens a worthy competitor.
The piece in question, by Marguerite Humeau, is on view in the group show “STRAY” at Times Square Space, an exhibition area built into one of 1500 Broadway’s vacant offices. Titled Digital Desert II, the sculptural triptych stands like an altar with protective barbs at its top suggesting its defensive positioning. A pale, pixelated pattern swirls on its three semi-transparent screens, based on a camouflage print the U.S. military designed to cloak soldiers from the eyes of drones in the desert. But it can’t disguise the consumerist messages that filter through the piece, as massive advertisements just beyond the windows shine through it. The artwork elicits a feeling of both reverence and concern: is it possible today to be truly shielded from advertising?
Humeau, who’s based in London, didn’t originally conceive of Digital Desert II for this location. It’s part of “RIDDLES,” a series she began last year and showed at Brooklyn’s CLEARING gallery and Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich. She conducted extensive research on the history of the Sphinx and current security technologies, weaving a surprising narrative between the two that likens drones to “a sort of contemporary figure of the Sphinx.” The ancient mythological figure both protected and consumed people, suggesting the territory that surveillance occupies is just as treacherous: it’s equally liable to defend and attack.
To see Humeau’s Digital Desert II for yourself, alongside works by Kelly Akashi, Ivana Bašić, Hayden Dunham, and Pamela Rosenkranz, visit Times Square Space before “STRAY” closes this Wednesday, February 7. It’s open Friday and Saturday from 12 P.M. to 7 P.M. or by appointment (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Before a flower blooms, eventually dies, and rots, there is a Blossom. And before there was Blossom, there was the pilot of Blossom.
I’ll be reviewing episodes of Blossom throughout the month. So, let’s start at the beginning of the beginning: the opening sequence of the pilot, which aired in July 5, 1990, months before January 3, 1991, when it would be picked up mid-season for its run.
The show, if you’re not familiar, starred Mayim Bialik as Blossom, the young, strong-willed daughter of a single father and sister to two older brothers.
This pilot is the show before the show happened. Blossom is Mayim Bialik before Mayim Bialik happened.
And Young Mayim Bialik is a feminist icon. According to Wikipedia, she had a hand in deciding who was cast as her father and as her brother on the show. Plus, Blossom was originally pitched as show about her character’s brother before it became a show about her. Young Mayim saved America from a show centered on a “young Holden Caulfield” character.
The show’s original iconic opening sequence, where Blossom can be seen dancing in her bedroom, was first filmed to the the tune of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” before the song was changed to Dr. John’s “My Opinionation,” in time for the pilot.
In the opening credits of the pilot, the new song, “My Opinionation,” is overlaid on the dance number Bialik recorded to “My Prerogative.” Her dance is out of sync, as are a lot of things in this pilot. Later in the show’s run, the original nuclear family cast would be replaced by a single father and absent mother, portrayed by different actors.
The act of watching Blossom is an attempt at recovering an innocent past. An antediluvian Mayim. A time before the PhD in Neuroscience, the NYT opinion pieces, the vlogs, The Big Bang Theory. And watching the pilot is like dipping into a primordial black hole, the kind of black hole formed during the inhomogeneous phase of the Big Bang.
Ashley D'Arcy is a contributing editor at Newest York.