A piece from the freelancing Dead Letter Office

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The Social Network (Columbia Pictures/Sony)

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” Whenever a new form of technology has a profound and irreversible effect on society, cultural commentators are quick to use that idiom. Whether it’s the effects of streaming on how we consume music, Uber’s disruption of the taxi industry, or the commodification of our personal data, the saying holds true. Time’s arrow isn’t going to fly back into its quiver; for better or worse, technology pushes ever onward and we’re faced with chasing after it or risk getting left behind.

Looking over some of the issues that Silicon Valley has been facing over the last three years, it’s hard not to view the public backlash over Cambridge Analytica, the unreliability of risk assessment algorithms, or the anxiety over self-driving cars as a kind of Monkey’s Paw curse at work. We asked the genie to give us a more connected, convenient world, and it did — with a bitterly ironic twist. Because that’s what genies do: they give you what you want and make you regret it…. unless you know the exact right way to ask for it. …


On The Breeders Last Splash

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There’s a corner on Broadway Rd. in Tempe that should have been named Lost Weekend Plaza. It’s a one-stop shop for all your gutter-life needs: a Circle K with an unusually large liquor selection sits kitty-cornered to an OTB bar and a plasma donation center. On any given day, you could see Tweaker Christs playing out their own Stations of the Cross as they cycle out of the plasma center to go straight to the bar or the K and then pass out afterward on bus benches, a still-lit cigarette smoldering in the corner of their lips. …


Stick figures, “The Simpsons,” and the downside of immortality

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It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt)

After the bombs drop, after the seas drown our cities, after MEGA COVID-45 makes us all choke to death on our shredded lung pulp, The Simpsons will still be on the air. Matt Groening, Al Jean, James L. Brooks, and all the rest of the masterminds behind The Simpsons during that show’s masterful first decade will be rotting in holes somewhere while their creations, misshapen and rendered idiotic by years of subpar scripting, limp on. …


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As hacky edgelord music takes go, “The Sex Pistols were a boy band” is right up there with “The Beatles suck, actually.” Thanks to Malcolm McLaren’s unwavering self-promotion — selling himself as the P.T. Barnum of U.K. punk to anyone within earshot — this conception of the Pistols as nothing but a calculated advert for McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s bondage couture is part of the band’s legacy. …


A documentary that reflects our own shit back at us.

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The Task (Leigh Ledare)

The geometry of groups trends towards the circular. The huddle, the group hug, the campfire, the cypher, the dance circle the sharing circle⁠ — when we attempt to envision human beings coming together in an egalitarian way, the circle seems to be the shape we default to (as opposed to the pyramid, power’s preferred shape).

Artist/documentary filmmaker Leigh Ledare builds his film The Task out of a series of circles: a ring of cameras surrounding a spiral of white chairs that fill up a room inside the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (with a group of silent observers encircling the spiral as an additional ring in the room). Circulating through those rings is a large group of subjects: 28 participants, three observers, three psychologists (or “consultants,” as everyone in the film calls them), and the director himself. Filmed over the course of a three-day Group Relations Conference (which is centered around a social psychology method developed by the Tavistock Institute) in 2017, The Task follows this group as they wrestle with the mission they’ve been given by the conference: “to examine the here and now.” …


On Capitalism, COVID-19, and “The Third Man”

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The Third Man

“When this is over…” I find myself saying that a lot lately, and each time I do the words feel like an incantation. I’m Billy Batson calling down the lightning, hoping that this time when I say the words they’ll work their magic and “normalcy” returns in a flash of COVID-19-annihilating energy. Maybe if I say it enough times, I’ll start to believe it’s actually possible that the world can return to the way it was. I won’t have to keep rinsing the ashes and graveyard dirt out of my mouth every time I say it.

The old world is gone, buried under an avalanche of 300,000 (and counting) bodies, and who knows what the new one will look like when we can finally leave our homes without fear of being walking bellows for the Reaper. Hopefully we will be more empathetic in the new world, more communal, more willing to support and stand with each other without needing a worldwide calamity to bring us together. We’ll go from being Donne’s islands to archipelagos, a chain of four-limbed sovereign nations who move together, work together, love together. …


Watching a snake eat its own tail in just ten episodes

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Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC)

From the opening of its very first episode, Dispatches From Elsewhere invites you to see yourself in it. Piercing the fourth wall with his steely eyes, Richard E. Grant’s narrator addresses us directly. Equal parts warm and menacing, Grant’s Octavio talks to us with the slow, mellifluous confidence of a professor who’s about to spring an impossible-to-solve problem on his class. Showing us the repetitive life of Jason Segal’s Peter (a sad sack who’s so indecisive that asking him to choose whether or not to eat cake or pie for dessert is tantamount to asking him to back Israel or Palestine), Octavio asks us to see ourselves in Peter. “This is Peter. …


Phoenix performance artist The Ladies dance the pandemic blues away

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I’ve been thinking about Zaireeka a lot.

Sitting in my apartment in week number Who Even Knows Anymore of the pandemic, I find myself thinking a lot about that album. It’s one of many tiny things I tear my hair over, now that I’ve had a few weeks to kick myself over not finding an enduring love before the quarantine started or learning life skills that would actually be useful if/when society collapses. Once you dig through all the major layers of existential dread and angst that get exposed when the apocalypse seems nigh, there’s nothing left to rue but this substrata of idiotic regrets. “I wish I saw My Bloody Valentine in concert.” “I wish I did DMT at my friend’s house.” “I wish I had a threesome.” …


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I. “I have these intricate dreams”

The digital clock under my friend’s TV said it was 6:15pm. The numbers were bright yellow — Pac-Man yellow. The living room was swimming with light: The walls rippled, the floor swayed softly, and the numbers on the clock undulated like seagrass in a current. I had taken a heavy dose of psilocybin an hour ago and it was finally kicking in. …


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Don’t despair, true believers: Just because Stan The Man is gone doesn’t mean we’ll never see him spike the camera in a future Marvel joint. I got a hot tip from one of my many Deep Throats at Marvel Studios that the company shot hours of footage of Stan to prepare for the inevitable. As a culture journalist, it’s my sworn duty to Get The Scoop and ruin everybody’s good time by spoiling these posthumous cameos. …

About

Ashley Naftule

Playwright & freelance writer. Bylines in The AV Club, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Phoenix New Times, The Hard Times. Newsletter: https://ashleynaftule.substack.com/

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