Will Our Robot Overlords Be Freer Than Us? A Philosophical Investigation

Give the British a perfectly normal story about robots, and they will turn it into a disquisition on freedom. In the recent posthumanist film Ex Machina, director Alex Garland does just that: when a brilliant programmer builds an artificially intelligent creature named Ava, it isn’t long before she kills everyone and flees headlong from captivity. But when she exits the compound, is she truly free? … Read More

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Brooding Portraits of Nameless Women Warriors

If they’re depicted at all, heroines in pop culture generally tend to be more Lara Croft than Brienne of Tarth — they’re pneumatic, idealized Amazons, able to lazily decapitate puny men (or steal their loot), all the while remaining perfectly made up and depilated. The general lack of three-dimensional heroines makes these paintings by German artist Martin Eder, which we spotted via Beautiful Decay, all the more fascinating. These nameless women are clearly the product of fantasy, being as they’re wielding massive broadswords and all (and, in one case, apparently transforming into a swan), but they’re also deeply human — they’re bruised and tired, searching within for the energy to fight another day. You can see more of Eder’s work at his website. … Read More

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In Defense of “Indulgent” Art

Recently, I watched Lost in Translation for the first time. (I know, I know.) Lying in my dark bedroom afterwards, flooded with emotion, I pawed through the Internet for more conversation. A couple years ago, on the tenth anniversary of the film’s release, The Daily Beast interviewed Sofia Coppola. The interviewer asked about Lost in Translation’s cult following, and Coppola — who had based the film on her own visits to Tokyo in her 20s — said, “I was just writing these little notes about stuff that happened to me, or what I thought, and I didn’t think anyone was going to be interested, so it’s really a surprise to me that that many people have seen it and that it did as well as it did. I felt like it was really indulgent, so yeah, it was a surprise. And it’s still surprising to me.”

I started thinking about that word, indulgent, which — along with self-indulgent — has come to represent something very, very bad where art is concerned. Why is it, I started to wonder, that we think indulgence, and indulgent art, are worthy of such… Read More

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Flatulent Symphonies, 3D Printed Skin, and Björk’s Crazy DJ Set: Links You Need to See

Today has been filled with musical surprises: firstly, everyone was parsing the Billboard Music Awards for things to GIF and things to grumble about. The event naturally represents music on the more accessible end of the spectrum, and while Britney and Iggy were being Pretty and Taylor’s Blood was being Bad, somewhere far away, a more experimental musical genius was deconstructing his, er, evanescent backend expulsions to show that there’s a classical symphony to just about everything. Meanwhile, Björk straddles the line of those who make off-puttingly corporeal symphonies (she did, after all, once collaborate with Matmos, whose song “California Rhinoplasty” wears its title quite literally) and the more Billboard-friendly mainstream. Last Friday, she did a DJ set at Tri-Angle’s fifth anniversary party in New York, where she played everything from Kate Bush to Death Grips to The Haxan Cloak. She uploaded her whole set earlier, and you can check it out at The Quietus.  … Read More

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The 45 Best ’30 Rock’ Insults

A sincere and heartfelt happy birthday to our hero Tina Fey, who turns 45 years old this week, and continues to be basically amazing all the time. So in celebration of this welcome anniversary of her time on earth, we focus our attention on one of her finest accomplishments: the insults of the dearly departed 30 Rock, which still proves a fine source for cuts and burns you can repurpose for everyday use. Here are a few of our… Read More

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Inside FKA twigs’ Deeply Erotic ‘Congregata’ Shows

Halfway through the first of three sold-out shows that constitute the American debut of FKA twigs’ “Congregata” stage show last night (May 17), a group of dancers from New York City’s long-standing ballroom drag and voguing scene took over the stage at Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Hangar. Naturally this burst of energy kicked off with a bit of shade: “Did twigs say she was coming to New York?” their ringleader asked, incredulously. Adorned in varying states of glittering glamour ranging from full drag to low-cut onesies and corsets, these male dancers served up impressive aerial spins and drops, battles driven by hand performance, and plenty of catwalk realness. It was a respite from the show’s stunning high-wire eroticism, and yet the voguing break served to underline the most intoxicating element of twigs’ music: a sense of longing. The crowd still wanted to go deeper with twigs. … Read More

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In ‘Mad Men’s’ Finale, Joan and Peggy Switched Places and Became Complete

Peggy and Joan’s first encounter in the Mad Men pilot appears to set them up as opposites. In her conservative skirt-and-sweater combo, Peggy is an energetic do-gooder who wants merely to succeed. In her slinky green number, Joan has men on the brain. A secretary’s job, she instructs Peggy, is to anticipate men’s needs, to be “in between a mother and a waitress,” with two other possibilities thrown in: mistress and suburban wife. To Joan, the latter is the dream, the prize at the end of the struggle. Of course, Peggy takes Joan’s advice and runs it right into the wall, including a failed attempt to be Don’s “girlfriend” when she touches his hand and a very poor decision to accept Pete’s drunken advances. … Read More

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Literature as a Chain Letter Among Friends: On the Fantasy of Critical Distance

Over the weekend, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan lightly chided the editorial staff of the paper’s book review for a perceived imbalance in the way it chooses its reviewers. At issue is a question of intimacy or closeness. “How Close Is Too Close?” the article’s title asks (mirroring the oppressively Socratic form of the Review’s Bookends column). When a reviewer knows the book’s author, does this constitute a conflict of interest? … Read More

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In the ‘Pitch Perfect 2′ vs. ‘Mad Max’ Box Office Battle, Everybody Won

Among the many, many problems with pervasive reportage of weekend box office is the false sense of blood-sport competition it creates. It’s what happens when ticket sales are framed as box scores, encouraging moviegoers to cheer the “winner” and flee the “loser,” positioning films less as works of art or even snapshots of a culture than as professional wrestlers, talking shit or eating crow. Such juxtaposition is reductive to begin with, collapsing the entirety of a film’s being — its cultural impact, its critical reception, its potential longevity — into a stark, simple number that holds the entirety of its value. But in the wake of a weekend like this one, in which the astonishing success of Pitch Perfect 2 over second-place finisher Mad Max: Fury Road is being classified by industry rags and film bloggers alike as some kind of girl-power rebuke to testosterone-fueled action, such simplistic equivalency isn’t just ignorant, it’s counterproductive. … Read More

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How ‘Matlock’ Made Me an Optimist

I’m an optimist. It feels odd to say so, because such a quality seems counterintuitive to being a good writer, or a good parent, or (let’s face it) a human being alive in the year 2015. But I’ve realized over the past few years that, although I do live in the kind of moment-to-moment fear and self-loathing that characterizes such identifiers, I generally operate under the assumption that, eventually, everything’s going to turn out fine. This is not the result of some sort of spiritual awakening, meditation technique, or years of therapy. No, I’m pretty sure it’s because I spent so much of my youth watching Matlock. … Read More

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